In 2014, an aspiring trio by the name of Livy, Matt & Sammy made it to the quarter-finals on America’s Got Talent performing covers of Bastille’s “Pompeii“, Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya” along the way. What viewers didn’t know was that Michigan’s Olivia “Livy” Millerschin had been performing live for a few years prior to the appearance on the NBC reality show and had quite a bit of touring under her belt.
While the show offered good exposure (just ask Columbus’s own Josh Krajcik, runner up on 2011’s X-Factor), Olivia didn’t sit around waiting for fame and fortune to drop into her lap. Instead, she continued doing what came natural – writing songs and spending as much time as possible playing live shows around the country. In 2016, the singer/songwriter released her second album, Look Both Ways, featuring nine beautiful indie-folk songs and performed nearly 200 shows.
On Tuesday night, Olivia will be kicking off her first full-band tour in Columbus sharing the Rumba stage with local singer/songwriter Jared Mahone. Tickets are $5 and the show starts around 8pm.
Before she rolls into town, Olivia was kind enough to take some time to answer questions I sent her via email.
My kids watch America’s Got Talent and occasionally I see a short video backstory about one of the contestants. I’m not sure if they did that when you were on but I think to the general viewing audience, most contestants are truly amateurs. However, I’m pretty sure that many have had some hometown success and aren’t just showcasing their talents for the first time when appearing in front of the judges. Can you tell me about “life before AGT”? Were you performing live? Were you attracting attention from people who might be able to help further your career?
There are probably some performers/acts who have yet to really showcase what they do publicly until they’re on the show, but, for the most part, I’d say many contestants have been performing for quite a while. I was on the show when I was 19 years old. By then, I’d already been touring and opening for artists such as Howie Day, Teddy Geiger, Ryan Cabrera, etc., for three years or so. By that time, I’d won a John Lennon Songwriting Award and created and put out two records. I don’t think I would’ve handled the pressures of the show very well (I would’ve likely had seven mental breakdowns as opposed to a more practical two) if I hadn’t had the experience of being a performer/working musician for 3 to 4 years prior. Even then, it was an eye-opening experience!
Did AGT open any doors or is it your hard work that’s gotten you to where you are today? I’d imagine that’s a certain amount of intrigue attached to your name when people see “As featured on America’s Got Talent”. To be honest, that’s why I opened the email that was sent announcing your upcoming Columbus performance.
Thank you for opening that email! The show was a blessing in a lot of ways. It was maximum exposure, but, because I was on the show as a band and not as a solo artist, most people didn’t even know my name. I was able to make some really incredible connections and friends through it though, and it’s a great resume addition. Now I’m three years out from the show, so I’d credit most of our recent successes to the fact that we tour/perform close to 200 days a year. This is all a long-winded way of saying that every experience (good, bad, smelly, etc.) I’ve had has played a crucial role in leading me to where I am today. What made you want to interview musicians? What got you going in this direction? (Turning the tables. The interviewee becomes the interviewer!).
I have three daughters (16, 15, 12) and none really show any music talent (they take after me!). Tell me how you get into music – were you a big music listener as a kid and dreaming of someday becoming a rock star? Did you take music lessons that fueled the passion? Did you enjoy writing and found that you could translate written words into song lyrics?
I highly doubt that! Talent is overrated anyway! I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home with constant music. My parents raised me on mostly the singer/songwriters of the 60s and 70s. I’ve always wanted to be a singer and songwriter (there was one moment when I thought I’d be an Olympic soccer player . . . that moment passed). I don’t remember when I started singing. . . likely at birth, because my mother and my grandmother and my aunt were all constantly singing to me. Singing and writing are in my genes. My grandmother studied opera in college which I think sort of inspired me to start taking classical and folk vocal lessons at age 7 or 8. My grandfather and great-grandfather were both journalists and authors. It wasn’t until my preteens that I found myself writing. My first completed song was, “I Wanna Grow Old With You.” Do you play any instruments?
There are, of course, current popular artists who aren’t necessarily trend-jumpers – bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, etc. aren’t jumping on the upbeat, indie pop, weighed-down-with-keys-and-synths bandwagon that many of the “one hit wonders” on alternative radio have taken a seat on. And, these artists who don’t anchor their sound to popular trends are the ones who will stand the test of time. Your music has a timeless sound to it, with maybe some minor modern flourishes. Would it be fair to say that you’re not that interested in what’s going on radio stations that play “Today’s Top Hits” but, rather, are find influence in artists that have proven track records?
I think Top-40 pop music makes a really powerful statement about our society. Though a great deal of it has little staying power, it tells us what the masses are attracted to and what a generation is craving. I think pop music right now is saying a lot. For one, the volume level tells us that people want to feel something so badly that we literally want to be physically moved by the decibel levels/bass lines. For many, the high of sweet, clever words is no longer enough to move us. It’s also a testament to our patience and our right-now attitudes, we want an immediate hook, something we can be familiar with after two listens. This is all my opinion though, so it could be total crapola. Anyway, I think modern pop has its own place today. But all this being said, traditional music has my heart and it’s what I choose to listen to, given the aux cord. So I’m not making my music with radio in mind (maybe I should be). I just write about everything and everyone around me. I try to be mindful of and utilize both current music and technology as well as “the oldies,” so that I’m able to bring my more traditional songwriter style, but make it approachable for the modern age, without compromising what I want the song to actually say.
