Songwriter Spotlight: Olivia Harris

Olivia Harris has been working with Songwriter's Orchestra since the beginning! In fact, the first song we ever tried as an orchestral arrangement was Olivia's "Till The Music Stops" back when we were a seven piece group called LyricLion. Since then, Olivia's joined us for every show, sharing audience favorites like "Power" and "That Afro." Olivia is a Brooklyn native, and she's performed across the city with her band, Olivia K and the Parkers. In addition to performing and writing a new song for this concert, she's also co-producing.

Did the process of writing a song based on someone else's real life differ from the way you usually write? If so, how?

It was more exact. The words have already been said, I just needed to identify the words that unlocked the story and bring it to life. I will say that for a half-second there is the fear that you won't appropriately convey the depth and breadth of the person's experience, but no one really can, so once I relaxed, it came to me within minutes.

What surprised you during this process?

I think the story itself is the most surprising, for reasons that I will allow everyone to find out more about later. You never know how people make their decisions, and it will surprise you what happens when people operate out of fear. 

In what ways have you recognized yourself in these real-life stories? In what ways are they foreign to your experience?

I very much identified with Anjie's story because it was about perception, who we want to be and who the world around us is comfortable with us being. Anjie's story centers on a job interview, which I've done more than a few times. I've felt the nervousness and the questions swirling in my head: am I good enough to do this job? Am I overestimating my capabilities? Am I conveying my confidence and not coming off as arrogant? Will my manner fit in with the culture here? But I have never had to ask, will they be afraid to hire me because of a criminal record?

What about the concert excites you most?

The magic of being involved with this project is getting to share the magic of this story in a new medium, and getting to see new people feel the power of these resilient individuals. It feels like bearing witness to people whose lives have been hidden from what is considered "humanity," who have been treated like they are not deserving of being human, and who, in the act of writing and sharing their story have said no.

How do political and social justice issues influence your work?

I write all kinds of songs but, so far, the ones that seem to resonate with my audiences most are those that intersect with the lives of others. Social justice at its most basic level is about recognition of the ways that histories and perceptions interact with living breathing beings. For me to be self-aware, I find myself becoming community-aware as well.

What can artists do to resist oppression?

Art has always been a part of war. From the haka, to drum corps, to your Spotify playlist, music has synced in with our very cells to direct them towards our goals.  Artists are the leaders of the heart. Our job is to continue to encourage, to tune the people back into their own heartbeats so that they can do what must be done. Sometimes we will lead the call for authenticity and pulling back the veil on things in the material world. Sometimes we will invite each other into fantasy, to remember that we can choose to be free in our minds. Sometimes, we will just be here to remind you that you are never alone, as long as there is a song to be sung. We are singing ourselves, hoping that you will sing yourselves.

Hear Olivia sing "Power" with us here:

Get your tickets to hear Olivia share a brand new song here.