Photo Credit: Laurent Chevalier for Okayplayer.
First Look Friday: Olu Bliss Packages Lush Soul Worth Playing On Repeat
Photo Credit: Laurent Chevalier for Okayplayer
This week's First Look Friday entry is a buzz-worthy artist who has more to say that just "ooh baby baby".
What can be said about Olu Bliss that hasn't already been raved about by those on social media and at venues like Knitting Factory, where he is playing tonight (July 28) for AfroPunk's Battle of the Bands in New York City? Hmm, how about this? The Nigeria-born, Bushwick-based talent has had listeners in the palm of his hand ever since he dove in to express himself as an artist a few years back.
Now, indulging audiences across the country with his brand of lush and rich soul, the man known as Olu Bliss has grown to become a buzz worthy force in the music business. His songwriting mixed with his raw, yet captivating voice has encouraged the likes of Amos Rose and Luke Sweet to back him in production.
We were enthused to have the extraordinary artist come by to OKP HQ to chat with us a bit about his project, Traveling Bliss Rmixes, who he is influenced by and why our relationships with our phone is like being with a toxic lover.
Below, allow your ears to feast on the sounds of "Dive In" featuring Khary and get to know Olu Bliss as a budding talent to keep on your playlists.
Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact. What is it that those in music game are seeing and hearing that the rest of the world has yet to discover?
Olu Bliss: I think it’s safe to say that genres are getting a lot harder to classify. There’s so much genre bending going on that even artists themselves can’t classify what kind of music they make. I don’t see that as a bad thing, with the world getting smaller our influences and music pallet diversifies, giving use freedom to just create and see what happens.
OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they honed their skills and practiced their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?
OB: Oh man, where do I start? Immediate influences would have to be D’Angelo, John Mayer, Corrine Bailey Rae, Sam Cooke bands like Local Natives, Mutemath, Coldplay, Maroon 5. I’m drawn to music with a high level of vulnerability, but at the same time I love happy naïvete – all’s well with the world music like Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson. Most of these influences do both of those things well in addition to just being incredible freaking musicians.
OKP: Can you talk about how your life was while developing as an artist? How did you react to your first bits of press?
OB: Developing as an artist was really unexpected. Growing up, for some reason I never really considered myself much of a creative. I used to bang on the desk and make beats on the lunch table in elementary school. Then I started making beats in high school and joined the church choir. Even after all that I just didn’t see the things I was doing as “creative”. When I started writing songs it changed the way I looked at the world, I listened closer to the words people said, I internalized information differently. I was finally free to share my voice with whomever wanted to listen. When it came to press, I was just glad someone could relate! Someone understood what I wanted to say and thought it was dope enough to share with other people. I still feel that way like, “Damn, you feel that much playa? Go ahead and post my music.”
OKP: With incidents involving people of color, police and racist occurring almost on a daily basis around the globe — how can your music (and/or others) help to relieve the trauma that is being experienced by the masses?
OB: It’s really unfortunate that all these things are happening, but the truth of the matter is they’ve always been happening but thanks to social media we’re able to shine light on them a lot faster. Artists and public figures are a big part of this. One thing about me is I’m always looking for is peace, in any situation in any decision I have to be at peace to be myself. This is where the “Bliss” comes from and the perspective in my music is very reflective of that.
I’m not a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of person I’m an - “Oh snap, we have water to drink? And I don’t have to drink it out of ours hands?” kind of person. A big part of the trauma we deal with in the black community is constantly seeing images of ourselves being victims of injustice. My music challenges people to face both internal and external conflicts head on and encourages that inner strength to shine.
We’re so strong when we allow ourselves to be. Half the battle is tuning out the noise and acknowledging your individual greatness. I recently wrote a song about how it feels to be a young African American male living in these times, and it’s really uplifting, while asking a lot of important questions. Hopefully it sees the light of day.
OKP: What have been the most definitive obstacles that you’ve overcome in your career thus far?
