Diving into songwriting, The Fish Song, and moving to Nashville with Olivia Barton

Photo Via Olivia Barton’s Instagram

Interview by Clara Copps

On Friday and Saturday evenings in Uptown it’s not uncommon to see a line forming outside the Riviera Theatre in anticipation of the evening’s musical lineup, and this weekend was no exception. When me and my friends arrived for the Lizzy McAlpine concert, there was a line of people around the block waiting for the doors to open. We could feel the excitement in the air, and I knew right away I would be in for a good show.

While the crowd sang along to Lizzy McAlpine, I had the pleasure of interviewing Olivia Barton, who opened up the show tonight. Olivia is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter who just released her second full-length album in November, and most recently gained some popularity from The Fish Song, which she cowrote with her partner. This is a Good Sign is an album filled with personality and vulnerability, where Olivia dives into personal experiences surrounding growing up and the stresses of being an artist while keeping the message genuine and relatable. Her voice shines through in this album and gives the impression that she is singing directly to the listener. Olivia was so kind as to invite me backstage, where we had a wonderful conversation about her new album, songwriting, and music school while fans screamed in excitement above us as Lizzy began her set. She was incredibly welcoming and I had a great time chatting with her

Interview time!

Thank you so much for joining me! Like I said, I’m with WLUW Chicago Sound Alliance out of Loyola University, and I have a few questions for you!
Right off the bat, this is your second tour that you’ve been on?


What has the experience been like so far, is there’s anything that’s been surprising or unexpected about doing this scale of a tour?

Honestly, I think—well, this is the third show, I still have a lot to learn I think—but so far, I think what I’m most surprised by is, I guess I thought that something of this scale would feel harder to manage, like knowing where to be and when, or feel hectic since it’s something so official, but it’s actually been the opposite. It’s been very smooth, Lizzy’s team is just so awesome, I know exactly where I need to be and when, and having a tour manager makes it so much easier. Yeah, honestly, I’m most surprised by how smooth it’s going.

That’s great!

Oh, I also think it’s worth mentioning that I think the most surprising thing is the crowds. The experience of going on stage and having everybody scream at me is insane, I’ve never experienced anything like that with the other shows that I’ve played, it’s just not that type of fan base, so that’s been the most shocking thing by far.

Wow, I cannot even imagine what that’s like, especially with the amount of people that are here.
So your second album, This is a good sign, has been out for a little while, since November, which is super exciting! I’ve been listening to it and I really like it, so I was wondering if you could explain a bit about the title track. It’s the last song on the album, and to me it feels like a wrap up, so I was wondering if you could describe the message of that song and how it functions to close out the album.

Yeah, I so appreciate that question because nobody’s asked it, and it feels like the little lost song even though it’s the title track because it wasn’t a single and it’s at the end of the album, you know, it sort of gets lost. The best way that I’ve known to describe it is, like, when you have a splinter or you have a piece of glass in your skin and you’re trying to get it out with tweezers, and it’s the most miserable experience, and I was thinking about this when my mom was trying to get a piece of glass out of my foot. The experience of that is you know you’re getting closer to the piece of glass when it hurts more, and you’re like “that’s the spot, that’s where it hurts”, you have to find it and take it out and then it feels better. So “this is a good sign” means, like, when I’m feeling the pain, it’s actually a good thing, that I’ve found the wound. That’s why the chorus is like “what if this is a good sign”, “this” meaning all this stuff I’m uncovering and I’ve been uncovering over the whole album, and “when I let go I make space to try”, that’s sort of like taking out the piece of glass and now I can live better and experience freedom from processing that.

I love that, I feel like that’s such a great way to end it, because you get so personal and vulnerable on the album, and it’s very powerful, but I love that that is the way you’re bringing it all together. That’s really cool.

Thank you! I had the title before I had written any of the songs, I had a little street sign that I put up on my wall that said “this is a good sign”, and I was like “that would be a really cool title for an album”, but then I sort of created meaning out of it.

So, I was wondering about your songwriting process, your lyric writing is definitely very intentional and I’ve spent time reading your lyrics and some other interviews where you’ve talked about it, so I’m wondering how your songwriting process has changed from album one to album two, or just throughout your songwriting career.

Well, I would say that there wasn’t a huge change between album one and album two, I would say now it’s been changing more than ever. I tend to sort of word vomit my songs out and then edit it, so It’s a lot of stream of consciousness and improvising melody at the same time into a voice memo and then taking the pieces that word and editing around that. So, I did that for my first album and my second album, I think there was a bit more intention—well probably a lot more intention in the second album in terms of editing and putting songs together, and the first one was totally an experiment in college with my friends making music, but now it’s changing a bit. I feel like I’m needing to be more intentional about sitting down to write, and that’s sort of a whole other thing, but yeah.

