Singer-songwriter Olivia Connolly ’23 released her first single in the spring. Next up: A debut album. And hopefully much, much more.
In mid-January Olivia Connolly ’23 was in Raffini Commons, her laptop open, when a new email arrived from her music producer, Bryan Ewald. Since the summer the two had been working on recording and mixing a collection of the 17-year-old’s original songs. Ewald had recently wrapped production of her first single, “next year,” and shared the finished product. Connolly excitedly turned on her Airpods and played the file.
“I’m not a huge crier but tears started forming in my eyes,” says Connolly. “I actually had to get up to leave because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was just so happy and excited and I had to immediately call my mom.”
Three months later, at the stroke of midnight on April 25, the rest of the world had a chance to hear the single as “next year” officially dropped on Spotify and other streaming platforms. The song features Connolly on guitar and vocals and its release represented the first phase of what is scheduled to be a busy year for the rising Sixth Former. Connolly’s second single, “so much of it we fill,” dropped on July 7, and her complete album of 12 original songs, “Early Shores,” will debut this fall.
The album’s production began last summer, when Connolly was home in Washington, D.C., for break, but music has always been central to Connolly’s life. Live music shows frequently formed the backbone of family outings and home life often featured something playing in the background — or more prominently. Some days it might be Jack Johnson. Other days it could be James Taylor or Dave Matthews. “Then sometimes my dad would throw on AC/DC to try get us to move,” says Connolly with a laugh.
At the age of five Connolly began a seven-year-run of piano lessons. She then dabbled in the ukulele before picking up a guitar, an instrument that is now at the heart of her music making. Connolly was 12 and still figuring out some early chords when she began writing her first songs. From the start, she says, she found the process a natural way to sort through her emotions and put to words what she was feeling.
“Every time I sit down to write I feel like a little weight is lifted off my shoulders,” she says. “I was drawn to that feeling from the beginning. It’s a way for me to process intense emotions and articulate things I’m struggling with.”
“next year” is a good example of that. The song, which Connolly says is a product of some loss she’s experienced over the last year, shows a depth of vulnerability that many seasoned musicians struggle to access.
“It’s not super difficult for me to put a little bit of myself into my writing because that's when I produce something I'm really happy with,” says Connolly, who credits three terms of applied music she took at SPS as a Third Former with helping her “engage with music and understand it in a totally new way.”
In recent years, Connolly has enjoyed playing her music in front of live audiences. She’s performed at different coffee houses and various St. Paul’s venues, including Chapel in late March, where she showcased another song from her upcoming album, “Call My Bluff.”
Connolly is a prolific writer — she has more than 100 songs in her catalog — and as she puts them together she says she can often hear how she wants a song to sound with added percussions or a piano track. But until last year she says didn’t know how or if she’d ever get to work in a studio. Then, last spring, a friend of her father’s connected her with Ewald.
“I remember going to the studio for the first time and trying not to freak out,” says Connolly. “I was just trying desperately to stay cool. I’m sitting there with my guitar and like three microphones around me and be like, this happens all the time to me. But really every time I went in there it was amazing.”
Connolly is careful to note this hasn’t been a solo experience. Her parents in particular, she says, have been instrumental in encouraging her and her older sister, Caroline, to pursue their passions. “They’ve both been so great in believing in us,” she says. “When I’m back home my mom will come into my bedroom to say goodnight and always ask me, ‘Do you have any new songs you want to play me?’”
Connolly is excited to see what the next year brings with the release of her album. As for the longer term, she hopes she can do something that leverages her passion for writing and creating art. “I know that I want to major in English or creative writing,” says Connolly, who is currently at work on a novel. “And if I was able to find something in the music industry, that would be incredible. Whether that’s as an artist and a writer, or just as a writer, I would be absolutely thrilled.”