OB: Honestly, the most definitive obstacle has been taking a step into the light and saying, “Hey I’m an artist. This is not a hobby. This is my life and I’m dedicating the time and effort into honing my craft.” As much as musical artists are celebrated, the reality is the market is oversaturated and frankly there’s a lot of terrible music out, but it still bangs so who cares right? It takes much more than just talent to make it and if you do make it, you have a limited amount of time before you fade away in this industry. Knowing all this and still wanting to live this life is crazy, but we’re artists so I guess we’re allowed to be. The key is creating your own benchmarks for success and living your life like it’s golden.
OKP: Can you also talk about the importance of the music industry scene as how you’ve experienced it? How do you see it evolving in the next five years?
Photo Credit: Laurent Chevalier for Okayplayer.
OB: One thing I really enjoy right now in the music industry is the spirit of collaboration. I think it says a lot about where we’re heading to as a society. That’s not to say I necessarily need to hear a whole album full of collabs, but it’s great synergy when done right. In the next five years I see the direct artist-to-fan relationship getting even closer. I mean it’s already happening.
Ryan Leslie is out here sending, “Good morning, Beautiful,” texts to his fanbase and sending them links to exclusive content. I think musical releases are going to be a lot more fun. Imagine Beyoncé emailing her next album to one person and it’s that person’s job to share it with everyone they know, and they share it with all of their friends until it spreads like wildfire. That could very well happen, and I’m excited for stuff like that.
OKP: What are some things that you’ve learned about yourself that comes out in your music?
OB: I’ve learned that I have a very strong belief in people and their potential to be great. I’ve tackled sobering truths about myself by putting them on record and not really realizing it until I’m listening back to it. I’ve also learned that I lowkey could have been a rapper in another life, cause sometimes I like to drop some lyrical bars but in song form.
OKP: What were some moments from your recent travels that will forever stick with you? Why?
OB: Sometime last year I went to Peru to climb Machu Picchu. That whole journey in itself is a real “planes, trains and automobiles” experience. It is always amazing immersing yourself into a different environments, using instinct and minimal language skills to move around. During that trip I took a five hour bus ride from Lima to a small city called Chincha Alta. I was in search of the Carmen District where slave descendants and Afro-Peruvian culture lived.
To make a long story short, I got there late at night, got lost, met a mysterious lady who ended up guiding me to my hotel. She spent 30-minutes wandering the city with me after I said my hotel refused to let me in. When I finally found a place, it was this small beatdown motel where I could lay my skeptical head. She left and requested that I come to her place of work (a building that she pointed out to me while passing the town square) in the morning.
The next morning as I walked in the building it came to my attention that not only could I not communicate with anyone there, they didn’t know who she was and I was starting to draw some attention as they searched for someone who “Hablas Ingles.” Three floors up and a bunch of confused stares later, they finally found someone who could speak English.
As I walked past a line of people into a huge room with a large desk, big screen TV and two leather couches full of men in what looked like fire marshall uniforms — I began to realize who this was and where I was. “Welcome to my city,” the man said in a deep voice. “How can I help you?” At that point I realize I was in their city hall and I was now face-to-face with the mayor of Chincha! … “Uhhh… well, sorry I didn’t… Ya’ll got wi-fi?” I said. He directed me to a place where I could properly get cleaned up and I proceeded to visit the Carmen District.
As I arrived I remembered that the lady who helped me never showed up and she also said her name was “Carmen”. Needless to say, my head exploded… I think she could have been a guardian angel.
OKP: What was the first song that you ever wrote entitled? Can you talk about what it has come to symbolize since you’ve entered your professional life?
