Olivia Bartley is Olympia: singer, songwriter, raconteur and entertainer with a uniquely infectious style and finesse.
Releasing her debut album, Self Talk, on April 29 and fresh off the back of playing keys and guitar with Paul Dempsey’s band, Olympia was kind enough to spare a moment to chat with The Upside News.
Self Talk has already offered up several singles, which illustrate the themes of the album, and Olympia says she’s looking forward to sharing the rest of the record.
“So far we’ve released four singles. I’m really excited that people will now get to hear the record as a whole – which is how it was written,” she says.
“Making the record was an incredible experience – one of the hardest I’ve ever undertaken. Burke Reid (producer) and I were working 20 hour days in the studio, approaching the recording in a deconstructive way – mirroring the actually writing of the album. We pulled everything apart, sometimes re-recording multiple days’ worth to best serve the work.
“We pushed ourselves and the work as far as they’d go, and for me it’s the result of the collaboration that I’m most proud of. The record sounds like the process of making it, (the instruments we stumbled upon, the musicians patient enough to work with us) and I love that.”
The most recent single to be released from the debut album is ‘Smoke Signals’, which Olympia explains is about a person’s “unseen and internal chaos”.
“The track was inspired in part by Japanese reality TV show, Sweepstakes Life, in which a single contestant (Nasabi) was kept in an apartment stocked only with Sweepstakes magazines. Completely naked and without food, Nasabi had to ‘win’ sweepstakes to the value of two million Yen to exit the apartment, and survive on supplementary prizes of food (including dog food) and clothing (unsuccessful),” she says.
“Unknowingly, Nasabi was broadcast from the instant he entered the apartment and shed his clothes, with millions of Japanese viewers tuning in daily to watch Nasabi’s declining mental state and increasingly emaciated frame. Nasabi’s little world had become a sensation.
“Of course when Alex Smith [Peaches, Iggy Pop, Cold Play] wanted to be involved in the film clip, I was really happy for him to do anything he wanted. Alex and I met on the first film clip ‘Honey’. He’s an incredible artist and I’m incredibly lucky to have worked with him again.”
At the time she was writing Self Talk, Olympia was watching and listening to stories that inspired the tunes on the record, most notably a tragic Australian tale.
“I admire artists who can illuminate an idea or concept using everyday things as their vehicle. Writers Dorothy Porter and Peter Carey are masters at this,” she says.
“I’m also really interested in that space between an artist’s experiences, their lives and their art. How, for instance, Ian Fairweather tied bits of Japanese World War II wreckage together to build a raft, and essentially floated to PNG, almost missing it. He was saved by locals, having only taken along a bag of bread, had no sun protection, and subsequently was temporarily blinded by the time he snagged the tip of a reef and was found.
“The work that ensued (mind you, he had been thought dead in the interim, and obituaries were published around the world) was imbued with this experience. I watch a lot of documentaries, and I love a well written, spoken story. The documentary All This Mayhem, had a particularly strong effect on me last year. Perhaps it was its setting, or the lack of redemptive coda, something about this story was so moving I spent months looking into the story myself. It seems like such an Australian tale – so tragic.”
Recorded with Burke Reid (Courtney Barnett, The Drones, Jack Ladder, Sarah Blasko), Self Talk is an album of vivid metaphors, cinematic soundscapes and inspired narratives.
The track, ‘Biscuits’ has a different sound to the rest of the album, allowing it to stand out from its track-mates, which Olympia says is due to its raw nature.
“’Biscuits’ was the last song to be written for the record. It’s kind of like the last person to leave the party, all stripped back and singing to itself drunkenly on the way home.
All the songs on the record can be stripped back on one instrument, but we made a conscious decision to present them as they are. Similar, ‘Biscuits’ is stripped back to serve the song, voice/s and piano,” she says.
Similarly, ‘Somewhere to Disappear’ features a very different sounding guitar arrangement to what we have previously heard, which Olympia explains to us.
“’Somewhere to Disappear’ has a couple of guitars on it: an electronic guitar recorded acoustically (so you hear a lot of the strings), and I’m playing a riff over the top that moves against the melody (this is a nod to my earlier work),” she says.
“The song itself is about someone wanting to run away, someone who identifies with the rhetoric, endless loop of pop songs, so I wanted the song to references that in its approach. It’s actually the saddest song on the record finishing with the line “sometimes the worst news takes years to come home”.”
An established and renowned singer, songwriter and musician in her own right, Olympia has had a vast array of experiences and we asked her about her recent work with Aussie legend Paul Dempsey.
“I first met Paul while supporting him a couple of years back on the Shotgun Karaoke tour. That was such a great tour. We played through a lot of regional theatres, driving between each on the east coast, jumping into the sea; it was really wonderful,” she says.
“I’m now playing as part of Paul Dempsey’s solo project, which has been a fantastic challenge for me. In Paul’s band I’m playing guitar, keys, synths, percussion and singing – it keeps me on my toes. I care a lot about Paul’s work, and I want to bring the best that I can to his work. Paul is an incredible slayer on the guitar though, so stepping into some of his guitar lines has been a (welcome) stretch.”
We are very excited about Olympia returning to Adelaide to play at The Producers Bar on June 11, and evidently, so is she!
“We love playing Adelaide! We’ve played there a few times as a band and also solo, supporting Paul Dempsey, Holy Holy, Lamb and Lanie Lane. Adelaide audiences are particularly uninhibited, we hope we don’t let you guys down!” she says.
However, she won’t reveal what’s in store for us at the show.
“I don’t want to ruin the surprise.”
Not that we mind though, because we’re sure it’ll be amazing. Grab your tickets here.
By Libby Parker and Tessa Manning