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Odette: “Writing Songs is What Makes Things Bearable”

Rolling Stone Australia speaks to Odette ahead of her February 2022 Twilight at Taronga show

Odette’s second album, Herald, is an outlier. It’s an eminently contemporary pop album that has little in common with the music at the top of the contemporary pop charts. It’s a showy demonstration of Odette’s advanced musicality and ear for melody, but it’s defined by the Sydney-based songwriter’s emotional candour.

Prior to the album’s release, Odette was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a mental health issue that affects one’s self-image and destabilises relationships. Although even just the name of the disorder seems to confer stigma, the diagnosis helped Odette find clarity amid the chaos of her late-adolescence and early adulthood. 

In the wake of the diagnosis, Odette started working with SANE Australia, a charity dedicated to dismantling stigmata and improving the lives of people affected by complex mental health issues.

The 24 year old songwriter now feels a healthy distance from much of the anguish and interpersonal drama portrayed on Herald, but the album’s emotional heft still gets to her. 

“It’s kind of difficult to listen to, personally,” says Odette, speaking to Rolling Stone Australia ahead of her return to the stage for Twilight At Taronga in February 2022.

Odette’s style of songwriting is not without precedent. Her work contains traces of Kate Miller-Heidke’s theatricality and Amanda Palmer’s taste for melodrama. The arrangements on Herald—produced by Damian Taylor (The Temper Trap, The Killers)—highlight the songs’ pop hooks while simultaneously exaggerating their emotional content with string orchestration and electronic programming.    

Odette’s inclination towards complex lyrical themes has caused some confusion among the local music industry establishment, however, and nowhere more so than at the ARIA Awards. Both Herald and Odette’s debut album, To a Stranger, were nominated for the ARIA Award for Best Adult Contemporary Album.

At the 2018 awards, Odette was up against Vance Joy, Missy Higgins, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, and Dan Sultan. The 2021 nominee pool was even more arbitrarily constructed: along with Odette’s Herald was Crowded House’s Dreamers Are Waiting, Kylie Minogue’s DISCO, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ Carnage, and Big Scary’s Daisy.

It makes no sense for Odette’s releases to be excluded from the pop categories; it’s equally nonsensical to consign Crowded House and Kylie Minogue to the adult contemporary twilight zone simply because they’re relatively advanced in years. 

“What does [adult contemporary] even mean?” says Odette, similarly miffed by the reductive classification. On the plus side, audiences are unfazed by the ARIA board’s vague pigeonholing. 

Watch the official music video for “Herald” by Odette

“When I have shows, you should see my audiences,” says Odette. “Everyone is there—there are older people; there are people who are 40 there; there are 16 year olds there, and there are 20-somethings. There’s a universal aspect of people being able to relate to candid emotions.”

Herald is animated by candid emotions. The track listing unfurls like a journey from anger to acceptance. At the outset, Odette sounds indignant and directs blame outwards. As the record progresses, she acknowledges shared responsibility for the heartache and distress she’s experienced, while frequently citing a desire to change. By the time we get to the album’s final third, Odette is ready to hold herself accountable. 

A lyric from the title track encapsulates the feeling of emotional instability that characterises the record’s first two-thirds: “I wondered if this was death,” Odette sings. And I thought it was happiness.”

“I think it’s a common trauma response to happiness,” she says, responding to that particular lyric. “When people spend their time in a state of stress or extreme distress, when something good happens, the relief can feel like you’re dying because it’s so different.

“Just learning to accept that and learning to understand what that is as a feeling, physically, in my body, has been really challenging. You have to challenge years of being in a state of fight or flight.”

Watch Odette perform “Take It To The Heart” live on ABC’s The Set

There are no cheap platitudes on Herald, and nor does Odette manufacture a happily-ever-after conclusion. “This time I know I have to change,” she sings on track four, “What I Know Is Not Enough”. On the album’s eighth track, “Amends”, she admits, “It’s like there’s someone whispering to me, but I just cannot hear.”

In addition to winning her an adoring international audience and a major label record deal, Odette says her emotionally expositive songwriting has played an active role in growing her self-awareness. 

“It’s what makes things bearable. Therapists will tell you that journaling is incredible, and this is what it is—a public diary that I punish myself by showing others.”

She continues: “It’s how I find out who I am and how I see myself. It’s also how I work out difficult things. It’s everything.”

Odette’s co-headlining partner for the Twilight At Taronga event is Megan Washington, another genre-defying performer with a history of baring all in her songwriting.

“I’m extremely excited,” says Odette. “I’ve met them a few times over the years and I grew up just loving their music. And there may or may not be a sneaky, sneaky song we might do together. But who knows?”

Odette and Washington co-headline Twilight At Taronga on Thursday February 10th. Click here to learn more.

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