OLYMPIA; ELECTRIFYING BRIGHTNESS
WORDS HUGO FERNANDES - PHOTOGRAPHY JOE MAGOWAN - FASHION MAISIE DANIELS - HMUA ANITA GEREER
Olympia is the Melbourne-based singer and multi-instrumentalist whose unique and electrifying musical style has been heavily influenced from a young age as she found herself growing up in a house full of opposing musical tastes, “as though there were a different radio playing in every room” including some of the most iconic artists in history such as Sly and the Family Stone, Nirvana and Patsy Cline.
The Australian artist also presents an explosive and out-there fashion sense of style which has more to speak about who she is as a creative than you can imagine. For Olympia, the creative boldness found in fashion has become a great and powerful component in her work, not only in personal style but the visuals created to showcase her music videos. Olympia has a degree in design which led her to teach at university and setting up studios in Melbourne, Darwin, Indonesia, and Cambodia, where she focused on working with disadvantaged women. All these incredible things fuelled an ongoing artistic process that found its musical expression on the stages of Melbourne's thriving music scene.
We had the immense pleasure and honour of meeting with Olympia to discuss her music and inspirations candidly and in depth.
Hugo Fernandes: What would you say where the most significant influences you received while growing up which led you to become the artist you are today?
Olympia: Growing up exposed to an eclectic array of music such as Bob Marley, The Andrew Sisters, Chicago, Sly, and the Family Stone definitely instilled a sense of music within me. This coupled with growing up in a small city off the beaten musical path, where you invented your own musical myths, instead of being fed a steady narrative of artists.
Hugo Fernandes: That's interesting. How do you think that supported your style development?
Olympia: This was formative in my curiosity about music across genres - something I still feed. While these were the building blocks, it was actually learning about designers that had the greatest impact on me as an artist.
Hugo Fernandes: Oh wow. How come?
Olympia: By looking at designers such as Alexander McQueen & Hussein Chalayan, who express and investigate conceptual issues through mediums as ubiquitous as fashion. Not only the strong ideas underpinning their work but their design process. For instance, Hussein Chalayan exploring the refugee experience as a Turkish/Cypriot: what do you take when you’re given five minutes to flee your hometown. Your life. This collection is quite old now, however, you can still watch it on Youtube. The models dress in the furniture covers, and the furniture snaps into suitcases. Culminating in the final model standing in the middle of a table which turns into a wooden skirt (you have to see it).
Hugo Fernandes: And that creative approach has been infused into your own process.
Olympia: Yes. My studies in design have most informed how I work as an artist. I really love the process of developing ideas into music.
Olympia wears red wool jacket FLORENCE BRIDGE; leggings AMERICAN APPAREL; tights STYLIST'S OWN
Hugo Fernandes: Has that been infused into your fashion style as well? How do you think that has influenced your image as a creative?
Olympia: I’ve always been interested in the visual arts. John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ TV series has a very special place in my heart. It is Berger that said ‘the camera relieves us of the burden of memory’ which I’ve referenced in the new single ‘shoot to forget’. I also have a Bachelor of Design which in addition to expensive taste, has certainly helped sharpen my eye for images.
Hugo Fernandes: Where does the name “Olympia” come from?
Olympia: The painting of the same name by Manet. It was the first nude female to meet the viewers' eye with her own, and that was deemed so offensive the painting had to be hung high to avoid the fruit being thrown at it.
Hugo Fernandes: That's impressive and really interesting. Now, on the music front; your debut album ‘Self Talk’ has been a big hit and is packed with this incredibly positive and heart-warming vibe. How would you say this journey from then till now has been to you?
Olympia: I’m so proud of 'Self Talk'. It’s a wonderful reflection of all the people who worked so hard on the project. We were lucky to have quite a long touring run on this album which exposed us to not only Australian audiences, but also the UK and America.
Hugo Fernandes: And 'Smoke Signals' was a very important song in the album. How do you reflect on that?
Olympia: 'Smoke Signals' was the walk-on song for the band Midnight Oil who toured 18 countries; feeding my inbox with videos and messages from strangers all across the world. By the time their tour ended up in Australia, I was a bit nervous that they’d have gotten sick of the song. Actually, I was more nervous standing in their crowd waiting for it to come on then I get at my own shows!
Hugo Fernandes: How do you see this massive positive response from the Australian audience?
