On her debut EP, Intersections, Baltimore-based Olivia Hudson introduced herself as an empathetic songwriter and a formidable DIY producer. She wove coming-of-age stories out of bright ukulele strumming, dream pop piano chords, and sampled strings, all brimming with warmth and optimism in spite of the struggles of growing up.
Just one year later, her full-length follow-up is on the way. Coming Fall 2018, The Ninth House promises to further build on Hudson’s talent for heartfelt songwriting, as evidenced by its contemplative lead single, “The 9:30 Club (Sorry).” From a quiet opening on her ukulele and solo voice (breaths and all), it swells with acoustic guitar and drums.
Hudson packs a stunning amount of emotion–regret, uncertainty, and a muted sense of urgency–into those few elements. She also reaches new heights of songwriting craft in the track’s fake-out ending, where the repetitious chorus finally breaks. One hard stop, a rhythm change, and a fade-out later, she’s got a structure that cleverly reflects the lyrics’ lack of closure.
Ahead of the album release, Hudson spoke to The All Scene Eye about the sounds of The Ninth House and the artists who inspire her to make music that comforts people.
Your most recent single is “The 9:30 Club (Sorry),” from your upcoming debut full-length album. Can you tell me about when you wrote that song?
I actually wrote “The 9:30 Club” back in October. It was originally going to be for an EP that I’ve already put out, called “The 9:30 Club,” and it was more of an experimental EP. I really liked that song, so I wanted to redo it, add more instruments, and fill it out a little bit. So I re-recorded it and decided to put it on my album.
When you say “experimental,” what kind of things were you doing?
The way I recorded that EP, and I guess the song too, was all on one track, all in one take, which I had never done before. My EP Intersections is really layered, musically. This was a complete shift, because it was recorded in a dorm room. I was recording in my basement before, but that was a nicer setup. I also didn’t add any vocal effects, or instrumental effects, or anything like that. It’s totally stripped down.
I guess I did that EP so I could relieve some of the pressure of making something really layered and really full, and just have fun with music. Not that I wasn’t having fun with it before, it’s just–you know.
There’s an expectation that when you release music, it’s going to sound a certain way– more “professional” or “polished.”
Absolutely, and It was also experimental because of the way I wrote the songs. Before, I would write the lyrics, and then I would write the music, and they would be separate from each other. When I wrote these songs and when I was writing “The 9:30 Club,” I was writing them at the same time. I wanted to give myself space to let myself sing whatever, because there weren’t any rules. There wasn’t anybody standing over me telling me “you have to write a certain way,” or “you can’t say this,” or “you can’t say that.” I think I tell myself that sometimes, too. It was freeing to turn that part of my mind off and to write and sing whatever I wanted to, and clean it up later, but not have to worry about, “oh, you can’t feel this certain way.”
When it came time to re-record, what kind of approach did you take?
I’m still recording in my dorm room right now. The way I started re-recording that song was I did the ukulele track first, and then I recorded the vocals. I started working on a drum track for it, and I called my friend Jungheim up and asked her if she wanted to do a guitar part so I could fill it out a little bit, like I was talking about earlier.
I was thinking about adding some strings to it, but I didn’t really like the way those sounded. I wanted it to be a song that I enjoy listening to, you know? That’s how I want all my music to be, but I can look back and listen to that song, and I’m glad I didn’t do certain things I might have wanted to do with it.
How did you make the percussion sounds?
I use Reason when I’m recording, so I use the Korg drum. I just found drum sounds that I felt fit with the song and made my own drum kit for it.
What kind of microphone do you use?
It’s a Blue Snowball mic. That’s the mic that I always recommend to people.
You mentioned working with Jungheim on this track. How did the two of you start working together?
I met Jungheim just through her music. I thought she was a great artist, and she kind of inspired me to start writing and making music again. We started working together last summer, because she knew I wrote music, and she was working on her debut EP. She asked if I would help her write some songs, or if I wanted to sing on a song for her debut EP, and I said, “of course.”
I wrote two of the songs on her EP, I sang on one of them, and we went from there. She also played the guitar on my debut EP, so it was kind of natural for me to ask her, “could you do this guitar part for my song?” She’s also done guitar parts for other songs on my album that’s coming out.
When did you know it was time to make the debut full-length album?
I started working on the songs back in August of last year when I went to my new school. I was going into my third year of school, so I was kind of freaking out about being in a new environment, and I was writing songs to deal with all that anxiety.
I wasn’t writing them with the intention of doing an album; I was just writing them because I was feeling a lot of things. I wrote a couple songs, and then one day I was like, if I write enough songs, I can actually do an album, [laughs] so I went from there with that mindset.
Your Intersections EP was about “growing up, getting lost, and when the two intersect.” Are those lyrical themes you’re still thinking about?
Definitely. This one is also carrying on that theme of growing up and getting lost. Intersections deals with traveling, going to new places, meeting new people, and having those new experiences, I feel. And this new album is carrying those things with it. It’s also dealing with themes about falling in love, and losing that love, and things like that.
On this subject of moving place to place, can you tell me about your experiences in the Baltimore music community?
