Q & A with Olympia

Olympia Red

Since releasing her debut album ‘Self Talk’, Olympia (AKA Olivia Bartley) has earned rave reviews from Rolling Stone, Herald Sun, The Music, as well as earning a Triple J Album of the Week slot. You may have heard three of the singles from the album, ‘Honey’, ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, Tourists’, and the latest, ‘Smoke Signals’, all which feature heart-stopping melodies, rich sonic intrigue and bid ideas.

‘Self Talk’ is a fantastic debut from Olympia, and you now have the chance to see her perform it live when she makes her way to the Coast as part of her tour.  We caught up with Olivia, to dig a little deeper…

Hello Olivia. A massive congrats on the release of your debut album, ‘Self Talk’. It’s already received rave reviews, and was Triple J’s feature album recently – that’s huge for a debut. How long was the process for piecing together ‘Self Talk’?

Thank you! From conception to finished product it took about a year and a half. I admit that I kept shifting the goal posts for myself. At first, I wanted to focus on the writing. I wanted the lyrics reach people more than they had, I’m not sure that writing had been a strong suite, so I really kicked language around trying to get it right. With each different focus, I poured myself into each.

You worked with Burke Reid (*I miss Gerling) on this album, and there’s no denying that the man’s ‘got the touch’ (recording Courtney Barnett’s ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think…’, DZ Deathrays and more), was there a particular reason you chose to record with Burke? And given that you’re a multi-instrumentalist, I’m guessing you had all bases covered when it came to laying down the different tracks?

I miss Gerling too! When planning the album, I went to all of my favourite records, and found Burke as the producer of them: Jack Ladder, The Drones, etc. Each album had a unique voice – you can hear that Burke spends a lot of time making each album unique.

While I can play a few instruments, I relish the contribution of different musos have had on the record. For one – it gave me time to make a cup of coffee (Burke and I worked insane hours), but it also affords me the luxury of being able to step back from the album and see it from a distance – I guess it affords me the luxury of being really proud of the work, recognising that it is made up of parts, people and accidents.

The latest single, ‘Smoke Signals’ is soooo good. To me, it sounds a little like St Vincent jamming over ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, but with such cool twists and hooks. I do remember listening to an interview you did on the J’s recently, recalling how you regretted coming up with the chorus being so high, as you realised that you’d have to keep pulling it off live. Still regretting it? And how many takes did it take to nail it?

Burke and I just kept pushing each other in the studio. Higher, faster, more chords, weirder chords. We constructed the songs – similar to how the songs were written. But it’s one thing to come up with an idea – a melody for instance, and another to nail it – and consistently over multiple takes.

It’s not so much regret at the high chorus – it was a challenge – one that I thought might be impossible at the time – ha! I’m not sure if I was particularly tired when recording it, or whether the song has stretched my range – either way, I’m all up there now!

The clip to the single is so deliciously trippy, and looked like fun to do. Who’s concept was it?

I had given filmmaker Alex Smith (Peaches, Iggy Pop, Coldplay) some background to Smoke Signals before we made the clip. It was inspired in part by a Japanese reality TV show called ‘Sweepstakes Life’, in which a contestant had to win the value of $2m yen to be released from an empty apartment. The contestant was completely naked, and while he went into the apartment under the guise that he was only involved in a pilot, it immediately went to air – his man-parts animated by vegie emojis. As the show went on, he became increasingly emaciated and a little (and understandably) mentally frayed.

I wanted to capture the internal and unseen chaos that we can feel. In the song, the backing vocals taunt, almost like school kids.

This was the context I gave Alex, however, the magic of that clip is all Alex.

In the press release, you’re quoted as saying that the ‘Self Talk’ (apart from being about observing the stories we tell ourselves) is also a nod to the religion of self-help. Personally, I’m a firm believer in the ‘healing power’ of music (I know when I have a break between gigging, I tend to be at my lowest), so would you see the studio or stage as your ‘church’ for self-healing?

Hmm, that’s an interesting question and perspective! I think for me, the urge to create is always there, but it’s not a cathartic or necessarily healing process for me.

I think for me, there are some gigs that are so good I go home early to play my guitar. This may seems a contradictory response, but I’ve felt something that has made me excited to go home and play. A spark. Or an exhibition, or a great piece of writing. These are forms of creative nourishment for me.

And finally, being a bit of a music-tech nerd, what would be your most prized possession in your own studio, and why?

Second to any of my guitars, the Empress Superdelay.  

Thanks, Olivia. Have an amazing tour, congrats once again on ‘Self Talk’, and we’ll be seeing you at Solbar on June 4.

Do go see Olympia at Solbar on June 4, and check out her album ‘Self Talk’, now available for download on iTunes.

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