In Conversation with Olympia

We’ll always hold high hopes for Australian pop music: Troye Sivan, Say Lou Lou, Flume to name a few dear to our HISKIND heart. Edging on a bluesier, Laura Marling-esque side of pop, Olympia is the latest to make our list of Aussie favourites, combining bold and elegant indie on 2016’s astounding debut Self Talk.

Her aforementioned record, released last year in her home country of Australia, found itself shortlisted for the prestigious Australian Music Prize, followed by a further nomination for Breakthrough Artist at 2016’s ARIA Awards. There’s no denying that Olympia holds an album that requires essential listening for those not in-the-know and the title of ‘new favourite artist’ for those who do so.

With a whole year passing since the release of Self Talk, we chat to the Australian artist on perception, alteration and inspiration now that the formidable debut record is well out the way.

How has being in the UK been for you so far?

So great! I’ve had so much fun and it’s been so wonderful to finally play some shows over here. It’s been really inspiring to be here as I love London and Brighton, ‘work’ should not be this fun…

It’s been about a year now since the release of your first record Self Talk. Now you’ve had it out there for that long, do you have the same perception of the record as when it first dropped?

That’s such an interesting question as I feel like when I’m playing these songs now, it almost feels like we’re a covers band revisiting these songs as I’m working on my second record now. We worked so hard pulling the album together, it’s almost in a state of post-traumatic stress and shock so now it feels like a celebration of all that work when I play it. Musically, it’s so much fun to play and conceptually I’m still really, really happy with it. The biggest challenge for me now is to have a departure from this record and not an extension. I was actually at an industry meeting the other day talking to a manager about the bands we mutually love and he got this image of me that was completely different to when he finally heard some of my record. So the real work for me is proof that whatever happens with the next record has been a conscious decision.

I read you’d sometimes be in the studio or writing sessions 20 hours straight for Self Talk. Has your approach to creating music altered in these past 12 months?

Being picked up by a major label that was interested in different songwriting sessions, it didn’t really work for me as that’s just not how I work. I’m totally open to it but it did feel a bit like speed dating in that your date is someone new to work with and the product of the date is a track. Some of that did actually rub off on me though, I tend to really dive deep into the whole process so I’ve tried to incorporate writing every day into how I work.

Has there been anything specific that you learnt from making the debut that you’ve carried forward to making the new record?

Melody. I’d been a bit asleep at the wheel when it came to melody and I was definitely conscious of it but working with the producer did help as he’d just tell me flat-out that ‘you need another melody there.’ It was a bit of a nightmare for me when he moved back to Canada but I’ve learnt to just build and build and build melody so I can pull out the bits that aren’t as great. Melody is definitely something that my first record has helped so much with.

I actually made a list of things I wasn’t good at during the first record: I wish I could play drums, I wish I could speak another language etc. None have been ticked off yet though… [laughs] It’s just so harrowing being the studio, you know? You think you’re this amazing musician until you play it back and can’t understand a single word you’re saying [laughs again] or it was totally off-pitch. It’s an incredibly humbling process, I think. There’s a Nick Cave documentary that I’ve yet to fully see but I know there’s a quote in it that I love, to paraphrase: “I wish I’d care less about the studio and cared more about my vocal technique.” I resonate with that a lot.

Would I be correct in suggesting you are very self-critical of your work? And is this just with music or in other aspects of your life too?

It’s only been five minutes and you’ve picked that up quickly! I think it’s definitely married to my passion for music, yes. What worries me about interviews is that, even though I love making music and discussing the idea process, I may get too good at talking about the music and not be too good at making the music. I’d love to just go away for six months and study how to perfect the music. Someone recently told me that I was really good and I replied with saying that I am not, I’m just really, really interested in being better. It’s the same for the writing: I’m so passionate about being the best I can be. That’s how I envision myself.

Can you pinpoint any specific inspiration you’ve picked up for the past 12 months?

Lyrically it’s all been poets, like fellow Australian Dorothy Porter. I think she kicks the arse of any songwriter, ever. I’m in the back of an Uber right now and I want to cry just thinking about her work. There’s one poem from when she visited Crete and she’s writing from the perspective of a God. ‘Whose throat would I have to cut to have it happen again?’ is the line, which I understand wouldn’t be something you’ll hear on pop radio but it’s just so exciting and visual. Sonically, I’ve really tried to stop listening to other records in order to make mine as new as possible. I’ve been listening to loads of old hip hop like Ol’ Dirty Bastard which confused my drummer when I asked him to come up with something like that [laughs again.]

There’s the age-old idea of ‘second album syndrome’ and the fear of not living up to the debut album. Is that something that worries you at all?

I hate clichés so much and I hate living up to clichés. However, I may never say this again in an interview but second album syndrome is a real thing that loads of artists really struggle with in terms of matching the success of their first. I’ve got a female friend back in Australia who’s a female comedian making their second TV series and she’s been explaining how everyone does point out the pressure to make a second project. I have to just to push that out of my mind and power on with working.

Self Talk is out now.

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