Since her Nashville-based girl group Black Belles went their separate ways, multi-instrumentalist Olivia Jean has not lost steam. The shy, yet sultry songstress maintains a strong relationship with her major supporter Third Man Records, especially its founder Jack White. She even released her first official solo album Bathtub Love Killings at the end of 2014. As she waited to play a set at Palm Door on Sixth during SXSW, she took a few minutes to talk to us side-stage about SXSW, how she is still in the process of finding her niche in this industry and how lucky she is to be in that special five percent of people.
mxdwn: Who would your dream SX performer be?
Olivia Jean: Let’s see… Right now, I wouldn’t mind seeing The Cramps. I mean, who wouldn’t mind seeing The Cramps?
mxdwn: How many SX’s have you been to?
OJ: I went to one for the Black Belles. We played tons of shows. We played here [Palm Door on Sixth]. I played with Karen Elson for one show here before, but the Black Belles shows here were the most intense. We were dragging our amps all the way down this busy street in high heels. We felt the pain.
mxdwn: At this point, do you feel that you’ve made it?
OJ: No, I don’t, but that’s not a bad thing to feel that way because I feel like I’m still getting used to the stage. I’m still figuring out what I want to be as a musician because with the Black Belles, that was kind of all laid out for me. I’m just kind of easing my way into this solo project and just kind of letting it happen naturally. So, it’s going to take a minute for me to figure out exactly what my niche is.
mxdwn: You are getting more and more recognition. Huffington Post called you one of the “Fab Fourteeners of 2014” as a peak musical performer. How did your sound develop?
OJ: It is still developing. I’m just becoming more conscious of my guitar playing and wanting to put on a good show. I’m pretty shy, so it’s hard for me to go wild on stage. So, I need to kind of find a way to make it entertaining my way. Each show is like a project and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out because I’m still trying to find my niche.
mxdwn: That’s kind of the most exciting thing. You came from Nashville?
OJ: I’m from Detroit and I moved to Nashville for Third Man.
mxdwn: What’s it like getting your start in a town where everyone’s trying to get their musical start?
OJ: In Detroit, the music scene is mostly garage rock music. So, it was easy to get shows booked around there because the garage rock scene is big, but the way that I got noticed by Jack was that I was handing out demos at a Dead Weather show. Luckily, he actually listened to my demo. Ya know, I got lucky that he listened to my demo. He’s always looking for what’s new and exciting out there. Handing out demos, it’s like a five percent chance that something’s going to happen.
mxdwn: Yes. Congratulations on the new album. What was it like working with Jack White?
OJ: It’s fun. He lets me take control of how I want the songs to sound. The only advice he gives me is good advice. It’s never trying to steer me away from what I want. It’s helping me get where I want to be, you know, easier because he’s been there and he understands the process.
mxdwn: What inspired the album?
OJ: This album is from a bunch of songs that I had recorded during the Black Belles. Since Jack’s studio is all tape, all of these songs were just in big tape reels just collecting dust up on the shelves. We just kind of pulled them all back down, polished them up and then I had enough for an album.
mxdwn: Sounds like you got away with murder.
OJ: Exactly. Hence, the name of the album.
mxdxn: Do you have anything specific that inspires you?
OJ: I find that negative emotions inspire me more. So, I write when I’m upset.
mxdwn: What’s your favorite part of making music?
OJ: I love writing the music because that’s how I started recording was doing instrumentals – all of the instruments by myself. That’s my favorite part of writing. So, I’ll do that part first and then I’ll write lyrics. That’s how I’ll do it.
mxdwn: You do wear so many hats musically. How do you feel that touring has affected that process for you?
OJ: Actually, the band we’re playing with right now, they’re all so professional. They’re all session musicians from Nashville, so they picked up on everything I recorded so quickly. Easily, they play it note for note, and I’m really lucky to have session musicians play with me.
mxdwn: Do they inspire you?
OJ: Yeah, definitely, because Nashville musicians are so different than Detroit because it’s an actual career in Nashville. You have all the resources you need to make a career, unlike in Detroit where you have to move away. That’s really the only way you can make it happen in Detroit. In Nashville, they’re just a lot more inspired. They grew up being around all the resources and the people, so they’ve been educated.
mxdwn: What are your goals for the year?
OJ: I’m going to start recording a brand new album because all these songs were written years ago. I’m just trying to put on a good show and be as technically “on” as possible. Efficiency, yes.
mxdwn: Do you have any music goals as far as your career goes?
OJ: I’m just going to keep doing it. Opportunities keep coming my way, and I’m really fortunate for that because of Third Man. They’re really supportive. So, I just want to keep going, and I hope I can do this for the rest of my life.