Olivia Currin Duell is an electronic musician originally from Ithaca but now based out of central Pennsylvania. Her music is both rich and layered but simultaneously uncomplicated and tangible and she does it all herself. Check out her track, “Sunshine”:
I sent Olivia some questions regarding her musical influences, musical process and much more.
MFL: What kind of music did you grow up listening to and how did it influence the music you write today?
Olivia Currin Duell (OD): I joke that the first CD my parents gave me was VH1 Divas Live album, featuring Celine, Mariah, Gloria, Shania, and Aretha, and that the album solidified my love of pop music queens. I unabashedly and non-ironically love pop music and actually wrote about it in college and grad school. There’s always something underground that’s being pushed into the mainstream, and pop music is where a lot of those culture clashes occur. It makes for some interesting messaging and symbolism.
I had a phase in the mid 2000s where I actually stopped listening to women entirely. I’d only listen to alt-rock bands comprised only of male musicians. Think Dashboard Confessional, Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, Green Day, and other pop punk bands. In high school, I would hang out in a free local music studio making covers, and it was then when it hit me that I’m a female musician who was swallowing some serious internalized misogyny. Around the same time, I began listening to Cat Power and Joanna Newsom. I revisited Destiny’s Child. I learned about riot grrrl culture. I reignited my love for Britney. I stopped pretending I hated top 40. I let myself enjoy listening to music.
Now I think I have a rather broad and deep knowledge of various styles of music. However, I now listen to primarily female music artists as a conscious choice.
MFL: How did you find yourself writing electronic music?
OD: I have piano training, and it’s pretty easy to make a quick demo on Garage Band if you know how to work a keyboard. In college, I would make electronic covers in my bedroom while home on breaks. I was in a grungey folk-rock band later in college, and liked the music we were making, but always found it frustrating to explain to a bandmate how I wanted a guitar lick to sound. I know a lot of music theory, and the musicians I’ve worked with sometimes know not as much. With electronic music, I can quickly lay down a melody. If I don’t like the rhythm or if I want to change the key, I can adjust each note in the electronic score. Logic Pro and Garage Band make it really easy for musicians to navigate. As a result, I find that electronic music gives me total control. Since what I want out of my music projects gets really specific, electronic music offers me a lot of range to do what I want.
MFL: I have only heard “Sunshine” and “Don’t Do It Again.” I hear so much of Crystal Castles and Poliça in these songs. Are you inspired by these musicians or perhaps others that I don’t know?
OD: I’m definitely a huge fan of Alice Glass. I’ve followed her court case and am no longer a fan of Ethan Kath, but Crystal Castles music did mean a lot to me. I’m closely following her new solo project with a hopeful excitement.
I haven’t listened to Poliça too much, but I just checked out their newer tracks and do hear the comparison between vocals.
Currently, music I’ve been most excited about has been coming out of PC Music, a collective out of the UK. AG Cook is one of the main producers within the collective, and he’s been putting out really interesting, experimental pop music for awhile now. Sophie is another producer and artist associated with the collective. They have both collaborated with Charli XCX on her past two mixtapes, Number 1 Angel and Pop 2.
Charli XCX is someone who really inspires me, too. She has a clear social media presence and I remember her tweeting something about (I’m heavily paraphrasing here) how she doesn’t even know if albums are the future for an artist like her. That actually really motivated me to just start writing and recording. Like, I don’t need a label. I can create a project I’m proud of on my own, and collaborate with who I’d like when I’d like, and release something whenever I feel like it’s ready. Whether it makes money is another story. But seeing artists collaborate on experimental projects in ways that undercut the regular channels of the music industry is really cool and exciting.
MFL: What is the source of material for your lyrics? Along those lines, do you write lyrics first, melody first or do they happen simultaneously?
OD: I usually have a certain image or conversation in mind when writing. Sometimes the words and melody happen first. Lately I find myself starting with a drum track, manipulating that until it has the sound I’d like, and then start layering bass parts, arpeggiators, synth melodies, vocal harmonies, and so on, whatever sounds right. I have a really strong musical ear and can feel when the sound works.
My lyrics usually mean something pretty specific to me, but I think a lot of people can relate to the feelings and images the lyrics and sounds convey.
MFL: Tell me about the name of your project, Currin. Where did that come from and what does it represent?
OD: Currin is my middle name. It was my great grandmother’s middle name and her mother’s maiden name.
MFL: Where did you grow up and where are you based out of now? If you moved, tell me how you ended up where you are now.
OD: I grew up in Ithaca, NY, and stayed there for college. I went to Milwaukee for grad school, and now I’m in central Pennsylvania, around 3 hours south of my hometown. My partner is a software engineer and we’re currently here for his job.
MFL: Are there others involved in your project or do you write, record, mix all of your music yourself?
OD: I’m doing everything by myself so far. I am really passionate about pursuing a solo project because I think it’s really easy for me to lose my own voice and vision when someone else adds their work into the mix. I’m teaching myself how to be a better sound engineer, and might need someone more professional down the line, but for right now, all sounds, edits, graphics, etc, are done by me.
MFL: What is your plan for the coming year and can we expect some more releases from you?
OD: I’m working on an EP right now. I have a few tracks that feel close to being finished, and several other tracks where the instrumentals are set, and I just need vocals and lyrics. A big goal is a music video. This is something I’m also planning to do myself so it might take awhile. But I’d love to have a video release by the fall. Currently, my music is only hosted on Soundcloud, but will soon be hosted on other streaming platforms, as well.
MFL: Finally, why did you choose Patreon as your platform? I had only just heard of Patreon when I was looking you up!
OD: Patreon is something I noticed other creatives tapping into. For me, it feels like a way to build a community of artists and creators and people who are excited about that. It’s connected me to acquaintances I didn’t expect to follow me, which is really cool. It provides a little extra cash, but more so I’m just hoping to find any opportunities to connect with likeminded people.
You can follow Currin on Patreon and Facebook. If you’re curious about how Patreon works, check them out here! Thank you, Olivia for giving us all a peek into your musical life and thank you to Adam Hachey for connecting us ❤