OB: I’d love to give you some story about the magical moment I wrote my first song and how it changed my life forever. Truth be told it was complete basura! I wrote it during the Myspace days. I think it was called “Retro Kidz”. At the time some friends and I were thinking about making music under that moniker. I won’t get into the fact that there was already a New York collective called Retro Kids who were rocking beepers, wearing [Steve] Urkel pants and hosting parties. I’m pretty sure I wrote that song to a Lil’ Jon beat and I threw it on my Myspace page on my music player! Looking back, as trash as that song was, I still remember recording it, playing it on loop and dancing to it and the feeling of satisfaction it gave me [laughs]. I still have that!
OKP: How can your music speak truth to power in an age where people are so quickly digesting sounds and disposing of artists in a nanosecond
OB: My music isn’t for everyone, but it’s created for everyone who wants to listen. I hope to strike a chord with my words and my voice. I give a piece of myself to every record released and after that, my job is done. It’s up to the listener to decide if they want to invite it into their lives or not! That being said, I try not to take myself too seriously. I also understand the power of pop sensibility and creating catchy melodies that stick in people’s heads long after they’ve heard the song.
OKP: Collaboration is uniquely a key to the success of certain creative individuals who wish to change the game. Who would you want to work with this year going into the next and why?
Photo Credit: Laurent Chevalier for Okayplayer.
OB: I’m a big fan of this kid Froyo Ma. I just love his minimalism and how much soul his gentle chords hold. I’d love to work with producers Abjo, A.K. and Jai Paul and FKJ. I’m really digging the UK scene right now so just drop me in a writing session with Jordan Rakei, Tom Misch, Lianne La Havas, Shakka, Nao and I’ll be fine.
OKP: What is the overall message that Olu Bliss is trying to present in his music?
OB: First love yourself, then love others like you’d love yourself. Only love unconditionally. You were built for this! Basically Olu Bliss is a walking fortune cookie of self-affirmation, but also completely flawed.
OKP: Can you break down the inspiration behind a song that you created but never put out?
OB: I wrote a love song about my cellphone once. I was thinking about how we are in a relationship with our phones. We can’t do without it, it holds our darkest secrets, it gets jealous when we neglect it to talk to other people and once those people get less interesting we go running back to it. We make promises to stop depending on it so much but we always answer that late night booty call when your Facebook, text or Twitter notification pops up. So I pretty much drew the parallel between that and a toxic relationship with an “on again, off again” lover.
OKP: How do you see yourself changing the music industry for the better versus all the bad stuff that goes on within it?
OB: One thing I know for sure is that I move differently. I just don’t have time for the politics and fakeness. If you want to be treated differently, you have to treat people differently, but also be consistent. I encourage transparency at all times even if it’s difficult. I think a lot of people easily conform to the ways of the industry because of course, with less friction it’s easier to be successful. As long as I don’t lose myself, I can create change any and everywhere I need be.
OKP: How do you get over any anxiety before hitting the stage to perform live? What are some lessons or tips that you’ve learned from others about doing a stage show?
OB: If you’ve ever been to an Olu Bliss show, you’ll know it’s way less about me and more about the audience. Before I go on stage, I picture myself in the audience watching the performance and I put forward whatever energy I would want to see from that show. Before every show I need about 10-15 minutes alone with myself. I pray and thank God for this voice, for this gift and I remember why I make music and I remember all the people who are having a bad day, who have been working all day, who are suffering from depression and begging to smile.
I take that, ball it up into all this positive energy and now it’s time to share this gift with everyone. I make myself fully vulnerable, I scream, I dance, I shout, jump across the stage, embarrass myself, just so they too can let their guard down even if it’s just for that moment. Then we’ve created something indelible forever. Tips I’ve learned are to own your own cool, don’t try to be too cool on stage just let loose and give your best bedroom performance. Sometimes I kind of black out at a show and walk off stage thinking, “What just happened?”
OKP: If the reader’s learned one thing from this First Look Friday chat with Olu Bliss — what would it be?
OB: You’ve got the Juice… you’ve always had it!
Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for more from Olu Bliss (and us!) by following him on Twitter @OluBliss.