Australia’s Odette is the breath of fresh air the stagnant music charts have been craving for years.
The lyrical goddess and self-confessed “business bitch” took Australian audiences by storm with her debut spoken word single ‘Watch Me Read You’; the piano-powered, mellow R&B bop heard Odette poetically read someone for filth and introduced her radical new sound to a hugely embracing audience. Odette followed ‘Watch Me Read You’ with two just as well received singles: ‘Collide’, a ballad as fragile as it is striking, and the upbeat and uplifting Zulu influenced ‘Take It to the Heart’. At the heart of all three songs is Odette’s mesmerizingly gorgeous vocals. Like a beautiful butterfly fluttering in a garden on an idyllic summer’s day, Odette’s emotionally fragile vocals deliver her poetical insights in a way that will have you reeling for a love you’ve never even had. Serving some serious Adele 19 vibes thanks to Odette’s emotive vocals, unique sound and poetically powerful lyrics, the magnitude of this singer’s irresistible musical prowess could, quite simply, see her sitting next to Adele as one of music’s greatest songwriters one day.
Ahead of the release of Odette’s debut album To a Stranger on July 6th, I caught up with the rising star about her album’s content, like the mythological ‘Lotus Eaters’ (which Odette has shared today), finding the inspiration for her larger than life lyrics and why she believes that female representation in music is actually in a great place, despite female musicians still facing major issues. We also have a great exchange about the LOOΠΔverse and our shared love of J-pop!
SheBOPS: So you’re quite new to the scene.
Odette: I am new, yes.
But already you’ve got so much buzz around you, it’s quite interesting. So how are you dealing with all of that attention?
Oh! I don’t know. I don’t really think about it to be honest. I think either maybe I just am a bit oblivious or I’ve just decided not to take too much notice but… yeah, I guess I’m really just focused on writing.
So it doesn’t feel overwhelming or anything?
No not at all. I have a really good team as well so I don’t think they would let me get overwhelmed. They take good care of me.
A lot of that buzz is around your lyrics. Cos they’re very poetical. So when did you start harnessing that skill?
I’ve been writing since I was like eight, I think. I was just such an emotional kid, I was like ‘I need to tell everybody about my feelings, all the time, always.’ So I wrote my first song, it was called ‘Best Friends’ and it was really cute. But then my second song I wrote, it was called ‘I Walk Alone’ and I don’t know what kind of emo stuff happened back when I was nine to have that happen but yeah no, and I was like that kid just playing in assemblies. I think because I was so- I’ve always had this kind of attitude of I’m not aware of what anyone’s saying, even if people were to say ‘you’re not doing a good job’ or ‘this is terrible’ I just don’t take notice at all. Not because I’m like ‘whatever, screw them, I’m gonna do me’ but genuinely because I don’t have any idea what’s going on most of the time (laughs) and so I just do my own thing. But I think it was really good growing up to have that support from people who would hear my music, and just be like ‘keep going, keep writing, keep continuing’. I just fell in love with writing from a young age.
So where would you say that your lyrical perspective comes from and what would you say that it is?
I have no idea to be honest. I think whenever I write, I zone all the way out. There’s no calculated lyrics, there’s no kind of ‘this is what I wanna write about’. It’s just me writing and writing and writing and then afterwards I’m like, ‘is this about me? Is this about someone else?’ So it all comes from my own stories, my own emotions. But I do like to story-tell as well, so some of them have nothing to do with my life and it just depends on the mood I’m in I guess.
So your first single ‘Watch Me Read You’ utilizes spoken word poetry and obviously that’s very different to what we would usually hear on the radio.
And yet it still made a really big impact and it really resonated. So were you kind of surprised by that?
Yes (laughs) actually I was. I was really nervous for that song cos, like you said, it’s not really something that you hear so I was like, people are really gonna love it or they’re really gonna hate it and I thought people were gonna be like ‘what the hell is this?’ But it was actually received really well which was kind of a nice surprise. I think that I hadn’t really written a lot of spoken word – I’ve probably written about three or four spoken word poems in total to this day – but it’s nice to work with a new way of writing and I think that’s what excited people, is that it’s not something you would normally hear. It’s kind of a different format.
Yeah exactly. I think people love things that are new and that breaks out of the mold. So I think that’s why you’ve had so much success with it. And then ‘Collide’ is about breaking free from an abusive relationship, right?