As mentioned, I have ZERO music talent (ha), so I don’t know if writing and recording music gives you the same charge as performing live. Do you take on the task of going on tour as something you have to do to get people to learn about your music or is it something that is in your blood and something you see yourself doing until you can’t do it anymore?
Still not buying the no talent thing. The charge I get from writing and composing is much different and much more personal than the one I get from performing live. Going on tour as a truly indie musician usually isn’t a huge financial gain and with all of the technological advancements we have nowadays, you don’t need to tour to get people to hear your music. But it’s totally in my blood. I love the traveling, but that’s not it. The traveling has actually turned me into a hermit. When I’m home, I’m HOME. But the real reason I’m drawn to the road is because I have met thousands of unique individuals with their own magnificent stories. And I think these people feel like they can share their stories with me after I’ve just shared mine with them on a stage in a room full of people (sometimes less full! haha). Music is the great translator, the great connector. Wait, what was the question again? How did I get here?
For simplicity sake, it’s probably easy to hop in a car/van with 3 or 4 other solo acts and do acoustic-type shows with little overhead. There’s a different dynamic when you go out with a band – your recorded music can be replicated in a live setting. What made you decide to do a full-band tour this time around as opposed to playing shows on your own?
I’ve toured solo for as long as I’ve been playing. Earlier this year, I took my band out to the West Coast with me for our first “band tour.” Playing on my own is truly valuable in improving my musicianship and getting to know myself and yadeeyadeeyadah, but the guys in my band (James Pyne, Bryan Reilly, Bob Mervak) each bring their own style/soul to the music, creating an entirely different sound than I started with. And that reiterates the whole music is a connecter thing. So in short, it’s just more fun to be up there with a couple of my best friends. I’m biased but I think they pretty good!
Because of your age, this may be hard to answer but how conscious are you of the differences in releasing music now compared to, say, 10 or even 20 years ago?
That is hard to say, but I grew up just at the beginning of the social media explosion. . . it wasn’t an entirely digital age even ten years ago (we had VHS and cassettes and easy-bake ovens). The one observation I can make is that, although the internet and technology make it easier to create and share original music, it has made it immensely difficult to get you music heard by people, because of oversaturation. If everyone and their brother can record and share their record online, you end up with tons of music, and even as a person who LOVES music and exploring new artists, I get overwhelmed. On one hand, HURRAH that everyone is able to make music! On the other hand, it’s crowded out here on the internet for a little indie musician!
A follow up to that last question, I’ve been listening to Look Both Ways on Spotify (something that didn’t exist 10 years ago) this week (“Far From” is my current favorite). I see a list of “Related Artists” and don’t recognize a single name. Because there is so much music out there, how do you break through the clutter so that people notice you and take a chance (with little to no cost) and listen to one of your songs on Spotify or Soundcloud or YouTube (or any of the many different outlets)?
Weird, I didn’t even read this question but my last little rambling answer goes hand in hand with it! Thank you for listening to the record! “Far From” was a tough one to write. I still haven’t discovered the secret formula to breaking through the mish-mosh that is the Internet. Some of the greatest records I like have only sold 150 copies. For me, breaking through the clutter has been a combination of legwork (touring on my own and with known artists Orla Gartland, Sawyer Fredericks, Howie Day, etc.), placements (getting some of songs placed in TV, films, commercials, etc.) and luck. We’ve never had a true marketing strategy for any of the records and I feel unbelievably fortunate that people have found them and are hopefully enjoying them.
I know you’ve got people on your “team”. How involved are you with the business aspect of your career? I’m thinking of things like song placement in TV shows, movies, etc. Is that something that you are hand-in-hand with your team beating down doors and trying to get people to listen to songs? Are these opportunities falling in your lap because people have heard your songs?
My team consists of friends and family who want to see me succeed as both a person and a musician. Sometimes we get the occasional help from some crazy, ex-executive industry buff who offers their wisdom or guidance in whatever way they can. The only true, signed representation I have ever had was through a licensing company pitching my music for placements. Some licensing opportunities we’ve had have happened naturally and randomly through online submissions and cold calls, and some of them are because there’s a crew repping my record and they’re doing a wonderful job!
In addition to getting songs placed on TV and in the movies, I know a few songwriters who have started writing songs for other people as a way to generate some income and get their names out there. I’m not sure if you’ve ever done that but is it something you’d consider? One of my friends spent 10 years in a band, started a solo career, hustled day to day to pay rent and then got a chance to be one of a handful of songwriters who helped write a song that Justin Bieber recorded. That small contribution helped pay his rent for a year and gave him the opportunity to continue to write and record his own music without having to drop it and take a day job to pay the bills.
I’d like (LOVE) to start writing for other artists. The truth of the matter is I don’t even know where to start with it. I have a couple of friends with some huge songwriting credits, but I don’t know how to even go about getting in on those co-writes. If you’ve got the hookup, help a sister out. Another thing I’d love to get involved in, if I ever found the time or opportunity, is backup vocals. I keep calling Art Garfunkel and telling him he needs me singing backups on his tour! No word yet. Stay tuned though.
In closing, this isn’t so much a question as it is some compliments – Look Both Ways is a very mature-sounding album with some great songs. I hope you catch some lightning in a bottle and continue to grow your fan base, I think you’ve got a very comfortable – and, heck, marketable – sound that will appeal to a wide range of music listeners.
That is really kind of you to say. The record took the collaborations of (shoutout time) producers/engineers/musicians Chris Cubeta, Gary Atturio, and Michael Grubbs, who forced me to try on a new, sometimes uncomfortable, outfit in order to graduate into the sound I wanted and needed for the record.