Taylor Carroll just released her new EP, 'The After Party'. To celebrate the release, she's interviewed one of her close friends, Olympia, for an enthralling conversation about creating music.
Taylah: I wanted to start - and I’m interested in your answer to this one - do you consider your music to be confessional?
OLYMPIA: I don’t know. I don’t consider it to be confessional and if people feel that then I’m the best songwriter ever, you know? If people feel that it’s confessional or it has that emotional resonance that feels uncomfortable, then that’s wonderful. But I wouldn’t consider myself a confessional songwriter. But that could just be me trying to avoid being labelled as one thing. That’d be my take. What about you? Do you consider yourself a confessional songwriter?
I do, but I definitely don’t set out to be that way. I think that, for me, songwriting is extremely private and it seems to have been a way that I am able to express the things that I have difficulty saying, or the sides of myself that I can portray that I have difficulty sort of existing in my everyday life. But the reason I was interested to hear what you thought was I remember reading an interview with Tori Amos, an artist I really love - and she was talking about how women often get pigeonholed as “confessional” writers more so than men and that she didn’t like being considered a “confessional” songwriter.
I think when Tori Amos was coming up, it was a totally different time. There weren’t a huge lot of women superstars, like, there was her, Bjork, PJ Harvey - I’m just trying to think about who’s on the NME cover. And it was kind of a diss to be confessional. It’s that age-old thing, the idea that women are just talking about their feelings, but when we see a man express their softer side, we’re enamoured by it. It’s a really boring gender trope, that women should be portrayed as tough to be sexy and that men should be revealing their feelings, and I hope that’s changed by now.
I’ve often tried to explain that I find songwriting addictive and that when I’m doing it, it feels like I’m problem-solving in my head. I feel like writing a song is kind of like a puzzle - you’ve got these confines that you’re trying to fit an idea into, because you want it to have rhythm, you want to find the word that semantically makes sense but also sounds beautiful when you sing it or sounds fitting when you sing it. So you’ve got these confines that you’re trying to force an idea into.
I feel like there’s a parallel between that idea of songwriting being problem-solving and you having these kind of wayward inspirational ideas that you’re trying to fit.
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Do you approach songwriting, do you think, with spontaneity or is it a skill that you apply discipline to? Are you disciplined in your songwriting?
I am ridiculously disciplined. I used to call myself a 9-to-5 songwriter in that I would sit there from nine to five, and if there were no ideas, no rush of blood to the head, I’d never wait for that. I might read some of these songwriters-on-songwriters, or I’d listen to podcasts about songwriters or music, or I’d just start to do speed lists, like What rhymes with table? Or what’s a verb? So all of that is work, and the idea is that all the tent pegs are in the ground and one day I would have a rush of blood to the head, and I’d be able to write this amazing, immediate song quickly cause I’d done all of those tent pegs ready to build whatever shape tent I want.
But it comes in waves. And I sort of feel like the best songs that I know of - for someone who kicks the shit out of words and their songs and how sentences fit - some of my favourite songs, I don’t really care what they’re singing about. I feel something there in the music, or how they approach the microphone or the cadence or the timing or the bpm, but the lyrics I’ve never considered. And that’s spontaneity. So I come around.
And the worst thing you can do in songwriting, I think, is to get too smart. But we naturally get smarter - you learn on the job. Technically writing is a skill, so the more you do it, the better you get at it. But also, experience-wise, I always think of your song ‘Have A Party On Me’ - there’s so much to experience in life, and it’s your financial risk, booking tours, having to deal with your face being on the poster and all the failures and successes that come with it. All that life stuff, it’s magnified to what anyone outside of music has to deal with. So of course you’re going to get smarter and have harder perspectives on the world. But if you write songs that are too smart, maybe the audience can’t relate to them.
I’ve had this thought before where I realise maybe the better you get at an artistic pursuit, the more inaccessible you are. The better that you get at it in your area, the less anyone else is going to get what you’re doing.
