In an age where the dominance of digital downloading and streaming leads most emerging artists to play it safe and release only single tracks and short EPs, Olivia Kellman transcends the trend, blazing fresh and inspiring trails with the release of her expansive full length debut On My Way.
Over the course of 13 tracks that effortlessly mix confessional, coming of age acoustic grace with edgy and hip funky folk-pop energy, the multi-talented Chicago based performer fulfills her lifelong dreams of making music and doing what she’s always loved. “Being able to express myself through music has helped me become the person I am today,” she says. Olivia’s willingness to be vulnerable, and her boldness in sharing the heartfelt, multi-faceted stories of her life, will no doubt open doors for indie artists to stop limiting themselves and share the fullness of their life experiences and hard won wisdom with the world.
Helping the singer achieve her powerful vision is veteran producer Jim Tullio, who has worked behind the boards magic for everyone from Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples to Los Lonely Boys, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Richie Havens. In addition, she is mentored by Ron Alexenburg, previously SVP at Epic Records who worked with/signed music legends Meat Loaf, Boston and Michael Jackson. He says “Olivia’s music and songs, all written by her from her young life’s experiences, captured New York’s hearts and ears to realize what a very special girl she is. I’m proud to lend my support to her and be on her team”
While the focal single of On My Way is “Come Back Down,” a whimsical reflection on the freedom of being young, when “there was no gravity to pull us in,” Olivia bares her soul and reveals her deeper mission as an artist – and her desire to break free from life in the margins – on “Do You Know What It’s Like.” It was the first song she wrote for the project while attending the University of Dayton (Ohio) as a Communications/Electronic Media major. She had been crafting tunes in her head for years, but taking an extracurricular guitar class and learning to compose on acoustic guitar was the key to her breakthrough as a songwriter.
By addressing her own years of struggles with self-doubt, ongoing, completely unjustified bullying (real life and cyber) and an often socially crippling nonverbal learning disability, she speaks to millions of young people struggling to discover their passion, unleash their gifts, and find and maintain traction on their individual roads. Driven by a spirited pop/rock groove, she sings, “Do you know what it’s like to be part of a crowd/When all you wanna do is stand out?” She wonders, “Do you know what it’s like to keep on trying/Or how it feels to second guess yourself?” Then, with purpose and clarity, she breaks through with a burst of determination and optimism. Yes, struggles are ongoing, mistakes are made, life isn’t always fair, but, “I’m not gonna stop till I reach the top/I’m letting my walls fall down/And I’m free to be whoever I want/I’m letting my dream be found.”
One of the most dynamic aspects of the emotional roller coaster Olivia commands as she takes us on the journey is how artfully she balances humility and gratitude (the title track, dedicated to her ever-supportive parents) and kind encouragement (“Good Morning Beautiful,” which concludes with the line “What a beautiful thing it is to be yourself and no one else”) with edgier tunes calling out a “Hypocrite” and struggling to accept her break the mold reality as a “Rebel Child.” The singer reveals an even deeper artistry and personal strength in overcoming struggles on gems like the post-romantic split tune “Unbreakable,” the soulful anti-bullying anthem “You’re Not Invisible” and the socially conscious anthem “Voices Need Sound,” which she wrote in the wake of the outcry to the police shooting and resulting riots in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014.
Olivia wraps “You’re Not Invisible” with words of hope: “Never let who you are disappear/Don’t change the way you talk/Or the style you wear. . .Don’t Give In To What You Hear/You’re not invisible/Not to me/Don’t Change a Thing.” In the song, Olivia reflects back on her own experiences with bullying by kids who teased her about everything from her weight (though she was thin) to her slow speech reading out loud. “The song started when a family friend told me that his granddaughter was being bullied,” she says. “He suggested I write an anti-bullying song. I went back to the journals I kept in middle school and I had written I felt invisible. I told my parents that I felt that way back in sixth grade! I want to tell every kid out there going through this that they’re not invisible. We see you, we acknowledge you and we know what you’re going through.”
In “Voices Need Sound,” Olivia addresses the reality that there are “Two sides to every story/Only one gets the glory/While the others in despair.” She reflects on “Marches in the street/Drummers add a beat/Just wanting to be heard.” Reflecting on her inspiration for this empowering song, she says, “While I wrote it in response to Ferguson, I also started thinking about people trapped in cycles of domestic violence and other means of oppression, social and personal. It’s a song for the voiceless, those who don’t have the opportunity or power to speak up, and those who don’t have a voice because they were lost in these battles. I drew on my own experience growing up with a learning disability and who has been bullied. It can also apply to all the gun violence in America, how nothing ever gets done that can change the pattern. Everyone is trying to silence these voices and they deserve to be heard.”
With the singer’s rise as an indie artist, she will face many fresh expectations – but that sense of the unexpected is what will keep us listening, and coming back again and again to experience more of her musical and life adventures.