Interview: Olivier St.Louis chats musical roots, creativity in isolation, & long-term collaboration
Having been releasing music and refining your craft since 2011, you’ve described your latest work as “no compromises, just me”, so what was your approach to writing and creating your new EP, M.O.T.H. (Matters of the Heartless)?
From a standpoint of lyrical content, I wanted to be honest with real life observations I was drawing conclusions about. I intended for the project to, not just entertain musically but, evoke questions on social matters that I feel are not discussed enough.
From a musical standpoint, I wanted to produce something that could stand with the contemporaries in my proposed genre without sounding the same. I feel that Oddisee (producer) and I touched on an aesthetic that represents me more authentically. Still some more fine tuning to do. Watch this space.
You were born in Washington DC but spent your teens studying in the UK and have described your music collection as encompassing: hip hop, R&B, garage, and British alternative rock. Which British artists were you into while you were here?
I was really into a myriad of artists. The ones that really left a mark in the genres you mentioned were Roots Manuva, Lynden David Hall, Jamiroquai, Radiohead, The Verve, Arctic Monkeys, So Solid Crew, Omar, Simply Red, and The Streets, to name a few.
With your “Jekyll and Hyde” lifestyle, working as a scientist in the day and a musician at night, you clearly love what you do - what motivates you and keeps you consistently engaged with your passions?
It's something I can't help. Music runs through my head 24/7. You should hear my voice memos...if I didn't manage to make a career out of music, I would still be doing it obsessively.
Your music can be compared with D’Angelo, Shuggie Otis, or Sly & The Family Stone, so who inspires you and where do you take your influence from?
All three of those are spot on. I would add a few more Inspirations to the mix. Coming from Washington DC, the roots of the music scene are jazz, funk and the DC originated go-go. Growing up, I was constantly hearing everything from Steely Dan, Don Blackman, and Parliament Funkadelic, through to Frankie Beverley & Maze, and Chuck Brown on the air waves. They are the foundations of my ears.
On the track ‘Quit’ from this new EP, you sing “I know I shouldn’t be alone but that’s when I feel most at home. Reclusive, no pressure to prove nothing at all.” Would you describe the last year of isolation as providing some space to embrace your creativity?
Yes. Definitely. 2020 was looking to be REALLY BUSY with insane touring schedules between my band (The Danger Robinson) and Oddisee and Goodcompny, record releases etc. As much as touring and playing can be fun, to hear that everything shut down was a sigh of relief. The part of the process I enjoy most is making the music.
However it all goes hand in hand. Whilst making and releasing is great, performing is what really gets the music out to new ears. So it's a catch 22.
Having previously collaborated with Oddisee on the Mr. Saint Louis EP (2011), how was it working with him on another project and what is your approach to the collaborative process?
It's always a pleasure. We've been working together since living in our moms' basements. And we are always on each other's projects in some form - from guitars and vocals to drums and production. He's virtually family and we are very similar, so there's never a dull moment in the studio.
Usually for sessions with guitar and vocals, and as we live in separate places now, he will send a draft he's working on and we'll WhatsApp call to discuss. As I'm so familiar with his production style, I know what he's looking for and thus can record from my studio and send him sessions to slip into his mix.
For the M.O.T.H. EP however, I flew to his home in Brooklyn and we sat together over the space of a month and discussed ideas and concepts over shisha, tea, good food and inside jokes. We then sketched out 8 song ideas, which I took back to Berlin to write and record complete songs to. I sent him the sessions to mix. Then we selected the best songs for the EP and finally submitted them to the label.
What else can we expect from you in the future? Any projects, live shows or festival slots to look forward to?
A few more filmed performance pieces for M.O.T.H., then Oddisee and I go right back in to work on the LP. The album is pretty much done, just needs some revisitation and fine tuning.
As for festivals and live shows, there have been some prospects. However, considering the current social climate with the pandemic, I have yet to see how realistic that will be. We wait and see.
Finally, what does the word ‘groove’ mean to you?
Groove is a feeling, not a technique. You either have it, or you don't.
Read our review of the EP here.