Olivia Holt On Debut Single “Phoenix” & Walking Her Own Path: Interview
From Hilary Duff to Demi Lovato, Disney has an incredible track record of launching pop stars. That legacy is daunting, but Olivia Holt is determined to walk her own path. The 18-year-old drops her debut single, “Phoenix,” today (May 13) and it’s anything but cookie-cutter pop. Produced by Steve Mac, the sing-along anthem taps into the same vein of uplifting pop as Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.” Which spells very good things for her upcoming debut EP.
I caught up with the teenager earlier this week to discuss her first track and budding pop career. The singer/actress explained that music runs in her blood, citing her family’s passion for music. (Olivia’s dad performed in an ’80s hair band). She also gave some interesting tidbits about the “Phoenix” music video and revealed her favorite pop artists. Get to know Olivia a little better in our Q&A below.
Disney shows are a great platform for launching a music career. Was that always the goal? Actually, music was originally what I wanted to do. My dad was in an ’80s hair-band.
Which one? Romeo Wild. You’ve probably never heard of it.
I’m going to find them on YouTube. So funny. And my sister, she’s a huge musical theater girl. My brother is 15 but the oldest soul you’ll ever meet. He loves vinyl and goes to the record store and has all these records. My mom as well. She’s a music junkie, into everything. So, I was surrounded by music growing up my entire life and I think the first four years of my life, I was on tour with my dad. Music was what I wanted to do.
I did theater in my hometown. Local theater for a little bit and I fell in love with it. It was something that I was totally into. I was born and raised in the south and when the opportunity came up for me to go to Los Angeles and do a showcase to find an agent. They were like, “Look we’d love to see you in some acting gigs,” and I started doing that and I fell in love with it too.
Then, I did a couple of things before I landed a role with Disney. For two years, I just did auditions and I did short films and commercials and then I landed my role at Disney. They’ve given me incredible opportunities and I’m so grateful for that, but you’re right. They do have this platform where people can go and make a record and I did take advantage of that opportunity.
You’d be crazy not to. Yeah. You know, I was focusing so much on the show I was doing at the time was — my character was surrounded by boys all day long. She was feminine, but she was kicking butt all day long in a karate studio. Then I did a movie with Disney where I sang and that’s when I took the opportunity to get back into music. It’s been a great journey, but now I want to focus on music. So this is my opportunity to make the transition as well as I possibly can.
It’s been great. I wanted to take my time and not rush it. And not put out something while I was on the channel because I didn’t want to be overloaded with all this stuff — balancing acting and music is a difficult thing. It’s not easy. It’s a real challenge. So for me, I feel like I did it as gracefully as possible. I love both. I love acting and music so much, they’re kind of on the same pedestal, but to focus on one at a time makes it a lot easier.
So many stars have come through Disney. Is there pressure to match that success? No, because I’m going on my own path. I’m figuring it out on my own. It’s obviously nice to have people that inspire you and that you look up to and you want to kind of follow in their footsteps. But no one can follow the exact same path. It’s important for me to find myself as an individual and figure out what I like and what I don’t like. It’s all about being who you are and accepting that.
Who did you work with on “Phoenix”? It’s so catchy. Yay! Thank you! I worked with an incredible producer/songwriter called Steve Mac, who’s worked with One Direction, Kelly Clarkson and one of my favorite UK artists, Jess Glynne. So unreal. Uber-talented and an even better human being, so I was really lucky to work with him. And he brought a lot out of me, which I really appreciated. Working on this song, he brought a voice out that I’ve never heard before.
Did he pitch the song to you or did you write it together? He approached me. I mean, artists have songs sent to them all the time from other songwriters. I was doing a little bit of co-writing at the time, but this song was sent to me and I was like, “I gotta get my vocal on this song.”
What was it that really spoke to you? It’s an empowering song. I don’t think I had heard a song like that in forever and it stuck out to me. It’s unique. It’s not your typical empowering song. It has lyrics in there for adults. It has lyrics in there that are for kids. It has lyrics in there for people who just need that extra self-confidence to succeed in life.
It reminds me of Katy Perry’s “Roar” or Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” in that you feel better after hearing it. 1,000 percent. Every time. It’s interesting, when you walk into a studio, it’s usually dark and moody and this song didn’t call for that. It didn’t call for mood lighting. It called for like, “Get me a dang spotlight, I want to sing my heart out!” There’s real passion behind it and there’s real authenticity behind it and I think that was what’s most important for me to capture in the song. I hope it worked, because it’s a special song.
Have you filmed the video? We did shoot the video. There were a couple of things I really wanted to make sure I captured and that was a bit of me, a bit of what people don’t see on a daily basis — what I like to do, who I like hang with, the things I like to see. In the video, we’re capturing certain people’s phoenixes. So. if they’re going through a hard time or if they’re struggling with something, then they find that one thing that makes them forget the struggles and step out of the shadows and face the sun. That’s their inner-Phoenix, so we made sure we captured moments like that in this video. There’s a lot of cool artwork within the video as well, so the visual will be really cool and I’m hoping everyone really enjoys it.
You said you really admire Jess Glynne. Who else do you listen to? I love Jess Glynne. I bought her album I Cry When I Laugh and it’s one of the very few albums that you can listen to from top to bottom. You don’t skip, you don’t rewind. You don’t fast forward. Ellie Goulding is another one. She inspires a lot of my music. I love the rhythm in her music. I think it adds an element of coolness, but at the same time it’s not straight pop. It’s got a little bit of soul and that’s something that I wanted as well.
Growing up in the South, I’m used to organic music. I love real instruments. So guitar, drums, bass, all of that realness, I wanted to incorporate within my music as well. So there’s a little bit of programming, but you hear real drums, you hear real guitar and I love that. There’s something about that that just makes it work.
Is there an EP on the way? There’s an EP, definitely an album in the works. I can’t give too much away.
That’s ok. A lot of the artists you mentioned have quite a provocative image. Are there limits as to how you can present yourself? Actually, I wanted to be different. And I made sure that they knew that. I’ve grown up a lot within the past year and I’ve learned a lot and I’ve experienced a lot and I want people to know that. I want to share that with people because this is who I am. It’s not a character. It’s not fake. It’s all authentic. I explained that to the label. I went in with an idea and they didn’t shoot me down and they were like, “We want to support you in every way that you want.” I’ve been really lucky that they gave me that opportunity. They’re letting me kind of take the reins and run with it. I mean, they’re obviously helping because they’re my label, but to have a label that really supports your vision is kind of surreal.
Who is your dream collaborator? I mean, right now it’s Ellie Goulding. She inspires a lot of my music and I recently saw her perform at Coachella.
Me too. She was great. Oh my God! Right? It was incredible. I mean I loved, loved her performance. Her vocals were insane. I just think she has a really cool, unique voice. To be able to work with her would be a dream ’cause it looks like she knows what she’s doing. And she’s super bad-ass, I love her.