Few could pull off the naturally breezy air that comes across as soon as I get on the phone with Olivia Dean. The east Londoner, whose uniqueness lies in her endearing relatability, tells stories of once sunny summer days in the pub and the quirks of British culture through velvety vocals, effervescent beats and soulful piano melodies. Born and raised around Walthamstow and now currently settled south east, Dean jokes about having “gone the whole hog” of the city, before confidently adding: “I think it’s the best city in the world. I love it.”
Dean’s sentiment shines through in her lyrics, which bond city life with all the brutally honest parts of romance. “I’m interested in people — little turns of phrase people say and how they interact with each other,” she says, explaining that her day- to-day life influences how she writes. The natural talent that shines through on her debut EP “Ok Love You Bye”, released at the end of 2019, comes as no surprise from a BRIT school alum, but it’s really her candid way of setting a scene and telling these stories that I’m certain captures her listeners.
(LEFT) Polo LE KILT X FRED PERRY, trousers PAIGE DENIM, shoes VIVEINNE WESTWOOD
Polo LE KILT X FRED PERRY, trousers PAIGE DENIM, shoes VIVEINNE WESTWOOD
One particularly memorable story that has stuck with the singer is the tale behind its lead single, “Password Change”. Dean’s knack for perfectly handling universally felt emotions shines especially bright on the song — some may find that its moody opening line, “I want to talk, but the football’s on,” hits close to home… A lot of us have been there! Written after clashing with her boyfriend at a pub during one of England’s World Cup games in the summer of 2018, the contemplative track replays the anxieties she felt that day — “Is holding hands too much to ask? I know you can multitask… Is it me or the game that’s long?” — to reflect on the bigger question of trying to understand someone you love.
Dean’s songs feel like highly personal vignettes, and she explains to me that the process of making music is “almost like keeping a diary […] It’s like a moment in time.” In the case of “Password Change”, she remembers, “I just wanted to kind of chronicle that time in my life. I look back now and I’m like, ‘I really remember that summer.’” Undoubtedly, the song captures the unique energy of London, and maybe the whole of England, during the 2018 World Cup, with its soulful melody balancing unsteadily between a romantic daze of pleasure and upset.
As we wrap up our conversation, between promises of two new singles and another EP by the end of this year, Dean shares one last story. Over the recent Christmas break, her hamster, Stella Artois, went missing. “After six whole days, she just turned back up in the cage. She really just took a little holiday break and came back,” she laughs, and I can’t help but laugh along with her, imagining a story for all committed pub-goers across the UK: “The heroics of Stella Artois”, by Olivia Dean.