Singer-songwriter LIVVIA’s goal is for her music to “inspire and empower” listeners. From collaborations with Nick Jonas, Quavo, and Prince Royce, to landing her single “Damn” on the season finale of Hawaii Five-0, LIVVIA has already found success in the music industry—and she’s only just getting started. LIVVIA chats with us about how she balanced a blossoming music career with her studies, how she measures success for her music, and the importance of looking at challenges as opportunities.
We typically like to start off by having the artist tell us a little about themselves, in their own words. For those who don’t know who you are, how would you introduce yourself?
I’m a musician from California, I love to surf and ski and be in nature in general, my favorite thing to do is travel, and I’m a UC Berkeley and Hogwarts alum!
How are you holding up in quarantine?
I definitely miss so many people, and some days are harder than others, but I’m extremely grateful to be fortunate enough to be able to quarantine safely. I’ve kept myself busy with work and becoming the resident chef for my family. I haven’t actually watched TV or movies for weeks and in my free time, I either FaceTime with friends or meditate, which I’ve only learned to do since being in quarantine. I’m trying to use this time to strengthen my friendships with people who live far away that I don’t get to see often as it is, as well as my understanding of myself through lots of quiet time to examine my thoughts.
Are you working on any new music? Or have you discovered any new songs that you love?
I’m always working on new music! I’m in the process of figuring out how to record music from where I’m quarantined with my family, since I’m not at my place in LA with my studio setup. I also try to watch Sofi Tukker’s DJ set on Instagram live every day at 10 PT. Whenever I can make it, it’s the highlight of my day. I’m a big fan of solo dance parties, and these are the best I’ve ever had! A handful of my friends from around the world watch with me from our various quarantines.
Do you feel like your creativity has been stifled at all at home? Have you found new ways to be creative?
I’m actually feeling like the writer’s block I had been feeling recently has been cleared now that I’m spending so much time alone with my thoughts, and emotions are running high, so there’s a lot of inspiration. I’m spending a lot more time at the piano than I had been recently, which is my favorite instrument to write with. Since I’m always traveling for work, being home has been a great opportunity to reconnect with my piano, which obviously isn’t the easiest instrument to travel with. My best friend and one of my favorite producers and writers Thomas Sturges and I have started writing a song on Instagram live every Saturday at 2PM PT, which has been so much fun. We love having immediate feedback from the viewers!
I think the value of music can really be appreciated during tough times. What do you think the power of music is?
Even the most melancholy songs can have an uplifting effect when you find a song that perfectly describes what you’re going through. There’s something comforting in knowing someone understands how you’re feeling and has been there too. In a way, it’s validating to know someone felt so deeply that they created art about it. Of course, the flip side is that putting on fun, happy songs when you’re feeling down can lift your mood instantly. I find the key for me is singing and dancing along.
Let’s dive into your music journey. Have you always loved to sing? At what point did you realize that you wanted to take your passion for music and turn it into a career?
I’ve always loved to sing and have been fascinated with the songwriting process. I remember being very young and wondering how people went about crafting songs, from the vocal melody and lyrics to the production. I tried to take piano lessons when I was little but I always ended up wanting to write something new, so I taught myself to play by ear to accompany the songs I had been writing a cappella. I knew I wanted to pursue a professional career in music because I wanted to be the kind of artist I wanted to be a fan of, someone who would be a friend to their fans, and to share my positive spirit with the world. I always want my songs to be uplifting, even if it’s just one lyric of hope shining through.
Through high school and college, you balanced having a budding music career with your studies. How did you find this balance?
I always compare my situation to that of a college athlete or someone with another kind of demanding job or internship who’s still in school full time. It’s definitely possible to do both, it just requires time management, and, I believe, a passion for both pursuits. I genuinely love and miss school. I would love to go back to grad school eventually! I was an economics major and would love to get my MBA and continue studying the arts.
You started off in the industry as Olivia Somerlyn and recently rebranded to LIVVIA. You found success as Olivia Somerlyn—putting out hit songs like “Parachute” and “OXO” and touring with the Jonas Brothers and Jessie J—so what fueled your decision to give yourself a fresh start in the music industry?
