Throughout her life, California artist Olivia Henry has kept music at the forefront of her worldview, allowing it to guide and direct her steps when the way forward wasn’t always so obvious. From a young age, she found music to be a source of solace and inspiration, especially in the moods and beautiful textures of the work of Ella Fitzgerald. She decided that she wanted to make people feel the same way she felt when listening to Fitzgerald. Later, she began to train to sing opera by day and was using a fake ID to get in to various LA clubs at night. This training eventually led her to CalArts to pursue further vocal training.
With the release of her 2014 debut EP, “Sessions,” she set out to build a jazz-pop aesthetic that traced its lineage from Fitzgerald to Joni Mitchell and up to musicians like Norah Jones and Alicia Keys. She wasn’t overly reliant on these musical touchstones, but they provided direction as she subverted existing genre conventions and began to understand her own capacity for melodic insight and arrangement. Coming quickly on the heels of the EP’s success, Henry was dealt a gut punch when sh was diagnosed with a variety of joint related autoimmune conditions, which led to an unwanted break from music.
It was during her recuperation, that she felt a despair creep into her heart, a feeling that she had nothing left to give. Thankfully, during this darkness, she discovered some old journals and began writing again, working out the ache and hopelessness in a way that would ultimately give her new purpose and guidance. From that desperation came the beginnings of what would eventually become her debut full-length record, “Part I — Expectations.” Owing a bit more to the cinematic arena-pop of artists like Florence + the Machine and Sia, it found her embracing a more theatrical approach while still maintaining an unparalleled sense of intimacy and emotional fortitude.
On recent single, “In My Touch,” she fuses the scorching sounds of a classic torch song with the noir-ish alterna-pop of someone like Lana Del Rey or Lorde. Complex layers of piano and strings work together as her voice reaches into the upper atmosphere. But she isn’t merely reclaiming some sense of lost empowerment — she’s revealing that she, too, possesses primal instincts which can be just as feral and passionate as anyone else’s. This dichotomy between the thoughts of aggressor and mark infuses the track with a singular perspective, one that is rarely explored with this kind of clarity and coherence.