Behind the Music: Interview with Gurli Octavia

‘I don’t think I have an excessive need for my own experiences to shine through, it’s more about what the song wants.’

Following the arrival of her debut album ‘I Could Be Blossoming Instead’, and the accompanying vinyl version, we chatted with Danish new artist Gurli Octavia to find out the story behind the release, the personal journey that took place, and the positives of having your own label.

Firstly congratulations on creating such a beautiful album. What’s the story meaning the title?  Thank you so much! I had a list of different title ideas for the album, and for a while it was called Drinks & Death. However, it never really felt like the right title. I think I was going through my lyrics one day, to see if the right title was hidden in my songs and then rewrote a line from Lilac Rose. Suddenly it just all came together for me. I felt like it perfectly summed up the entire album. To me, the title represents the choice we often have when going through hard times. Sometimes we inflict the pain upon ourselves when we could be treating ourselves with love and protection. So that’s what I wanted to always remind myself of. 

What made you feel like it now the right time for a debut album? I’ve made 3 EP’s in a somewhat short amount of time, and from the first EP I knew I’d make this body of work, consisting of those 3 EP’s which are all connected. The release of the last EP ended up being quite late as my plan was to just release them all in one year, and then move on to an album. But it ended up being across 2 years. To move on to an album just seemed the most natural thing for me. I don’t think I ever considered waiting or making another EP,  it was just my feeling all along that this was the next step 🙂 

Who was involved in the process of creating the album and what did each person bring to it? A lot of good people. My band has played a great part, they play on almost every track, and have been a part of arranging the songs as well. Then Jeppe Pilgaard co-produced 11 of the tracks with me, and we developed the sound together with Morten Bue doing the mastering. The person I was in a relationship with when I made the album also played a big part, he’s been my go-to when I wanted feedback on things. 

‘I had lots of doubts about some of the songs on the album, but then we tried out different things, and ultimately made a decision and stuck with it.’ 

What was the most enjoyable aspect of creating ‘i could be blossoming instead’? I think the whole process of making the album was actually really hard. I’ve been taking a lot of detours and I’ve postponed and cancelled stuff quite a few times. That said, when tracking with my band, I decided to rent a vacation house, all the gear necessary, and just have fun with it. We did that twice and went for about 5 days each time. We had so much fun, drank piña colada’s, and just played around. 

I understand that there were some life-altering events during the album process. In what ways did these steer the sound of the tracks? It sounds cliche, but I think my process of ‘searching for myself’ alongside making the album really influenced some of the decisions I made. I felt like I had to let go of the idea of who I was – musically as well – to do what I really wanted to do. I kind of allowed myself to go anywhere musically, as long as it felt good for me, and tried not to worry about what other people expressed was ‘my sound.’ 

Turning to musical firsts, what was your reaction the first time you heard the final master start to end? I just loved it! Morten Bue is my favourite engineer for mastering. He has such great respect for the sound, and never compromises to make it louder.  

And when did you first realise that music would be such a huge part of your life? I think somehow I always knew. I didn’t wake up one day and want to be a musician or a songwriter – I’ve just always felt like music was my calling in life. I had a few years in my twenties where I tried to do something else, and started to study, but after less than 6 months I dropped out because I was half-assing it, and spent all my time writing songs instead of studying. After I dropped out, I promised myself that I’d give a musical career a serious shot and I haven’t looked back since 🙂 

‘On a personal level, deciding to release this album independently is one of the standout moments my career so far.’

You’ve recently established your own label. How has this affected your development as an artist? It’s given me some kind of fundamental freedom and peace in regards to creating and releasing. I don’t know how I’m gonna go about it from here on, but I really love the idea that I could possibly release a song a month after I write it, and in general just have a different flow. I also don’t have to align with a label’s other release plans, and don’t have to feel like I have to make a ton of money so they are pleased with signing me. It’s like it’s creatively become easier to breathe 🙂

On the topic of songwriting, many tracks on the album feel like we are being let in on incredibly private elements of your life experiences. How important was it to you that the lyricism was as honest as possible? It’s a good question and I think about it a lot. I don’t feel like I have to be 100% true to my own ‘story’ for the lyrics to be honest. If the intention is honest, the song will be as well. I don’t think I have an excessive need for my own experience to shine through as to me it’s all about what ‘the song wants’. It’s such a strange thing to talk about because I don’t ever feel like I’m dishonest when I write, even if it’s not my own story I’m writing, or if it’s a scenario I’m imagining. If I can relate to it or it moves me, then I feel authentic. I sometimes feel people see me as a songwriter who holds nothing back, but in reality I have some kind of arm’s length. There are some things that I just don’t shy away from talking about, because my need to break taboos is greater than my fear of my own feelings being exposed.  

I love how the tracks that are intimate and reflective work so wonderfully with those that have real momentum. How did you go about deciding which musical setting was right for the story you wanted to tell? For most of the songs, I just had a very clear vision of how they would sound. Most of the productions I’ve started myself – before working with Jeppe on them – so I just went with what came naturally, and tried not to overthink it. Some of the songs I’ve had a lot of doubt about, like Have & Hold. I really didn’t know if it should be just me and a guitar, or if the band should join and so forth. But then we tried out different things, got some feedback from others, and ultimately just made a decision and stuck with it. 

What led you to including four extra tracks on the vinyl version? I wanted something a little extra, for those buying the vinyl and Hush Little Soul was a song I really loved. I wanted to put it on the record, but it had a different function – like it was the epilogue – so it just made a lot of sense to make a D-side with some stripped versions of three of the songs, and then have Hush Little Soul as the final one. 

So at what moment did you know you had told everything you wanted to tell? I’m still not sure! haha 🙂 

Did any particular tracks or albums by other artists inspire the direction of the album? No. I actually don’t do that a lot as it tends to confuse me too much, and makes me want to go in all kinds of directions. 

Which track/tracks took you on the biggest personal or musical journey and did this surprise you? Making and releasing I Wasn’t Ready, a single I wholly mixed and produced myself, really was a journey for me, one where I’ve been confronted with my imposter syndrome and a complete lack of faith in my own skills. I’ve had to have too many people confirm that the production was good enough, because I was so afraid of fooling myself. Releasing that song was a serious highlight in the process of releasing both the singles and the album.

And finally, reflecting on your career to date, what has been the most standout moment? It’s hard not to think of Roskilde Festival before anything else. It’s just a big deal to get to play there, but on a personal level, deciding to release this album independently is also up there.

Thanks Gurli Octavia for chatting with Listen to Discover

Find out more about Gurli Octavia at:
Featured Track Review: Gurli Octavia: Tomorrow I’m A Man

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