Jun 10, 2021
By Caleb Campbell
Photography by Avsha Weinberg
Atlanta-based singer/songwriter Olivia Osby has risen fast in online circles, building a name for herself as a purveyor of lo-fi bedroom pop under the moniker Olivia O and as one half of DIY indie rock band Lowertown. At only 19, Osby has been writing and recording music for most of her teenage years, beginning on GarageBand at 14 and, most recently, signing to UK label Dirty Hit (home of Beabadoobee and The 1975). While spending the winter of 2020 in London recording the next Lowertown record, inspiration struck for Osby’s confessional solo project. She took to the studio again, writing and producing her latest solo EP, Great Big Nothing, out today.
Great Big Nothing once again finds Olivia exploring meditative soundscapes and evocative tapestries of lo-fi haze. Though the project is one of her first recorded in the studio, it is thankfully as raw and honest as fans have come to expect. The tender instrumentation stays sparse and unadorned, a wistful backdrop for Olivia’s enchanting siren-like vocals and plaintive lyricism. Opening highlight “All I Want” is intimate and stark, drawing the listener close as Olivia fondly tributes her far-away home (“Bye bye/My home and place of comfort/You have expired long ago”).
Meanwhile, later tracks like “Butcher’s Row” offer expansive discordant soundscapes, spacious yet sparse. Even with the limited instrumental palette, Olivia wrings stirring feeling and passionate instrumental crescendos from “Cocoon (Version One)” and delivers the EP’s most driving moment with the closer “Leaper.” The result paints a picture of a songwriter of growing talent, and heartfelt sincerity, a rising young talent slowly expanding her creative boundaries.
Stream the full EP below and read our exclusive Q&A with Olivia O, talking about Lowertown, Great Big Nothing, and her love for samba music.
(Under the Radar) You’re back in Atlanta now, but you’ve also spent a few months in London recording for Lowertown right? How was that?
Yeah, it was really crazy. It was my first time ever recording in a studio setting so that was a lot to take in all at once. Also, it was my first time living on my own so that was a whole thing. Also just as they were doing wintertime and lockdown so it was very isolating for a lot of it. But it was a very big learning experience for me. Even though it was so cold and isolating while I was there I want to move there. I really fell in love with it for some reason.
How were things creatively with the pandemic and lockdown?
It was honestly the first time I’ve had new stimulus and inspiration in a while. The entire year I had been trapped in my parent’s house in Atlanta and that was the only interaction and social setting I was getting. So going to London was honestly super refreshing and inspiring. I got to meet new people and I got to experience all this new stuff. And I hadn’t done anything that whole year up until I went. So it was honestly one of the most inspiring things I’ve done in the past year and a half.
I also read that that experience inspired “All I Want” on the EP?
Yeah definitely. That one was about me struggling to adjust. Just because the first month I was there I was super jet-lagged the first week and I had like four hours of daylight from the time I was getting up to when I was going to bed. So the seasonal depression hit me really hard at first. London weather, especially in the wintertime, that was a lot. Also being there and not being able to go anywhere and talk to anyone made me really sad and it really sucked just because I was in this weird place where I wasn’t able to experience any of it to the extent that I wanted. So it was about me being homesick and coping with all these new responsibilities and feelings I was dealing with for the first month.
What were some of the other experiences that you were drawing from when you were writing the EP?
Definitely being in the studio for the very first time was very overwhelming at first. Just because I’ve always done all my music either by myself or with my bandmate in his basement. So I’m typically a very shy person and having my music being taken that seriously and having the pressure of going in and recording in front of all these people, including musicians that I really respected, was intense. That felt like me realizing I was a lot more capable than I was expecting myself to be. I was expecting myself to get overwhelmed, flustered, and to not perform up to standard, but, honestly, the pressure of that situation really pushed me to do better. It was really a growing experience, being under pressure and being able to actually do better than I ever expected myself to do. That was really inspirational to me.
At this point, you’ve been writing and recording for years now. When you look back at old solo releases and your first Lowertown record how do you see your music has evolved from then to now?
