Born in Florence to a writer and painter-turned-academic, Olivia Chaney’s musical education began on long car journeys between Italy and England, when she listened to her parents’ cassettes of everything from Prince to Purcell. This eclectic mix was the beginning of her agony and ecstasy: the sense that she both belonged and didn’t belong in the modern world–that music shouldn’t be constrained by establishment categories.
As a teenager living in England, Olivia’s life came apart. Her parents separated, she dropped out of school and entered the underbelly of 90s Oxford. Looking for a way out, her dad helped her get a scholarship to Chethams School of Music, which she followed up with the Royal Academy Jazz course. These institutions offered shelter, rigour, and a set of rules she couldn’t bring herself to obey.
The beginning of Olivia’s career was improvised and pure; she’d like to go back to those days. She played dive bars, clubs, concert halls, trod the boards at the Globe, and showcased at SXSW, all the while working on her own songwriting. A loyal ex bought her an Indian harmonium, which later became a trademark, she taught herself steel-string guitar, and had a brief stint as the lead singer of the electronica outfit Zero 7, just as the band entered its supernova phase.
On the back of all this, Olivia signed a major deal with Nonesuch, leading to collaborations with Kronos Quartet, and a Grammy nomination for Offa Rex, a collection of Fairport Convention-inspired, electric-eden era covers recorded with The Decemberists. Two original albums propelled Olivia to the forefront of the transatlantic indie-folk-rock scene: The Longest River, made with Brian Eno’s right-hand-man Leo Abrahams, and Shelter, recorded in NYC with genius producer-pianist, Thomas Bartlett aka Doveman. These records made Olivia’s name as the author of an unmistakable brand of luscious and sophisticated music that explores inherited trauma, the clash of tradition and modernity, and the darkness and light of love.
Olivia’s musical idols are that rare breed of creative who successfully bridges the divides between high and low art. Joni Mitchell is her queen, Joanna Newsome a complicated source of hope, and Henry Purcell a recurring theme. Like these giants, Olivia combines the directness of pop with the raw purity of folk, weaving all this together through a cultivated approach to the craft of songwriting.
After a decade wrestling managers and middlemen (not the lovely Nonesuch), Olivia is self-releasing an EP of covers and a full-length album of originals in 2023-24. Six French Songs is the project the world needs but the industry didn’t get, a collection of French popular ballads from mediaeval crusader dirge to 60s pop icon Françoise Hardy! Later in the autumn, Olivia will release the title track of Circus of Desire, her first full-length album since she had her career savaged by the pandemic, fled the capital, married her dream boy, gave birth to two children, and entered into the deeper mystery of things. All of her albums are fully her own voice, but Circus of Desire is Olivia set free.
‘Chaney is a major talent’ – Pop Matters
‘In her quiet way, she’s radical’ – The New York Times
‘Defies categorization…’ – Exclaim! Canada
‘Forget the labels, she is a major artist, and completely her own person.'
– The Telegraph ★★★★★
‘A triumph.' – Daily Mirror
‘Rare beauty.’ – The Sunday Times
'A big, beautiful new record'– Mojo
‘An elegant, luminous album.’ – Observer
‘A beautifully haunting meditation on the human condition.’
– The Sun ★★★★★
‘Here is a transcendent refuge from the storm.’ – Uncut, Best New Albums