Yeah. Well… relationship, loosely said. It was about- it’s not really about breaking free. I think ‘Collide’ isn’t that happy. It’s one of my most sad songs. It’s kind of about a realization and I wrote it when I was overseas, and I think going overseas – or going outside of your immediate environment – always gives you a perspective of your own situation. It almost kind of objectifies it, so as soon as I touched down I was like ‘oh shit, this is not good, I’m in a bad situation.’ And I wrote ‘Collide’ the night before a session and I took it in and he was like ‘is this about you?’ and I was like (mock crying) ‘yes’ and it was actually really cathartic. It was nice to experience and to be able to sing it out openly because I think in that experience, it was all about ‘don’t say anything, don’t talk about it, just sweep it under the rug’ and I think that’s really toxic. If you’re in a terrible situation, I think you need to be talking about it so that’s why I wanted to put this on the album.
I’ve been listening to ‘Take It to the Heart’ a lot and I think that’s my favorite so far.
Aw thank you!
I think it has so many good lines.
It was my revenge song. It was just like my ‘I’m feeling good about myself song.’
So do you have a favorite line from it?
Um… no. (laughs)
You don’t? You like the whole thing?
I have a favorite part. It’s when it’s like ‘we couldn’t let this go’ and then it’s like ‘it’s all over baby’ – that’s the bridge. I love the bridge just because I really like the melody in it. I like the song because it’s like I felt the most empowered by just writing. I had the power to be like ‘screw you dude’ which in real life I actually didn’t, I was really more emotionally vulnerable, so I wanted something that was gonna make me feel a bit more powerful. So that’s what this is kind of all about.
Also it sounds like it has some influences from African tribal music.
So why do you think it’s important to stand out like that with your sound?
Um… why do I think it’s important? I don’t know. I think just in general I’ll always be influenced just by different parts of my life and obviously my African heritage is important to me. I’ve never been over there but I just need to go, it’s a part of me, so I think in my music it’s my way of being connected to this culture that in a way I was kind of separated from in a bit. But yeah, I think (laughs) that’s what I have to say.
It just helps you feel more connected.
It does! It’s just another way of- cos I don’t really like to write in a set genre because I can’t, because I’m too distracted by other sounds. Like I could get into a really cool mellow vibe and then I’ll hear this upbeat thing and be like ‘we need to use that!’ and it does not fit it all. Making this album was kind of a bit like that but it all kind of works cohesively still because it’s got all of my writing in it, so I think using these kinds of African beats and different things, it just kind of gives a broader view of all my influences as an artist.
Afrobeats is really popular here. Are you familiar with it?
Afrobeats? Like Afropunk?
No it’s kind of like, hip hop-y. Look into it, it’s all over the UK charts at the minute. You’d probably be into it. You’d probably enjoy it.
Oh my God! I think I’ve heard it.
You’ve probably heard something.
I think I have heard of it.
You can use that for your next song.
So your album title is To a Stranger.
It is To a Stranger!
What does that mean?
So that is actually a Walt Whitman poem that I really love and I’m a huge fan of his work. I used to only read really like, douchey poetry, but I was really into Keats as a kid. He’s great, I like him. Or, you know, classic, Romantic stuff but, you know, still good. My best friend actually gave me this book for my birthday or for Christmas, I can’t remember, it was a couple years ago, and he said – it was a really cute inscription – ‘this reminds me of you and the way that you see things’ and I was like ‘hmm okay let’s see’ so I read it and it was so like… I’ve never resonated with someone more – like with a writer – like when I read that. He’s just listing things: ‘I see this and I see this and I see this and that’ and that’s how I feel like most of the time. I’m just making these constant observations and writing them down and they stay in my subconscious until I’m ready to write a song so yeah, I really enjoyed his work. So yeah To a Stranger, just wanted to pay homage to Walt, my good pal. (laughs)
So at what point did you know that was the title for your album?
I don’t know, we were throwing up a few things. God, one was really bad. It was like Head Split or something. And I was like, ‘I don’t know, I’m just so fragmented like make it really fragmented’ and then I was like ‘no this is terrible’ so I was like ‘I need to find something that’s a little bit more true to the words.’ Then I was just reading one day and I read To a Stranger and I was like ‘you know what? This seems pretty right’. We got the inscription- we got the poem in the booklet so when you get the album you get the poem too, so I’m really cute about those kinda things.
