In a perfect world, Odette’s second studio album would have been out for nearly a year by now. We’d have seen her take it to stages across Australia, from national festivals to headlining theatre performances. We’d be together, as one, celebrating one of the country’s finest young talents. Of course, 2020 proved to be far from perfect. That, however, didn’t stop the singer born Georgia Sallybanks from getting the ball rolling on Herald ahead of its inevitably-delayed but now hotly-anticipated release.
With both the hypnotic Hermitude collab ‘Feverbreak’ and the mournful ‘Dwell’, a prospective vision for the follow-up to 2018’s To A Stranger began to form. These tracks, alongside January’s ‘Amends’, showcase the album’s darker reaches and unique genre hybrids. It’s an adventurous record, but also a poignant one. As Odette explores stylistic shifts through RnB, pop and electronica, she’s also delivering some searing home truths through her confessional lyricism. She’s never been more honest, engaging and ethereal as a performer than she is on Herald – and the best part is knowing that she’s only just getting started.
Ahead of the release of Herald, Odette spoke about her creative process, her spoken-word dalliances and the circle of trust established with her collaborators.
Music Feeds: You toured To A Stranger for nearly 18 months. Was following it up always in the back of your head while you were still doing shows? Or is it the kind of thing where you have to completely close a chapter and be done with it?
Odette: Honestly, it was kind of the latter. I think once I’m done with all I need to do, my brain is just like “Alright, what’s next?” I’m never satisfied. [laughs] I don’t know. I’m really happy and proud of that record. I’m also just so excited to sort of make something new at the same time. I feel like every artist sort of has that experience – you give out these parts of your life, and you’re pretty stoked when you can move on from it.
MF: That’s something that reflects in the way that you’ve written this record. There’s elements of storytelling, but also moments that are very clearly explicitly introspective and autobiographical by nature. Have you battled with any degree of reticence in terms of that over the years? It takes a lot to put yourself in that vulnerable position, and perhaps one finds themselves in two minds about whether to share that in songs you’re about to share with the world at large.
O: To be honest, yeah. It’s kind of terrifying, actually. I think, ultimately, I wrote this record to detail a lot of unhealthy coping that I had inherited. They had blown up without me even being aware of it. It’s sort of a time capsule, in that sense. A note from my past self to my present self, that just says, “Don’t do this.” [laughs]
MF: Was there a point in the initial songwriting process where you latched on to a certain song or certain sound or anything like that, where you knew where the record is heading?
O: I’m not so sure. It’s a continuation of a lot of things I’ve done in songs previously. A lot of it came down to finding the balance between emotion and landscaping. We were creating an environment, with these bug sounds and bird noises and different textures, to create a safe place for me to navigate. We wanted to capture the ebbs and flows of what I was writing about.
I mean, this record was written in anger. You can probably hear it. [laughs] It was written in a very, very confused point in my life. I was being quite volatile, I didn’t really know myself and I was just very angry at everyone. Actually, the record wasn’t even called Herald to begin with. It was called Dwell. It was really about rage. As time went on, having this year that we’ve had has actually been really important. Not just for my development, but also the development of this project. The conclusion I came to is that it’s actually not about other people. It’s about myself, and it’s about being responsible for my actions. That’s kind of what I’m hoping to do through my music.
MF: What do you feel it says about the record itself that you swapped out the title tracks?
O: “Dwell” is about staying in one place, and “Herald” is about bringing in something new. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t romanticising my illness. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t staying in one place. I wanted to make sure that I was prioritising growth over revenge. There’s lots of reasons for the change, but mostly I just want to make sure that the future doesn’t hold any more of the same stuff that I write about in this record.
MF: So, as terrifying as it may have seemed to document it, it seems like it would have been a very cathartic experience as well. You’re essentially processing everything you’ve been through it since the last record came out, documenting it and having this moment in time to share with people.
O: Yeah, I suppose that it was. I mean, it’s stressful. Obviously, people that are going to be hearing this record are people that I’ve hurt in the past. That’s scary because you truly don’t know how people are going to receive it. Will they see it as an honest statement or a slap to the face? I can’t control how people will interpret it, but at the very least I think having it out there is a good step forward.
MF: One of the more interesting things about this record is that ‘Feverbreak’ turned out to be the exception rather than the rule in terms of your vocal approach. The lion’s share of the previous record had that poetic, almost spoken-word sprechgesang vocal approach. On Herald, ‘Feverbreak’ is one of the only real moments to have that. Were you trying to subvert the notion of having an identifiable musical trait by primarily focusing on singing to this record?
O: I don’t know. I think I don’t think about things too deeply when I’m writing it – usually, it’s only afterwards that it all comes out, like, “Oh, I must have been trying to do this.” The only reason I didn’t include a lot of spoken word in this record is purely just because I didn’t think it was right. It just didn’t make sense. It almost felt too self-indulgent. I thought one was enough. Besides everything else, my love of spoken word has sort of waned a little bit over the last couple of years. I think it’s just because I don’t have as much to say as I did when I was 17. I just feel like singing the right format for me right now. Who knows what I’ll be doing in the future? It felt right for ‘Feverbreak,’ though.
