Olivia Dean: "No one can make you better, except yourself"
A perfectionist, the singer-songwriter is currently working on her first album and is about to release a new single. The perfect time to meet her and ask her a few questions about her inspirations and major themes…
Your music is very inspired by soul music. This music, which comes from the heart, has the mission to raise consciousness, to address strong societal themes or intimate thoughts. That’s why I wanted to talk to you about some of the themes that emerge in your songs.
But before we get to your songs, I wanted to talk about your mother, Christine Dean. She works with the Woman’s Equality Party, which works for “women to have the same rights and opportunities as men, so that everyone can prosper.” When you are raised by such a figure, there must be something left in your music too, right?
For as long as I can remember, my mother has always been a great inspiration to me. Everyone says that, I think, but she is the strongest person in the world. She always gave me this idea, this mantra that I could do anything. She kept telling me that if I wanted to achieve something, I had to persevere. I am very grateful to her for that and I know I am lucky. She has always supported me. All this has had an influence on the way I work. For example, I like to work with women and I make sure that there are men and women in my team, that everyone is well represented. Of course my music is for everyone, and I want it to be that way. But I feel very strongly that my music needs to make women feel empowered, that, like my mother did, it needs to make them feel that they can do anything.
As you said, you make sure your team is composed of men AND women. I’ll extend: the video for OK Love you bye is directed by Stella Scott, The Hardest Part by Claire Arnold, Echo and Be my own boyfriend by Aliyah Otchere and you co-directed Slowly… That’s no accident, is it?
It is not an accident at all. It’s a choice. I am the one who writes the songs. They have this vision that is mine, that of a woman. It seemed natural to me that the visual dimension, through the clips, should come from this same perspective. And then there are so many incredible female directors who don’t always have real opportunities. So it’s a very exciting process for me: which director will we find for the next video? Probably, I really hope so, I’m going to continue in this direction, to use female directors. I don’t see myself breaking that rule in the future.
In Echo, you talk about the possible imbalance in a relationship, whether it is a friendship or a love relationship, about the fact that a bond must be based on reciprocity…
I wrote this song out of frustration. I’m a very empathetic person. I really feel the energy of people. The song is about this person I really loved and cared about. But at a time when I really needed support, she wasn’t there for me. This made me both sad and angry. As you said, love needs to be reciprocated. One person can’t just give everything for the other. So at that time, for me, I needed to write this song. And I love to play it, often very early in my concerts because it gives me the energy I need.
With Password Change, you talk about the impossibility of knowing what is in the head of the person in front of you. And that there will always be some kind of hole, some kind of distance…
As funny as it sounds, I’m not very good at communicating, I’m not very good at sharing my feelings with the people I love. It’s different when you make a song. When you write it, you have time to think hard, to think about what you feel, to choose the most appropriate words, to build the thought poetically. But when you are face to face with someone, you have to be honest and vulnerable right away. For me, that’s really scary. I’m working on it. But yes, communication is key in a relationship. So I think that’s a theme I deal with a lot.
In our society, there is always this injunction to be in a couple, this lack of understanding of people who want to remain single or feel very well in celibacy. Be My Own Boyfriend makes a powerful statement against this: you can be happy alone, you can feel powerful without someone, you have to love yourself first…
It may be a cliché that is circulated too easily or often, but I absolutely believe in it. When it comes to relationships, I don’t believe in the “other half” formula. I am a complete person. You are a complete person. If you are looking for someone to make your life better, I think you are wrong. Nobody can make you better, except yourself.
Interview by Thomas Destouches
Photo credit: Olivier Hoffschir