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Kirsten Olivia goes her own way 

The R&B force redefines success on her own terms.

click to enlarge KRISTA COMEAU
  • Krista Comeau

Kirsten Olivia
Thursday, July 13, 11:15pm, $15
The Carleton Music Bar & Grill
1685 Argyle Street

Kirsten Olivia is forging her own path, focusing on living her truth and being honest and creative. The powerful R&B force is embarking on a year: Festival showcases, like this weekend's double set at the Carleton; an opening slot for Beverly Glenn-Copeland at Sappyfest; a new single, "Breakfast Time," on the way and an album in the works. The more Preston, Nova Scotia’s Olivia focuses on her own shit, the more she's in demand.

Collaborating with multi-instrumentalist Nick Dourado, as well as her longtime friend and producer Giangelo Powers and music business entrepreneur Mikal Gonzales, the upcoming album is about 26-year-old Olivia's experiences. "I write about love of course, or losing love, loving yourself, I also write about political things," she says. "Like the state of global African peoples, what I'm feeling about what I'm learning. I started with a specific sound in mind but that was stifling so I'm just making songs. If I listen and I don't really like it I'm starting to accept this is what came out of me and I'm going to have to love it."

Acceptance is a big theme with Olivia, as well as listening to her gut. "I stopped worrying about making hits or whatever, I just stopped. I literally made a list of things I will not care about anymore," she says. "Like my physical appearance. I was putting brown makeup on and I was like 'What the hell, I'm brown! Why am I painting my face brown?' I got so tired of being like that. If I want to wear makeup I will but I don't feel like I have to.

"Or what people think about what I sing about. I just don't care. If I made a song based on what I experienced then I'm saying what I want to say and however you interpret it is how you interpret it." That said, constructive criticism has an important role too, especially after performing new songs. "I have very honest friends," Olivia says. "I always liked the idea of not falling in love with your ideas too much, let them grow and evolve."

A year ago, a breakup made Olivia realize she'd been "caring about boys for over a decade." A year of putting herself first "helped."

This philosophy has spread to her music practice, where she absolutely does not do anything—or work with anyone—she doesn't want to. "I can't do things I don't want to do anymore. Whether it's a show or a person I don't want to be around, I'm not doing it."

Her strength pays off. Working with people she respects and trusts allows for comfort the artist needs in order to create. "I feel really blessed," she says. "The people in my life who I'm working with, I don't know what I did to deserve them. The team is really coming together." Her team includes fashion blogger Musemo Handahu, who styled this week's cover. "She helps with styling, social media, support. She's amazing. She's like Oprah."

Olivia's steering her own ship, something many independent artists struggle to do. "It's about redefining success, we need to stop seeing success as what they have, whoever they are. For me, maybe making music and not sharing everything about myself and having a certain amount of privacy is success. I don't know if I can handle fame, but if it were to happen I'd want it to be this way still. To not play the game," she says. "It's tough but it works, if you don't put up with bullshit you get genuine people. Word gets around—I'm sure people know me by now."



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