Interview: Olivia O'Brien Talks Rise To Music
At the age of 15, Olivia O'Brien wrote the lyrics for gnash's "i hate u, i love u." The collab has racked up an impressive 422 million streams as of last week and now, at the age of 17, O'Brien has shared her original version of the track called "hate u love u." Not too long ago we had the chance to catch up with O'Brien and talk the ups and downs of her musical life.
N2S: What is your first musical memory?
O: When I was little I went to Montessori school so music was just normal. When I went to regular school I was surprised to find out most people didn’t write little songs in their notebooks. I was like “oh, I guess I’m weird.”
N2S: What was the first record you bought?
O: I think it was Miley Cyrus – the first one actually as Miley. My favorite song was “Seven Things I Hate About You,”
N2S: When did you know music was the answer?
O: Maybe a year ago! My sister was always the one who sang. She was with me yesterday and I asked her if she thought it was weird that I’m doing music and she’s not. I always kept my singing and music to myself. I would be in my room, close the door and my parents knew I was into music. My dad bought me a keyboard but I would keep to myself. I would do it my room, write little songs, do covers or whatever. It wasn’t something I was open about or really thought I was good at. Never thought I was going to be a singer. When the whole “i hate u, i love u” thing happened my family was like “you’re going to LA to record?”
N2S: You knew that was your calling? That that’s what was embedded in you?
O: I always knew that I loved it but when I was little I wanted to be an actress or dancer or singer or something. I’ve been doing dance since I was four so I’ve always been performing but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. My whole thing was that I never thought I was good enough to make a career out of it. When I realized it was an option I was like “hell yeah!”
N2S: What’s your creative process in terms of songwriting? How does that begin?
O: It can start from pretty much anything. Sometimes I’ll write a song when I’m in a session with a producer. I’ll start the song from scratch. They’ll start a track and I’ll hear melodies and I’ll go from that. Or some of my best song I wrote at home. My notes on my phone are just filled with one or two lines that I think of when I’m in bed or whatever. A lot of times I’ll come of stuff when I’m driving. I’ll try to record. A lot of my best stuff is when I’m in my room alone.
N2S: Songwriting is very vulnerable – it’s in the inner workings of your mind. What are you inspired by when it comes to your songwriting?
O: At some points in my life there wasn’t a lot going on. When I first went to high school I didn’t really have much of a social life so I would have to draw inspiration from my friends or past experiences. I’d take a little thing and make it more dramatic than it really was.
N2S: What's your biggest challenge so far?
O: The biggest challenge when I started was to get people to take me seriously because of my age. After “i hate you, i love u” that got easier for me. I used to get made fun of a lot. When I first started making music I used to post covers on SoundCloud. I remember one day I wanted to post an original song and when I was on my way home from a field trip I remember these guys on the back of the bus listening to it and laughing at me. I went hope and deleted all my originals. It made me question everything.
N2S: Did that cause a huge sense of drive?
O: It took a lot for me to realize that you can’t just listen to what stupid people have to say. They’ll find a reason to make fun of you if they want to. It could be for literally anything.
N2S: How was performing on Seth Meyers and the Today show?
O: I have terrifying stage fright. I’ve performing my entire life so I should. Being on TV is a whole another thing. It was good but I’m my harshest critic. People liked it!
N2S: What have you been listening to personally?
O: I listen to a lot of different music. In the past week I’ve been listening to Mac Miller’s new album. “Cinderella” is the best song. Anderson Paak is one of my favorites too.
N2S: Who did you grow up listening to?
O: My mom is a feminist and is really into anything that empowers women. So she always had strong female vocalists playing. Alicia Keys was someone I listened to since I came out of the womb. Beyoncé of course too.
N2S: What do you listen to when you wake up in the morning?
O: I’ll try to start with some happier stuff like Rihanna.
N2S: What about before bed?
O: Last night I was listening to a playlist of Mac Miller, the Weeknd, old Kanye, etc.
N2S: Besides music, what else interests you?
O: Music is such a big part of my life. All my friends are the creative type of people. Lately I’ve been starting to get into fashion sort of stuff because of my friends. I’m really into all forms of arts. I’ve always been a dancer too.
N2S: What do you hope for the future?
O: I just want to make music I really like. I don’t really listen to pop music that often but I definitely want to incorporate hip hop and r&b because I think that’s authentic to what I like and want to listen to. I just want to make music that’s real to me and whatever happens, happens.
How much do you love Olivia O'Brien?
photo by Blair Brown