Words: Elissa Friday
Learning to play instruments at the age of five was the start of Olivia Foy’s musical ambitions.
Now 24, the rising country music singer and songwriter first learnt the flute before teaching herself guitar then going on to singing lessons, which inspired her passion for vocals.
By 12 she was writing her own songs, which she began recording in her teens.
“I’ve probably written over 100 songs,” says Olivia, who grew up in Newtown.
“I haven’t recorded all of them but I’ve demoed about 30.”
Formerly a student at The Geelong College, Olivia’s completing a double degree in Melbourne with a major in music technology despite setting out on a different path.
“I initially wanted to major in engineering but decided it wasn’t the right path for me. I actually graduated in science from Melbourne University but I always wanted to do music.”
Olivia initially dabbled in electronic music but felt she wasn’t being “true” to herself.
Then came a course assessment requiring her to write, record and produce a song.
Instead of techno, Olivia went country.
She put together about “90 per cent” of the song, outsourcing contributions from professional musicians in the home of country music, America’s Nashville.
The result, Kiss Me, earned positive feedback from classmates.
“I really liked it, and my classmates thought it was really catchy,” Olivia says, “so I thought, ‘Maybe I’m onto something here’.
“That was when I decided I was going to pursue country pop music.”
After the positive initial response to her song, Olivia was keen to take Kiss Me further than the classroom.
“I was concerned with what people might think because in Victoria country music isn’t so popular. It’s more popular in New South Wales and Queensland.”
But she decided to “got for it anyway”, releasing Kiss Me in February.
The song earned airtime on Foxtel’s Country Music Channel, with Olivia also making it available online.
“The song is semi-fictional and semi-true,” she explains.
“It’s about feeling a bit insecure and being scared to go out into the world. I’m quite a shy person, so the song talks about being shy and scared.”
With Kiss Me released, Olivia now wants to “challenge the stereotype” surrounding public expectations of country artists.
In particular, she detects “a bit of underrepresentation” in the country scene, which she describes as having “not as much diversity as there could be”.
“Everyone who hears me tends to compare me to Taylor Swift but they when they see me and learn that I’m from Chinese decent they’re shocked I sing country music,” Olivia says.
“Some people think country music is about having things like long blond hair and having a farm.
“A lot of people don’t fully understand country music today, due to it being very influenced by popular-culture music with a lot of crossovers, too.”
Oliva takes her music inspiration from American country pop star Kelsea Ballerini, who she describes as “an incredible songwriter and artist”.
“Her songs are so catchy. We have a similar way of storytelling and she’s not much older than me, so I feel I can relate to her.”
Olivia hopes to follow in her idol’s footsteps with the help of a newly formed backing band, featuring experienced musicians who play on her second song, Something ‘Bout You.