Feature: Lean Into It

Interview with: Olivia Love


First, thank you for contributing your work to this year’s featured article. The editor in chief showed me your single “Lean Into It,” and I jumped at the chance to email you. So my first question is: What got you into writing and producing music in the first place?

I’m so glad you liked the song! It’s still so crazy to me that people I don’t know are listening.

Your question… What got me into writing? Honestly, I was so young when I started that I couldn’t really tell you. I was a Waldorf kid (arts-oriented educational philosophy), so my education always encompassed music heavily, and making up songs wasn’t even something that occurred to me as a hobby, because it never really felt optional. Music has just been a part of my identity for literally my whole life

I’m not much of a song writer myself, but I do enjoy writing prose, so I know that word choice is everything when it comes to creating a good piece of work. The lyrics to your song are filled with meaning. Would you mind delving into that a bit? Where did you pull your inspiration for it? What determined the lyrics you chose?

This is actually a question I ask myself a lot, because over the years I’ve come to find that there are innumerable approaches to songwriting, and I’m only really okay at one of them. You mentioned my lyrics being filled with meaning, and you’re right; I obsess over absolutely every word I choose. I work, I rework… For each song that gets finished, I’ve written easily twice as many lyrics as I end up actually using. The capacity that language has to elicit imagery and emotion and physical reaction, it’s a wildly powerful thing. I get inspired by an event, a feeling, a person, and I want to capture that thing in a way that preserves the moment as I remember it. For much of my songwriting career, I thought this approach was fairly universal, but when I started playing with my band, I began to watch their songwriting processes and was proven utterly wrong. For example, Will, who sings and plays guitar in my band (Cora Bell), improvises brilliant lyrics to a melody he’s likewise creating as he goes. Sure, he’ll go back and tweak, but the mass bulk of what he makes appears to just flow from him effortlessly. I have no small amount of envy for that ability.

Many of the lines in this song are incredibly poetic. Do you ever write poetry without music?

I don’t! My writing just feels… I dunno, naked without music? I think I feel a little bit of a buffer between me and my own thoughts when there’s a melody in the mix, which makes it easier for me to confront some of my darker thoughts and deeper feelings. That’s not to say that I view music as a crutch, but as far as poetry goes, every poem I’ve ever written has been filed as a song I haven’t finished yet.

I understand that this is the first song you have released. What has the experience of writing and releasing your first song been like? Are there any pointers you want to give to someone else who might be trying to do the same thing?

My advice? Just do it. Just get the damn thing out there. There will always be something about your work that you wanna change or fix, but your creativity isn’t a finite resource. Your craft is an evolving skill, and the only thing you’re doing when you doubt what you’ve made is hindering your own growth. Put it out into the world, and move on to the next. “Lean Into It” is about 2 years old; I only got around to recording it this past fall, and then I sat on it for about another 6 months after that. I found myself paralyzed by this fear that it wasn’t good enough, that it could be better… But when it comes down to it, that doesn’t matter. Whether it is “good enough” is honestly pretty irrelevant, because it exists, and it deserves to be seen, to be heard. I struggle with that all the time in every stage of the process, so I don’t give this advice from a position of superiority, but because I need reminding as much as anyone else.

Your song was released on February 14th. Was it merely coincidence or was it an active choice to release “Lean Into It” on Valentine’s day?

It was absolutely an active choice. I have actually quite a few songs I’ve been waiting to release, and many of them would have been appropriate for Valentine’s Day. But the reason I chose to release “Lean Into It” on Valentine’s Day is really the same reason I wrote it in the first place: I’m queer! I’m queer, but because of a winning combination of internalized homophobia in my adolescence, presumed and imposed heterosexuality upon all of my formative romantic years, and the sheerly overwhelming availability of men who like women versus women who are queer and single and out and available… The long story short is that I’ve just dated more men than I have anyone else. And as a result, most of my love songs are about men. I realized this rather suddenly a couple years ago and I was so upset, not only with myself, but with a culture that didn’t provide me with damn near any mainstream-style poppy queer love songs. As I was growing up and learning what love meant, the overwhelming majority of examples I saw in the media were about straight lust, love, and loss. And the queer art I saw was just tragic. Not because it was bad but because the very few queer artists who’ve been able to push into the mainstream, have largely produced art about tragedy and loss and hardship within that identity. And that isn’t anything wrong; those stories are important to tell.

But queer people deserve love songs that don’t make them cry. We deserve space to be happy and silly and flawed, not to be held exclusively to an epic and tragic standard of being. Sometime’s shit’s just cute, y’know?

How do you feel about the ability to reach more people with your music? What do you think that your song means to other people? Do you think it is the same as what the song means to you?

So far, every person that’s approached me about how much they love my song has found themselves in the very awkward position of having to watch me cry a little. I’ve talked a lot about what this song means to me and why I wrote it, but I couldn’t have imagined the kinds of things people have said to me about what it meant to them. Truly I can’t think of any happiness greater than your art doing what you wanted it to do. That’s not to say that everyone needs to get the same things out of the song, but the fact that it’s speaking to so many people is just overwhelming and amazing to me. I’m so grateful.

***

Olivia Love is a multi-instrumental Chicagoland musician whose originals and completely unique covers are most closely described as “bluesy folk-rock.” Her music has taken her all over the world and she’s performed in France, Ecuador and China as well as many parts of the Midwest. Her band (Cora Bell) recently finished their first album, and she is currently wrapping up her first solo EP. Her single, ‘Lean Into It,’ is now streaming on all platforms!