I had taken some time off from touring and had been spending more time in the studio working with new people and continuing to develop my style. As the music evolved, it felt right to create a new name for the project. I love the strength and symmetry of the name “LIVVIA.” It’s my two nicknames, Liv and Via, put together, and means “live via music,” “live through music.”
What would you say is the biggest change between LIVVIA and Olivia Somerlyn? Has the way you approached music changed at all since becoming LIVVIA?
My ultimate goal has always been to inspire and empower. The music and work I’ve done as LIVVIA has, in my view, accomplished that goal better than before.
Your debut track after being signed to 12Tone was “Damn,” which appeared on the season finale of Hawaii Five-0. What was that experience like, to have the beginning of a new journey in your career showcased on a popular TV show?
It was beyond surreal to have my song in a TV show. Music is such a huge part of the emotional impact of a scene, and it was such an honor to be the soundtrack of a couple of very pivotal scenes at the end of a season of such an iconic show. I couldn’t be more grateful! My friends and I had a Hawaii Five-0 viewing party where we sat in pool floaties on the couch and floor.
How do you measure success for your music?
The more people I can reach with my music and message, the better. There are always new goals to reach for, but I’ve been very fortunate to have songs on the Top 40 chart and perform on some of the world’s most iconic stages as an opening act for my favorite musicians. I love touring because I’m able to hear and feel first hand when a song of mine has had an impact on someone’s life.
I love how the “Damn” music video reverses the chronology of events in a relationship, from after the breakup to when you first meet, and then ends with the final scene of you leaving for good. The entire arc of the video really parallels the lyric “Wish we could start over but we can’t.” How did the idea for the music video come about?
I’m so happy you love it! Actually you phrased it exactly as the idea came about. I based the concept on that line and felt it would be so poignant to see a love story in reverse. I chose the beach and surfing as the backdrop because I thought waves would look so cool in reverse. It was quite a challenge to fit so many montage scenes into our one day of shooting, but I was determined to create the full story to convey time passing in reverse.
Do you typically have a very strong visual in mind for your music videos, or do you usually hand over the reins to a director to interpret the song and come up with a concept?
I often visualize music videos in my head while writing or listening to my songs. The visual component of a song is extremely important to me, and I always want my videos to be cinematic and have a strong narrative. I definitely do not leave it all to the director and am very involved in everything from original concept, to storyboard, to location scouting, and beyond.
You’ve released “Catch a Body” with Quavo and a version also including Prince Royce. How did these collaborations come about?
The producers I worked with on that song, Rock Mafia, and I had a “wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get Quavo on this song” moment, and amazingly, they ended up working with someone on his team, showing him the song, and he sent in a feature right away. The Prince Royce feature came about in a similar way. I’ve studied Spanish all my life so it was so much fun to sing in Spanish.
Back in 2014, you also co-wrote the song “Parachute” with Nick Jonas, which hit Number One on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart. What do you think you bring to the table during collaborations?Writing with Nick was a dream come true. He’s been one of my favorite writers forever. I always come in with a lot of concepts and unique titles and stories because saying something fresh and unusual is key in my view. I’m a very flexible writer so I can adapt to however a co-writer or producer prefers to work. I’ll play something on guitar or piano, improvise melodies over a track, talk through a concept for hours before even starting to write the song… I love it all.
Your new single “Say It,” encourages listeners to speak what’s on their mind to the person that they love. Have there been moments where you felt held back, afraid of expressing what’s on your mind?
Absolutely! I don’t like upsetting people or being difficult, and I’m not a fighter at all, so I tend to keep things in and process them myself. Sometimes that can be an asset, but some things need to be expressed. I’ve been working on that. I’m always going to be one to want to process things first and then express things calmly. Think before you speak, as they say.
Can you share anything about your upcoming music? Are there certain themes you want to get across?
I can’t reveal too much, but I love what’s coming next so much. I keep honing in on my style, and it will be the next evolution of that process.
To end this off, what’s a positive message you’d like to share with our readers during these times?
One of my favorite quotes is “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe” by Albert Einstein. How powerful is that, especially coming from him? It’s our choice to find the lesson and the opportunity in every challenge.
MAKEUP MANU HORN
HAIR OLIVER DE GENNARO
STYLING MONTY JACKSON