Singer/Actress discusses her new song, the moments that have grounded her, and what inspired her path into music
You may recognize Olivia Holt from the various Disney shows and movies she has consistently appeared in since 2010, however, it is her voice that first caught our attention. A talented singer as well as actress, Holt released her debut EP, Olivia, back in 2016, and has been dropping new singles throughout 2017.
Her newest bit of pop brilliance is “Generous”, which also features a fun and bold video directed by Chris Applebaum. Holt is currently working on her debut full length album, which will hopefully be out “soon,” all while dealing with the overwhelming emotions that come with being thrust into the spotlight.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Olivia to discuss her new song, the moments that have grounded her, and what inspired her path into music.
Christopher Friedmann: We’re talking because you recently released your newest single, “Generous”. I know 2017 has been a whirlwind year for you, but how are feeling right now? Exhausted, excited, anxious?
Olivia Holt: Kind of all of the above. I have a combination of emotions that are just running throughout me everyday and that is excited and anxious and also overwhelmed and everything is just a bit surreal at the moment. It’s almost hard to believe that 2017 is even close to being over. I also just feel grateful, I don’t know, this year has been a lot in a lot of different categories of my life, and I’m very happy with every decision that has been made, not just in my career, but in my personal life as well, so everything is just like hitting me at once, and the emotions are just packed into one body, and that’s mine.
CF: The song was written by Fran Hall, Mozella, and Gladius. How did you comes to interact with all the impressive talents?
OH: I’ve been on this long journey of walking into studios, co-writing, also just being sent songs, and it’s such an interesting process, as far as making music goes, because not only am I an artist, but I’m also an actor, so I’m on set all day long, and then I run into the studio, and try and write something great, or even something to make myself feel alive, and keep myself curious. I’m kind of in this really awesome state of mind where I felt bold and confident and sexy and there was this mentality of wanting to have a song that expressed those emotions that I was feeling, and it kind of came at the most perfect time.
I got this call saying, “Olivia, there is this super rad song that we think you’d be into, take a listen, and call us back.” I listened to the song and immediately just got chills, like total bone chilling. It just expressed everything that I was feeling in that particular moment, or like space and time in my life, and it was “Generous”. I remember being like, “I need to go into the studio now and cut this song.” Everything happened so fast and I ended up meeting Mozella at the studio, and he’s just the most incredible superhuman of all time. Just super fun to be with and also wrote a really rad song, and I feel very grateful he was there with me that day, and we really bonded over our love for music, and for having really great songs out there that express exactly what we are feeling that particular moment. That’s kind of how it all happened, it was a very quick turnaround, but it ended up being a really amazing, awesome experience.
CF: The music video followed shortly after and it definitely had the bold confidence that you were talking about, or the excitement…
Oh: Yeah, that was something I was for sure keen on when shooting this video. Chris Applebaum came to me with the idea, and I loved it. I love the idea of kind of having this mischievous side of life that we all kind of have, and I mean all of my friends, everyone who knows me, and I think even people who don’t necessarily know me, when they watch the video, they’re like, “You are living your best life” [laughs], and I was. That entire day was the best day ever, and I love it because the editing that they did, it was all outtakes. The majority of the scenes in that video, they were stuff that kind of happened on a whim, so yeah.
CF: As you mentioned before, you’re an actress and you are also a gymnast, but where did your interest in music come from?
OH: My interest actually came from my dad. My dad was a musician and still is a musician, but was a full-on musician the first few years of my life, so I was just surrounded by music growing up, and all sort of music too. My dad was in an 80’s hair band so it was mostly like classic rock and he kind of just introduced me to a whole new realm of what music does. And the rest of my family as well, my sister is a musical theater fanatic and my brother is like the oldest soul you’ll ever meet and listens to everything from Elvis to the Beatles. And my mom as well. I grew up in a household that was just so inclined and intertwined with all sorts of types of music, so I had to owe it to them for all the, I don’t know, recommendations of things that have helped me decide what I want my sound to be. I say mostly my dad because he was the one who was doing it for real.
CF: Was there a moment in your life where music struck you as something you might consider pursuing?
OH: I did theater growing up, which also kind of made me fall in love with acting, but I think just taking a song and making it your own and feeling it from top to bottom. I remember being on stage when I was a kid performing in some summer camp show that we did, and I really do remember feeling like for some reason, this song was meant for me. And here I am performing it here on stage in front of hundreds of people, like this is cool, and this is what I want to do. And I think from there it has just evolved, my love for it has grown into this creative outlet of mine, and now I’m not singing other people’s songs, but I’m actually getting to put my own words into these songs and it’s kind of incredible.
CF; Do you feel like it allows you to express yourself differently than acting or gymnastics?
OH: Absolutely. With acting you’re creating a character that, A, might already exist and you are just portraying them as a new human, or, B, you’re kind of just creating a character from scratch, but it has nothing to do with you. It’s somebody who is going through a whole journey, their own life. With music, it’s something that is mine. It is something I can do on my own and feel good.
