Interview: Kelly Oliver


London-based singer songwriter, Kelly Oliver, is currently on the road and set to hit the south west in July (see dates below). Her recent single, Jericho, is yielding national airplay on BBC Radio 2 and 6 whilst her live set has been receiving warm reviews from the likes of the Times and the Telegraph.

‘This Land’, her debut album, was included in the Telegraph’s best folk albums of 2014, won Folkwords‘ Best Album by a Female Artist last year and its successor is already in the works. Combining contemporary folk with indie-pop sensibilities, Oliver’s sound is both fresh and accomplished. A young rising talent already making waves on the national scene, she is certainly an artist to keep an eye on in the coming months.

South West Pulse editor, Dan Aston, caught up with Kelly to find out more about her upcoming shows, the new material and her road to becoming a musician.

Dan Aston: Your latest single, ‘Jericho’, has been getting some brilliant feedback and airplay. What is the inspiration behind the song?

Kelly Oliver: The song title came first, which is quite rare for me.  I had the idea of writing about the biblical story, but wanted to make it more contemporary.  The chorus came very easily which was encouraging and gave me a foundation to work around.  I co-wrote the song with my producer Nigel Stonier and then we took it into the studio, so it was great to work with him at each stage of the process.

DA: Your harmonica playing shines beautifully in the song and there aren’t many players around these days. What made you take it up?

KO: I’ve always been inspired by singers like Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Alanis Morissette etc and through listening to them, it gave me the idea of incorporating the harmonica into my live set.  I felt that as a female guitarist and singer-songwriter, I needed something else in my performances, and so needed to choose an instrument that I didn’t need to hold!

DA: Your debut album, ‘This Land’, has a powerful traditional folk sound with elements of bold indie-pop. What can we expect to hear on your second record?

KO: My next album will be different to This Land, partly because This Land was made up of world stories, and different social and political subject matters, whereas the songs I’m currently writing for the next album are based more around my personal thoughts, the thoughts of other people I have interacted with over time, and the theme of femininity.  I am working with different producers on the new album as well, so while some of the songs will be more stripped back like on This Land, there will be songs on there with a lot more production and instrumentation.

DA: Being included in the Telegraph’s best folk albums of 2014 must have felt amazing! How do you approach getting critical acclaim like this, having also been played on Bob Harris’ Radio 2 show recently?

KO: Great question – I am always astonished! But I also feel incredibly fortunate and grateful, and never take anything like that for granted.  It keeps me motivated to work towards my next goal and I feel obliged and dedicated to constantly try and improve for the people who are supporting me.  The kind support I’ve had from presenters, producers, reviewers and listeners is so encouraging and means an awful lot.

DA: You spent time travelling around Europe and South America after university. Do your experiences whilst travelling have any impact on your music?

KO: A huge influence.  I based my first EP ‘Far From Home’ around experiences I had whilst I was away travelling.  Getting a different perspective on my life while I was in Brazil was a turning point for me, in terms of my musical career – it persuaded me to begin it! I would encourage anyone to take some time out and go travelling if they have the opportunity, I have only ever found it to be fulfilling and enriching.  I am very lucky that I am able to incorporate travelling into my music, and absolutely love visiting new places around the UK on tour.

DA: Have you always wanted to be a musician?

KO: No actually! I always loved singing and wanted to be a singer, but never thought it would be possible.  It took a long time for me to get the confidence to perform my own songs alone on stage with my guitar, even though I have been performing in shows and choirs all my life.  But now that I have been performing on the folk scene for 2 years, I only want to continue!

DA: Who do you cite as your key musical influences? 

KO: Bob Dylan, Shane MacGowan and Dolly Parton are huge influences of mine in terms of songwriting. I have been fans of them for as long as I can remember but it’s only now that I’m starting to see their influence in my process of create and performing music.  Alanis Morissette is another big influence in terms of laying herself bare in an album – Jagged Little Pill is a masterpiece in my eyes, but I haven’t reached that point of completely opening up in my songwriting yet.  Maybe in my third album… haha!

DA: Do you have a particular song writing process?

KO: For me, the songwriting process is quite intricate, regardless of whether the song ends up being intricate or not.  I’m obsessed with syllables and word stresses, which can make writing lyrics quite a lengthy and delicate challenge. Sometimes I could write a song in half an hour, and other times it might take a few months to finish.  I am focusing a lot more on the instrumentation of my songs now as well, and have found that sometimes you can bring out the meaning of a line depending on the guitar part you put with it.  I love songwriting though and there is a huge satisfaction in finishing a song and singing it for the first time as a whole. Then the next step is finding the right gig to play it live at!

DA: We’re looking forward to your shows in the south west this July. Can we expect to hear any new material?

KO: Thank you – I can’t wait to come and play some gigs in the south west!  There is an enviable music scene there, and it’s one I would love to get to know more.  It would be great to see some gigs down there on my nights off!  There will definitely be some new material in my sets, and I’d love for people to come along to a gig of mine and see what they think.

Kelly Oliver and Bob Harris

South West Tour Dates

19 July – Wiltshire, Larmer Tree Festival

23 July – Colyford, The Wheelwright Inn

24 July – Polperro, The Old Millhouse Inn

25 July – Kingskerswell, Kingskerswell Parish Church

30 July – Axminster, River Cottage

Kelly Oliver live

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