“We’re Like The Anti-Rock N Roll”: Oh Pep!’s Olivia Hally Talks Musicals & The Joys Of Collaborating

Melbourne duo Oh Pep! are a busy group! The two-piece — featuring Olivia Hally on vocals and guitar, and Pepita Emmerichs on violin and mandolin — have toured extensively since the success of their debut album Stadium Cake in 2016. During this time the band have shared Aussie stages with the likes of John Butler and Billy Bragg, and played internationally with acts such as Lake Street Drive and The Mountain Goats. They also performed at the iconic Glastonbury Festival in 2017 (which would mark their last show in support of Stadium Cake).

When not on the road, the pair are immersing themselves in many different facets of the creative industry. They have started ‘A Good Idea’ grant, which helps artists get their ideas off the ground, they perform in an Old Time Appalachian band called Fat Cousin Skinny, run a songwriting workshop titled FUN with Oh Pep!, and Hally has recently returned from New York, where she wrote a play with James Presson titled Album of the Year. All this, and the band have just announced their follow-up album I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You will be released on October 26th. Phew!

Fresh off the BIGSOUND stage, Oh Pep! are heading on a tour of America in October, before a European tour with Sydney’s Middle Kids. The duo will then be back down under late-November to play Fairgrounds and Queenscliff Music Festivals.

Amongst this busy schedule, Olivia Hally took time out to have a chat with Music Feeds about her influences, writing the new songs all around the world, and her favourite musicals.

Music Feeds: How was BIGSOUND?

Olivia Hally: BIGSOUND was… dense [laughs], but it was a lot of fun. It was the first time we played the songs from the new album, fully fleshed-out with the band, so it was pretty exciting for us.

MF: Did you get to see any other artists while you were there?

OH: I don’t think I did because I was kind of jam-packed, and then trying to be a grandma the rest of the time [laughs]. But I am a big fan of a lot of artists there; I love RAT!hammock a lot and I love RO a lot, so I was at those showcases in spirit!

MF: Did the writing process for I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You differ from that of your debut album?

OH: The songs from this record were written between when Stadium Cake was recorded, maybe a bit before, and January of this year. So, there’s like a big time span and the process differed a bunch. A bunch were written in my bedroom in Melbourne, ‘Hurt Nobody’ was written in New York, ‘Parallel’ was written in Nashville, ‘Bleeding Hearts’ was written in LA, and then like Stadium Cake for instance, just to give you an example, was written in Halifax on the first day that we recorded Stadium Cake. So, it’s all over the place [laughs], and over a long period of time too.

MF: Was that because you were touring to those places at the time?

OH: Yeah, we’ve toured a lot with the Stadium Cake record and in the past three years we’ve been overseas a lot. Also, I would go on writing trips sometimes, where I was doing writing sessions with people – not necessarily for the Oh Pep! record, but every now and then in a session I’d be like ‘oh, I might keep that myself’, so that was another reason why I was in these places. That’s been a big part of the Oh Pep! story, all this travel.

However, we recorded the album in Melbourne. So, we kind of went around collecting all this information and then recorded in our hometown.

MF: Did you approach the recording process differently to your previous album?

OH: Yeah, a little bit, actually. It was just myself, Peppy, and Joel Quartermain of Eskimo Joe fame, but also he’s worked on Meg Mac and Dan Sultan. It was us in the studio for most of the time, and we did all of the instruments between us. In the past we would have had a band, or people to come in to do drums or bass but we covered it all between us this time around. That was the majority of the album, was this time we spent in Melbourne, recording, but then a couple of the tracks like ‘Bleeding Hearts’ and ‘Hurt Nobody’ were produced separately. But most of it was done with Joel, and it was kind of this focused time in the studio, kind of really insular vibe.

MF: You mentioned that you’ve been touring a lot, what do you do to pass the time when you’re on the road?

