Interview: Olivia O’Brien

From the interview archives.

When you posted your gnash cover song, did you intend to gain his attention? Were you surprised when it did?

I definitely thought it was possible he would see it but I never thought he would contact me and give me free tickets to the show, let alone be interested in working together. 

When gnash reached out to you asking to hear your original music, did you know instantly that you wanted to send him “hate u, love u” or did you go back and forth between songs of yours trying to decide for a while?

At that time I had a lot of songs written but none that I thought were good enough to be sung anywhere outside of my bedroom. I had actually just started writing ihuilu and was liking how it was going so I sent him what I had and finished it after he assured me that it was actually good.

Since posting that cover, your music career seems to be progressing quickly. Was making music your career your grand plan when you first began to sing?

Absolutely not. I never ever ever in a million years thought that I was talented enough to make music a full time career. Obviously I love writing music and I would never wanna do anything else now that I know what I am capable of, but I seriously didn’t have a clue that it was even possible. When I posted my covers and stuff I literally just recorded them straight from my iPhone and pressed upload. It wasn’t something I took too seriously or thought much of, I just did it for fun. I guess the universe knew what it was doing with my life before I did.

Are you finding the pace of your career at all overwhelming?

I guess it’s a bit overwhelming at times but because I haven’t really done any of my own shows or toured yet I still have a lot of down time and get to spend time at home with my friends. Knowing that all of that is going to change soon is a bit scary, though. 

What is your creative process like? Do you begin with lyrics, melody, a bed of chords?

It depends where I’m writing or what’s inspiring me. If I’m in the studio I usually will pick a beat I like from the producer and just write my lyrics and melody over that, which is my favorite way to write. I feel like when you’re writing over a beat and not just chords you can hear cooler melodies because of the diverse sounds etc. When I am feeling inspired at home I usually just find a nice chord progression and lay down a bunch of ideas in my iPhone notes that I will generally fine tune later in the studio. Honestly I really have no specific way I write my songs. Things just kind of come to me in a random order sometimes and usually the more spontaneous it comes the better the song turns out.

Are you more inclined to write during the day or are you more of a night owl?

I am definitely a night owl. I absolutely love nighttime, not even just for writing. It’s much more inspiring and somehow makes it easier to get in my feels. The great thing about most studios though is that they’re usually pretty dark with no windows and you often can’t quite tell if it’s day or night. When it comes down to it, as long as I am inspired, I can really write a song whenever and it doesn’t matter too much what the color of the sky is. 

Do you write from personal experience?

My writing is like actual therapy to me. Everything I write about has either happened to me or someone very close to me. Obviously I have songs like “root beer float” that are kind of just silly and fun with not that much meaning but even those kinds of songs can be therapeutic to write because they lift my mood and help me think about fun, happy, lighthearted things rather than all the things bringing me down. Either way, writing songs is the most important and personal thing in my life and it is 100% my way of expressing myself and my experiences. 

How important is it to you for your music to have a strong message, ie. empowering women as you do with “Trust Issues”?

The most important thing to me is that my music truly reflects me and my personality and my emotions. When I write, I write for myself… I don’t always necessarily think about the impact that it will have on other people. That being said, it feels amazing that my own personal thoughts and feelings inspire people and empower women and do all of these amazing things that I never would have expected. It makes me want to be even more open and vulnerable in my music and inspires me endlessly to just keep writing in hopes that what I have to say will end up helping other people going through similar things. 

Who is your biggest musical inspiration?

Growing up my mom introduced me to strong female artists like Alicia Keys, India Arie, and Beyoncé. I always looked up to them and thought that they were literal goddesses. I just love seeing women doing great things for music and inspiring young girls to follow their dreams. It sounds corny but when I look back and think about the way I viewed those women I remember exactly how much they meant to me and what they represented. Nowadays, artists like SZA and Kehlani have been inspiring me. They are raw, real, write their own songs, have KILLER voices, and can perform their asses off. They are the next female music icons in my opinion and I can’t wait to watch them take over the world. Strong and independent women are much needed in this industry. 

When you wake up in the morning what’s the first song or which artist do you instinctively put on to listen to?

Right now it’s definitely SZA because her iconic debut album “Ctrl” was just released a few weeks ago. I don’t think I will ever be tired of hearing any song on that album. It’s a true masterpiece.

Who would you most like to collaborate with, given the opportunity?

Again, SZA and Kehlani would be amazing to work with. I just love them and I love what they stand for, what they represent, how they carry themselves… and obviously their talent on top of that. I’m endlessly inspired by them and feel like I could learn so much from both of them. 

What’s one thing that surprised you about the process of recording an album?

For me it was surprising to discover that there’s really no set process. When it comes to actually making the music, it’s pretty much all up to me and my producer. I love that I can do whatever I want and express myself fully without having to ask anyone if it’s okay or worrying about whether or not it will be a radio pop song. 

Do you have any interest in experimenting with “quirky” instruments, like a kazoo or thermin?

Not really. I can get by with my piano and occasionally a little bit of guitar.

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