Aussie quirky-pop singer Olivia Bartley – better known by her stage name ‘Olympia‘ – has an unusual approach to songwriting. Inspired by art and abstract concepts, her tracks draw from concepts like a New York Times article about fake asylum seekers, or the futility of materialism and lust for what you can’t have.
It’s pop with depth, and it’s coming to Dublin in the coming weeks, with Olympia due to support Julia Jacklin at Whelan’s on March 30. I caught up with Olivia before one of her first ever European tours got underway…
I understand these are some of your first European shows, so first of all, welcome. Do you have much idea what to expect when you head for Ireland? What are you hoping for?
I am so happy to be playing Ireland – I have heard Irish audiences are wonderful (and I’m truly not making that up). How else should I prepare – would watching the Commitments again help?
Who knows, maybe! Congratulations on the award nominations recently. How seriously do you take the awards and acclaim side of things?
Thank you! Well I am my biggest critic, and I’m still waiting on an award from myself – so plenty of work to do.
Awards are great for the team that contribute to the work getting out there. For me, the most important thing is to create work that stands the test of time that is interesting and authentic. I don’t think you can afford to take awards too seriously as an artist, definitely not the popularity-based ones.
I understand your songs draw on a broad range of things, and your studio is coated in the imagery that inspires them. What’s jumping out to you now?
Images of Greg Louganis I’ve printed from the documentary about him. I found the doco itself really moving, the images, due to the type of film used, have a beautiful quality to them. I like having them around, not sure if anything will become from them in songs, perhaps only the illusion of exercise.
I read the story behind your track ‘Honey’, which is really quite abstract and almost psychedelic in its construction. Are you quite future-minded in your thinking?
With Honey, it was first the images of blue and red honey that sparked the idea behind the song. Blue from France where bees had got stuck into M&M waste, and red from Utah, where a beekeeper had decided to save cash and time planting native trees by crushing up old candy canes as food. Turned out that every bee in Utah partook, as beekeepers across the state discovered ruined red honey in their hives.
I thought this was a wonderful visual representation of the impact we have on each other. Good and bad.
At the same time, I’d heard an interview with a woman who’d come out of a coma, and had lost the last four years of her memory. She woke up with memories four years old. In the four years of memory she’d lost, her marriage had become increasingly violent and she’d separated from her partner. So adamant is the feeling she wakes up in, she insists on getting back with her husband. Each day she receives a lost memory back. As her memory starts to come back, bruises appear on her body, and she comes to a point where she has to decide who she will be. The past or the future.
I know you love to collaborate. Do you think any work with Julia Jacklin might come from this tour?
Ha- did I say that? Well, you never know. It certainly has been wonderful touring with Julia Jacklin and her band though. There has been a lot to learn, and a lot to admire.
The second album isn’t far off. How does it compare to your first? What should we expect?
It is far more visceral than Self Talk by design. I wanted the whole album to feel like an atmosphere you step into from start to finish, and I worked hard at developing the aesthetic of the album.
I wanted the audience to feel something, therefore I had to feel a lot. (No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader). Whereas Self Talk is quite conceptual, the new album is very personal. However, I hope that the audience can find themselves in there too.
What are your hopes for the future?
To stay interested and working.
Olympia plays Whelan’s with Julia Jacklin on March 30. Info here.