Livia O on How She Protects Her Mental Health as An Artist & Writing for Balance

Name: Livia O
Role: Musician
Based in: New York
  1. In your words, describe who you are 

I’m a 22-year-old musical polymath and creative director from New Zealand living in New York. At the moment, I’m a full-time music student and part-time production assistant. I’m also a photographer on the side. I like to have my hands in a little bit of everything especially in the realm of creativity.

  1. You’re launching your first single. How do you feel about it? Can you describe the process of writing the song?

So excited and intimidated! I’ve been working towards this for a long time now so I’m ready for people to finally hear my music. I started writing the song when I was living in Berlin and having the time of my life. I’d gotten so close with my friends there and felt so content, but in a moment of cynicism I thought about the people who I missed and who I had fallen out of touch with. I wrote the song with a sense of ambiguity about what kind of relationship is being referenced – whether it’s romantic or not I’m leaving up to the person listening to decide.

  1. When did you know you wanted to be an artist/singer? Have any experiences influenced your decision to become a singer?

It’s so cliché but I truly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing or involved with music in some way. I remember my Mom would always have music playing around the house when we were doing chores or having people over, and then when I started listening to artists like Hilary Duff and Avril Lavigne (lol) I would sing along to their records for hours on end. It was honestly my favorite game to pretend I was on stage in front of thousands of people. 

  1. What do you need to do to protect your mental health specific to you as an artist and creative?

It goes either way, either I have to write something, even when it feels like I have nothing to say, or I just take a break from working on music. Depending on what my mood is, I’ll either just make a beat and write a little or I’ll do something else entirely like play around in Photoshop. It helps me to take time away from music so I can come back levelheaded and try to be less self-critical when I don’t like what I’m writing.

  1. What are some wellness or mental health concerns you see specific to the music industry and community that you’ve seen?  

Being a female producer and engineer in the industry poses a lot of issues with imposter syndrome and just generally being unrecognized for your work. Every female or non-binary producer I know has an experience where they have been assumed to just be a singer/songwriter, or has been subordinated around cis-male producers, among other things. Sometimes it’s really hard to deal with feeling like you don’t belong in a space, and that’s why it’s so important to me that I do whatever I can to improve female representation in the music industry in roles like production and entrepreneurship.

  1. What is some “self-talk” you’d said to yourself in the past year to protect your mental health?

I think this year has been really hard, especially in regards to trying to stay positive, but I try to focus on the things that I’m grateful for. Some days are easier than others; I think a big self-talk moment for me is making space for my feelings– my therapist actually was the person who taught me to do that. She told me to look at my anxieties and things on my mind as clouds; say hi to them, acknowledge that they’re there and then allow them to float past me overtime. I definitely try to push things away without allowing myself to feel what I feel, and making space for how you’re feeling is super important.

  1. Was there a moment growing up when you were struggling with your health (be it mental, emotional, physical, spiritual) and you turned to music to help?

I remember really struggling with my mental health around the time that I first heard Channel Orange by Frank Ocean. I felt super disconnected from my friends and family, and I would just hang out alone and listen to his record. I can’t say whether it really helped me with anything, but it felt like a moment of peace where I could just relax and slow down all these bad thoughts. I could just focus on the music for a while.  

  1. How has the pandemic impacted you as an artist?

I think it’s taught me to be patient! Over the summer I was living alone for a few months and I went into it thinking I would work on new music every day, but there were some days that I just wanted to stay in bed and do absolutely nothing. It was hard at first to not feel frustrated that I was being unproductive, but overtime I got better at allowing myself to do other things in a day. I also spoke to a lot of my friends who make music and we were all in agreement that there’s this expectation that creativity should be flourishing at a time like this, but the reality is everyone‘s distracted by the pandemic, rightfully so, and it’s okay to not feel inspired or in the mood to be creative.

  1. What does wellness mean to you?

Wellness to me means checking in with yourself and just getting a read on how you’re doing. I find it really hard to talk to other people about what’s going on with me, I’m far more comfortable listening and giving advice where I can. So, it’s important to me that I check in with myself through journaling and writing music just so I can process my emotions in a way that works for me.

  1. Who are some up and coming artists you look to that are incredibly talented musicians and performers that you respect for both their talent and the way they use their platform to empower? 

I’m honestly the most inspired by my friends and the people around me who are putting out projects at the moment. Getting to see their process of making music, or film, or any kind of work come together and their passion for it is invigorating. I’ve always been super inspired by everything The Japanese House does. She’s an incredible female, queer artist from the UK and I listen to her entire catalog at least once a month. 

  1. What are some projects or songs we can look forward to after this debut?

I have more singles and music videos lined up for the coming year that I’m super excited about! Everyday I look forward to the prospect of live music picking back up again, but in the meantime, I’m just looking for ways to stay active and engaged in the community.  

  1. Letters to My Younger Self: If you had any advice to give your younger self, what would it be? 

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Keep working hard and have a little faith in your ability. 

For more on mental health as a creative, read DJ and music producer N2N’s interview on working through depression while making music and wellness in the music community and model and digital creator Laura Jung’s experience with imposter syndrome.

Follow Livia O here

Interview and Edited by Susan Yoomin Im

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