In the gymnastics, my routine, I’m the one who is doing them, but I’m also doing them to make the perfect score, and I’m being judged off of that. With my music, it’s like whether people like it or not, I’m doing it for me, and I’m doing it because I want people to listen to my music and feel something. And whether that be a bold feeling or an excited feeling or a pumped feeling or any feeling that there possibly is, I want them to get something out of it because that’s what it does for me.
CF: Your first songs were released as part of Disney shows and movies. Of course, we are aware of a long line of singers to come from Disney backgrounds. Do you find that that adds any extra pressure on you?
OH: I do. When you are so young and you are just game to do anything that you love and I had an incredible opportunity to be a part of a Disney film that the character sang, and the song that my character sang in the film went to number one, and then that just happened so fast, and you don’t realize that extra leverage that it gives you. But at the same time everyone sees you in one particular light, so I think sometimes that’s why that transition is so hard because there’s this one thing that made you who you are and sometimes it’s hard to step out of that because nobody else can necessarily take you out of that vision that they already have for you.
I think there is pressure because you have this hard time of wanting to transition yourself into something new. Everyone goes through new phases of their lives, and so there is already pressure enough to go through a new phase, and you being in some sort of limelight and everyone watching you go through that, it’s definitely overwhelming.
CF: Last year you put out an EP, and this year you released a number of singles. Are you working on any new music at the moment, might there be an album on the way, or in the works?
OH: Yeah, I am working on new music, which I’m really excited about. This is something I want to take time, I don’t want to rush it. I feel like a lot of the music that I’ve put out in the past has just been so rushed and with this I want to be able to take my time with it, and I want to put out something that I’m feeling 100 percent happy in because you only make your first album once, so I want to make it the best it can possibly be. I want to look back on it and be like, “This is exactly what I needed to be saying and what I needed to be doing at this time,” and so there’s no official date of release or anything for when it will come out, and I hate saying the word, “soon” [laughs] and so does everybody else, but I’m hoping that it’s soon. I’m hoping that I feel confident enough to put it out, and when I feel ready, then I feel ready, and that’s when I’ll release it.
CF: I know you do a lot of work with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about it and why the work is so important to you?
OH: I actually grew up knowing about the hospital and their mission to help change childhood cancer, and I actually grew up pretty close to the hospital. The hospital is located in Memphis, Tennessee and I was raised right outside of Memphis. My grandad volunteered when I was a kid and he would come back with all these amazing stories about just the life there and what it’s like to be there and how it’s just such a humbling experience, and as I got older I finally got the opportunity to go and tour the hospital and visit some of the kids and from that moment on it was like, “This is what I want, I want to be here and I want to enjoy time with these kids” and it’s insane. When you think of hospitals, you think of like this environment that isn’t full of life or happiness, but this particular place is. There’s paintings all over the walls. When you walk in, it’s like you’re walking in to like a Disneyland resort. It’s insane.
,A couple years back I threw a karaoke party with the kids, and just seeing the light on their faces was unreal, so I feel really lucky to… I mean I can’t ever say “work” with them because it doesn’t even feel like work when I go. It’s like a playground for me. I go and I hang out with all these kids all day, and they’re just happy and they have challenging days, but they push through and I think that’s also what keeps me going in my life is I feel grateful to have everything that I have, that they are, they are something else. I hope to continue the relationship that I have with them for the rest of my life.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
OH: I’m really excited to talk about this, this is actually the first time I’m getting to talk about it, so I’m getting a little giddy, but over the summer I took a trip to Africa, and more specifically I went to Kenya, and this was the first time I’ve ever done a trip like this. I was there for a week, completely off the grid, no phone, no blowing up of the emails, no nothing. All I had was a camera and a carry on, and I learned so much about the community there and how they have no running water or they have no education, they have no clothes or shoes, and it was hands down the most grounding, humbling experience I’ve ever had.
And I made some friends while I was there and I also got to help build wells and schools and do all of these incredible things that make you really take a step back and look at life from whole new perspective. And there was a moment when I was there when I was at one of the all girls schools and we were all hanging out in the cafeteria and we were all talking about music and I was dragged up in front of everybody, and they asked me to sing. I’ve played so many shows, especially the last few years, and I’ve played some massive shows, but I was so nervous. I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life, and I was just in front of just like maybe 60, 70 young girls and I ended up singing and at the end it was totally bone chilling.
These girls ran up to me afterwards and were like, “Let’s sing this.” Just like the way music can touch people and the way that us as humans can connect with each other over one specific thing or a couple different things, it’s kind of incredible that we have this thing, that no matter how far away we are from each other on this globe, we are connected. And that was my favorite experience I’ve had in the two decades I’ve been alive. I definitely will go back, but I think moments like that definitely remind me of how lucky I am to be able to do what I do and how I love to do what I do.