Beat has tracked Odette down in Coles. Not literally – that’d be a little strange. Rather, the singer – born Georgia Odette Sallybanks – is taking phone interviews about halfway up aisle three, stocking up on supplies before a road trip.
“Getting some bread…just the essentials,” she says. It’s an entirely ordinary day for a musician who is quickly revealing herself to a wider audience to be anything but. Last month saw the English-born performer release her debut LP, To a Stranger. Although she’s only 20 years old, Odette sees To a Stranger as an album that’s been a long time coming.
“Some of these songs were written when I was 15,” she explains. “It’s funny, listening back to those tracks. I honestly forgot how angsty I was. Some people can’t work with anything they wrote when they were that age, and I totally get it. In this case, it was about reinventing the songs. I wanted to take what I was feeling then and give it a bit of a modern touch.” Odette describes To a Stranger as “a bit like a time capsule,” in which she filters her own personal experiences across her coming-of-age years and funnels it into music that traverses the nu-soul movement, touching on deep moments of R&B and indie-pop along the way.
“I see this album as me learning how to communicate,” she says. “I was figuring out ways to convey my experiences and what I was feeling. I had to do that in order for me to start creating. There are a lot of songs on this record that are really, deeply personal. Looking back, I don’t really feel connected to them.” She pauses, questioning her choice of words. “Maybe ‘not connected’ isn’t right,” she continues. “It’s almost as if I don’t relate anymore, because I’ve changed so much over the period of making this record. Performing these songs, even though I lived them, feels like telling a story to me now.”
Work on To a Stranger was completed in the back-half of 2017, with Odette working alongside the likes of chamber-pop mastermind Owen Pallett, electronica sensation Lanks, and veteran producer Damian Taylor. Given the explicitly introspective nature of Odette’s songwriting, she admits there was a degree of reticence that lingered when presenting these songs to outsiders for the first time. “It can be quite confrontational,” she says. “You’re presenting something really open and honest to someone, just one-on-one.
“Essentially, they’re listening to your whole life. Their job is to figure out how to tell the story with you. We’re going into it with no preconception of genre or style. It’s all about getting an idea of what musical environment is the best for conveying what I’m trying to say.”
Talk moves to viewing To a Stranger as a learning curve, as the ideas for the album began to form their natural shape at an incremental pace. Odette notes that being patient with the process was quite the obstacle to overcome. “I had a huge issue with it,” she confesses.
“Damian worked that out of me. He’d play me a particular sound when we were starting out to see what I thought of it, and my immediate response was to freak out and say that I hated it. He took me aside, got me to relax and explained to me that this was just as much of a learning curve for him as it was for me. He was figuring out how I work. I was panicking that we were going to make this horrible record, and Damian talked me down from that ledge.”
The immediate future for Odette sees her launching the album with a string of sold-out headlining shows alongside her live band. According to the woman herself, it’s the best environment to experience the songs from the album. “It’s a beautiful, powerful thing to play these songs to an audience. Whether you know the songs or the lyrics or not, everyone gets something different out of it. Every night, you’re telling a story to a stranger.” She stops, having a clearly-unintentional ‘see what I did there’ moment.