The gap be­tween self-ap­praisal and stark re­al­ity in­forms Olympia’s de­but al­bum

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - REVIEWS - SALLY BROWNE Self Talk is out on Fri­day. Olympia per­forms at Black Bear Lodge, For­ti­tude Val­ley, June 3, black­bear­

Olivia Bart­ley re­mem­bers the mo­ment she first heard her song on the ra­dio. She was head­ing home from a day of re­hearsals. “I gig­gled a lot,” says the Mel­bourne singer-song­writer, who per­forms un­der the name Olympia. “I was driv­ing home ... and it came on and my part­ner ac­tu­ally filmed me singing along to the song.” The song that has been get­ting a lot of love is Smoke

Sig­nals, a quirky pop num­ber that shows off her vo­cal range and retro sen­si­bil­i­ties. The video, fea­tur­ing myr­iad Olympias in dif­fer­ent guises, matches her aes­thetic. It was filmed with a gen­uine cam­era from 1982. The song is from her de­but al­bum, Self Talk, to be re­leased on Fri­day.

“The whole al­bum, for me, is about the sto­ries peo­ple tell them­selves about them­selves. Like, I’m a re­ally fast run­ner or I’m a ter­ri­ble swim­mer,” she says. “I re­mem­ber lis­ten­ing to Dorothy Rowe speak – she’s an Aus­tralian psy­chol­o­gist and she talks a lot about men­tal health and de­pres­sion – she says it can make peo­ple fall over when they get to this point where they see a re­flec­tion of them­selves and it’s not who they thought they were. I get it in fash­ion stores when I’m try­ing on clothes. That’s a very light ex­am­ple, but this is for­mu­lat­ing how peo­ple see them­selves in the world.”

While many of us suf­fer a lot of mean self-talk, that nag­ging voice that tells us we’re not good enough, the op­po­site can also be true, Bart­ley notes. “You see peo­ple who suf­fer from self-es­teem,” she chuck­les.

Song Smoke Sig­nals tells that story. “It’s about the in­ter­nal and un­seen chaos of some­body who con­fuses re­al­ity with fantasy. It touches on that men­tal-health as­pect, too. The cho­rus is nag­ging, and I wanted the back­ing vo­cals to be fun.”

While there might be sev­eral dif­fer­ent Olympias in the video for Smoke Sig­nals, there have been sev­eral Olivias in real life, too. She had a vastly dif­fer­ent ca­reer be­fore mu­sic got out of the back seat and took the wheel. She ini­tially stud­ied and taught fash­ion de­sign, tak­ing her skills to coun­tries such as In­done­sia and Cam­bo­dia.

“I got in­vited to go to In­done­sia to help a woman set up her busi­ness through Aus­tralian Busi­ness Vol­un­teers,” she ex­plains. “I re­ally love those or­gan­i­sa­tions be­cause the busi­nesses iden­tify they have a need. For some or­gan­i­sa­tions it’s the op­po­site – it’s the vol­un­teer who has a need and that need is to travel. I re­mem­ber telling my par­ents, don’t worry, it’s a Bud­dhist coun­try!

“I worked on a sim­i­lar project in Cam­bo­dia, with women who make a choice to leave the sex in­dus­try, which is mas­sive there. But they leave it and they have no skills. I worked with an or­gan­i­sa­tion that wanted to pro­vide a skill … sus­tain­able de­sign.”

Her ex­pe­ri­ences in­form the mu­sic, she says. While she has been per­form­ing live for years, it was pos­i­tive feed­back from mu­si­cians she idolised that en­cour­aged her to take her mu­sic dream fur­ther. “It was prob­a­bly about the mid-2000s when I thought, I re­ally want to back my­self and put 1000 per cent into the mu­sic and see what hap­pens. And then the mo­men­tum picked up, but ev­ery­thing has fed into it, so it’s all life ex­pe­ri­ence, and over the last 20 years.”

Bart­ley grew up in Wol­lon­gong and spent her early fam­ily life as part of an evan­gel­i­cal church. While she may have left some of the be­liefs be­hind, one thing that stayed with her is the mu­si­cal­ity.

“Look­ing back, I didn’t re­alise how much I learnt mu­si­cally from that en­vi­ron­ment. It’s a com­mu­nity en­vi­ron­ment. It’s not com­pet­i­tive. It’s very egal­i­tar­ian, so it teaches you an in­nate sense of har­mony and how to blend with other voices.”

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