Following on from mesmerising performances in late 2012, supporting artists as diverse as Harmony, Kira Piru and the Bruise, Brous, and Teeth & Tongue, Olympia returns in 2013 with a self-titled EP due for release with a glittering nine piece band at The Toff in Town on the 20th March.
Tone Deaf: Let’s get the silly name question out of the way first. You perform under the moniker of Olympia (which means it’s quite impossible to find you through Google!), can you explain the story behind it?
Olypmia: Ha! Well, I wanted to move to the use of a moniker after playing for years to move towards a more collaborative approach to music, a site to work on ideas, sounds etc. I want the musicians that I work with, as well as the audience, to be able to find themselves in the music, and well, Cat Power was taken.
Olympia was initially appealing because of the fence-sitting likeness to my name, while still offering to blur the distinction between myself and the music. I also resisted the name for a while, feeling like I had to apologise for its femininity. Interestingly, (and I saw this later) Manet’s painting of Olympia totally disrupted how women were represented. She was one of the first subjects to look the viewer directly in the eye. She doesn’t pretend to be modest, and it was perceived as highly confrontational, receiving high-brow criticism including ‘she has a stupid face’, and was eventually hung out of the reach of flying objects.
In late 2012 you toured with artists like Harmony, Kira Puru and the Bruise, Brous, and Teeth & Tongue, how did that prepare you for this year?
I’m incredibly grateful to The Good Hustle music salon (The Shadow Electric) for billing Olympia alongside these incredible acts. The strongest thing I probably took away from working with these artists is that you need to back yourself. All of these artists cut their own distinct sound, they all sit restless in any particular genre, and own it.
That and the reminder to service my amp regularly after it blew up mid-set. After the amp died I remember looking down at my pedal board and thinking this could be any one of ten problems. Meanwhile the audience was just standing there looking on. Lucky Tom Lyncolgn (Harmony/The Nation Blue), our national treasure, staged an intervention with his own amp. You are not your gear. You need to be able to give something to the audience if and when everything falls apart.
‘Atlantis’ is your debut single, what inspired the song?
It was inspired by a friend recounting a ferry trip across the Aegean Sea when an announcement was made that they were travelling over Atlantis. Delivered in the same monologue as the description of snacks available at the kiosk below, it was barely noticed. To think that Atlantis, this place of memory-aching rainbows under the sea, a place that was forbidden to artists and thinkers – even to think of, was located under the litter of travellers and ferry routes.
I imagined being on that ferry and leaning overboard looking for Atlantis somewhere in the evasive poker-face of the sea, and somewhere in the descriptions of fried foods.
The single is from your forthcoming self-titled EP, what can we expect from that?
I recently had the EP described as the soundtrack to a film. The songs are driven by images, that’s a big part of my creative process, and how I deconstruct ideas, so a film soundtrack is probably a pretty apt description, part Dead Man and part Battle of Algiers.
You can also expect minimal compositions, fly-away guitar notes, atmospheric layering of guitars and vocal loops.
You worked with a bunch of incredible musicians on the EP, out of those you worked with, who had the biggest impact on yourself and your music?
Playing with other people has taught me to see the songs more subjectively. I’ve learnt to draw floor plans/maps of the songs (ok, scores), instead of endlessly exploring sounds like a tourist within my own music. For that I see everyone’s fingerprints on the EP, and performances.
I have been really fortunate to work with some fantastic people on this project including Simon Braxton (Fur Patrol), Pat Bourke (Dallas Crane, Tex Perkins), Lizzy Welsh (Blood Red Bird), Mike Caruana (Hoodlum Shouts), Wally Maloney (Mighty Duke and the Lords) and Judith Hamann (everyone).
Simon and I worked on all the EP pre-production in the back of his Northcote house, much to the disdain of his neighbours. It was like playing in an ice cave at times. I know why I was there, but it was pretty amazing and a humbling endorsement to have Simon there battling it out too.
Given that you’ve worked with a lot of great people already, what other Australian musicians would you love to collaborate with?
Without indulging in a long embarrassing list of favourite Australian musicians, I’d say My Disco, JP Shilo, and Mick Harvey.
You’re launching your EP in March at The Toff In Town. Is this your first headline gig? How are you feeling about the show?
This recording was a year in the making, so I’m really excited to be able to release the EP with a lot of the musicians who were part of the process – as well as a few new recruits. I also fell for a Fender Rhodes at Dave McCluney’s studio, so will be squeezing her into the Toff lift somehow too.
I think I’m as excited about releasing the recording as getting to hear sets by Blood Red Bird and Conor Farrell.
You’ve been a musician since you were a child, playing on a broken piano in an empty church, tell us about that experience growing up?
My brother and I had asked for a drum set as kids, but it must have been noisy when we asked because a piano arrived instead. I learnt for a while under a family friend, but really learnt to play accompanying the small church of my childhood.
At the centre of this small church of big dreams was music. We’re not talking about the 6am hair and makeup roll call of stadium-assaulting Hillsong. We’re talking about an old piano, with keys as thick as hands. which was probably last tuned when it left the factory. I was pretty cheeky. I would affect expression where I’d see fit by controlling the pace of the music, playing the piano as though it were the mechanism for a wind-up-bird.
Probably explains my sense of timing.
What are your plans for the rest of 2013?
Lots to learn, lots of new audiences to hopefully reach, and more music to write.
Also have some collaborative side-projects in the making including some work with Hello Square’s Spartak
Where we can see you play next, what releases do you have available and where can we get them?
Singles ‘Atlantis’ and ‘Asia’s Lonely Hearts’ are available now through the website olympiamusic.com.au, iTunes, and bandcamp (http://olympia.bandcamp.com/), or follow me on Twitter (@olympiamusic). These will be followed by the six-track EP on March 20 2013.
You can also catch some of my work on John Hughes’ documentary Love and the Fury which will be aired on ABC in April.
Olympia EP Launch
with special guests BLOOD RED BIRD and CONOR FARRELL
Wednesday 20th March – The Toff In Town, Melbourne VIC
$10.00 + $3.10 BF = $13.10 online presales / $12.00 on the door.
Doors from 7.00pm