Olympia is the moniker of talented Melbourne singer-songwriter Olivia Bartley. We caught up for a chat with her first thing in the morning on International Women’s Day.
You’ve picked five songs to accompany this article. Would you like to say anything about your choices?
Click here to read Olivia’s responses.
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I’m not sure that he’d be keen to work with me (laughs). No he’s great. He’s got a great ear and everything that he’s worked on it’s been great and there’s just an energy there that’s quite loose that I love.
I reckon that’s a collaboration I’d love to see.
Let’s make it happen.
You put in a request (laughs).
Congratulations on your new single, “Shoot To Forget”. I noticed you sort of touched on it in the explanations for some of your song selections, but in an interview you said of your previous single “Star City” that you were “trying to evoke a feeling more than anything”. What feeling are you trying to evoke with your new single?
Well for me it sits between “The Rat” by The Walkmen and “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. You know, it’s quite a very mixed – and I want that levity of like, you know, that you get in the chorus of “Carol”. You know, “I don’t think Trevor is good for you…” I want that levity, anyone can sing along in the chorus. The (singing) ‘do do do do do do do’. Cos you want it to kind of feel accessible to anybody, so they try it on like shoes and then the message of the song may sink in later. So I wanted it to feel fun, and I promised myself I wouldn’t explain the songs too much, but I have (laughs). It just happens, and I’m really lucky to have that opportunity to do that. But I wanted it to feel light and loose.
You want it to kind of feel accessible to anybody, so they try it on like shoes and then the message of the song may sink in later.
Do you find it’s liberating writing songs with abstract lyrics, rather than following a factual narrative?
You know what’s funny? I actually thought I had written a really straight song with this, and I was like, “Yep, done, put pens down. Everyone is going to get that.” And when we finished it in the studio I was like, “Ah, okay. Yes that’s quite complicated.” It’s not my aim to confuse people. I think I’m just pursuing what I’m interested in. And I can only hope that that translates to some people. The bridge, which is probably the weirdest part of the song, that’s inspired by a Maggie Nelson book called The Argonauts, which is exceptional and mind-blowing. And she said something like trying to forget someone who you love, like trying to forget a lover is like slaying a beautiful bird that chose by grace to inhabit your heart. Or something like that, and that’s a clever way of putting it. And it’s sort of, like, sometimes you have to live with these painful feelings. And I know that how it’s visited in the song is quite lyrical and, you know, there’s imagery. And I didn’t want to close people out. My only hope is that they find a way into the song and they discover that for themselves. And for me as well, like, trying to use different words to paint a picture, and just trying to spark people’s imagination. Like when you listen to a podcast, all the images that fire up in your head, uh, you know, you hear the sound of the ocean or you hear mics clip and crack. I’m trying to use words to evoke that impression as well. So there’s a melody there but I’m hoping people will think for themselves at the same time.
I understand you have a new album on the way this year but I’ve had a request from your publicist to avoid asking questions about it, so I’ll instead speak more broadly.
Your debut album peaked at number 26 on the ARIA Albums Chart. How have you coped with the pressure of trying to follow up on that success?
I’m so proud of Self Talk, I think it’s its own little universe. The most pressure I feel is from myself. I’m not really fussed on the ARIA chart to tell you the truth. Only because you know the K.Flay song, “Blood In The Cut”, I’m doing a little bit of that myself to, um, you know, I really wanted to pursue something new and I was trying to think, “How can I, like, bring life to the audience or in a different way through the music?” And that took up so much of my mind’s energy. And for me that’s the measure of success, is whether I pulled off that which I was trying to do. So, yeah, the other pressures, they’re quite little, compared to that.
Your songwriting seems to sit somewhere between art pop and alternative indie rock. How would you describe your music, and how important are genre classifications in the age of streaming music?
I mean, the second half of the question kind of answers it. You’ve put it so well. Because I have always found genres are a way of putting down music. You know, people say, “Oh, what type of music do you play?” You kind of just say, want to say, “Just have a listen and figure out for yourself.” But if you just say ‘pop’ they can make a decision based on you just on that three-letter word. And the hardest thing is to get someone to actually press play and listen to something. I think I’m bringing out a rock record. Perhaps an art-rock record. I don’t think I’m a pop artist. But then yeah, you’re right, with streaming, you know, a lot of the playlisting is by genre. I’m not sure. I’d prefer to be genreless.
The music business model has obviously changed quite dramatically over the past couple of decades, especially given streaming. How important is touring and live music to artists wishing to make a living from their art in 2019?
I think artists, um, it is. It’s just incredibly hard for artists to make money, all around. Even touring, you know, often does incur tens of thousands of dollars. Like it just costs so much to tour, and Australia is a very expensive country to tour. I think we used to say, “Oh, you’ll recoup on touring,” but it’s so hard in this country, so I don’t have any answer for you on that one.
Given the lack of money in streaming, labels are increasingly dipping into other areas of monetisation by offering what’s known as multiple rights deals, or 360 deals to their artists. What advice would you have to younger artists being offered these types of deals?
I, uh, I probably don’t know enough about it, but I… (laughs) Um, I think it’s just good to consult people. Just don’t make any rash decisions. And just think, you know, it is possible, depending on what you’re doing, I mean, it is possible to do it yourself. I mean I’m on an amazing record label, but different artists may work better working their own way. And so if there’s – It may just – I guess my point is that may not be the only option available, even though you think it is.
I’d just recommend anyone to reach out and connect with their network… You’re a great researcher.
In an interview last year you said “do as I say, not as I’ve done.” It might have been a throwaway line, but have you ever been offered or signed a 360 deal?
Uh, no. I haven’t. Did I say that in regards to business? I can’t remember. Um, but I do think a key thing for young artists coming up is to talk to, reach out to the artists the level above you and talk to them. Because they’re most likely to have freshly experienced these things. And they’ll have the best insight for you. And I’d just recommend anyone to reach out and connect with their network… You’re a great researcher.
Thank you. I understand that you’re a fan of poetry, would you say that’s your favourite art form besides music?
Oh yes, love music. I love film. I get a lot of inspiration from film. Like, beautiful directors and I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about the world through film. I love documentary filmmakers such as Adam Curtis and filmmakers like Pedro Almodóvar has been a really huge influence on my songwriting.
If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
Hmm. That is a good question. Probably… I’d love to pull a song apart with Bowie. Yeah, like when I listen to Transformer, you know the Lou Reed album? And Iggy Pop’s work, when you can hear David Bowie’s hand on things. I would love to see – yeah, I’d love to be in the tool shed with David Bowie.