By Maxim Mower
Hi Olivia! I wanted to start by talking about your recent single, ‘Living Instead’. What does the main lyric - ‘It’s time to stop living in my head, and start living instead' - mean to you?
Well, I’m all about melding mental health and music together. My last two or three years have been about refocussing on taking care of myself and my mental health. I just realised I had no idea how to take care of myself. I was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna embark on a journey to discover who I am as a person’. I found a wonderful therapist, and she helped me figure out a lot about what was going on in myself. I was around a year in, and I kind of had this mental breakthrough where I was walking to my car and as I got in I was like, ‘I’ve got to stop living in my head, and start living instead’. I have this songwriter ‘ding’ that goes off in me, kind of like an elevator noise…and I thought, ‘Hey, that rhymes! I need to write this down!’ I still struggle with it, and I think I always will struggle with stress - after all, we’re human, and we’re never going to get it perfect. But there are tools that I have in my mental tool-belt that I can use to help put me back in the moment, and to stop me from worrying about the future and the past. But it’s so hard. I wanted to write ‘Living Instead’ because that's what I was going through, and it’s what I’m still going through.
Do you meditate?
I meditate in my own way. Every morning I try to get up and take thirty minutes before I have to check my phone or check my emails. I dive into scripture, and it gives me a moment of quiet.
Nowadays, we have a wealth of information about everything, including mental health. Even though this is a really positive thing, do you think that it can sometimes overload us, and, like you said, get us stuck in our heads?
Yeah, I’m going to quote [author and Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life founder] ‘Peaceful Barb’, who I had on the first episode of my podcast: ‘Life is not easy, but it’s so worth taking the journey’. When you dive into your own mental health, where you can heal yourself, it’s not fun. It’s overwhelming, and some days it’s downright hard to look in the mirror and say, ‘I have a lot of work to do about how I talk to myself and how I see myself’. It can feel mentally cleansing, but other days can really get you down. I think it’s a larger metaphor for life - if you’re comfortable all the time, what are you learning? What’s the point? Therapy is about taking ownership for your traumas. Be a better human for you, and for other people. There's definitely way too much information, but I’m definitely glad that there’s more than there used to be, because my parents’ generation and my grandparents’ generation didn’t have access to the tools we have access to.
There’s a lot of optimism in your music. But you recently opened up on Instagram about how you do have bad days like everyone else. How important is it to you to show both sides?
It’s so funny that you asked me that. The other day I was watching a keynote speech on ‘How do we make Instagram more positive?’ The speaker said Instagram itself is not the problem, it’s the people on Instagram that are the problem. It’s the people putting up the fake, ‘my-life-is-so-awesome’ pictures, and never showing a side of vulnerability. I pride myself on being open because I want my Instagram to be a space where people can come and not feel inadequate. I do put pictures of times when I’m happy, but I’m also aware that I need to be vulnerable, and sometimes I need to not use as many filters. I know I have little boys and girls coming to my page and comparing themselves to me, whether I like it or not. The trouble is that people aren’t telling the story behind the picture. So I made a promise to balance my Instagram by showing that I do have bad days. It’s so important for mental health, with people now living vicariously through their phones and the internet, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. For me, I hope people come to my social media and get a sense of realness.
It feels like whenever there’s an exciting new female Country artist on the scene, the critics can’t help but start drawing comparisons to Taylor Swift. Are those comparisons flattering, do they add pressure, or is it frustrating that so many up-and-coming female artists are thrown together into this same box?
I take it as the highest compliment. Two years ago I would’ve put pressure on myself, but I feel secure in myself and my art right now. No one is like Taylor right now, she goes from Country to Pop to Americana…she is a true creator. Her recent album, folklore, I’m amazed by, because her lyrics are so deep. There's a beauty to letting people in that much, but also hardship. She’s lets people into her psyche, but puts walls up around her privacy. I try and do the same, and let people in to seeing me without make-up and putting out vulnerable ideas and songs. But there's also places in my art and creation and personal life that I want to keep private.
‘Nothing Changes’ is your most recent release, and a key lyric that stuck in my mind and that pops up a lot in the music video is ‘See Yourself’. What do you mean when you say you want people to 'see themselves’?
This is why I love the UK! It’s just the way music is digested and talked about. For me, ‘See Yourself’ means going back to having honest conversations about yourself, healing your traumas and not being so mean to yourself. If you can look in the mirror and tell yourself you’re ugly, you can also tell yourself you’re beautiful. Why do we resort to one over the other? There are ways to really truly see the beauty in yourself and see how wonderful it is to be a human, and to know that your story matters. You’re here for a purpose, not just to be born, make money and die. Everyone’s story is compelling, and we're all here to make a difference. Whether that’s through being a mom, parent, teacher, artist, a vessel for children to be successful…whatever your story, there are ways to own it and love your purpose. But it’s so hard to get there, and it requires work. ‘See Yourself’ means ‘see the beauty of yourself’.
You recently finished Season One of your podcast series, ‘Living Instead’. It's a really informative and helpful show - what made you want to start this?
Half of it was that I was bored in quarantine! And the other half was that I was fascinated in people’s stories. The first four or five people I interviewed were very instrumental in my own healing, and I talked to a lot of people who held my hand and were very gentle with me and helped me put the pieces together. That turned into ‘You know what, I’m hearing from the people that helped me that they had their own hardships, and that's what led them to get out of their head'. Everyone has a testimony of going through something that is hard and how they got over it.
In 2017, you took a break from music to focus on your mental health. It seems there's this constant pressure to always be putting new music out, so it must’ve taken a lot of courage to step away for a while.
It was incredibly difficult. Now being on the other side of it, I can see it was such a growing period for me. But the biggest thing was that I thought my world was ending, and it’s just one of the lessons you learn in your twenties. You build yourself up, and then it crumbles from under you, and you think the world’s ending, but really it’s not. For the first time, I had to look at my team members and really think about whether this person is toxic for me, and just be my own manager. It was really tough. There were moments where I wasn’t sure if I’m meant to be doing this, whether this is my calling. And those were scary questions to ask. I had to rise up and be my own hero, and I think ‘Nothing Changes’ is an ode to that feeling. I had to take responsibility for my own life and actions and changing myself, and for the place I’d gotten to. It’s a lot easier to blame other people, but I’d let this all happen to me. Granted, I was young, and didn’t know the right choices at the time, but I got myself out of it and rose up to the occasion. It wasn’t necessarily my fault if people took advantage, but it is up to me to heal that part of me, and to decide who to surround myself with.
Finally, could you tell us your favourite three songs with an inspiring theme or message about mental health?
Stream ‘Nothing Changes’ on all platforms, and check out Season Two of Olivia's 'Living Instead Podcast', out now.