The music industry is renowned for being one of the toughest to crack, and for a woman it takes more than just talent. A recent report showed that 2017 was a six-year low for female artists in popular music, only 16.8% of all artists were women and of 2,767 songwriters credited, 12.3% were female. Couple these odds with the restricted access that comes from living in the city of Chester (where the music scene is non-existent) and having a 10-year-old daughter to raise, you could think that launching successful music career was out of Olivia’s reach. However, adversity only fuels her fire. She hasn’t compromised her craft to appear in a lack-lustre smash-hit and doesn’t strive to cater for the male gaze, with her new single ‘No Filters’ addressing the fakery involved in Instagram, to empower women to be their authentic selves.

Olivia began writing songs from a very early age, but it wasn’t until she was 19, after giving birth to daughter Mischa, that she found the confidence and drive to pursue her passion. She has worked with P3, Zed Bias, Scruffizer, Manga, and last year was invited by Idris Elba to co-create a track on inspiration as part of the BBC Three takeover. Olivia joined him as a motivational speaker on his ‘Thrive on’ campaign and those skills seep into her music, shown by past and present projects which explore everything from female sexual empowerment to motherhood and menstruation. She’s not a regular mum, she’s a cool mum.

When did you start pursuing music?

I started writing poetry when I was about six or seven, and then from poetry it kind of naturally progressed into songs, so I think I wrote my first song at about eight. It was song writing for a long time, I didn’t have the confidence to get into the singing at first.

How would you describe your style?

I’d say predominantly R&B, but I’ve done a lot of garage and I’ve worked with a lot of grime artists as well. Even though I’ve got that really soft sound, it drifts nicely between the two. I actually started off singing for MC’s and my first time in the studio was when I became the singer for a collective up north called P3. It was only after a few years of working with them I realised I was confident enough to do it on my own.

Growing up, who were you listening to?

I had a really musical family actually, and my parents used to play everything from northern soul and Motown, to rock and indie. I think Lauryn Hill was one of the first albums that I stole from my mum when I was 10-years-old and that’s still my favourite album. Even now my mum and dad still go to gigs and festivals all the time, they’re still very much into music.

The music scene in Chester is almost non-existent, how did you work around that?

My first gig as a solo artist was in Manchester, I’ve done quite a few there and in Liverpool, but the majority of the time has been down south, because I’ve just found it a lot harder to break into the north. I’ve recently started connecting with people up here and it’s becoming more open, but everyone was just so much more closed off. There wasn’t any cohesiveness, there wasn’t anybody reaching out. I went to London and I just got embraced by everyone.

What inspired your debut EP ‘Juicy Fruit’?

I’m an unapologetic feminist and so my activism and passion for women and their experiences naturally inspires my concepts Juicy Fruit, was about sexual liberation, from the spectrum of liberation to trauma. I wanted to shed the shame and stigma attached to women’s sexuality by discussing, everything from oral sex, masturbation, embracing single motherhood and also the darker side; sexual assault.

What’s the concept behind the music video for ‘Down South’?

I deliberately wanted to include aspiring models who I know are struggling in the industry. I chose Priya, who is Sri Lankan and has been turned down repeatedly because they say she’s too dark skinned for a South Asian woman. Then there’s Kitty, who calls herself an ‘inbetweenie’, because she’s not a ‘regular’ sized model for the media, but she’s not plus size. Gigi, is from Manchester, she’s trans and has just been dropped from her agency because they didn’t know what to do with her. She’s getting tired of her trans identity being the only reason for booking jobs, that isn’t all she is.

Why do you find it so important to express female sexuality?

I feel like a lot of people don’t understand the sex-positive movement, I know there are feminists that reject it, because they think it’s distracting, but it’s such a spectrum. Sexual experience is not just about pleasure, it goes right through to trauma, and for women who’ve been assaulted or raped, or who haven’t been allowed to express themselves sexually who are disabled, who’ve had FGM, regaining control of your sexual agency can be really healing, so it’s not just about let’s walk around free the nips out, it goes so much deeper than that. Women are killed for even talking about sex, women are killed for being raped and coming forward about it, or imprisoned, it’s important that female sexuality isn’t a taboo.

Still taken from Down South EP @olivialouiseuk

“I’m a whore if I say yes, but deprived if I say no” is one of your lyrics referencing the double standards women face. Do you think women and men are treated as equals in the music industry?

Currently no. There is a 50% statistical difference in the longevity of men’s careers over women’s in music with age being a determining factor of women’s careers being cut short. Eight out of 10 top festival slots are given to male acts and only 16 percent of songwriters and composers signed to labels are female. The figures continue in all areas of the music industry and drop lower when regarding women of colour.

The industry is overwhelmingly male, have you experienced any sexism?

I’ve gone to studio before and then had the producer not really interested in making music and more interested in trying to get with me to the point where he’s trying to kiss me and I was like I’ve got to go, this is not on. Then there was another really credible producer who message me saying, “I need you on this track”, and I asked him whether it suited my sound and he said it didn’t matter what my sound was. He just wanted to do a video with someone that looked like me and make it go viral, which just strips every piece of my craft. Then there is always the mansplaining, where I’ve been really happy with the outcome of a song, and the guys come in and tell me this, this and this needs to change, talking over me and making me second guess myself.

Also, the only abusive comments that I’ve received on like my music videos are from men! I’ve literally been called a slut, “She looks like a smelly slut” I’ve had on one, then “dirty moose” was a weird one.