What other art forms - or not even art forms, it could be like vices, it could be food, any experience - do you go to if you’re feeling sapped of creativity?
Just anything but Netflix. Like film, when you watch a film compared to TV, I mean TV is just not provocative, maybe? I mean there are some shows that are. But I just watched Aftersun, and it’s so full of melancholy and uncertainty, and the director is not treating us like dum-dums. The director is allowing the audience to do a lot of work to watch the film. There’s a lot of ambiguity so it’s that thing when you wake up the next day and you’re thinking about this film, but you’re not sure what you’re thinking about. It gives you a lot of loose threads and as a songwriter that is just gold. So film is a big one for me.
Trying to continue to listen to new music, to be interested, to go to shows. And also drinking with my friends and seeing what silly things we do - that’s great songwriting fodder.
I was caught off-guard the other day because I watched this David Attenborough doco - and I hadn’t watched something nature-related in so long - but I ended up writing this poem in the bathroom the next morning about locusts.
I think that’s something that I hope I do in my songwriting sometimes as well, kind of tease the truth and leave little nuggets for people to connect, so that you are doing some work and some unravelling of the puzzle as you listen. Because that is rewarding, I think, as a listener.
Yeah, and it rewards the listener who comes back again and again. You know, there are songs that I love that I just keep discovering things about. It’s great.
Do you feel like you have an innate inclination to write? Do you feel like you write music out of necessity?
Yes. And I’m at my happiest when I’m creating, and writing music and songs. And one of my musicians who I’ve known through the years and who has seen me at times want to pursue aircraft engineering instead, for instance, once said “Yeah, but you will always write”. So even if I was just writing for myself, I would always create.
It’s funny because you just said that you’re happiest when you’re creating or writing, but I’ve often thought that it’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing. Cause I feel like I definitely write a lot more when I’m happier as well. I feel When things feel unsettled in my life or when things are up in the air, I’m in fight-or-flight mode, I’m not really that creative. I probably like writing lots of words and notes on my phone. So I guess I am still writing, but a fully-fledged song comes once the dust has settled, my nervous system is calm, and I’m free to do the real processing.
So I feel like I create more when I am happy, which also allows my creative process to have a kind of circular nature as well where I’m in the trenches of life and then come up, process what the fuck just happened, and then do the writing and then work out the world. Cause I feel like we both, as musicians, are really excited about creating not just songs but whole worlds for each of our songs and each of our bodies of work as well, which is an exciting and separate part of the cycle for me.
I think that’s so healthy and I think you’ll have a really long and sustainable career if you’re writing when you’re happy. That’s great.
There still needs to be the trenches though. The dust needs to first be lifted before it can settle. But yeah I definitely feel more productive when I’m happy.
On the creating a world - visual especially but just a world in general - do you feel like that’s something that comes to you early in the piece? Like when you're writing a record, are you, as you’re creating it, having these colours come to you, or visualising objects or visualling spaces, visualising scenes - or does that come after the song is finished? Does it come in the studio? When do you start deciding?
It starts with the writing, and that world becomes more refined as the song becomes more refined. But I’m used to writing little manifestos to send to the PR or the team who are working on it, and I start them when the demos are done. I start to pull together information like what the songs are about and what links them, and the visuals are very much a part of that. Even when I’m tracking in the studio, I’ll have an image or photographs in the vocal booth that I’ll have to sing to. How they manifest for the listeners, I do not know.
It’s the same as I used to have these serial killer lairs where I used to have all my notes on the wall. Then I started to lean on my diaries more heavily cause I wanted to take that world with me more instead of just being this hermit in the studio because I was touring a lot more - I did like three tours of Europe in 2019, just before COVID. So I needed to be, when I was writing, just to jump straight into that world. I didn’t have the privilege of coming home to my studio.
Amazing. I feel like I’m the same in that the visual world comes to me in the formative stages of a song. I can be writing a song, playing it just by myself on the guitar or on the piano and I have images that are coming to me.