I’ve definitely seen a big growth over all of the time I’ve been dropping music. I started releasing music when I was 14 and a lot of that has been under my solo project. I didn’t know anything about anything at the time. I did everything on GarageBand and I barely could play guitar. So now I’ve put so much time in since then learning about production and learning about how to play. Over my solo project, you can definitely see my growth just because it goes from me picking up guitar for the very first time and writing without knowing anything about theory or production. And, being 14, a lot of the things I was writing about were very emo and immature, so my lyrics have also improved since then. I’ve put in a lot of time with that. With Lowertown, also our first album came out when we were 15 or 16 and it went from a project in the time I had after school and now it’s a full-time thing, so I can pour a lot of time and resources into it. Also, just having a label backing me, supporting me, and giving me what I need to grow is really awesome. I definitely see a maturation from our old stuff to our new.
How is the experience different when writing solo than when writing for Lowertown?
For Olivia O it’s very spontaneous. I don’t really go into anything with my solo project expecting to write a song or a project, just because I have no pressure to release under Olivia O. It’s just sort of me doing whatever I want and dropping when I feel like it. Which is really nice. So honestly I’ll just be writing something for Lowertown or I’ll have something that’s been on my mind for a week and I just need to think about and stew over it. A lot of the time I’ll write a poem about what I’ve been thinking about and that will turn into the lyrics. That’s more of a very self-explorative project. It will either be something I want to use for Lowertown and it just doesn’t fit for the project or it will just be me messing around and I’ll end up writing a whole song around a riff or lyrics and it will just turn into a song somehow. And I put all the songs together into a project. It’s usually around the same themes since I write it around the same time in my life.
Do you find yourself drawing on different influences when writing solo?
Definitely. I go through phases with music a lot of the time where I get really into a genre or an artist and it’s all I listen to for a month straight. That usually influences me a lot. When I was writing this project I was listening to a lot of Brazilian music and a lot of Japanese music from the ‘70s and ‘80s. It doesn’t sound like any of that but it was really influential to me. Also a lot of folk music. It sounds more like folk music [laughs]. I’ll get really really heavily into a genre and then it will just inspire me to write new music and draw from those influences.
How do you see these influences coming out?
Honestly, I don’t think any of my music sounds like samba music or sounds like Yellow Magic Orchestra or any of those influences, but most of the time when I get really into a genre it’s usually a catalyst for me moving on into a new period of music for me. Even if it doesn’t sound like the music I’m into at the time, it gives me an extra push to try new things or to get into a new mindset for another project. Of course, it doesn’t sound like samba music but that’s what really inspired me on this project.
I feel like the new EP especially leans into the lo-fi feel. The Lowertown material definitely does as well but it feels especially prominent. Do you think part of that is the looser and less planned-out recording style?
Definitely. Also, I would like my stuff to sound better sometimes, but I like the idea of learning to produce as I go along. A lot of the lo-fi elements from this project is me not knowing how production works. Even from writing that project to now, I’ve learned more from writing new songs. It’s also partially a result of my ear liking the sound of lo-fi music, just because I’ve listened to a lot of it, and partially a result of me learning how to produce. Honestly, I like that though because it’s very raw. It’s a snapshot of what I’m going through at the time.
I also think it’s interesting to watch your progression in that respect, watching you learn more about the music you’re making and more about yourself and each project is another snapshot of where you are.
Yeah, definitely. When I listen to lo-fi music it’s very personal and intimate, and it’s very much a snapshot of an emotion or an idea. And that’s the appeal to me, just because I feel like it is very relatable. It’s like they’re in the room with you.
Do you feel like writing a solo record lets you be more personal and dive deeper into where you’re coming from?
Yeah, it did. As I’ve said, I just feel no pressure with this project at all. I’m not trying to make it as listenable as possible. I don’t care if people love the sound of it. Honestly, I sort of make it for myself. I could make all this music and not release it because for me it’s more about learning how to make music and satiating this need that I have all the time to make a song, even if it’s not the most easy-listening experience. I’m just happy I have the ability to make songs for myself and to have that for myself to draw on.
So do you have more planned for this year? Any more music or tour dates?
Yeah, we have a new Lowertown project coming out after this one, which I am super pumped about. I think that’s the best project I’ve made yet so I’m very excited. Also, we’re trying to play some shows really soon. Definitely are going to play a lot around Atlanta. Hopefully, we’re going to tour either this fall or next year. We’re definitely going to tour at some point soon. I’m really excited. Over the past year and a half, I’ve been craving it so bad. Just the adrenaline and seeing people and everything.