All this week we're highlighting some of the interesting people we've gotten to know over the past year.
This spring Olivia Quillio won the Garage to Glory competition at the College of Saint Rose. Since then her music, songwriting and unique style have gained her a lot of attention in the Capital Region.
The Shaker High grad tried SUNY Potsdam for a while, where she was inspired by some of her literature classes, but unmotivated and anxious.
So she left school in her sophomore year to do what she's been doing in one way or another for most of her life -- write songs. She's been writing, playing and recording ever since.
When/how did you start writing music?
I can remember making up songs and singing them into my tape recorder as a first grader. After I became efficient enough at playing piano I quit taking lessons (from my grandmother) and used it as a tool to make up more music when I could.
I was a "chorus geek" in high school so I had always been invested in singing and trying to express myself vocally. It wasn't until December 2007 that I wrote down my first complete song entitled "Tongue Tied." It was the pain of a death that really catapulted me into songwriting. I needed to synthesize my pain in a way that was resolute. I still use songs to help de-tangle emotions. Without such release, I'd be a very different person.
Was it always something you did or wanted to do?
When I read this question I immediately recalled a memory of myself dancing in my backyard to Survivor, the Destiny's Child album. I've always had a deep connection to songs. I obsess over some songs so much that I can listen to them on repeat over and over. Looking back it seems obvious to me that I write songs and enjoy it so much. I've always wanted to evoke emotion to people, songs ended up being the means to that end for me.
What inspires your songs?
In the beginning it was heartache, but now it is truth. For the first couple years I was writing all influence was over misery by way of the heart, mind, spirit. This became a bit unhealthy (associating pain/sadness with writing). I know a lot of afflicted by this disease of a concept. When I dropped out of college I began to tie my writing to the discovery of truth.
I do believe my journey as a songwriter and artist is to find the truth in my surroundings whether they be romantic, environmental, etc. It was important for me to acknowledge that there are many sad truths, but happy truths as well.
What do you like most about writing songs?
The cathartic quality of creating is significant to me. Whether I am emotionally purging, or releasing the literal "waste" (negative thought, doubt, etc.) I have, it produces a sort of meditative feeling for me. I cannot really produce and play a song if it doesn't affect me someway emotionally.
What's the toughest part of being a songwriter?
The toughest part about songwriting, personally, is the constant switching of "realities." By "realities" I reference the songwriter mind vs. daily life. When I have a few days off (I work full-time as a barista) I can stay home and live in my songwriter mind. This just means I use my brain power for listening, writing, playing guitar or whatever it is. When I get back to work or am operating in social settings outside of my apartment I sometimes have trouble separating. It can be difficult for me to listen and engage with people when I'm listening to the song they're playing through the bar radio. I love engaging with people and must engage when I'm working. The toughest part of this toughest part is the fear that if I stop paying attention to "songwriter mind" I could potentially lose a melody that could be "my best song" or something like that. It's mostly manageable given that I don't cave to the fear.
What do you want the audience to get from your music?
Joy. Serenity. Distraction. A break from their minds. Knowing that there are so many artists in Albany, I hope that our work can help each other. I've gone to many local performances (visually or musically) and been moved or pushed to look at something differently. I hope I can give that back to this community especially.
How would you describe your style? Who have you looked to for inspiration -- who are your favorite artists?
Poetically speaking I am very fond of Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, A Tribe Called Quest, Allen Ginsberg, George Harrison, George Gershwin. Regarding voices I have always loved Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell (again), Stan Getz, Chet Baker (both vocally and instrumentally). I enjoy the work of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Bill Withers. Whatever seems to have a quality of "timeless soul" usually gets me. Vocal harmonies, too. I am quite moved by madrigals. Modern work like The Fleet Foxes, The Avett Brothers, and Feist are very motivational as well.
We're hearing a lot about you now -- especially since Garage to Glory. How has your music/ your career changed this year?
Recognition from events like "Garage to Glory II" has been very helpful. My career has been legitimized in a way this year that makes me very thankful to be doing what I love. Meeting and collaborating with guitarist/songwriter Meagan Duffy changed a lot for me. As a musical partner Meagan has helped me hear and play in ways I couldn't have found on my own.
You use the ukulele a lot. It's kind of a popular instrument right now. What do you like about it so much?
In all honesty, the ukulele was the least intimidating string instrument in my eyes, so I bought one after playing a few that belonged to friends. I needed an instrument to write with that wasn't the piano. Ukulele was like a polar opposite. It was a gateway to learning most string instruments. I've picked up banjo and guitar since I bought my first uke in July of 2009. I like the ukulele because of its simplicity, brightness and warmth.
My uke of choice is a baritone ukulele. It is tuned like the bottom four strings a guitar, offers more low end than a concert or soprano uke.
What's next for you?
Next for me is the release of my first studio album. That should be happening sometime next spring.
I'd like to get involved in musical projects where I play more of a supporting role as opposed to the lead. I enjoy collaborating with others as much as I do writing solo.
I'll begin working on my next solo project, which will be inspired directly by my family's history and the stories I've been told by my relatives. I'll be making many trips to the places that provided joy and solace to me as a child. I'm looking to mature in my creating and trust that there is more inspiration then matters of the heart. Writing about romantic trial and error has run its course for me, for now.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Also interesting in 2011:
+ Sarah Gordon from FarmieMarket
+ Mike Guidice & Jen Pursley Guidice from Hounds on the Hudson and Albany chickens
+ Christian Noe from Nighthawk's Kitchen
+ Samson Contompasis from Marketplace Gallery
+ Britin and Nick Foster from All Good Bakers
+Troy mayor Harry Tutunjian
+Laura Glazer from Hello Pretty City
photo: Ashley Dzingle
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