I mean I guess it’s quite literal as well.
Because your music is being played to a stranger.
Yeah it is! It’s literally just like, ‘hi guys!’ But I think the thing about Walt’s work is that he always titles it to a stranger or draws somebody that he doesn’t know and it’s always talking to somebody that he doesn’t know, like he’s out and about and he’s just like ‘this stranger has all these life stories’ and blah blah blah, which I really thought was cool so yeah that’s the reason why I chose that title.
What do you want listeners to take away from the album?
I mean… I have no set ‘listen to this and hear this’ but I think, because of my general style of writing, it’s always so personal. I think my main reason – or one of – why I write apart from my own… self cathartic experiences – that’s not a real phrase but whatever – is to kind of have people be talking about their own experiences or maybe if they resonate with something they can kind of open up another discussion. Like after I put ‘Watch Me Read You’ out I got loads of messages from people being like ‘I listened to this on the side of the road and I pulled over and I had this real emotional moment’ and connections like that with people I’ve never met is such an amazing thing, it’s like this universal language. So that’s kind of one of the reasons I write, is to kind of make those connections and to reach people, and cos I know I’ve taken inspiration and comfort from other people and other artists so if I can do that for someone else that’ll be kind of awesome.
One of the song titles is ‘Lotus Eaters’.
I saw that and I was like, wow that’s very interesting.
What can you say about that?
Well ‘Lotus Eaters’ is the second spoken word song, so it’s all spoken word except for the choruses which is sung, and I was a huge nerd so I wrote that back in high school and I was a huge English geek. So we were doing Homer’s Odyssey and there’s obviously a chapter called ‘Lotus Eaters’ and that’s where Odysseus and his crew get stranded on Calypso’s island and she entices them and then they see all these lotus flowers and they’re all just like ‘yes please!’ but they’re trapped and I’m pretty sure his crew die, and I kind of just- I don’t even know why I titled it that, I’m sure I have some big convoluted reason but it escapes me now (laughs) I think it was just because back then in my life, I was sixteen I think when I wrote that song, so everything was too overwhelming and it did kind of remind me of an Epic in the sense that I was just a bit too much and I had to write as much as possible in the space of like three minutes or four minutes. But yeah, I kinda felt a bit trapped in my life and I was making all these observations about where I was at and it was just not fulfilling enough and I was like ‘what am I even doing with my life?’ and I was sixteen years old! Like relax, you know? Go to high school. Do your homework (laughs) but yeah, I think that song is definitely one of my favorites on the album.
So moving on from your album, are there any female artists out at the moment who you’d really like to work with?
So many! Oh my goodness! In like, what area? There’s so many. Recent artists? Or new artists? Or like-
So if you had like five female artists presented to you-
(laughs) ‘presented to me’-
As these are the five you can work with-
Oh my God!
Who would you wish they were?
Joanna Newsom, number one. God this is a hard question. This is so hard. This is so hard. Okay Joanna Newsom… Oh my God. Solange. Cos I just feel like I would really get along with her, she seems so cool. Lorde. I think she’s really cool and I really like the way she writes, and also she has synesthesia, it’s like ‘same girl. Let’s get together.’
Is that when you see colors?
It’s when your sense is kind of messed up. I see colors sometimes but it’s mainly like everything has a texture. Yeah it’s weird. It’s just kinda like- yeah I don’t know how to describe it, it’s a bit odd. Okay so who do we have? We have, we have, we have, we have Joanna Newsom, Solange, Lorde. I would love to work with… Cardi B for the lols cos she’s so awesome. And Esperanza Spalding.
Cool! So are there any artists who’re female who you’re particularly into at the minute?
Joanna Newsom. Like always and forever. She is just the most profound writer I’ve ever heard in my life to be honest. I only heard her a couple years ago. Again the same friend who gave me the Walt Whitman book. I was just in his car and he was like ‘alright I’m showing you this music cos you never listen to anything I send you’ so I’ve commandeered this car- no it was his car, that sounds like he stole it (laughs) he did not steal a car. He played Joanna Newsom for me for like the first time and I was just like- I think I just cried, it was just so amazing. I listened to ‘Peach Plum Pear’ and then he showed me ‘Cosmia’: saddest song ever written, but the most beautiful. Yeah she’s just one of those writers whose universe is always expanding, she doesn’t have a set style and I really admire that.