And everything you do is so strong visually. Like each single you’ve done, every release has this really strong narrative arc. You see that like it’s palpable.
I was about to ask a question that’s probably a really boring question that you’ve asked like a million times, but do you prefer writing, recording or performing? What’s your favourite?
Ooooh. Healthily and unhealthily, I love writing, but it’s endless. I could just write for no one forever, it’s so great. Like all I do is listen to - this sounds really narcissistic - my demos that I’ve been writing for years now.
But the other day I did do a little secret gig, and it wasn’t even to my core audience; it was like people who hadn’t heard the music before, and it was a good feeling. I wanted to test the material before going back to the studio, so it’s a really good testing ground to see what works and what doesn’t work.
What was the middle one? Recording? No, recording is hell.
Yeah, I find recording hell too.
Hell on earth.
I mean I don’t hate it, but it’s definitely not my pick of the bunch. I would say, as well, performing - love it. I get on stage, and I’m like “This is what I was designed to do”. Writing - love it. Recording, I’m like this is laborious and tiresome and repetitive -
And cruel and humbling.
Really cruel! You’re really confronted with yourself in an intimate space with other people. I find it really challenging.
I love what you said about doing a low-key live show and using that as a testing ground for new material because I’ve done that a couple of times too; just did a little small solo show, told no one, not post about it on my socials. I have new songs that I’ve written, and I can’t really tell how good they are with me, myself and I, I really need to perform them and feel if they land, which I think is really nice as well cause it goes to show how much there really is this two-way relationship that you’re creating when you are on stage. Cause you can feel it like you can feel when you’ve written a song, and it’s working, and it’s lifting people or connecting. And you can feel it when it’s not. Like, you can feel when you’re planting seeds in infertile ground.
And you can also feel the weak points of the song. So I think when you’re pushing yourself, there are moments where in my deepest, deepest gut - my gut’s gut - I know a word or a phrase or a verse or a bridge needs reworking but you’re kind of like “Oh, it’ll do”. You know, you’re pushing twelve songs over the line and I’ve been so lucky, I’ve done two albums and an EP with Burke Reid and he will just call it like it is. Like, he’s very, very open - and I’m so grateful for that - but he’ll just be like “Liv, this just doesn’t make sense”. And I always knew, so you can feel it when you perform it. The other day I was singing a song, and I was like “Oh my god, there definitely should be a better chorus here. Definitely.” It’s accountability.
I love that, the idea of holding yourself accountable to your own work. And sometimes you do need those sounding boards.
It’s funny, because I’ve also had the reverse thing happen where I’ve taken a song to re-work it - or, not re-work, but work with someone on it - and I’ve shown it to somebody, and they’ve been like “Oh, what if you did this?” And I’ve been like “Yeah, I’ll take that on board” and then I do it, but my gut is like “Nah, it was better before”. Have you ever had that?
I feel like it becomes a different beast and I’m really good at letting go. But there’s only like three people in the world that I trust. If you’re the fourth person, I will smile and nod and I’ll record that thing, but it’s not going anywhere.
I reckon you’ve said this to me before actually. I feel like I’ve heard this, like there are three people and if anyone else says anything, you’re like hearing it but not listening.
Look, music is ubiquitous and we all get in Ubers where it’s playing or we all see Australian Idol, so everyone has an opinion. But, as a songwriter, you’d just be chasing your tail, spinning constantly if you took on everyone’s opinions. You just can’t afford to. And you can be wrong, like I’ve definitely been wrong lots, but you’re also the most painful person in conversation if you’re just constantly trying to glean information or glean opinions from people. You are attracted to artists that have a sense of conviction. We would never record or never do anything, wouldn’t leave our houses, if we were waiting for 100% surety that it was the real thing or the right thing.
Yeah, yeah definitely. As with anything I guess, hey. Not even music, just with anything. It’s like eventually you’ve got to just call it and do something. Just do the thing.
