Singer songwriter Olympia, real name Olivia Bartley, first came to promience with the release of her debut album Self Talk in 2016 which saw her nominated for the Breakthrough Artist at that year's ARIA Awards. She has just released her first music in over two years in the form of the jangly guitar pop single 'Star City' and will be performing at this years BIGSOUND Music Festival in Brisbane from September 4-7. Women In Pop recently caught up with Olympia to find out what she has been up to, her new music and what we can expect to see at BIGSOUND.
Hi Olympia! What's currently happening in your world?
I am currently sitting on a whole body of new work!
Your debut album Self Talk was a big success and saw you nominated for an ARIA Award and the Australian Music Award in 2016. What was that experience like and how did your career change after that?
To be honest I was so busy during the record cycle I didn’t have time to enjoy those milestones. I don’t think I put my head up for air for two years. But this was probably a good thing as by the time I’d come up for air, I was in Taiwan deep into the writing of the new work.
Actually I was in a bar last week and the record came on and it was such a nice surprise to hear it that way. It felt like I was hearing the record for the first time. It was probably the first time I wasn’t listening intently for BPMs, or thinking about parts, or performances (you know, what beat the glitter cannons would go off).
Another moment I got to really hear the work for myself was at a Midnight Oil concert. Or rather I received messages throughout the night as Midnight Oil made their way around the world with 'Smoke Signals' as their walk-on song. It felt as though the song was circling me (coincidentally this was The Great Circle Tour), until finally I was standing in torrential rain at The Big Pineapple on the Sunshine Coast waiting for Midnight Oil to come on stage - and I felt so nervous! What if they’d become sick of the song by now and had hastily pulled it for something else? But right before they came on the speakers were turned up and 'Smoke Signals' played for me. I will never hear that song as loud. Thanks Midnight Oil.
You've just released the new single 'Star City' with more music on the way. Can you tell us anything about what you have been recording?
I could write an essay in response to this question! I have spent twelve months developing the new record, and we are on the very brink of release. I wanted to explore some points of differences with this record. Most importantly I wanted the work to be more visceral, as though you are driving down the highway with your window down: a feeling. Or rather, I didn’t want to tell people how to feel, I wanted them to feel something.
This meant a different approach to the whole process. With the writing. I needed to tap into unfiltered emotions and thoughts – ones akin to drunken karaoke highs, and getting carried away in an argument (perhaps also drunk here??) about something stupid like a pink jacket, or who ordered too many entrees. The approach to instrumentation is also more immediate, as well as vocals as though we (co-producer Burke Reid and myself) didn’t think we’d set ourselves enough challenges.
While I spent twelve months writing the work, I then had to submit myself to making the record. The end result is full of life force and risk.
In Taiwan, where I didn’t speak a word of Mandarin, I wrote myself an essay of things I wanted to explore in the new work and the first line was ‘create an atmosphere that you step into from start to finish’.
I think we might have got there.
You are appearing at the BIGSOUND festival in Brisbane in September. What can we expect from your performance?
We have a really exciting set ready for Bigsound that will showcase some of the new unreleased work. We warmed up with some secret shows at this year’s Dark Mofo which was an incredible experience. Looking forward to playing in the warmer conditions of Brisbane this time.
Music festivals around the world have come under fire recently for the lack of female artists on line-ups. What are your thoughts on the gender equality situation in today’s music industry, and how female artists are portrayed in the media?
I recently stood in front of a group of 40 young musician’s at a Girls Rock workshop and the only female guitarist someone could name was Suzi Quatro. That was really astounding to me, because amongst all the artists I have looked to, there have so many females. I still remember the moment my best friends shared Sleater-Kinney’s One Beat with me when I was a teenager. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard – still is. Or The Slits, ESG, later it would be Peaches and Alabama Shakes.
I heard a writer once say that they moved to New York to be closer to the pulse of where things happened. When I listen to those early records that have had such a formative effect on me, I feel like I’m closer to the pulse of why I want to make music. It is a feeling full of such force.
But do you need to see women on stage in order to be inspired? Of course not. I think for me when I was young, I deeply understood what it meant to be seen, but it helped me to see someone ‘be’ and ‘do’. In short, I would love to see more representation of all groups across the arts – at festivals and in the media. It’s important for young people coming up to see diversity of voices, and it also makes for more interesting art.
I wouldn’t buy tickets to a festival if I didn’t support/was not interested in the bill. If you want to see more diverse bills, you need to support artists: go to shows; request songs on the radio; buy albums, share great art. Festivals are ultimately businesses. Money talks and businesses are listening. (And if they’re not – take your money elsewhere- to Meredith; Panama, Dark Mofo, the Darwin Festival, or go see Bangarra Dance Company, Retro Futurism etc)
In your career have you experienced episodes of sexism, or where you felt you were disrespected because of your gender?
The music industry is not immune to broader societal issues, such as sexism and misogyny. You need look no further than Trump’s Access Hollywood tape to see we have a problem. There are examples closer to home, however the Access Hollywood tape was stunningly brazen and undeniable. Yet, millions of people stood up and endorsed his views as representative of their own. Something is endemically very wrong. This is not my view of the world. Nor of that of people close to me, champions of all genders who’ve supported my work and my understanding of the world.
What music and artists are you listening to at the moment?
I don’t listen to anything while I’m writing and in the studio, so I’m having an absolute love affair with music at the moment. Listening to, Anna Calvi, Missy Elliot, Eilish Giligan, Laura Jean, King Gizzard, Big Thief, The Wire.
What’s up next for Olympia?
The first single, 'Star City' is out now. 'Star City' is like a Polaroid from a Friday night in the world of the album. The single will be released with a film clip created by maverick filmmaker Alex Smith – genius behind the Smoke Signals clip.