Music interviews Women in Music

Interview with Olympia: “Flamingo is about trying to hold hope and hopelessness together.”

Something exciting has been quietly happening in this country to music that now it seems almost impossible to keep a lid on it. At the forefront is musician Olivia Bartley, better known as Olympia, who is about to forever alter our expectations of what music should be with the release of her new album Flamingo. While I still adore her acclaimed debut Self Talk, Flamingo could be arguably even better. I guess time will tell. But at a glance it is different, engaging, honest, raw and an ode to love in some respects. It is much more if you consider that just maybe Olivia is letting her guard down to show the real person behind her stage name. I say that because I read somewhere a few years ago that Olivia chose her performance name to give herself a little bit of distance between herself and her artistic output. But somehow I feel that distance is a little closer than ever before. For fans of Olympia, you will be pleased to know her guitar is up front and still doing the bulk of the hard work sonically but with plenty of innovative studio fuzz to boot. And so with Olympia on the verge of something big, I managed to catch her in the mood to share some of her ideas behind Flamingo. Here is some of what we talked about.

There has been an extraordinary push around promoting Flamingo going back to late August last year. It feels like you are really enjoying it. What’s different about it say compared to when you were promoting Self Talk? Do you feel you have more at stake this time round with Flamingo being your follow up release? 

I think if you care about the work you are making there will always be a lot at stake.

Can you cite a towering high and low from your last 12 months or so that led to Flamingo’s birth?

Flamingo was born out of sustained effort. I had set out to try and deliver a whole new atmosphere with the record – immersive from start to finish. The hardest thing is writing it, and by that I mean, the filtering and interpretation into the final product. An artist can absorb so much information, but the direction it takes in the work could go in a million different directions.

With Self Talk you absorbed the world around you. Nothing it seems was off limits. Flamingo is different, inward, engaging and honest. It has some very personal songs. Can you elaborate how as a collection of songs it makes you feel now that it out in the world?

I had set out to make an emotional record. That seems like such a dangerous word. But it’s rather that I wanted people to feel – and this was in response to what I was feeling was a climate of social apathy. I’m not really interested in window-dressing, or placating the status quo with my work. Rather Flamingo is digging deeper, and the result is probably a little confronting for the audience – but if so, how exciting! Artists live for that. Let it divide people. Let it invite deeper listens and reveal itself over time for the listener.

In order for the listener to feel something, I had to feel a lot – but I don’t think that makes it an inward record. Rather, that was a risk I took, and a dog I’ve placed in the fight.

Flamingo is about trying to hold hope and hopelessness together- an undertaking I think a lot of people can relate to. In that Flamingo is both personal and secular.

It now belongs to the audience to bring their own life and interpretation to the work (and for me to stop talking about it).

I understand you generally keep notes and doodles of nearly everything as inspiration for lyrics and songs. Asides from, of course, yourself, what were some of the inspirations for the new album?

I looked to learn more from (visual) artists this time. Francis Bacon was one of the first touch points, and references for the work. I kept asking myself what distinguishes aritsts from each other- how do they innovate in such an old and well-explored tradition.

In Bacon, I kept coming back to his interviews where he talks about bringing the work back to the Bacon talked about bringing the work back to the nervous system in the audience and also his desire for to pursue risk in his work. Both vital ideas.

Other writers included Dennis Johnson, Maggie Nelson, Olivia Laing, and photographers Polly Borland’s (Morph) and Alex Prager.

Before I let you go Olivia, you recently concluded a supporting gig with Anna Calvi. How much of a thrill was it playing with someone you greatly admire? Was there any shop talk so to speak on guitar techniques etc?

I had actually tried to avoid the support slot. I had tickets to see Anna play Dark Mofo and I was looking forward to immersing myself in her show- as a punter. But it was an incredible privilege to share a stage with Anna, and I’m so happy that went ahead. I have met Anna, I’ve spoken with her on the phone previously, and it was great to speak again. No guitar shop talk, but we did speak about each other’s sets and albums.

And finally, I understand you are heading back soon to Europe and over the coming months you’ll play in places like London, Dublin and Berlin. What are you looking forward to the most playing in front of new audiences? And how are they different to say audiences in OUR hometown of Melbourne?

I had the privilege of playing these cities while supporting Julia Jacklin, and they were incredible shows. Each city different of course, overall there is an openness in audiences there. The most surprising thing I discovered, or was afforded the perspective of, was how conservative Australian audiences are. Something I probably would have disagreed with having not experienced it. There are different factors which probably lead to that: greater populations overseas, healthier gig cultures (people of all age go to gigs, no lock-out laws), they’re not hamstrung by limited national radio stations so not only are their ears open to diversity, they’re not waiting for someone to tell them something is good before they press play.

For more information on Olympia’s forthcoming UK/EU/AUS Flamingo tour click HERE.

Olympia’s new album Flamngo is available in all good record stores and digitally. For more information on Olympia including tour updates check out her website. Follow Olympia on Instagram | Facebook | Twitter. Watch her on You Tube.

Photo credit:The header image of Olympia is courtesy of James Adams (EMI Music).

1 comment on “Interview with Olympia: “Flamingo is about trying to hold hope and hopelessness together.”

  1. I love her music, there is something vital and passionate about it. She loves Francis Bacon, Anna Calvi, Olivia Laing and so she is clearly a very interesting person. Great interview Robert and thank you for introducing me to this new artist.

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