Before 13 Reasons Why blew up the world of Netflix, there was the film A Girl Like Her, that similarly follows the heart-wrenching story of a high school girl being emotionally and physically bullied by her peers. While the powerful message and brutal honesty of the film undoubtedly hit you hard, so does its beautiful soundtrack, with one song titled I Can Say, particularly holding my attention. After realising there was no way past this stunning track until learning more about the artist behind it, that then brings us to this interview with our wonderful, new favourite ~ Olivia Millerschin.
Born in Rochester, Michigan, the now Detroit based singer-songwriter jokingly announced, “I think the closest I’ve ever been to New Zealand is England and that’s not even very close at all,” as we settled in for a chat at very un-rock’n’roll hours of the morning on both sides of the world.
Beginning to learn the piano at age five, before studying opera and classical voice from age seven, to picking up the guitar at age ten and transitioning to the ukulele at age twelve, Olivia is definitely one of those multi-talented instrumentalists that we’re all secretly (or not so secretly) jealous of, because, well she can basically play everything and whilst boosting my ego, as I lay sprawled out in bed (It was 2AM, okay) by referring to me as ‘the next Beyonce-like superstar,’ she’s the real star here.
“My whole family play and sing folk music and my grandma studied opera, but none of them do music professionally,” she revealed when asked about her background. “I was always kind of the sleeper in the family too and I think people always thought my sister was going to be the singer because she’s so outgoing, then I happened and people were like, what!?” she chuckled. “I think just hearing them mess around with music made me want to get into it even more.”
“I was chosen as the third pig in the Three Piggy Opera in first grade!” Olivia chuckled, reminiscing her first musical memory. “Everyone said I did a great job, but that I wasn’t loud enough, which feels like the story of my life! It hasn’t been for a while now, but I had to fight that for so long,” she confessed.
Then fast forward to age eleven and she was a a part of the children’s chorus in a major Andrew Lloyd Webber production. “It went for a couple of months and it was incredible!” she recalls. “At the time I thought this it what I really want to do, but I don’t think I have the voice or the stamina that those performers have, it’s completely unreal.”
Writing I Can Say, at age fifteen, the track later featuring in the film, A Girl Like Her, Olivia admits it came about in a strange way. “I wrote that song about the things I was going through in my own life and I think it was my mum who saw an ad that this well known local director was making a documentary on bullying and then convinced me to submit the song. I got the call pretty much the next day saying, ‘we’re going to use your song in the movie, because lyrically it matches the film perfectly,” then Netflix picked it up and now it’s one of the most viewed films on there, so it has been a bit of a whirlwind for sure!”
The national acclaim then came thick and fast for Olivia at age nineteen after making it to the finals of the television show, America’s Got Talent.“I think the show forced me to grow as a performer, because being national television it was all about being larger than life and I was very soft and quiet,” she acknowledged, when asked about the experience. “All in all it wasn’t super original for me, as I wasn’t performing my own music, but I think the biggest thing I took away from it was to stay true to who you want to be and only do stuff that truly aligns with who you are.”
Now, twenty-one years of age, still self-managing herself, with one EP and two albums under her belt and a long list of awards to her name, we talked the past twelve months and what else is to come.. “Last year turned out to be even crazier than I thought it would be!” she exclaimed. “I had 100 and something college shows booked and then another 100 local shows, so by the end of the year I ended up having played close to 300 shows, which I really enjoyed!” she added. “We just did a tour of the West Coast recently and every show was incredible. It’s so awesome just to connect with people and play the music that I’ve been working on for a while in their homes and backyards.”
When asked about touring, she gleefully admits, “touring was all I ever wanted it to be. What I love about it is that I get to spend time out on the road with people that I really love and I think you don’t really know who someone is until you’ve lived with them for a little while,” she added. “It’s kind of like a room mate situation, so I get to know my band really well and meet new friends basically every night, it’s pretty incredible.”
Alongside winning awards such as the John Lennon Songwriting Award, she graciously confessed, “I really think that winning a Great American Songwriting Contest Award was pretty huge for me. When you write your own music and someone relates to it or likes the words that come from your head, it’s definitely what you want. So the fact that they recognised what I put into the world is incredible.”
“I always used to wish my music was cooler or that I could write like other specific songwriters, but my music always just comes out as exactly who I am and Look Both Ways [Millerschin’s second album] is a bit more serious than my previous records, but it is just a natural growth,” she explained. “Anyone is going to write differently at 21, than they did at age 15. I’m now thinking about not having to necessarily write these happy songs, but to write about real things and find the positive outlets to them and make them, I hope, relatable,” she went on. “It is just about recognising that there is darkness in this world, but you can also try and see the good in it.”
When it comes to musical influences, Olivia admits they’re ‘kind of all over the place.’ “I’ve always loved any songwriter from the 60s-70s, but more recently I’ve gotten in to a lot of soul and jazz artists, and they’re all I can listen to now,” she added with a laugh. “I don’t know why it took me so long, they’re so good!”
Sticking to the topic of songwriting we found ourselves discussing co-writing and the possibility of writing songs for other artists. “You’re so right, co-writing is so hip right now, it’s like why wouldn’t you have three people involved in this song instead of just the one,” she chuckled. “I’ve written with people in the past, but nothing has ever come of those songs and until they feel right I don’t want to put them out there into the world.”
“There’s three people who are my dream collaborations!” she excitedly announced. “It’s pretty random but there’s John Mayer, Art Garfunkel and Chance The Rapper.. Right!?” we both laughed. “I don’t know where it comes from and I know they’re all dudes, but I do have women I’d love to collaborate with too, those are just some of my dreams.”
Then when it comes to writing songs for other artists, Olivia has no hesitation. “I would absolutely love to do that! That is kind of why I got into co-writing in the first place, just to mess around and hopefully write some stuff for other people” she admits. “I would actually love to write music for films, but I have no idea how one even gets into that, it seems to kind of be one of those right place, right time things,” she concluded.
As well as touring and working on new material (as if that wasn’t cool enough) Olivia also involves herself in a lot of work for numerous charities and non-profit organisations, one of these she’s done a lot of work with recently is Notes for Notes. “Notes For Notes are a non-profit organisation from the US that open music studios for youth and I’ve kind of been involved in the Detroit studio since they opened,” she explained. “I think by the end of they year they’re going to have 21 studios around the US which is incredible. So they offer lessons and I sometimes go in and teach the youth vocal, ukulele or songwriting, it’s so great!”
Offering a taste of new music with the sweet melodic Somewhere In Between, Olivia promises new music is on the way, with a couple of singles set for release in the fall and a stylistically different sounding record in *fingers crossed* early 2018, but in the meantime she was kind enough to leave us with some sound advice for all you other aspiring musicians out there..
“I’d say with the way that the music world works now with the speed of the internet, people think they’re going to get instant notoriety and gratitude from just posting things online and I think it’s that easy come, easy go thing, because anything that gets huge overnight doesn’t have the staying power, so I’d say that the best advice I have is to just keep writing.. Write good music and write what you believe in. I think if you really believe in something then eventually other people are going to believe in it too. A lot of people start music because they love it and then end up wanting fame, but you really just have to remember why you started it.”