OH: We’re like working the whole time, really. There’s not too much downtime when we tour, I know that sounds so not rock n roll [laughs]. I mean, it’s kind of like finish the show, load out, maybe you drive for a couple more hours. I definitely try to be healthy on the road, where possible, again, not very rock n roll. We’re like the anti-rock n roll [laughs].

MF: You seem to keep very busy, I was reading about Fat Cousin Skinny, as well.

OH: Yeah, we definitely have like, lots of other stuff going on. Fat Cousin Skinny would be something we do when we come back to Melbourne, for fun. We play Old Time Appalachian music with our friends, which is like the genre that pre-dates Bluegrass, so it’s like all string band instrumental music.

Then also we run these things called FUN With Oh Pep! Fun workshops where we get people together and they all co-write and maybe we go surfing and we eat good food for a weekend, which is cool.

MF: What made you want to get into that section of the music industry?

OH: I mean, it doesn’t feel like a massive departure by any means, it’s just kind of like… I get a real kick out of songwriting and I think that when you’re collaborating with someone you can kind of create something – what’s that saying? Like, “the sum is bigger than its parts” or something like that? You can create something bigger than yourself, or different from when you just write from yourself, you can learn a lot. I felt like I just wanted to provide an opportunity for other people to figure out if it’s for them or not. All of it is incredibly positive and heaps of fun.

We also started a grant called A Good Idea where people put in submissions of what they want to do with their songs, so it’s like a songwriting-based grant, and then we just give it to the person who we think has like, a really good idea [laughs]. I think the motive behind that is… I was thinking about what it was like when we were starting out and what would have been helpful, and kind of facilitating a sense of community when we can with other songwriters. Some people who come to FUN are like, touring musicians and other people are playing open mics, or haven’t played an open mic yet.

MF: That’s a lovely idea – to give back in that kind of way.

OH: Yeah, I mean it is a give back thing, but it’s also like, I find it really rewarding to be a part of it as well, or to organise it and see someone write a song for the first time and get so excited by it, or create something they hadn’t thought they would create.

MF: You’ve also written a musical ‘Album of the Year’ as well?

OH: Yeah, I have! I have just spent a couple of months in New York, working with a playwright out of Manhattan, writing the music for this play that’s gonna happen in the future sometime. It’s really exciting because I love theatre, I like musicals. So, it’s been really exciting working on that.

MF: What are your favourite musicals?

OH: My favourite musical would be Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown, and then I saw Muriel’s Wedding recently as well, and it was really cool, it was quite incredible.

MF: Do you feel like that interest in musicals translates into Oh Pep! work as well?

OH: I think on some levels, probably. There are often big melodies that we have, but you know, it can’t just be credited to musical theatre or anything like that because I have an interest in that, but I also went to uni to study classical music, and I love listening to pop music, and I play some Appalachian music, so it’s kind of like a big spectrum of influences. I’m not necessarily actively writing with that in mind, but I’m sure it all kind of comes out.

MF: Who are your biggest influences when it comes to writing for Oh Pep!?

OH: I think I actually get a lot of inspiration out of the values Peppy and I have towards arranging music and writing songs, and kind of the fact that we bounce ideas off each other. We really value dissonance and how the song’s gonna come together in the arrangement. For songs in general, I’m really drawn to people like John Prine and Lucinda Williams for their lyrics. I don’t know if you’re familiar with their work, but it’s like super blunt lyrics [laughs]. Really honest and simple, but profound and smart and funny. Even if I achieve half of that I’d be really happy. Melodically, I love bands like The Killers or Mitski.

MF: Have you discovered any small artists lately, where it’s like ‘damn they’re cool, why aren’t they bigger’?

OH: Actually, two people! One would be Jackson McLaren’s writing in RAT!hammock, who I’ve already mentioned, but I’m a big fan. And another person would be, I came across her really recently when I was living in New York, called Joanna Sternberg, and I just love her to bits! She has these incredible, incredible lyrics.

Oh Pep!’s second full-length album, ‘I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You…’ is out on October 26th and you can pre-order it here. Catch them at Fairgrounds Festival this December.

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