I totally understand that, I feel like that’s how I write papers sometimes, you just need to get something on the page and then you can work on it.
I know your partner is also a musician, so I was wondering if you guys—well, I know you do have a song out together—but if you guys ever collaborate.

Yeah, we’ve kept it fairly separate (until [the fish song] obviously), I mean we have worked on songs together, I co-wrote a couple songs that they have out, so we’ve definitely worked together behind the scenes and given each other notes on songs, showing each other things before they’re done, so we work a lot like that but not really in an official way like we are now with [the fish song]. They have played in my band too, they played bass for a while in my band, they don’t really anymore for obvious reasons. I don’t know, we were in an interview yesterday where they asked us if we were planning on doing more since this song has done so well, and I don’t really know exactly the answer to that.

I mean, the timing of [The Fish Song] blowing up on TikTok is just crazy, right before the tour. Honestly, it’s sort of a good, like, plug, more people might know it before seeing you live.

It’s bizarre! I mean, I sang it today for the first time and I couldn’t believe how many people knew it. It’s absolutely insane.

Yeah, my friends that came along tonight were really excited about it, they love that song.

Aww, that’s so sweet!

Okay, you graduated from Berklee College of Music, but you’re not based in Boston anymore, right

Correct, I’m in Nashville now.

So how long have you been in Nashville now?

It’ll be four years in August.

How does the Nashville music scene compare to the east coast music scene? Obviously Nashville is very known for their country/folk/bluegrass scene, which seems like it would be a change.

I mean I lived in New York after college for four months, I didn’t last very long because I didn’t like it at all, but I would say New York and Boston—well Boston is strange because there’s so many colleges that the music scene in Boston feels sort of sporadic. Actually, I would say that there’s actually quite a lot of folk music in Boston, but New York I found there to be a lot more indie rock. I only played a couple shows and went to a handful, so I’m definitely not an expert on the east coast music scene, but it definitely felt geared more towards band music and electronic music, versus Nashville seems to be very much like the solo artist place. Not just country, but offshoots of singer/songwriter, solo artists in various genres feels much more prevalent in Nashville.

Interesting, I don’t really know what I was expecting from your answer, but I never would have guessed that difference between bands and artists so that’s very interesting to me
This is slightly out of personal curiosity, slightly out of college-student audience curiosity but did going to school for music make a difference for you, or do you have any valuable takeaways from your program?

Yeah, it made a huge difference. There’s a lot of different takes on Berklee, but I usually say it was just a a dream come true for me, it was so inspiring to be around so many other musicians. I can’t imagine having gone from a traditional educational structure straight into the music industry, and I would say one of the ways it helped the most was with learning the language around making music and recording music and booking shows. It’s not all directly applicable to the real world, with music school or art school, there’s definitely a lot you still have to learn after school, but I can’t imagine having gone straight from—like, I did consider moving to Nashville out of high school and not going to college—it all just would have been really hard to figure it all out on your own. College created this community of people that are all figuring it out together, and that is totally invaluable.

Looking forward to the rest of the tour, are there any cities in particular that you are looking forward to? Any new ones or familiar ones?

I haven’t really played anywhere that I’m playing on this tour [laughs]. I’ve played in Brooklyn, maybe once but the shows that I’ve played are very much in the DIY scene, which is so awesome, but this is just different. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to, Brooklyn, because I have a lot of friends there and I lived there for a hot second, so it’ll be fun. But also LA, I think that’s going to be crazy, I have a lot of friends there too, and two nights at the Wiltern will be insane. And then Nashville, obviously.

Cool! To wrap it up, I have kind of a silly question. Would you rather fight 100 chicken-sized horses or one horse-sized chicken?

Definitely the one. [laughs]

I feel like there’s pros and cons to both!

Initially, the thought of a hundred little things coming at me is way more overwhelming than just buckling down on one, so I’m going to go with the one horse-sized chicken. What that makes me think of is this one video game my partner forced me to play. I hate video games, but they’re working really hard on me, and we’re on this level where I’ve quit the game because I cannot get past this level. It’s a bunch of bees that I have to shoot and so the volume of that, no I couldn’t do the chicken-sized horses.

I get that, I have a really hard time with video games too. Anyway, that’s all I have, thank you so much for sitting down with me!

Thank you!

Check out Olivia Barton on Instagram and check out her music on Spotify!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.