Convo with Olive Bernard

20-year-old independent singer, songwriter, producer, and college student, Olive Bernard is from Brooklyn, NY.

Having been writing songs since the age of 14, Olive has been influenced by well-known names in the field, including the likes of Frankie Cosmos, Porches, Alex G, and Girlpool.

Recently she released her debut EP, ‘Pretty Easy’; a record about the pressures of femininity, the emotional complexity of sex and power dynamics in toxic relationships. During an incredibly transformative time for Bernard, she recorded and produced the whole record in her bedroom.

The songs channel raw indie power, an utterly charming aspect of the record. Her vocals and lyricism are authentic, exposing how it truly feels to hold onto the pain of being treated badly by someone you love. On top of that, it also discusses the beauty of reconnecting with lost parts of yourself, plus friends, after a breakup.

I had the opportunity to chat to her to find out more about the record and her music career.

1- Where did you come from and where are you based now, and why?

I grew up in Brooklyn NY. I completely took it for granted and left after high school to go to college in Massachusetts because I thought I would enjoy being in a small town. Once I was there though, I missed Brooklyn so much. I felt so disconnected from the arts and felt like I had lost all my independence. I recently transferred to school back in New York and I’m so happy to be back in Brooklyn.

2-Why Brooklyn, NY?

Brooklyn is where I grew up! I plan to stay here for a while. People always talk about NYC being incredibly cut throat and scary, and I know that that’s true, and that growing up here puts sooo much pressure on people including myself, but it’s also a place that feels incredibly warm for me since it’s been my home for my whole life. I feel the most alive when I’m in New York, the most artistically inspired, and the most emotionally connected with people. Brooklyn is so small, and such a community. Literally everyone knows everyone, and it’s so cool to see people I grew up with grow into amazing artists.

3- Who inspired you to pursue your music career?

I was a massive Taylor Swift fan as a kid (I still am) and seeing the way she was able to express herself through songwriting and singing definitely sparked something inside of me that was like “I wanna be a rockstar!!!” but I can’t dance, and I was a pretty shy kid/teenager so I didn’t think that was possible for me.

In high school though, my friends and I would go to local concerts almost every weekend. We were practically Frankie Cosmos groupies. I adore her and think she’s such a unique and brilliant songwriter. When I watched her perform in 2014/2015 she was unlike any performer I’d ever seen. She completely captivated the audience but also seemed very shy and uncomfortable on stage. But she also seemed very shameless because she sang such personal songs with so much openness. She really broadened my understanding of what a singer/songwriter could be.

It was during that period of going to all those local shows that I started teaching myself how to play guitar and I ended up immediately writing songs. I think seeing so many artists start really small playing free shows in Brooklyn, and watching them grow/get so successful made pursuing music feel much more attainable. That being said, it really wasn’t until about a year ago (when I was 19) that I allowed myself to admit that I wanted to pursue music, despite the fact that I’ve written and recorded/produced songs pretty consistently since I was fifteen.

4- What is the message behind Pretty Easy?

I wrote the song “Pretty Easy” before I even knew I was going to release an EP. In that song I explore this feeling I had right before a breakup where I felt like I had to suppress my emotions because I was terrified of being seen as a “crazy ex-girlfriend”. I remember being obsessed with the idea of being seen by my soon-to-be ex as “stable” and ending things on good terms. I felt like I reduced all my complexity and the complexity of the relationship to wanting to be remembered as pretty, not difficult, and not crazy.

When I wrote the rest of the songs that ended up on the EP I noticed that the idea of being pretty under the male gaze popped up quite a lot, and also almost every song discusses sex in some way. Coming to understand my sexuality after the break up that most of the songs are about (easy/slutty), the idea of being “pretty”, and the idea of being not difficult (pretty easy) came together really well and I thought it was a kind of funny title. Ultimately this project is about understanding the person I was when I was trying to be all those things, and seeing how it hurt me. It was actually really liberating to release that project and be like “cool that’s not who I am anymore, let’s move on”

5- Do you consider this project a solo girl band?

I do. Making music has always been a pretty private thing for me. I’m really interested in collaborating with other artists and musicians in the future, and definitely hope to have a band some day. But, when I made this project I felt a lot of (self induced) pressure to write, record, and produce everything completely myself, I think just to prove to myself that I could. Moving forward though, I definitely want to embrace collaboration because I care mainly now about my music sounding as good as it can, and there’s so much that can come from bringing in other artists!

6-How do you describe the music scene that you are in right now?

I don’t really feel like I’m part of a scene right now since I started this project during quarantine when there were no shows. My best friend since I was a baby makes music under the name Sofia Zarzuela and we have a lot of overlapping listeners so I guess that’s a bit of a scene. There are so many amazing local bands like Earth Dad and The Booyah Kids, where I don’t really feel like I’m in their “scene” because I haven’t played any in person shows in such a long time, but I adore those bands and have been to tons of their shows over the years, and know some of the members.

7-What do you think that changed musically speaking from when you were 15 until now?

When I was 15 I definitely fell into the “sad girl with a guitar” category. Now I’m really into production and sound design and want my future projects to be more sonically ambitious. When I was 15 I kind of rejected pop music (tons of internalized misogyny), but in late highschool I started getting into Charli XCX, Sophie (rip), and AG Cook. Those artists are really inspiring to me now in my production even as I continue to make “indie” music. During quarantine I also got super into the 1975. Their ability to hop and blend genres is really inspiring to me and has definitely influenced me to feel less pressure about making my music sound any specific way.

Another big change is that when I was 15, music was something I didn’t really allow myself to take seriously. It was a really powerful emotional outlet and I knew that I’d never stop writing songs, but I think I was kind of embarrassed. I remember at the time I wasn’t able to call myself a musician even though I wrote songs everyday. I still struggle a lot with imposter syndrome, but I think I feel a lot more confident about my right to make music and my right to call myself an artist now.

8- What are you completely over and done with?

I’m over writing songs from the perspective of being the victim (for now). When I got over the breakup that most of Pretty Easy was about, I was like “shit now I have nothing to write about” but that literally isn’t true and I’ve been writing a lot about new subjects like guilt, weird friendship dynamics, shame, self sabotage, unrequited love, friend love, and lots more.

9- What is the most unusual fear you have?

My dreams.. I’ve just been having the most horrific dreams recently. Maybe I’m scared of my own mind hahaa.

10- What movie or book character are you most similar to?

Frances from Sally Rooney’s book Conversations with Friends reminded me so much of myself in all the worst ways. She’s really non-confrontational and bad at advocating for herself. She reflects a part of me that I’m really trying to not be anymore.

11- What period in history had the best fashion?

I really like 1960s fashion. I love the short babydoll dresses, color coordination, super styled hair, and twiggy makeup.

12 – What is next for Olive Bernard?

I’m working on another EP right now and plan to release a couple singles relatively soon. One of them I made during a period where I was near exclusively listening to LCD Soundsystem and it’s actually danceable which is totally new territory for me. I’m really excited about it!! I also want to make some music videos this summer, and play some shows!

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