Olivia O’Brien writes songs about dudes and sends the hits to them
A couple years back, I was in love with a boy who didn’t like me back. For that very reason, I hated him and loved him all at the same time.
I couldn’t ever quite put the feelings into words or find any music that really hit on that exact note, until Olivia O’Brien released “Hate U Love U,” with rapper Gnash in 2016. For many, like myself, that song really captured a side of love that we all could connect with, especially when it’s unrequited.
It quickly became the anthem for every teenage girl (or boy) to cry to while they stare out their car windows and in turn, launched Olivia right into fame.
Now in 2018, Olivia’s career has only gone straight upwards. After touring with Jack & Jack in early 2017 and releasing several straight-to-the-heart jams like “RIP,” “UDK,” and “Tequilawine,” she’s quickly put herself on the map as the next pop princess to watch.
I recently chatted with Olivia to talk about how she’s changed since “Hate U Love U,” how guys react to learning she’s written songs about them, and her newfound interest in color psychology. You should also check out her new single, “I Don’t Exist” here.
“Hate U Love U” was kind of what propelled you into fame back when it came out a few years ago. How has your musical style changed since then?
Pretty much like in every possible way (laughs). It was the first song I ever did, I wrote it on piano and I wasn’t intending for it to be produced. I didn’t know anything about anything other then just writing lyrics and simple chords, so I kind of had to figure it out from there.
You write a lot about heartbreak and love, which is obviously something every girl can relate to. Do you write from real life experiences?
I mean, everything is definitely about things I’ve actually gone through. It’s impossible for me to write about something that I haven’t went through myself or at least someone like very close to me.
I can sometimes channel my best friends’ emotions and write about their situations. Maybe I don’t have the best imagination anymore, (laughs) but the way that I think of things is by thinking about how I feel and it just comes naturally to me if I go to that.
Have you ever written a song about someone and had them realize it was about them?
Oh, I tell them! I go, “I wrote this song about you,” and I send it to them. I asked the guy I wrote “RIP” about to be in the music video for it.
What’s your favorite song to perform live?
I like doing the new stuff. I like to see people’s reactions. Not that I’ve done a million performances, but it’s just fun to do something new that I haven’t done before and I’m still learning how to sing them all live and it’s cool to figure that out.
Fans seem to really connect with your music, do people ever approach you about that? Do you have any memorable fan experiences?
Yeah! The nature of my songs are very emotional and personal, I get that a lot. People tell me my music really helps them and that’s the biggest reason that I do it, aside from the fact that I love music. There’s this one girl, her name is Kayla, and she comes to every show I do in California, whether it’s in LA or the Bay Area.
She’ll fly or take the train, she’ll literally come to see me anywhere! It blows my mind that she does that just for me. At my show at the Roxy, she gave me a letter about how I saved her life by DMing her and how she listens to my music when she’s sad. It was just a really heartfelt, personal letter and I was really shocked that she first of all took the time to do that and second of all feels that way.
You went on tour with Jack & Jack earlier this year, how was that experience? Was it hard touring with two guys?
They’re really good friends of mine, I knew them since before I moved to LA. I was originally a fan of them when I was like 13. Then I just became friends with them and started hanging out with them when I moved here and now they’re in my friend group, it’s funny how that works.
For my first tour ever, I wanted to be with people I felt comfortable with and I wanted to know I could go and have fun after the show and not have to worry about impressing anyone. It was fun, their fans are very supportive and enthusiastic and a good crowd to perform in front of. It was a good starter tour, but I’m definitely excited to do my own.
What was the biggest thing you took away from touring with them?
It was good to learn how touring works in general, you can never be prepared for that. It was good to figure out the logistics of that. Since then, I’ve gotten so much better as a performer. I still get really crazy nerves before I go onstage but having to perform every day really took me to the next level.
I follow your tour photographer Nesrin (blackprints) on Instagram, I’m a huge fan of hers. As a photographer myself, I love hearing how artists connect. How did you guys link up?
I have known Nesrin for a long time. Also, she’s another one of my really good friends. I love to work with my friends because they’re all so fucking talented, you know? Support your friends (laughs)! It’s funny, she actually took a photo of me wearing a hoodie that says “Support your friends.”
I just love her and we had to share a hotel room and I was like, if this person is going to come with me they need to be someone I’m close with and can have fun with. She’s amazing! I’ve known her for three years. I met her when she was on tour with Gnash and Blackbear as their photographer. I was a fan of her and I followed her and she followed me back when she saw I did music and wanted to shoot with me!
So I’ve noticed you’ve made your Instagram theme all purple because it’s your color identity. Are you big into spirituality and color psychology?
I’m not very religious, but I’m definitely very spiritual. I just got my aura read for the first time. Your aura is temporary and it changes every 3-4 weeks. It shows your past week, your current week and your future week. Mine was literally the same for all three weeks, it was all red and orange and a little yellow. It was like, you’re stressed, you’re working really hard and you’re holding tension and your neck and throat, which makes sense since I’m a singer!
It was so accurate, I was like how could this not be real? Purple has always just kind of been my color. Even since I’ve been more aware of it lately because I’ve dyed my hair purple and I see it literally everywhere. I feel like it’s a sign of things, whenever I see purple I feel like I’m at home. It’s been my favorite color since I was a little kid and it just has a great meaning.
On another note, I’m obsessed with your style. What’s your wardrobe planning process like?
I like to get out of my comfort zone a lot and try things I haven’t really seen anyone else do. I like to be ahead of the curve for things. If i see a future for something, like i could see this being big in the future, I’ll try it and see if people catch onto it!
Ok last question! What are you listening to right now?
Well obviously, Ariana’s album just came out and I’ll probably listening to that for the next eight months of my life. I’m kind of all over the place with my music, I listen to literally everything. I always go back to this one playlist I have on my public artist Spotify, it’s called “This is how random my music taste is.”
Photos by Keri Dolan