With just a month till her 21st birthday, Georgia Odette Sallybanks, who has assumed her middle name as an artist, is preparing to step over that threshold into ‘adulthood’.
It’s a theoretical reference to the dawning of a new chapter in life and there’s seems to be no coincidence that her debut album is released just weeks before the symbolic day.
When people look at an artist that is labelled as ‘young’, there’s an assumption of a lack of confidence, maturity or experience, but in the case of Odette, despite her age, she exhibits to confidence of an artist in their prime, the maturity of someone that has been making their own life decisions for a long time and the experience to understand where she wants to be.
Hitting #13 in the ARIA Albums Chart and as this week’s triple j feature album, we found out the story of how she reached this point in her music, and uncovered the meaning behind the words she has been writing for almost 13 years.
There’s an immediate calmness to Odette on meeting her. There’s no nerves, trepidation or aloofness; just an easy, calm and ready smile, willing to share her thoughts with whoever will listen.
Since the age of eight, Odette has been scribbling down words, tinkling on piano and singing for her own enjoyment and musical development, but at what point did she decide that she wants people to hear what she’s creating in her own room?
She explains, “I’ve never really viewed it in that kind of light, of like; I’m writing it for me or am I writing it for other people. I think I was just always writing for the sake of writing. It was like this cool language to me where I could just get everything out that I wanted to in a way that I could articulate just a bit better.
“When I was younger and things were going amiss, I didn’t quite know how to articulate anything, so I think writing has given me confidence. [Not that I] lacked it as a kid because I was a very; not an over-confident kid, but I didn’t really seem to notice anything, I was just in my own world entirely.”
As many do in their early years of learning music, Odette was encouraged to learn music by her parents, her mother buying a piano when she was eight.
She started piano lessons but instead of reading the music, note for note, Odette didn’t like the theoretical part of reading music, she just wanted to play. “I personally find reading music so stressful.” She continues, “I can notate if I try hard enough, but it just takes too long to get to the sound.”
I get the feeling that words, sounds and images float around Odette’s head regularly, which is why when she gets into a frenzy of writing, she lets it all flow as quick as possible. Take the song, Lotus Eaters. It’s her most recent single taken from the album.
A walk down a footpath bordered by weeds was enough to spark words, ideas and a flurry of energy that she just had to put down on paper. It turned into her first ever spoken-word track and a special moment from the album, recorded in one take.
She describes her technique. “When I write, I zone out entirely. I prefer it to be as quiet as possible. When it comes to writing, I’m just like, don’t think, lose all of your inhibitions and just do it. I don’t write spoken word songs very often because it takes so much energy from me. It’s like ZAP! and all my thoughts are on the page but all the energy is on the page too.
“I’ve only written about four because every time I do write a spoken-word, something has to be very, very intense in my life; it doesn’t have to be bad or good or whatever, it just has to be all-consuming and I just have to write and write and write until I can’t write anymore and then there it is, it’s done. Then, I’m drained, but I have to figure out what it’s about because I don’t really think, I just write.”
This moves us on to the subject of dreams. Sharing my previous night’s dream, a vivid creation of a TV show with the knowledge that I didn’t know I knew that fades as soon as you open your eyes, Odette latches on. “I have intense dreams every single night and it actually exhausts me sometimes, like I’ll wake up tired. It gets to the point where it’s ridiculous cause I don’t get a break unless I’m really drunk and come home from a night out and I just zonk out. Even then I’ll probably dream!”
Does she remember these dreams? “Yes. Vividly! Sometimes I get this feeling like if I’m awake and something reminds me of it, I get the feeling that I had when I was in the dream and then I’m like, ‘OMG! I’m going crazy, this is how crazy people are!’ Then I’m like whatever, I’ll write a song about it!”
The album, To A Stranger, is named after a 19th century poem from Walt Whitman. It’s a quaint poem about thoughts relating to a passing stranger – observations kept within. I get the feeling that Odette is similar – observant and reflective of days past and passionate about thing to come.
The album is a body of work that encapsulates the last five years of Odette’s life. It’s a period of time that is typically tumultuous, often emotional and always stressful.
She has managed to, not only write raw and honest pieces of work, but to perform, record and share them with us, so we can listen to them to help us in our own lives, or to simply lose ourselves in the graceful voice and musicianship of a thoroughly realised piece of art.
“It’s a big deal to me, putting this out there,” exclaims Odette. “When I was writing these songs, I was a very different person to who I am now. I was a complete mess.
“So, I think it’s really, really amazing, a; That I finished this album being such a mess and b; That I have been able to write and then reflect. It sounds kind of up myself, but it’s a trait that I really value, because I think that it’s so important to be able to learn and grow from your own experiences and try your best to better yourself.
“So, listening [back] to these songs, I can just hear my headspace at the time and I can just see how far I’ve come. It makes me all emotional about it.”
Our chat goes too quickly. Talking to this young, aspiring artist that is bursting with motivation, positivity and potential makes me feel good, but also excited. I, for one, am ready to explore a myriad of colours, thoughts and ideas that will surely come from the imagination of Odette and you get the feeling that the world is ready too.
Even if you can’t remember your dreams, it doesn’t mean you don’t have them. For Odette, her dreams are illustrated in her writing and it feels like there’s little doubt she will realise them in time.