You’re joking!

No, and I’ve been owed money from a reputable producer since 2014. He popped up again this year saying oh, invoice me, I invoiced him and still nothing! I’m pretty sure if I was a male MC who was popping I wouldn’t be having this issue of getting my money.

What coping mechanisms do you use to de-stress and take a step back?

Sometimes working independently and being in the creative industry gets really draining, so I’ve made this ‘gratitude box’. Any time I achieve something I’m proud of, or anything that I thought was a milestone, to with music but also family and friends, I put it in the box. If you’re having a crap day, you go back to the box, pick one out, and it can really help.

That’s cool, making a list of things you are proud to have achieved can be exactly what you need, almost like you’re giving yourself a pep talk

Yeah exactly. I’ve done some for friends in the past and I’ve now started to make them for others as a side project called ‘Jars of Source’, as in the infinite source, not ketchup. I’ve got two ‘affirmation jars’ so far, one about feminine energy, and one is called Yoni Jedi which is sex positivity, full of affirmations.

What is your best affirmation?

One of them is, ‘Don’t forget that outside of reproduction and male gratification, we’re allowed to be sexually expressive and own our own sexual agency.”

Your music is incredibly motivating and empowering, especially when you include the ‘Nasty Woman’ speech in your Juicy Fruit intro, what inspired this?

I think Donald Trump has just been elected and I saw the speech from International Women’s Day on YouTube and it instantly made my jaw drop. I tracked down nineteen-year-old Nina Donovan, who originally wrote the poem, and she agreed to be part of the project. I thought addressing the stigma surrounding menstruation was extremely necessary right now.

It took the comparisons in that poem to make me realise how serious the tampon tax is on a level of principal

Yeah, it’s just insane, isn’t it? “Is the thinning of your hair really more embarrassing than the blood stains on my jeans?” I just don’t understand how sanitary products are a luxury, I really don’t. I understand in certain parts of the world they are, but in this country, it is outrageous. 

You also reference themes about single motherhood

I had Mischa when I was 19 and it was a couple of years later when I first went into the studio. People say that when you have a kid your life and career is over and that you’re not going to have the energy for anything, you’re going to give up, but it was the complete opposite with me. It inspired me even more. I thought, I can create a human, so why can’t I go in the studio and create that song that’s been in my head, do you know what I mean?

Is Mischa musical?

Yeah, Mischa is really into music and is actually on one of my tracks, on an EP called ‘Earth Stuff’, very briefly at the end. She’s very un-phased by me being in the music industry though, because she sees me recording all the time, her friends get excited and say, “I’ve seen your mum on YouTube!” but she’s so not bothered by it.

What themes does your new single, ‘No Filters’ explore?

It’s a bit of a spoof, a mockery of Instagram, and how sometimes I’m scrolling through it and I just can’t relate to the images I’m seeing. It builds such pressure when we see all the fakery. If you want to be glam and gorgeous that’s absolutely fine, but also don’t lie about what’s real and what’s not. Scrolling down Instagram can be so depressing

I get sucked into the vortex of fake bums and boobs, and I’m not anti-surgery one bit, but I do have a problem with seeing photos of people sipping tea and claiming that is how they got their body. It’s not! Just be real with people, let them know you sweat and break out in the gym every day. If you’ve had surgery, be real about it.

Otherwise it just creates unrealistic expectations.

Exactly, I really respect artists, that say, “Oh yeah, my boobs are fake”, at least girls aren’t going to look at her and think why don’t I look like that. That’s why I have a problem with the Kardashians.

Have you ever seen these negative effects in your daughter?

I’m very protective over her and what she does on her phone, so she’s been ok, but her 10-year-old friend came over for tea last year and said, “I hope no one sees me” in the car. I asked why, and she said, “I’ve not done my contour!” I was thinking, how do you even know what contour is? You’re 10! She’s got Instagram, I know make-up is all part of dressing up and finding your identity, but it does scare me. It’s a blurred line between what’s real and what’s not.

Even at our age Instagram damages your self-esteem, and before it existed most of us struggled with body image as young girls. I dread to think of the pressure young girls face nowadays, when they are exposed to such unattainable, fake bodies like the Kardashians daily. Is there any fixing this do you think?

I believe in balance, so it’s fine as long as you’re showing us everything else, but that is not what’s being done. I feel like it’s starting to happen though, with campaigns that ASOS and Missguided are doing. At the moment it’s just one narrative, and it’s not a healthy one, but if we’re seeing everything, we can see how different women can be and still considered gorgeous, you know?

What do you find most inspiring?

Books. One of my favourites is Pink Sari Revolution. It’s about a woman called San Papal who lives in the back lands of India and she’s sick of what happening to women, and also poor men. She stood up for anyone who was having an injustice, but it was mainly women. She created The Gulabi Gang and they all wear pink saris and fight against oppression. For example, if women come forward for assault or rape in their country, they get put in prison, so she goes to their aid. Another book I enjoyed was by Naomi Woolf called Vagina.

What advice would you give to young women like your daughter?

I would say, be true to your authentic self. Don’t be afraid to speak your truth, and don’t feel the pressure to always cater to the male gaze. I feel like especially for women artists, we’re so caught up on getting that validation and approval, and if that’s part of who you are and it empowers you to do that, then fair enough, but don’t make it a part of everything that you do. When I was first putting music videos out I remember being so conscious about the way my body looked, and what will men think? But now I can see that isn’t so important.