And then back it. This is my music industry pep talk. I’ve really just strayed.
I want to know what song you wish you’d written? Today, like today.
Far out, there’s probably so many.
Oh… there’s a song by Tom Waits called ‘Green Grass’ that I really love. I remember hearing it for the first time when I was maybe in year 10 or something, and I remember just being so in love with the idea or intrigued and finding it so impressive that someone could write about death in a way that felt so peaceful and beautiful and romantic, but not in a way that was glorifying it. It was just kind of this being at peace with the idea that we have loss and that it’s a natural part of life. And it’s such a tricky, or such a specific emotion to try and communicate and the song just does it so beautifully.
And I think that was also the thing that got me over the line with Tom Waits, because I found him abrasive for so long. I was like “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t get it”. And then that song was the song that really opened my eyes to him as a poet.
It’s a beautiful album too.
My alarm is Ian Dury’s ‘Wake Up and Make Love With Me’, every day. So I think I’d wished I’d written that song. I mean, it would’ve been ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ or Bonnie Raitt’s ‘If I Can’t Make You Love Me’ OR Sinead O’Connor-slash-Prince ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. The chords don’t change in that whole song, it’s all about the vocal melodies, the words are perfect, you can relate to it. Yeah, okay, I’m going with ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ as my final answer.
So timely as well! What an incredible, incredible artist Sinead O’Connor as well.
Yeah, I agree. I think that’s so beautiful.
A dream or like a goal that I do have is to write an incredible song with no chord changes. That’s something I really want to do. I feel like if you can really strip it bare then the lyrics and the vocal melody, they’ve gotta be good.
Yeah, it’s all about the vocal melody, which is pretty exciting. You just need to write like SIA. I always say that she has the piano man who she just bosses around. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen videos of how she writes songs.
Gotta watch it, yeah. She’s just sort of like standing up over a piano man and just pushing him around.
But you have to break however you sing. Like a lot of us sing sitting down at a digital audio space, whatever it is. And then we sing in low registers cause we’re trying not to wake our housemates.
But, you know, I do RockWiz gigs and I’m singing songs by like Hunters and Collectors with Mark Seymour or Vicka and Linda and I’m singing songs way above what I would normally write in and it is like “Wow, I didn’t know I had those notes in me”. It’s like that idea of what do you do when you’re stuck writing a song? Like I go for a walk, I don’t know what you do. But it’s also hard to sometimes break this physical pattern when you’re writing.
I always find that my favourite lyrics, or that I always, always somehow end up writing lyrics or end up feeling like I need to write a song, there’s a song in me, it’s like bubbling to the top, after I’ve gone for a walk or gone for a really long drive. I feel like there’s something about physically moving through space that just clears something in your head. It’s almost like these ideas are sitting in you dormant and then you have to move for them to, like, be able to surface.
And then I end up feeling like “Fuck, I’ve been feeling this tension and it’s just that I was emotionally constipated or, like, I was constipated with music,” you know? There were things that just needed to surface.
Yeah, definitely can relate to that. Motion.
Motion, yeah, or I also think lots standing in the shower.
Okay, one last question: When is your next work coming out?
That’s a good question. So I’m sitting on an EP that’s all ready to go, so it’ll be out in the next couple of months and then while that’s coming out, and while I’m doing interviews like you’re doing interviews right now, I’ll also be in the studio recording all the other stuff that’s backed up.
So, soon. But it may all drop at once. It’s a surprise to me. But it’s all in motion, it’s just very stuck in the machine.
I feel like that’s something which is frustrating, hey, about being a musician. You spend a lot of time feeling like things are stuck in the machine. Pushing things through processes, pushing things over the finish line.
But you’re killing it! What are you talking about? You have stuff coming out, you’re writing, you’re recording. You’ve got great videos, great photos.
Thank you. It’s good fun, it’s just work. It’s amazing work and it’s fun work.
Taylor Carroll’s new EP, The After Party, is out now via [PIAS] Australia. Check it out below.