an interview with st. south
Hailing from Fremantle, Western Australia, Olivia Gavranich is the mastermind behind electronic act St. South. After gaining traction in 2012 with her "We Washed Texas" rework of some Bon Iver favorites, she quickly found her happy place in electronic music. Since then, she's gone on to put out tracks like 'Slacks' in 2014, which has garnered over 21 million plays on Spotify, and in 2016, she released her debut EP, Nervous Energy, a collection of somber tracks exploring heartbreak and head space. With listeners anticipating the release of her next EP, Girls & Glory wanted to sit down with Olivia to discuss new music, liberating oneself as a woman in the music industry, and how she channels these journeys into her art.
Who are you & what do you do?
I’m Olivia Gavranich (St. South) and I’m a producer/singer/songwriter.
Before releasing your debut EP Nervous Energy in 2016, you'd already seen some success from singles like 'Slacks' & 'Cadence'. How did you first get into music and ultimately become St. South?
I started writing and playing guitar in high school, but was never sure which direction I wanted to go in terms of genre. I loved everything--folk, jazz, soul etc. It wasn’t until 2012 that I started heading in a more electronic direction. I entered the Bon Iver Stems Project (a worldwide remix competition) and ended up winning my category with my remix of ‘Wash’. I took stems from ‘Wash’, ‘Hinnom TX’, and ‘Holocene’, and then I recorded my own lyrics over the top. That was the beginning of my relationship with electronic music. I fell in love with it. A few months later I released my debut single, ‘Slacks’, and then everything slowly started to bloom after my first airtime on Triple J. I started working with various online producers, but always felt strongly about eventually being entirely self produced. In 2015 I started teaching myself Ableton, and since then I’ve slowly started producing the music that I really want to be releasing.
While writing and producing Nervous Energy, was there a specific theme that you wanted to explore? What served as your inspiration?
I don’t think I ever consciously made the decision to write about anxiety or love. I guess I was just getting stuff down while it was happening. I was going through a pretty soul-aching break-up, and learning about this hip new thing called Self Love. I was struggling with an anxiety disorder, and a pretty debilitating fear of being alone. So Nervous Energy is definitely a combination of me falling apart and then learning how to put myself back together. It’s about me learning to harness my nervous energy rather than letting it envelop me.
You mentioned on Facebook that you wrote another EP in April 2017! Can you give any hints as to what listeners can expect from you musically and thematically on this next project?
Yes! There were two weeks in April where I couldn’t stop writing. Every night I would plug in my electric guitar and just improvise for an hour, vocals too. I recorded everything as I went, mistakes and all. And when I was finished I had a five full tracks. It’s super stripped back compared to my previous releases. Only one track has percussion, and the rest are just vocals and electric guitar. I’ve thought about recording them all again, to improve the quality, but I really want people to hear it exactly as I wrote it.
I think there’s something really cool about rough vocal takes, and hearing a song as it’s being composed. And it’s cool for me too because I’m usually really pedantic with fine tuning and re-recording my vocals again and again for months and months before releasing it. So this time I’m doing the opposite and it’s the most relaxed I’ve ever felt pre-release.
As for content, it’s the wrapping up of Nervous Energy. It’s basically a compilation of memories and one-take goodbyes, recorded in my bedroom under rope lights.
You're very honest with fans in regards to the journey you go on emotionally & musically between releasing new music. Is this intentional or is it something that comes naturally to you as an artist?
It’s something I’ve only very recently become comfortable with. In the past I’ve always struggled to talk openly about my mental health. But, I think I reached a point while finishing Nervous Energy, where I realised how much growth comes from writing about the things that hurt, and in return, no longer being ashamed of my mental health. I never used to put those feelings and fears into songs because for some reason I assumed people wouldn’t want to hear about it. But then I realised that writing as honestly as possible is the most cathartic thing of all. And releasing it means that I can physically set it free.
There is a certain amount of power that young women might find when they see another woman producing and performing their own music. What advice do you have for girls who also want to pursue a career in the industry?
You are entitled to anything and everything you want. If you want to do something but you’re unsure how, teach yourself before asking someone to do it for you, because we are always more capable than we think. Learn as much as you can about music business. Also, get a good lawyer and don’t sign anything unless they say you can haha.
What message, if any, do you hope people take from your music overall?
I really hope that people can find some familiarity, and take comfort in that.
Besides making music, you've been vocal about your passion for equal rights--whether it be providing a safe space for refugees coming to Australia or voicing support for the LGBTQ* community. Why do you choose to speak out about these issues?
Because we need equality, in all forms. It’s messed up that I live in a country where same-sex marriage still isn’t legal and we don’t allow refugees to settle here. It hurts my heart more than I can explain. If people are being excluded, harmed or detained, it’s hard to keep quiet. I’m in a constant state of wishing I could do more but not always knowing how.
Have you always identified as a feminist and what has your journey been like in educating yourself and learning to vocalize your thoughts?
I think I started experiencing sexism first hand pretty severely when I started releasing music. Not long after releasing my first single I began receiving collaboration requests from producers. Mainly young dudes, telling me how they can ‘help me’. From one word replies, to being threatened with leaking my work early, to having melodies stolen and re-used as their own. I could never imagine these guys talking to other male producers with as little respect. I was 19, and it knocked me down pretty hard, but I’ve come a long way since then. I’m more sure of who I am, and what I want for my career. I’m more assertive. More aware. And it’s made me realise just how important feminism/equality is in this industry.
What does the word "brave" mean to you? And more importantly, what does it mean to you in regard to being a woman/a woman in music?
Bravery is saying yes to every opportunity that presents itself. It’s definitely not easy being a woman in the music industry, but I’m constantly blown away by all of the strong, talented women around me. I’m still learning how to be brave in this, but it’s a whole lot easier when we all support one another and build each other up. I think we can be collectively brave.
What women are currently inspiring you?
Julia Jacklin, Angel Olsen, Héloïse Letissier (Christine and The Queens), and all of my beautiful lady pals and their unwavering female energy.