The breakthrough Australian singer-songwriter Georgia Odette Sallybanks, who performs as Odette is back with her new sophomore album Herald. We last spoke to Georgia a few years ago about her acclaimed debut To A Stranger, which incidentally was nominated for two Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) music awards. This time around I’m thrilled to check back in with Georgia to see how her new music project has shaped up. In short, I’m pleasantly surprised to hear a new depth of artistic imagination and ambition in songwriting on Herald. It’s filled with boldness and experimental flourishes that one can’t imagine what she might produce next. That said, I caught up with Georgia recently for a candid chat about her burgeoning career and new album. Here is some of what we talked about.
Georgia, your debut album To A Stranger was very well received by fans and critics, which incidentally saw you nominated for an ARIA Award in 2018.What was that experience like and how did your career change after that?
That experience was insane. There’s always a bit of fear and anticipation surrounding releases so for my first release I was lightly terrified (but still incredibly excited). It was incredible to see how many people thus far have connected with my lyrics and my songs as a whole. I’ve met a plethora of amazing new people, fans, creatives. My life has changed completely.
You’ve just released the new single Amends with a new album on the way. Was the approach to Herald any different to your debut?
I definitely felt bolder this time round, braver. My first record was honest but I was so young I didn’t know how to navigate the emotions. This time round I didn’t either actually, but there’s a drive behind it. I pushed my skill and I pushed myself to be present, accountable and as open as I could. Damian encourages me a lot to sit in the drivers seat and during the making of ‘Herald’ I found myself speeding away with Carter and Damian navigating the complex world we were creating.
What sort of themes or experiences were you working through when you wrote the new album?
This album is mostly about processing trauma and trying to be accountable for the part I played over the last few years. The pain I felt but also inflicted. There’s also an underlying sense of hope and yearning. Insect noises, bird noises and naturalist ideals are the grounding motifs of the record. They symbolise a world outside the intense emotional universe of the lyrics and eventually the entire record crescendos to a loud and desperate yearning to join that world.
Why do you feel it was the right time artistically to reveal a body of work like this?
I needed to change.
Was working again with maverick producer Damien Taylor on the new album something that you subconsciously decided at the end of the recording process of To A Stranger? You seem to have a very symbiotic relationship with him in how to tackle the challenges of producing a new record.
He’s a good friend and a prolific sonic wizard. Working with him again has been a privilege and such an absolute pleasure.
Did you have a conversation with him about which of your songs would fit best with your goals or headspace?
Not really. We don’t talk a lot about concepts outside of creating. We’re sonic explorers unravelling complexities as we go.
Which song on Herald took the longest to hone and articulate its sound, and why?
Probably Herald. It’s so dense and there are so many conflicting layers. Synths to natural orchestral sounds, a harpsichord and layered harmonies. Getting the balance was important and took us a little longer than the rest.
What is it about the track title that for you sums up your thoughts and vision as to why you named the album after it?
Herald is a word that signifies that something is changing, or coming. There’s an anticipation behind it and it was important that I name the album after something that represented the underlying tone of yearning throughout the entire record.
Dwell is a beautifully conflicting track of emotional highs and lows. Can you share with me the creative process behind this track?
I actually wrote this one with a producer named Pip Norman, who’s based in Melbourne. Originally it was a co-write between us and a few other songwriters. We ended up taking the song away and working on it in his studio. The song was originally quite stripped back but Pip and I added layers and layers of jagged, fragmented synths in the chorus to really give a sense of sensory overload. After about two days the track was done and ready for mastering. Pip is a cherished friend and magic man.
One of the recurring lyrics in Amends is “I just want to lie in the light in the long grass”. To me it conjures up images of rebirth and or a new awakening. This is in a sense heightened by the striking music video that sees you take a seemingly unnerving baptism in a pond or backwater. Tell me a little bit about that imaginary and the story behind the song?
This song was actually written about a place in Cornwall. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where all my thoughts subsided and I was fully present with the environment. That specific lyric is in reference to really lying in the light in the long grass. Birds flew overhead, the ocean crashed onto the black cliffs, I ran down the ancient steps towards the valley. It’s an incredible place. The music video is more representative of an emotional shift and change whereas the song itself is more a reminder that I can feel at peace.
The overarching concern across the world at the moment seems to be mental health. The new album fits into a mood that looks back at times of adversity but with an eye on healing and growth. What is the most important take from the album that you hope to convey?
Honestly mental illness is so romanticised that it’s hard to find where we’re helping and where we’re enabling. As someone with a complex mental health disorder, romanticising pain is a coping mechanism but, in the long term, is jailing. It traps you. I want to get the message out that each person needs to find clarity, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our future generations to choose health in each small moment. I want people to feel heard, to know that I know how it feels, but more importantly to feel empowered to take a risk and try to connect. Aside from this, please go to therapy. Please. I love all my fellow fighters.
Finally before I let you go, the perfect culmination of everything that is great about the album, arguably comes at the end with the song Mandible. Your emotive vocals set against swirling strings and keys is absolutely mesmerising. What is your favourite lyric from this song? Would you say it’s arguably the most vulnerable moment on the album?
I definitely would say this is my most vulnerable song. There’s an acceptance to it. There’s an acknowledgement of past traumas but more importantly, a desperate yearning for change and connection. My favourite lyric honestly is the last line In will lash out at the web that’s keeping me from everyone.’ It’s truly the core of the album.