Photography // Olivia Swann – press.
Words by Mariana V. Honorato
Fun, talented and self-diagnosed sneakerhead, Olivia Swann has been sculpting her musical identity, inspired by great names in the industry. We had a nice chat with the voice behind “Salty” to discover more about her style, flavours, influences and goals. Enjoy the groove of her track and read our full interview.
How did you discover your interest – and talent – for the music career?
Since day dot, music has been my little imaginary friend/sidekick. Growing up, I was literally non-responsive whenever I had my Walkman in; it actually became a running joke. I remember the first time things started getting more focused towards music, it was when I was doing work experience in Paris. I was asked to audition for Berklee College of Music (Boston, USA). School was always focused on academics, so I hadn’t considered music school before. They offered me a place, I ditched my business degree at the University of Exeter, moved to Boston, attended Berklee, and here we are now!
How was the creative process behind your last single, Salty?
So ‘Salty’ is, unfortunately, a true story, created as a result of a shitty housemate experience stealing my sneakers! As a self-diagnosed sneakerhead, I just had to do something with my feelings, as it is honestly one of the worst things she could have done to me. Like, seriously, why not steal someone’s Crocs, sandals, hoodie, or anything else?!
Listen to ‘Salty’ while reading the interview:
I was sharing a house with a girl who stole my brand new, unworn pair of red & black, Retro, Flu Game Jordan 12’s. Which was bad enough, until she posted selfies wearing her ‘new shoes’ all over Instagram and was getting so many double-taps & comments about ‘her’ amazing style. I wrote it in California with writers Darcy Callus, Maya Batra plus Jane Handcock (who features on it), and it was one of the quickest songs I’ve written! I guess when something is so fresh and has happened to you, it’s a very easy creative flow. Then Jane came in & really added some sauce to the track!
I felt that throwback West Coast/R&B vibe on ‘Salty’, so collaborated with one of my favourite producers, Symphony, who’s also out in LA, who then made my sonic dreams come to life!
I had a rough start with this story, but the best things ended up happening from it; I made Salty, I eventually bought another pair of the Jordans & designed my own Salty kicks!
“Trust me; I’m not trying to ride anyone else’s wave! It’s the coolest thing exploring who you are and watching your own sound grow. I’ve always been comfortable staying original in my own way.”Olivia swann on shaping her style
Do you already define yourself in a unique style, in musical terms, or do you prefer to broaden perspectives and experiences to shape your own style gradually?
It’s so important to have your own flavour. The ultimate achievement for me is when someone can hear a snippet of your music and immediately go ‘oh yeah, that’s Olivia Swann’. It takes time, though, like you’re not going to discover ‘you’ overnight, it’s for sure a process.
For me, it starts with what you are influenced by. It goes without saying that my musical makeup, from everything I’ve been listening to over the years has shaped my sound today. I am always authentic with my sound. I think my voice, tone, and feeling in my songs are very distinct, which makes them recognisable and relatable. Trust me; I’m not trying to ride anyone else’s wave! It’s the coolest thing exploring who you are and watching your own sound grow. I’ve always been comfortable staying original in my own way. I’m so attracted to that originality and comfortability of self, for example, when I saw Harry Styles’ music video, and it was about his pet fish…I mean, it was so dope, so unexpected, but so cool!
I do think, though, the way the early Black Eyed Peas, Outkast and Missy Elliott made me feel and how I view their music is a goal of mine. Their music was so authentic to them, but it was so relatable and palatable to everyone, making it naturally become Pop Music. They weren’t ripping off other people’s sounds that were around at the time, but their music was so good that it became mainstream, and that really is what I’m aiming for with my music. I’m making music that I enjoy that touches me, and in turn, I feel it can translate to a broad audience. I mean, who doesn’t want to write catchy, feel-good music? I think Pop music, at its best, is classic and untouchable.
Your tracks mix tones of R&B, jazz, and pop. Who are your biggest musical inspirations and how they reflect on your work?
R&B, Pop and Hip Hop are what I grew up listening to. I skipped the whole Rock/Emo phase as a kid and was instead obsessed with rappers such as The Game, 50 Cent, 2Pac, and Eminem. When I was at college, though, I started to really get into Jazz, Gospel, and some other genres I’d never even considered I could connect with like Brazilian music. I think it’s a beautiful thing being influenced by so many different genres, which helps shape your own authentic sound that represents you.
The harmony in jazz has definitely influenced my writing; artists such as Amy Winehouse really opened my eyes to that bridge of pop/jazz and how simple jazz chords can be so impactful. The flow and swag/attitude of hip hop has most definitely influenced my writing style as well as my vocal delivery. The melodies in R&B have had a huge impact on me and my vocal choices. Plus, pop music in terms of its form/structure and melody has for sure influenced me sonically.
Some of my biggest inspirations have such an amalgamation of sounds that all blend into creating their own unique sonic footprint that makes them so timeless and identifiable, which I love! Artists like Erykah Badu, Chet Baker, and Outkast really are the epitome of this for me.
What are your biggest dreams in your music career? Do you set short and long term goals, or do you prefer to dream big and follow your intuition on the way?
Goals are so necessary! And being specific is key! I think by setting myself specific goals, I have a much clearer idea of what I actually want to accomplish as the world and opportunities are so vast and can seem endless and overwhelming!
One of mine is to collaborate with producer Salaam Remi, who is one of my favourite producers of all time. Another is to be a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, as I am the biggest drag race fan. I can literally see me, Ru and Michelle Visage, all next to each other, watching the queens lip-sync to one of my songs! I definitely believe in the power of manifestation, and the idea that there are no limits to what we can achieve if we want it and are willing to work hard enough to get there, so watch this space!! Salaam and Ru, I’m coming for you!