Journalist and Turner Sims Marketing and Programme Intern Molly Joyce interviews singer-songwriter Olivia Chaney ahead of her gig here on Friday 8 March.
MJ: Hi Olivia, I can’t stop listening to your new album Shelter! It was produced by Thomas Bartlett who previously has produced for Yoko Ono, St Vincent, Florence and The Machine and featured on Ed Sheeran’s album ÷ . What was it like working with Thomas?
OC: Completely mind-blowing! He’s a genius and he’s fun and raucous – we were already close but there’s nothing like making a record with someone to bring you even closer! It was just a really wonderful collaboration, even better than I could’ve dreamed of. My first record was harder than I expected to make as I made it after I had just been signed and I just put everything I’d cultivated into that first record – it kind of did fit the cliché in that it was my life’s work up until that point. But with the second album, I was distilling things much more and apart from Thomas being a fabulous musician, pianist and writer, he’s a really good editor. So he really helped me finesse the whole record and the whole process was really playful and fun. It was amazing also to do this process in Manhatten as it was a real stark contrast to this real, rough setting where I’d written the songs.
MJ: You mentioned in your performance at the Turner Sims Spring Preview that you wrote this album at your family’s 18th century cottage in the hills of the North Yorkshire Moors. Did this setting influence your songs in the way you expected or was the process surprising?
OC: It definitely influenced the album in the way I was expecting. Although you are always met with surprises including moments of despairing about one thing or another. But then there are alsounexpected moments of kind of epiphanies or breakthroughs. The breakthroughs or the shafts of light were hugely thanks to putting myself under that hardship and in that sense, it was exactly what I was hoping for I guess. I think in the modern world now, on our phones and emails, we’re not really encouraged to sit still and face your own inner thoughts. It’s hard to do , I guess that’s why we don’t want to do it, but I’m glad I did as I’m so happy with the album.
MJ: You’re back performing at Turner Sims on Friday 8th March which is International Women’s Day! What female artists inspire you?
OC: Well Joni [Mitchell] is the great one for me. That doesn’t mean I think I sound like her and I don’t try and sound like her – or anyone else, I try and sound like myself I guess. But she’s an influence as I think she sets the bar higher than anyone else for me, in terms of she specifically makes pop songs that are pushing the boundaries of form and lyrics – you can hear she’s listened to a lot of classical music and I think her melodies are completely nuts, she’s just so inventive. And the other living female songwriter who I think is complimentary to that and who inspires me is Joanna Newsom. She also can’t be put it a category. I mean what do you call Joni? She’s not a straight up pop writer, she’s not mainstream enough to be pop and yet her songs are that accessible and songs like Case of You are great classic pop songs. Kate McGarrigle – she’s an incredible songwriter and also quite genre crossing, I think I’ll probably be doing a song or two of hers as well. Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf are also two of my favourites.
MJ: I love those artists as well, I can’t wait to see you perform! Just in terms of the songwriting process itself – was there a particular element you enjoyed?
OC: When I was writing the album the autumn was beginning to turn as I didn’t find the piano until later than I wante, so when I moved to the house the weather was changing and I was starting to get a bit stressed. And yeah there was one period where I kind of knew what I wanted to say but it wasn’t coming and it kind of felt like banging my head against a brick wall. But then it really was a shaft of light and there was actually sunlight pouring in through the window and it helped me to write House on a Hill. Which is actually one of my favourite songs on the record as it does feel like it totally summarises my time there, in a literal and metaphorical way. And yeah it kind of came to me and that felt like a real joy – it’s a real privilege when that happens.
MJ: Amazing! And lastly, what would be your dream day off?
OC: Probably just going around my favourite galleries and having a day off in the great city where I live (London), because as a musician you’re always travelling around and going to these wonderful places but you don’t often have time to see your own city. Or it would probably be somewhere like where I wrote the album and be in the middle of nowhere, with this beautiful wilderness and go on a big hike!
MJ: Thank you so much for chatting with me today Olivia, we’re so excited to see you perform next month!
Olivia Chaney performs at Turner Sims on Friday 8th March – book now to avoid disappointment!