So how do you feel about the representation of female musicians right now? And as a new artist is there anything that you’d like to change?
I think the representation is good! I’m always hearing- I mean, in Australia triple j is plugging female artists like every day, it’s great, it’s really good, so I don’t know what it’s like over here in the UK but I can’t say that we’re under represented. I can just say that it’s kind of annoying when people won’t let me carry my own keyboard case.
Why, cos they think you’re not strong enough?
Cos I’m a ‘little ittle woman.’ Actually I had this one guy say that it was ‘complex’- he said ‘you play the piano, you play some complex piano!’ I’m like ‘how? How?’ Like wow. Water is wet. Are we just gonna state things? (laughs)
Yeah I hear this a lot.
Yeah it just gets annoying. So yeah. In regards to representation I’m… I’m chilling. (laughs) but yeah if it gets bad you’ll hear me. I’m one of those people who doesn’t passively sit around. Australia’s getting on top of it.
So do you think female musicians are facing any major issues at the minute?
Yeah. Always. Yeah. I think female musicians, the thing about that is it’s kind of… I don’t know, like it’s tricky because on one hand you’ve got all the things in place to boost women up and make sure we’re striving for equality. But on the other hand you got sexist douchebags, so you’ve got this clash of intentions. But I don’t think me personally- like, my team is amazing. I think that I haven’t ever been put into a situation where I have felt that I couldn’t be powerful and I couldn’t speak, and I think I’m very lucky cos I know a lot of women have had completely different experiences, so hopefully I never have one of them, but I know that it’s not just something that doesn’t happen – I just haven’t experienced that yet. I say ‘yet’ because you just never know.
Do you have any top tips for other female musicians?
Don’t be quiet! Pretty much. I think one of the things that when I first got started like a few years ago, just kinda doing new things and stuff, I would be so nervous and I think over time I just started to realize ‘this is your shit. Speak up! Say what you wanna say! Go in the direction you wanna go!’ It’s important to self-empower, because if you’re looking around for other people oftentimes there isn’t anything to tell you ‘hey you’re a powerful person, just do it, just do your thing’ so it’s really important to self-motivate, self-empower, rely on yourself as much as possible and trust what you want I guess. Be a business bitch, you know what I mean?
Maybe that could be a quote, like your life motto?
I think it is. I’m very, I’m like- I’m a business bitch, you know? (laughs)
Here’s my last question.
It’s very interesting.
ooh do it. I’m excited.
Do you stan LOOΠΔ?
Do I- wait what? Was that English? What did you say?
Do you stan for LOOΠΔ?
(she looks confused)
Oh you don’t know them? They’re a K-pop group.
I know some K-pop. I love Girls’ Generation.
Okay so they’re kinda like-
I love J-pop.
Do you? Who?
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
Oh really? She has that one good song.
She has like three good songs! She has the one where she’s riding through the street with her fucking wig and giant shoes and she’s holding toast and it’s like sings melody to ‘Candy Candy’ that’s a banger, that’s 100% a banger. She played last night or something, it was sold out. I was mad about that but that’s alright. Whatever, whatever. (laughs)
Have you listened to Ayumi Hamasaki?
Oh my gosh you’d love her. Her lyrics-
You should send it to me. I listen to everything.
Her lyrics are like, out of this world.
Okay so LOOΠΔ are this K-pop group, they started debuting in October 2016. There’s twelve members.
And each girl debuted monthly.
So for a year?
Over a year. Because then they had the three subunits, which is when some of the members get together and they promote as a small group.
That’s crazy! That’s crazy!
So in June they’re expected to come together as a big group. Yeah! And they’ve- they’re working with Grimes. Grimes is on their new album.
Alright it’s gonna be good. No no no hands down it’s gonna be good! It’s gonna be amazing! If Grimes is on their shit then I’m on it too.
It was so cool, they literally slid in the DMs and were like ‘Grimes we wanna work with you’ and she was like ‘okay.’ It’s amazing.
I love her! Well I will look into them, honestly!
I’ll send it to you somehow.
Welcome to the LOOΠΔverse, Odette!
Odette’s debut album To a Stranger will be released on July 6th, which you can pre-order here.