Olympia: Australia has a penchant for large things: there’s a big potato, big prawn, big banana, and this gig was at the big pineapple north QLD with about 8,000 people. And it was raining harder than I’ve ever experienced in my life growing up in Australia, so I was standing in torrential rain, dressed in a bin liner (I hadn’t checked the weather while packing) and then 'Smoke Signals' came on these massive speakers and it felt like I was hearing it for the first time. An absolute career highlight. 'Midnight Oil' was good too.
Hugo Fernandes: Can you walk us through your creative process? Where do you find yourself most creative?
Olympia: I’m not one to wait for inspiration. Instead, I kind of work all the time! You’re constantly working on your skills, as well as ideas. So when energy wanes for one, you can sharpen the other. I have a very visual process. My studio space is completely covered in inspiration, quotes, outlines, movie stills.
Hugo Fernandes: That's amazing. How was it creating your latest album?
Olympia: During this new album, it was very important to me to create a whole world. I really want the audience to feel they are stepping into an atmosphere from start to finish. To sustain this as a writer, I started using larger diaries and replicating my studio walls in these books that I’d lug around as well so that wherever I was, I could just open these books and be immersed again. There’s a great quote by Rebecca Solnit that I like about creativity as well: "The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Never to get lost is not to live."
Hugo Fernandes: Your latest single ‘Star City’ is a pure joy with an electrifying vibe. Can you tell us a bit about it? What’s the idea behind it?
Olympia: 'Star City' is a Friday night in the world of the album. Two drinks in, drunk karaoke, slapping it’s card on the bar to buy strangers drinks.
Hugo Fernandes: How does 'Star City' differs from 'Self Talk'?
Olympia: While 'Self Talk' is quite cerebral, the new work is more visceral. There’s a sense of immediacy and desperation to it. Burke Reid (producer and collaborator) and I made a lot of bold decisions in the studio. There is no inching towards anything - we’ve gone straight to it. Equipment was driven, more information built into the melodies which are sung hard (think Annie Lennox) - and then doubled, guitars are forward, full of downstrokes, beats are simple and urgent.
Olympia wears yellow hand-printed jacket MAISIE JANE
Hugo Fernandes: Do you get involved with all the production of your music videos? How was it with ‘Star City’?
Olympia: I have been incredibly fortunate to work with filmmaker Alex Smith on 'Star City', and also 'Smoke Signals', 'Honey' and the 'Self Talk' video. With 'Star City', Alex sat with and listened to the whole album, read my essay (Laughs) on the album, the lyrics, and then wrote the treatment. It was perfect, beyond the borders of my own vision. I feel so elevated working with Alex, he has taught me so much about aesthetics and staying a vision. Working with Alex has informed more than just the videos as well. When I walk into shoots, especially in the UK where the videos have been really well received, teams, are using the videos to prepare for projects. It’s exciting for everyone, there is this expansive sense of potential, and that is Alex’s doing (and my tagging along) that has done that.
Hugo Fernandes: You are starting your Australian tour later this month. How are you feeling about it?
Olympia: It’s been really great playing solo shows in the UK. It’s given me the opportunity to really hone in on the songs themselves - absent of distraction (well, a reduction). UK audiences have taken to the new material unbelievably well, so that’s been an exciting way of preparing for the Australian leg of the tour. I have a cracking band in Australia, and I’m really looking forward to bringing the work to life on stage with them.
Olympia wears coat MICHIKO KOSHINO; leggings AMERICAN APPAREL
Hugo Fernandes: What’s the best thing about Australia, in your opinion?
Olympia: Sense of humour. Specifically for me, the humour of artists such as Peter Carey, Les Murray, and Dorothy Porter. Dark, dry and funny.
Hugo Fernandes: Where is your dream city or venue to perform at?
Olympia: Paris or Berlin. We got a lot of requests to tour there, and have some things in the works…
Hugo Fernandes: Oh; that sounds exciting already. Are you working on anything new and special at the moment? Can you share anything with us? Olympia: We are working on a new video, and the treatment is insane. Love playing this song live, and can’t wait to share this new song very, very soon.
Hugo Fernandes: Last but not least, what is your favourite f-word?
Olympia: Fame. (Laughs) Just kidding, Foliage.
Interview: Hugo Fernandes
Photography: Joe Magowan
Fashion: Maisie Daniels
Make-up: Anita Gerecs
Final image production: In-HOUSE
Olympia wears green hand-painted jacket MAISIE JANE; red sweater STYLIST'S OWN
LEFT: Olympia wears MICHIKO KOSHINO
RIGHT: Olympia wears blue jacket MAISIE JANE; dress STYLIST'S OWN
Olympia wears furry jacket MICHIKO KOSHINO; orange jumpsuit MAISIE JANE; shoes TOPSHOP