This Friday the 5th of July, Olympia is set to release her anticipated sophomore album Flamingo which includes singles 'Shoot To Forget' & 'Hounds'. The album release comes ahead of her huge national and European tours. Olympia opens up about her writing, recording and thought process' that went into the making of the album for The Writers Block Backstage.
What can we expect from your upcoming album 'Flamingo'?
A kaleidoscopic world.
Who were your main influences when writing the album?
Francis Bacon, Dennis Johnson, Maggie Nelson, Olivia Laing, Polly Borland’s (Morph), Alex Prager.
I like to draw different threads together - artists I admire in this space include Maggie Nelson who wrote The Argonauts – an incredibly lucid and generous body of work which weaves together the personal and secular. And also Olivia Laing and the work, The Lonely City. Both defy easy categorisation, and I look forward to revisiting these works again and again. There is so much there to keep learning.
I let my admiration for Maggie Nelson bloom on ‘Shoot to Forget’ when I was moved by a quote of hers from ‘Bluets’:
“For to wish to forget how much you loved someone—and then, to actually forget—can feel, attimes, like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of your heart.”
― Maggie Nelson, Bluets
This is in addition to John Berger: ‘The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget’.
Have you got a favourite track on 'Flamingo'?
Flamingo and First You Leave (today at least).
Peak and Pit of the writing process?
Writing is difficult! There is a wonderful quote that I always come back to:
‘I write because writing is the hardest work I’ve ever done. It is slow and painstaking and frustrating. I do not begin with an idea or a theme, and I don’t make outlines. I don’t have a plan for the ending or, usually, for the next page or the next line. Even short pieces might take shape over years. Everything that I have ever seen, done, or felt, had, shared, or lost, is in play, and the word of the day is on most days, confusion’ Donald Antrim.
When creating the video for 'Shoot To Forget' you portray a few different characters. How does this coincide with the meaning and process of writing the song?
The Shoot to Forget music video was directed by Leilani Croucher and contains elaborately staged characters that look like film stills from a long-lost noir film. Use of multiple characters create oblique fictional narratives that create intrigue. It's left to the viewer to assemble the bigger picture from the various references – cinematic and photographic, as the multiple characters play with the boundaries of personality.
In everything, you are trying to ‘elevate’ the audience. To present something they know/feel in a completely new way.
One of the influences – or sites on inspiration for the album were the photographs of Alex Prager. These staged photos feel real because they are familiar, and because they reference something that we feel is real. At the same time, they also feel not real, they feel unreal… we are very adept at reading images. Prager plays with this part of our reactions by refusing to offer a clear message.
“I’m not interested in worrying about division of originality versus sources of appropriations. I’m interested in the authentic, vivid, remarkable and intimate. I want to feel the grain of another person’s intelligence and voice and expressivity and their own version of this kind of helpless intensity that they feel in the face of existence’, Alex Prager
If you had to describe your album in three words, which words would you use?
Bold, confronting and modern.
If you could collaborate with any artist or producer, who would it be?
When writing the tracks on ‘Flamingo’, what came first? the music, lyrics or melody?
How was the writing of this album contrary to the making of your previous 'Self Talk'?
My most significant departure from Self Talk in how I wrote the record- all the research, writing, personal excavation, demo experiments - this was all about tooling me to be in the right space for the music to spring from.
It had to be immediate and fresh. I couldn't sit on a finished song and keep polishing it, revising and refining it. I couldn’t allow songs to settle. The songs needed edges and questions. This was a huge risk to take.
Flamingo is an emotional force. It’s different to Self Talk from the get-go: how I wrote the album, instrumentation and production choices. Everything was about creating something urgent, confronting and modern; an atmosphere you step into from start to finish.
It’s a love record. More visceral than Self Talk - lyrically it is speaking from within an experience, rather than from afar. I’ve heard writers/artists often discuss moving to New York to be close to the place where things happen, and on this record, I’ve tried create an environment so that the whole record is speaking from this emotional place and is informed by this energy.
To create something that would (hopefully) stand the test of time, and feel immediate and intimate - a lot of the expression was formed intuitively.
You’ll hear this in the choices of language: to strip out metaphor that you hear on Self Talk to instead try and tap into the unfiltered, uncensored self. Sonically, it’s probably more urgent. It is certainly not a passive record. There are no take-backs, and no apologies; guitars are up front, vocals are sung hard and we drove the studio gear to distortion.
I read Chronicles by Bob Dylan during a studio break. I’ve completely destroyed my copy through mark ups – it was a feast. This resonated: ‘And it dawned on me that I have to change my inner thought patterns..that I would have to start believing in possibilities that I wouldn’t have allowed before, that I had been closing my creativity down to a very narrow, controllable scale.. that things had become too familiar and I might have to disorient myself’, Bob Dylan.
Do you constantly write or is it more of a ebb and flow?
I write all the time. I finished a tour as part of Self Talk, and the next day jumped on a plane to Taiwan to commence writing what would become Flamingo.
While I was there I filled diaries with rubbish – but it had to come out to get to the better ideas. This trip was also about marking a distinct change of energy flow from performer to writer. They’re very disparate states.
Any (in particular) memorable moments?
My trip to Taiwan was purchased in haste and I didn’t plan for Mandarin (which I unfortunately do not speak). I ate only what I could point at.
Can you explain the song writing process for your most recent single 'Hounds'?
I began this track with the single line ‘I just released a single hound’. It really resonated with me as a rhythmic way of dispersing your energy – whether anger or judgement.
Language is so ubiquitous, the song writer/writer is always looking for new ways to illuminate ideas for the audience with old words. Metaphors are one of the tools to provide some colour.
How has it been playing the songs from ‘Flamingo’ live on the Julia Jacklin tour?
The Julia Jacklin tour was a very special experience. I played the album both solo and with a band. The reaction to the new work (well it was all new to most of the audiences) was unbelievable. Different songs resonated differently, but one thing that was great to experience was the strength of the songs solo – as well as orchestrated album versions.
Who produced 'Flamingo'?
Flamingo was co-produced by Burke Reid and myself.
When thinking about production, what is the most challenging factor?
I was quite involved in the production of this record. One of the biggest challenges when producing – or packaging the album, is which sonic signifiers to take on and which to leave.
How much does the mix or master of a song affect the final product?
Both mixing and mastering are incredibly important. Burke and I spent a lot of time working on the mix – listening to other records to see how Flamingo would sit against it, etc.
And finally, what is your dream venue to play and why?
I’ve just spent the weekend at Dark Mofo, and it is so incredible to enjoy artists who have been afforded the opportunity to deliver the whole vision of their work – instead of a compromised version of it.
Across the festivals different sites, I was moved, inspired and thankfully confounded by John Grant, Augie March, Anna Calvi, Girlzone, Jungle Pussy and Japanese latex artist Saeborg.
Pre order Flamingo here!