Boundaries deserve to be broken, and genres to be blended. Whereas pop, dance, and alternative might have stayed in their neat, defined boxes 20 years ago, more artists in the present are exploring their intersections. Olivia Morreale – with EP Space Dreams out this month – does so with a lulling yet uplifting introspective character and the assistance of songwriter and producer Eli Koskoff.
Morreale’s background diverges from what we perceive for a pop-indie singer. Raised in New York, her first love was jazz, listening to the greats like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald and then later experiencing the spark of collaboration when she snuck into the city’s jazz clubs.
For college, she opted to study at USC’s Thornton School of Music, where she focused on pop and jazz. Before graduating, she was already getting notable gigs: Among them, touring as a backup singer for Engelbert Humperdinck and then as a vocalist on Jason “Spicy G” Goldman’s Hypnotized EP.
In going solo, Morreale pulled from her own interest in jazz, as well as other genres – electronica, alt-R&B, soul, pop, and ‘70s funk, among them. These influences all emerge on Space Dreams, which features three already-released tracks and a new single “Matter of Time.”
Space Dreams lives up to its title – almost otherworldly, with its low-fi synth melodies and dreamy character meant for enjoying on a summer evening. Thematically, Morreale and Koskoff lean toward escapism, particularly via the exploration invited through imagination and dreams.
We had a chance to speak with Morreale recently about her release and her jazz background.
Lyrically, escapism is a theme of your Space Dreams EP. What was your creative vision for this release?
The lyrics formed pretty organically overtime for all these songs. As we were writing, we uncovered the overarching theme of dreams and a sort of alternate world that encapsulates Space Dreams. The visuals came afterward and were definitely informed by the theme of dreaming in all its iterations — I think that’s where the concept really came together.
You worked with songwriter and producer Eli Koskoff on Space Dreams. How did each track come together?
Initially, we were really just using these songs as an opportunity to learn more about how to write and produce, and to get better as writing as a team. “Matter of Time” was the first song we wrote, so it’s more guitar-based and simple, while the other songs have more experimental production elements. “Parasomnia” was more of an exercise in building that initial groove and then later on we experimented with the bridge vocals being more improvisational and weird.
“Another Moon” is kind of a hybrid of those two processes. It’s pretty typical in structure but still incorporates some elements that were new to us production and writing-wise. “NO ANSWER” was basically just us playing with Eli’s new synth, until we found a cool sound and then going from there without stressing too much about depth.
While you’re grouped in with retrowave, Space Dreams brings together elements of jazz, electronica, R&B, ‘70s funk, and pop. How did you work these styles together while also defying genre expectations?
We did that by not thinking about it at all and just writing what we mutually liked. Eli and I both listen to a lot of different genres but also share a lot of tastes in common, and we both come from a jazz background, so I think our openness to different styles while still trying to keep the music sounding modern and utilizing new sounds is what caused that to happen.
Your debut Daytime Moon came out three years ago. How have you evolved as an artist since then?
I’ve become a lot more adept at producing, and I’ve learned how to use synths. My process used to be, “Write a song, arrange it for the band, and play it live until the arrangement is solid, then record everyone live in the studio.” This is a really fun way to do it, but it can also be limiting! Experimenting with electronic sounds and with synths has opened my ears to so many new ways of writing music, and the possibilities feel pretty endless now, whereas before I felt confined to a more traditional band setup.
You have a background in jazz, including studying it at USC’s Thornton School of Music. What initially interested you about jazz, and how has it shaped your vocal style?
I love that jazz is so collaborative as an art form. Even as the vocalist — who in pop is responsible for leading the charge — you’re required to step back and participate in a conversation with each member of the band. This has carried over into my current music in so many ways; I value collaboration in most aspects of my artistry as a result, because the project is bigger than the person, and art isn’t something that really exists in its fullest form in isolation to me. As a vocalist, I’m also very lenient with my phrasing, which is a blessing and a curse — I have trouble singing a phrase the same way twice because I’m feeling something different each time around.
You have also worked or performed with other artists, including touring with Engelbert Humperdinck and appearing on Jason “Spicy G” Goldman’s Hypnotized EP. What made you decide to go solo?
I’ve always valued both working as a solo artist as well as working with others on their projects, and I’ve been trying to incorporate both into my life as a musician all along. My solo project is obviously where my artistic passion lies, but I learn a lot from singing backgrounds and doing sessions to serve another artist project. It keeps my vocal muscles in shape and my reading skills sharp, so that when I come to my own work, I’m able to do more. The pandemic has definitely allowed me to focus more on my solo work, which I’m grateful for, but both are important to me.
What’s your approach for writing a song? Who or what inspires you?
My approach is different every time! If I’m writing alone, sometimes a poem or something someone has said in passing will inspire me, or I’ll try to make a beat that is based off a bass line or groove from a song I like. For me, collaborating is all about the energy in the room and the mutual tastes of the writers present.
What else do you have planned for 2021, be it new music or live performances?
I have a couple more EPs lined up after Space Dreams that I’m really excited to release, as well as a few more music videos! I’m also in the preliminary stages of planning live shows and tours as well, but the releases are definitely going to keep coming in 2021