Interview: Olympia on embracing the intuitive side of music

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Olivia Bartley (aka Olympia) is currently dazzling her way across stages in Brisbane as part of this year's BIGSOUND festival — I had the pleasure of talking to her about her new single 'Star City', creating music with a visceral approach and her love for playing live.

How’s things going at BIGSOUND?

It’s going really well. I think this has been our best BIGSOUND ever.

Have you had the chance to bring out any costumes like the ones in the ‘Star City’ video?

They get requested a lot and so do the dance moves. But no, I’ve been wearing different outfits (laughs). But I do have them and they do take up a lot of space in my wardrobe.

Maybe you can bring them out on the tour (laughs).

Maybe. It would be good to do a costume change. Maybe I can play ‘Star City’ three times and wear each of the outfits.

That would be so awesome. I adore the tinsel one at the end, I’m glad you got to keep it.

That one was from a local maker called ‘imakestagram’ (Rachel Burke) and she’s got great, great work.

*(side note: check out the rest of Rachel Burke’s fab work on @imakestagram here)

That’s so cool. Whilst we’re on the single, I read that you wanted it to be more ‘immersive’ than your previous stuff. What’s that mean to you?

I thought about this last night. I love albums, and I think when we wrote the new work it truly is an album — the whole thing has highs and lows, which is consistent in a body of work. Probably more so than Self Talk, as we delivered it all at once. It’s funny, as you then release a single and you’re like ‘but wait, there’s more, it’s part of a bigger story and this is only one piece’. I kinda want people to get lost in it and feel their own emotions. On Self Talk, it was quite cerebral — there was science and art and nuance. Where this one has more downstrokes on the guitar, lots of guitars and distorted vocals  — I’m trying to evoke a feeling more than anything. I mean, I still work really hard on the lyrics, and I mean I love a chat, but I don’t want to have to explain before people have heard it. I want them to hear it and then there’s this big door that they can come through and wander straight in — and then if they want more, then I can tell them about what type of mics we used and what I cooked (laughs).

I like when I write for it to be similar to film. Like when you get lost in a film and a director has a say in the set design, the actors and the aesthetics. That’s how I approach music, I’m thinking about the whole thing all of the time. Which isn’t always a quick way of working, but I’m trying to create this world and the hope is that people will feel something and enter that door into that world.

With this approach, how important is the visual side of things?

Super important. The visuals are something funny — I think people don’t realise how much you process visually. I’ve talked about building this world on the album, I spent twelve months writing it and now to present it on-stage, it’s just about giving buoyancy to that idea that we’re building. We’re trying to do something different, and we’re trying to do something new. So it’s part of that idea of building a world and setting a stage. Budget willing, visuals are very important.

And where are you currently at with the album. Is it all done or are you currently finishing it off?

The album is all done, it’s just artwork that’s left to go. We have another single that’s going to drop very soon, so we’re about to go into another video. But yeah, It’s ready to go and I think it will be out early next year.

Is it nerve-racking having to sit on a project for a while?

It is. It is difficult because when you talk to people and they share an enthusiasm for your work, you just want them to hear it and I feel like I’m holding out on people. So this has been a new feeling. It’s quite luxurious that I’ve been able to write new work as well, so I feel very lucky. That way, we can really focus on creating these amazing videos. I’ve been working with Alex Smith, who created the ‘Star City’ video as well as ‘Self Talk’, ‘Smoke Signals’ and ‘Honey’, and I’m so privileged to get to work with someone of that calibre and that vision. So by sitting on the album and getting ready, it’s quite nice.

Between Self Talk and the new project, did you get a chance to work on music overseas and spend time away from Australia?

We toured so heavily and then I booked a cheap flight to Taiwan the day after the last gig we played, but I actually started writing — so I need help on how to holiday (laughs). I didn’t even look up that they speak Mandarin there, which I do not — so I ate a lot of things that I could point at. I have been to England a few times, but that was for writing and playing. So I’ve travelled, but I haven’t let go yet. I hope this time I can get more travel in.

Did being in Taiwan inspire you creatively at all?

It was kinda like how people go to sleep camp or those retreats where you don’t talk, like a meditation retreat. I took several notebooks that I could write in. So the place itself didn’t necessarily inspire me — the process of writing eight hours a day was exciting, that set-up the writing process.

How important is it to have that break between projects?

That’s a hard one, I think breaks are super important. It’s hard in Australia, as the cycles are getting shorter. People expect you to bring out albums straight away, which impinges on artists to take downtime. So, I’m going to get a tattoo on my arm to try and enjoy myself, we worked so hard on the Self Talk album and we’re super proud of it. There’s a lot of emotion in a record and I’m trying to really enjoy myself during the cycle. For any artist coming up, it’s important to have a break. Do as I say, not as I’ve done.

What are you most looking forward to with the shows coming up soon?

I am loving playing at the moment. I feel that we’ve worked so hard, from all the musicians working on it, all the team at the label, and everyone is working so hard. It’s all about that hour on stage. So you do all your worrying, all your preparation and all your work until you get to the stage, and then I'm playing the new record like fuck it. It’s that paradox of letting go on-stage. So everything is about the live show for me and I love playing, so that’s what I am looking forward to doing.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

You can catch Olympia playing live during her upcoming 'Star City' tour.

Tour dates:
Thursday 11th October - Mojo's, Fremantle
Friday 12th October - The Rosemount, Perth
Saturday 13th October - The Edinburgh Castle, Adelaide
Friday 19th October - Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
Saturday 20th October - Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney
Saturday 27th October - Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
Tickets are available here

(Photo by Alexander Smith via Olympia's IG)