Music has always been an escape for Billy, through the good times and the bad. A constant presence in her life. Her dad was a music teacher and played in bands, and introduced her to “musical punky stuff” like The Stranglers, as well as folk music. Her first serious instrument was fiddle, but there was also a piano. “A really badly painted one!” she laughs. “Dad tried to paint it white like Lennon’s but it came out a creamy pink. It was slightly detuned as well, so my pitch is ever-so slightly off because I grew up with it.”
Billy knew how to play, then. She just needed a spark to get going again – and it came in the sweat-soaked, in-your-face, brutal honesty of a Sleaford Mods gig in Southampton in early 2019. “I was blown away,” she says. “They didn’t have a band, but they were the best fucking band I’d ever seen. I just thought: I’ve got energy in me like that.”
Finally inspired to start writing again, she recorded No alone in her bedroom, with just some live drums from her brother and a couple of bass lines played by a friend with a nicer bass. Musically, there are snatches of Nick Cave’s rumbling sprechgesang, minus the religion and the fucking; the “off-the-wall-ness of musicians like Captain Beefheart”; Sleaford Mods’ febrile post-punk; the groovesome lofi art-rock of Sonic Youth; and the brassy Americana of Emmylou Harris. What dominates, though, is a feeling of release. Of letting it all out.
“I love northern soul and how that came out of people with shit lives creating this incredible, restless energy,” she says, referring to the music and the scenes that emerge from the shittiest of times. “It inspires something inside of you to go: Okay, well, I’ve got all this energy now, so I’ll use it. There’s a hope that comes out of that, you know? Being uncomfortable will move you, and the hope is that you can find a way to do something satisfying with it.”
And she really has. Especially live. Sleaford Mods’ set-up showed Billy that she could perform alone, too – just her and a laptop. So when Keynsham’s Longwell Records booked her in for her first-ever solo gig, on the back of praise from Sleaford Mods, she spent hours in her garden, rehearsing on a stage built out of pallets found outside her local Co-op. “I’d put my headphones in and just figure out a show. Like, sod it. Maybe you should move about a bit. Maybe you should incorporate some physical aspect to it. You can see right over the fence,” she laughs. “I’m not bothered.”
The Billy Nomates live experience – which has already moved up the leagues from that tiny instore last summer to an acclaimed show at 100 Club, via an appearance alongside Idles and BEAK> at Bristol’s Give A Shit Xmas charity gig – is a thrilling, lost-in-the-moment spectacle. An angular, awkward display of involuntary dance moves and raging physicality that reflects her desire to provoke and cause a reaction. Any reaction. “There’s a punk in me that likes anyone that takes things the way they should be, and says no,” she says. “There’s an element of me that wants to be disruptive, too; who’s like, get onboard or don’t, I’m not bothered. Not in a cocky way. You just see so many artists seeking approval, like they have to please everybody and be marketable. I like rawness.”
Booking: Aino-Maria Paasivirta