After a Decade, Oly Returns With New Music This Sunday at Gramps

Raised on her parents' Prince and Whitney Houston records, Oly has had a long relationship with music. The Los Angeles native and long-time Miami resident put out her EP, A Hot Hooray, in 2004, that had its songs picked up by the MTV show South of Nowhere and the indie film Big Words. But since that, she's been quiet — until now.

She has been passing her new demo around town recently. It's a chillwave dance song called "Nowhere to Run," and she's going to take the stage at Gramps on Sunday night at 10 to play it. To keep herself motivated, Oly has already given herself a deadline to finish her second EP: this December. And that's when the release parties at Sweat Records and Bardot have been plotted. New Times caught up with Oly to discuss the reasons for her recording hiatus, her favorite section of the New York Times, and what it was like playing with acts like Yacht and M83.

New Times: Why the long break since your EP A Hot Hooray?
Oly: I did some collaborations with French musicians like Norman Bambi, Khoral, Relax Beat, and stateside musicians like Deceptikon. I went through a really pragmatic period, both my parents were sick, diagnosed with cancer, and I decided to come back to the States to finish college, get a real job — which was producing sound in a postproduction studio — and spend more time with family. I had also felt that A Hot Hooray hadn’t been successful enough to validate pursuing music further. For a small DIY self-release with absolutely no budget for PR or marketing, it landed itself on a couple of TV shows, and lots of people were ordering it from me directly from all over. I was just being hard on myself. Those were rough times. 

What motivated you to get back on the stage and in the recording studio?
When I am not making music, I am despondent, so I try to write, play, or sing every day. But what really got me focused on actually finishing the songs was a period of a year of going to too many funerals, both expected and unexpected. It pushed me to really think about my mortality. I used to regularly read the New York Times obituaries, and it got me thinking about mine. What would I want mine to read? What would happen to all these sounds I’ve created if no one hears them? They die too. Getting a band together has really been steering me in the right direction. I ran into Matt Crum at a friend's going-away party and sent him my demos, and he liked them. He is incredibly talented and has put out beautiful music as one-half of Rom with Helado Negro’s Roberto Lange. I also become friends with Robert Sawyer, who goes by Deviant. He’s playing more of a producer role on the songs, adding some sparkle and effervescence. 

You shared the stage with Yacht and M83. What did you learn from the experience?
The first time Yacht played in Miami, it was maybe 2002 or 2003. It was at an art gallery in Little Havana. My friend artist Matt Chambers put it all together. That was maybe my first show featuring the songs from A Hot Hooray. Of course, this is way before Yacht became the sensation they are now. Back then, it was just Jona on a laptop. He’s a very nice, humble guy, and he never stopped. Don’t stop doing what you love. You get to the place you want to go, but it takes hard work and persistence.

For M83’s first U.S. tour, Ulrich Schnauss was their opener, and he broke his wrist the night before, and the booking agent for the Empty Bottle in Chicago gave me a call the day of the show while I was at work. I had to run home and pack up my gear and head to the venue and be ready for soundcheck. That was kind of crazy. It got even crazier, because I ended up dating the guitarist for M83 at that time. I moved to Paris a year later. That's how all those French collaborations came into play. 

What music/life experiences are inspiring your new songs?
I really wanted to exercise my pop sensibility on this upcoming EP. On A Hot Hooray, it was very stream-of-conscious type of writing, so I wanted to do something different this time around. I'm incorporating the lyrics of some of my favorite songs — some gospel, some R&B and pop, but I've reworked arrangements, chords, vocal melodies, and modified lyrics. It's my pop song structure study series and ultimate dream collaboration project. I was like, I’m just going to work with Isaac Hayes, the Carter Family, Bruce Springsteen, Smokey Robinson. No big deal. I don’t really care for straight-up covers, but I did want to look at compositions closely, take them apart, and put them back together my own way. I really look up to songwriting teams. It's hard to do it all yourself. I have a few real-life collaborations coming down the line, one with Dino Felipe and Mike Alen I'm really excited about.

What can we expect at Gramps on Sunday night?
I asked a good friend of mine to open. I don't want to tell you who it is yet, but everyone knows him. He’s like the mayor of Wynwood — well, maybe one day. I think he’s going to try something experimental; they’ve played Churchill's before. It’s always interesting and entertaining for sure. I also asked Juan Tapia to do visuals; he’s gonna do some live VHS video feedback. I can’t wait to see that. It will be gorgeous. As far as our debut, I hope I don’t drink too much to hide my jitters and fall off the stage. Wish me some leg-breaking, or maybe not.

Oly with Terror Drones. Sunday, September 20, 10 p.m. Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-699-2669; gramps.com. Admission is free.

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