MF: By that same token, Hermitude is the only official featured artist on the album. What did it mean to you to be able to work with a group that is obviously so well established and has such a distinctive approach and a sonic palette of their own?
O: It was amazing. I mean, I didn’t go into it expecting to write something for a record. It just seemed right, y’know? It was such a beautiful collaboration. We ended up just sort of talking, and then we just got into it by tapping into this rage. I think that’s honestly what started this whole record, that studio session. Genuinely, I hadn’t really realised how angry I was. By writing this song, I was like, “Oh shit, she’s mad.”
Working on this song also kind of pushed my skill set a little bit. Right at the end of the track, there’s a synth line that does kind of a pitch bend. That’s me playing it! I’ve never done anything like that. That was really cool for me. I remember being like, “You guys should do it,” but they were insistent. “You’ll be great! Give it a go!” We ended up just rocking out in the studio together. It was really fun.
MF: Between Hermitude, your producers, people you’ve collaborated with in the past and your bandmates, there is a pretty tight-knit network that revolves around Odette as a musical project. What do you think makes a great musical collaboration or partnership?
O: The only thing that really makes me feel connected to a person is if we can share a mutual language. They don’t have to have a similar style, they don’t have to have a similar way of approaching the creation of music. It’s just if they can translate me, and if I can figure out what they’re saying. Usually, I like to work with people that have both similarities and contrasts because you just find it’s a much richer experience than just sitting in your bubble. I like to push, and I like being pushed. I like when people have their own ideas and their own input for the sound. I like working with that kind of stuff. Even if I didn’t like it, or I choose not to use it, it still pushes my perception of songwriting.
MF: What would you say is the song that you wrote for this record that came to you the quickest? And what stewed the longest, by means of contrast?
O: [pause] I really don’t know! I can’t remember writing half of the songs. I’m not even kidding. This is such a twisted timeframe we’re dealing with here. I suppose they were all written quite quickly, just in the heat of the moment. The hardest one was probably ‘Foghorn,’ purely because I wanted to get the orchestral stuff at the end. We’d definitely stewed on a few different arrangements for that one. Apart from that? Yeah, it’s quite quick.
I tend to write without thinking too much about it. I find that often, it just sounds really contrived. Like, the only queen I know who can just write and then study and then write again is Joanna Newsom. She has so much context and subtext within her songs. I just have never really gotten that. For me, it’s always been impulsive. Who knows what I’ll be doing next, though? I’m always changing, and my songwriting is always changing.
MF: As a singer-songwriter, how does the process generally work for you? Are you sitting down with a guitar or at the piano with words and music coming at the same time? Or are you the kind of person who walks around singing something into your phone or writing something down in the Notes app, piecing stuff together?
O: Sometimes it will all come out at once. Normally, though, I’m the kind of person to have a melody stuck in my head for days, but I’ll be too in my feelings to do anything about it. Eventually, I’ll just be like, “Okay, let’s put something down.” I’ve started learning producing at the moment, which has been really exciting. I’m working with Logic, and that’s opened up a new avenue of songwriting to me. I’m able to sort of get everything that I’m hearing out at once.
It’s great for me because I’m really impatient – especially when it comes to getting my ideas on the table. Like, I just want to get on with it, y’know? I just want to get to the point, and it frustrates me when I can’t. Especially with music – it’s like, if I have an idea, and I can’t translate it onto something, I get really frustrated. Logic has been a really cool way to make sure that I can get not just my vocal element, but also open it up for potential synth elements, and different arrangements as well. I’m not very good, but at least my producer can understand what I’m trying to say. [laughs]
MF: Is that communication barrier something that came up on Herald? Did you have to “da-da-da” your way through the string arrangement ideas?
O: [laughs] That’s pretty much how I’ve had to do it in the past, yeah. Now I don’t have to do that! Luckily, Damien has always been one of my strongest translators. He’s a kindred spirit, for sure.
MF: As you said, you can’t gauge reaction to your music. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. With that being said, if there is one thing that you would like people to get out of this record or one thing you would like to people to know about where you’re coming from on this record, what would you say that would be?
O: Honestly, probably just that it’s time for everyone to be emotionally responsible for themselves. We have to do it. I’ve had to learn that the hard way. This record is paying homage to a toxic mindset that I held to for years and years and years. You can hear it in all those songs – there’s rage, there’s blame, there’s so much anger directed towards other people. It’s not healthy. It’s not healthy at all. It’s not me painting an ideal picture of myself. It’s me trying to work through things that are unhealthy. I guess the point would be that I’m trying to self-reflect and grow – and other people can try and do the same.