In the grips of a worldwide pandemic, it’s important to find your own sunshine. Whether that’s adopting new self-care hobbies or getting creative with working from home, we’re all growing and adapting, finding new ways to keep positivity alive. For Olivia Dean, a summer without live music wasn’t an option.
Making good on the community spirit of early lockdown and her empowered, do-it-yourself upbringing, the rising East London star teamed up with Clarks to present The ‘From Me To You’ Tour – a self-contained, open-fronted yellow truck that allowed her to share her soulful voice with fans right across the coast. “This was meant to be my first summer of playing festivals, and I just didn’t want to accept that it wasn’t going to happen,” she explains. “I spent the first three months of lockdown alone and it was hard. I threw myself into being creative; what could I do that would make me happy, but hopefully make others happy too?”. Since, she’s amassed over 8 million streams on Spotify alone.
An emotional and confessional songwriter, her journey to music started at a very young age, the result of parents who encouraged her natural talents before she even recognised them herself. “I got a guitar and then a second-hand piano for my sixteenth birthday, but at school, I definitely felt like the odd one out, that kid who just wants to perform and sing in all the assemblies. I realised I needed a change of scene, and my Mum was like, ‘what about the Brit school?’”
Though she didn’t think much of her chances, that Brit application ended up changing Olivia’s life. At her final college performance, she also met her now-manager – a woman who was so impressed by Dean’s voice that she invited her to audition for another client – Rudimental. “I went straight from college to touring with them,” Olivia beams. “I was in New York for the Jimmy Fallon show, festivals all over…and I was so young! I’m 21 now, and all that was three years ago? It’s just mental. Obviously, it was an amazing opportunity, but I didn’t want to be a backing singer forever. I think I probably get it from my mum – I just knew what I wanted to do and the kind of music I wanted to make. She’s always instilled that in me – you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to.” It’s no surprise to hear that Olivia’s mum, Christine Dean, is an inspiration force – as head of the Women’s Equality Party, her leadership strength can be heard in Olivia’s songs, vulnerable and gentle but always carrying a strong thread of female independence. “Now I’ve just got out of this big relationship, I’ve really realised that you don’t need someone else to complete you,’ she explains.
Knowing her worth and singing about it too, the soft jazz of new single ‘Echo’ could well be about a boy, but it also applies to a host of situations in life where we look to those around us for emotional reassurance and equitable support, particularly during tough times. Although not explicitly linked, it’s a fitting soundtrack as Dean explores the relationship she has with herself and the world, thrown into sharp relief under 2020’s heightened conversation surrounding Black Lives Matter. “To be honest, when George Floyd’s death happened, it was some of the worst few weeks of my life,” she reflects. “It was so, so heavy, being in my flat by myself and trying to process it, but it’s something I want to speak about because it’s part of who I am. Being mixed race and growing up in East London, I’ve definitely struggled with my identity – I used to straighten my hair every single day until about a year and a half ago because I genuinely didn’t think I could be pretty without. How sad is that? Now, it’s so important for me that I keep my hair how it is. I want people to see that. If I have young black or mixed-race fans, I just want to be like your hair is cute, it’s not a problem! Being mixed-race can be confusing – at times it feels like the world is on two sides and it’s difficult to know where you fit. But it’s a very present conversation that everybody needs to be a part of, and with that on top of the virus, I’m just constantly trying to bring as much positivity to the table as I can.”