To A Stranger OdetteOdette’s vivid break-out track Watch Me Read You gave critics whiplash; its dynamic mix of spoken word, vocal melody and lithe keys is the perfect introduction to the 21-year-old Sydneysider’s sublime debut LP, To A Stranger.

Tell us about the first moment you realised you had enough training on the piano to be able to create the things you heard in your head. 

When I was eight I started to sing and play at the same time. It was difficult at first because I had to train myself to be able to understand polyrhythms and how to craft a vocal melody over my piano chords. It took me a solid few months of every day practice. When I finally played my first song it was exhilarating. To know that I had the power to create things from my mind, and not rely on anyone else, was very empowering. It’s an addictive feeling, I think that’s why I’ve never stopped.

Your jazz pianist grandfather influenced you very much; were there particular elements of his playing style that you absorbed? Which artists did he admire that you learned about through him?

My dad has always said I play piano more like my grandfather than him. My grandad is just in love with the keys. He flows, even with his arthritis that gives him knobbly fingers, he’s never lost it. He and I share this intense love for piano. Jazz especially. He’s much better than I am but I think it’s beautiful that we can share our style of playing from different sides of the world. It lets me know that he’s always with me and I push myself and my skills so that one day I will be able to play as well as he.

Watch Me Read You is a real study in content and form, and Lotus Eaters utilises the same mix of melody and rhythmic spoken-word. Did you spend a lot of time with a notebook planning out the beats and emphases of the lyrics?

I’m a bit more methodical now than I am back then, but even now I’m just a mess. I write purely from emotion and it comes from this almost numb place I go when I’m writing. I think the technicalities aren’t on purpose, they’re definitely stemmed from my lyrical and poetic influences but mostly it’s just that I have so much to say, and almost never enough time to say it.

You’ve said producer Damian Taylor helped you realise a lot of the extra elements you wanted in these songs. Which song, in your mind, was transformed the most (whether it has the most new elements or not)?

Damian is truly a credit to his profession. I hold him im a very high regard. He’s taught me so much about who I am as an artist and really helped me realise this album coming out. I’d have to say he transformed most songs but one he had the most impact on was Do You See Me. Whilst simple in production, he was vital in bringing out my vulnerability on this track. Originally I heard it with a beat and all these other elements. It wasn’t until he suggested we tried something simpler that the magic of this track actually came through. Also having amazing strings never hurts either.

Something like the deep drum rolls in You, was that something you had envisioned, or you discovered in the recording process?

This track actually wasn’t changed much from the demo I created with Matt Hales when I was over in LA. It was Matt who came up with the drum rolls and essentially the whole vibe. It was something fresh and new for me. He wanted me to push myself out of my comfort zone and that’s why I put this song on the album. It’s one of the only true love songs I’ve ever written.

LANKS’ voice has such a gentle sensitivity to it which really complements your own voice. What do you like about his style and approach which made you want to collaborate on Onyx?

LANKS is a truly genuine person. We met at a writers camp early last year and I felt like our vocal styles were very complimentary. I’m a fan of his work so I thought Onyx, which is a mellow track, would be perfect for us to collaborate on. It was a neutral medium for us to combine the different timbres of our voices.

Pastel Walls has the most beautiful melody and harmony which sort of weaves in and out with the piano part. How did this song begin, and why did you decide to make it the album closer?

I wrote this track and took it to a session years ago with Paul Mac. He and I shared a love of cinematic music so we really wanted to amp up the drama. I wrote this song about a dream I had during a rough patch in my life. It was me being taken along a road by this being I think was death embodied. At a young age I was confronted with a lot of adult concepts that I don’t think children should necessarily be exposed to. This dream which echoed into my writing was my brain kind of crafting an understanding of my place in my family and the world. It’s a song written during a time of trauma. Same as collide. My album begins and ends with stories of my own trauma. I think that’s how healing begins, not just by confronting your own experiences and how they’ve shaped you, but talking about them, connecting with others.

You’ve said how central the process of personal growth was during the record’s creation. Was it something you saw as it was happening, in daily “Woah!” moments, or did you not realise it had happened until you looked back at the end?

I kind of just live off of reflection. During the making of this album I had no idea the kind of impact it would have on me. It ended up being one of the most cathartic things I’ve ever done. I looked back at all these songs I’ve written over the years, from when I was sixteen or seventeen, songs I’ve written from really dark places, and it’s almost like I was a differential person. This album is literally the last three years of my life and I’m very excited to be putting it out there in the world.

To A Stranger is out now via EMI.

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