Contemplating Jazz: An Interview With Billie Black

  • Words: Taylor Glasby
  • Photography: Elliott Morgan
  • Styling: Kyran Low

Pared back beats that echo and throb over tinkling percussion is lure enough but add in Billie Black’s sultry, introspective soul vocals and the mix is hypnotically satisfying.

The young Londoner -who grew up with a professional dancer mother, models in her spare time and trained as a jazz singer- has been drawing sell out crowds for over a year and recently released her second EP Teach Me. We caught up with her recently to see what makes the 19 year old soulstress tick.

Interview – Taylor Glasby
Photographer – Elliott Morgan
Stylist – Kyran Low
Hair and Make Up – Jay Pinxie using Mac Cosmetics

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Black box top: Stefanie Biggel / White leather shorts: Hide

You studied at the BRIT school but was your interest in being there always it purely to work on the musical side of yourself?

I went to the BRIT school to sing and to learn about music in general. I was in the music strand so primarily studied music but also dabbled in art and photography.

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Monochrome ‘Hydra’ body suit: Simpon Preen / Tracksuit bottoms: Jd Sports

Your background is in jazz but having spent some time honing your sound, how would you like to be seen as a vocalist?

My background is quite heavily in jazz. I learned how to sing through listening to jazz, not just jazz singers but great players like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. All throughout my uni education I was singing jazz in bars and clubs to pay my uni fees so it’s always been a big part of my life. I think it’s fair for people to label me as a jazz vocalist but my music is a mixture of different genres which allows me to experiment with different vocal styles. I’m happy for people to decide what kind of vocalist they think I am, as long as its a good one!

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Dress: Adidas / Socks: American Apparel / Shoes: Purified

Your mum was a pro dancer and disco was her love… was that an influence on you as a kid?

Definitely, the earliest type of music I remember listening to is disco, I was listening to disco even before I discovered jazz. Disco was always being played in the house and at big family parties which has meant that I tend to associate music with dance. This association is something I’ve carried into my own music. It’s important to me that my music makes people want to move.

Your sound reminds us a little bit of James Blake, a little bit of Sade, of Portishead and Jessie Ware… do you feel any kinship to these artists?

I’d say you’ve hit the nail on the head with the Sade/ James Blake reference. They’re both artists that I love and that I’ve gained a lot of inspiration from over the years. Sade I love because of her effortless sophistication and laid back grooves and James Blake because of the way he revolutionised electronic music and brought it back into the mainstream. I admire their careers, it shows that good music can stand the test of time.

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Black ‘Tiger Lily’ body suit: Simon Preen

Reviews of your music throw up the word ‘seductive’ over and over – how do you see your music in emotional terms? When would someone best respond to your sound? 

I think the word ‘seductive’ gets used mainly because of the melodies more than the lyrics. For example ‘I Waited For You’, which is the song that gets called seductive the most, has a jazz melody in the verses that people tend to associate with seduction. The melodies teamed with the deep bass, which is a strong element of my music, means a lot of people say my music is quite seductive. Emotionally I think my music is deeply personal, I want people to be able to relate to my music and I think the best way of doing that is just being honest. I’d say my music is definitely best received late at night. Either to sit back and chill too or to go out and dance to. The later it is, the better it sounds!
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Grey jacket – Monki / Sports bra – Nike / White trousers – Stefanie Biggel / Black shoes – Swear

You co-write currently – who do write with and how does that relationship work? Do you come in with melodies and lyrics that are then fleshed out? Explain your creative process for us….

I write with a few different people. I normally get sent a basic track which I write to and then meet up and combine with different ideas. I like to write in a few different ways though, for me it’s important to keep changing things up in order to keep my ideas fresh and forward thinking. In the future I’d like to get more into production myself

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Black ‘Tiger Lily’ body suit: Simon Preen / Hat: One by One store

Is there one of your tracks that’s really symbolic for you?

‘I Waited For You’, because it’s the first song I put online and the song which got everything started. I still really enjoy listening to it even though I’ve sung it hundreds of times and know it inside and out.

You’ve worked with young up and coming producer Mura Masa – how did that come about?
I’ve always loved Mura Masa so I was super excited when my manager hooked us up for a session. He’s a super cool guy, it was nice to just chill as well as make music. It’s such a nice thing being able to work with someone who’s a similar age to you. It’s a completely different dynamic and a lot easier to get an artistic connection.

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White crew neck: Calvin Klein / Leather leggings: Hide / White sandals: Topshop

Who is an artist that’s really struck a chord with you lately – for any reason you like – and what’s that reason?

I’m absolutely in love with Honne. I’ve been listening to their music on repeat and I can’t see myself getting bored of it. I love how all of their songs have a continuous groove. It’s really interesting how chilled and laid back their stuff is but still makes you wanna get up and dance. I’d like my music to make people feel a similar way.