Right now, I’m not as involved as I want to be, but I have that as a goal to get more involved in not only the Baltimore music scene, but also the DC music scene. They’re pretty close in proximity to each other, and I know a lot of people through twitter that are part of both. I have other friends that are really involved in that scene that go to my school, and I’m just trying to connect with them, and go to their shows, which I’ve done in the past. I’m just really excited to get more involved in that scene.
How did you first become a musician? What was your first instrument?
My first instrument was the piano. I’ve been writing songs since I was a teenager–14 or 15 is when I started. I would write songs with my friends, and I was taking piano lessons and composition classes, because I was really into doing that. Then my interest kind of shifted; I was more focused on graduating high school and doing other things. I started writing again back in 2015 or 2016. Not that I ever stopped–it just became more important to me again.
I started playing the ukulele, because that’s something else that I play, obviously. [laughs] I started, I guess, in 2015, and then I picked it back up when I moved to Baltimore because it was much easier to learn how to play the ukulele than to hook up my MIDI keyboard in my tiny dorm room and try to get all that situated. You can take the ukulele anywhere, really.
At what point did you get into the recording and production side of it?
I’ve always kind of been into that, because my dad produces. He was helping me at first, and then when I started doing it on my own, I took what he had taught me, and I have some other producer friends that I would ask, “oh, how do I achieve this sound?” or “I’m inspired by this sound, how can I take some influence from it?”
I started watching Youtube videos, and just experimenting on my own has been really helpful when I’m trying to play with different sounds. I also like producing for my friends a little bit. I haven’t done that as much, but I enjoy it.
Who are some of those artists you’ve taken influence from?
In general, I’m really inspired by Solange and Tracey Thorn from Everything but the Girl–the way their music sounds, but also the way they write songs. And also Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!.
With Solange, I just really love the way she sings, the things she sings about, and how her lyrics and her music connect with people. I really connect with her music, and I want to be able to do the same with other people.
With Tracey Thorn and Everything but the Girl, I just really like the way their music is produced. I like that sophisti-pop sound, I guess; it’s always been really cool to me.
For Laura Jane Grace, I’m just inspired by the way she writes. Her lyrics have a lot of specificity to them, and she finds poetry in stuff that’s really mundane. When I was starting off as a songwriter, I would write in a really general way about things, and listening to her music, I’m like, “maybe I can be more specific.”
That’s what all those artists have–every time I listen to their music, and they do certain things, I’m like, “oh, maybe I can do that too.”
You’ve said on your Bandcamp that you “want to make music that comforts people.” What does that mean to you?
I have playlists of songs that I listen to–and I think a lot of people do, they have songs they listen to when they’re upset, or they’re feeling like they need comfort. I have those songs for me, and I want to make songs like that for other people.
I’ve always loved helping people. That’s why I’m majoring in psychology, and why I have the interests I do outside of music. I just want to make music that helps people. I’ve always wanted to do that, and in the past few years, seeing in my own life how impactful it is to have music that comforts, I’m like, “I want to be that for someone else.”
What is some of that music that’s been a comfort to you?
Like I said earlier, Solange. When I listened to A Seat at the Table, I felt overwhelmed, and I was like, “I want to make music like this.” I actually remember saying that to myself, and to other people. This is kind of off topic, but in one of my classes last semester, we kind of dove into that album, and the different themes she was talking about, and I really enjoyed that. The first day of class, my professor was like, “oh, and we’re also going to be looking at A Seat at the Table,” and I was like, “this is my favorite class I’ve ever taken.”
Against Me!’s music I know has been really comforting for me. There’s so many, but those are the two that come to mind immediately.
What kind of sounds have you been working with on this album, in terms of the arrangements, but also the feelings?
I’m in the middle of mixing it, and putting the finishing–not the finishing touches, but I’ve recorded most of the vocals, so I’m still trying to come up with a cohesive sound. What I can say so far is it has a lot of ukulele in it, but it also has a lot of guitar. There’s some piano too, so I think I just am trying to make this feel soft and comforting, but also not shy away from more feelings people might say might be negative. But also not doing it in a way that sounds heavy. There’s one song on there that’s–I guess maybe I can say it. It conveys, lyrically, a feeling of exhaustion, but sonically, it’s not heavy.
I think Laura Jane Grace is a really good touchstone for that kind of thing, especially on her last couple albums.
I’m thinking of the song “Two Coffins,” which is really, like–I love that song, but it’s dealing with so many different things, and so many different feelings, but musically, it’s almost like a lullaby? But you know it’s not. I really like that: being able to deal with a lot of things, but softly.
What’s the best concert you’ve been to, and why?
[laughs] I’ve talked about Against Me! a lot already, but every time I’ve gone to see them, I feel really inspired, really empowered, and peaceful. I can’t even pick a favorite time I’ve seen them, because they’re all so amazing in their own way.
I was looking through my playlist, and I found Mary Lambert. She’s another artist that has comforted me and comforts me now. When I went to her show, that was amazing. I was able to just–she gives her audience permission to feel whatever they’re feeling, and I really loved that. I guess those two shows and artists are my favorites.
Do you have a release date in mind for the album?
Some time this Fall. I’m thinking November, but I don’t have a date.
What are you most looking forward to about releasing this album?
One of the things I’m excited for is for people to hear these sounds and to enjoy them. I’m enjoying them, so I know other people will. That’s one of the many things I’m excited about for the release of this album.