When it was announced in January 2014 that The Neighbourhood's drummer Bryan Sammis had parted ways with the group, very little explanation was given. However, a solo project, Olivver The Kid, soon emerged, and Sammis rapidly gained his own devoted fanbase.
Last year's 'Freak' EP was followed up this year with another five tracks on 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf', an allegorical story about being trapped in the darkness of 'The Woods', which has received a lot of love from fans and music bloggers alike. Olivver's music balances rock, pop, electronic and R&B influences, but ultimately transcends genre, with his powerful vocals shining through on each track.
Coup De Main spoke with him over coffee in Hollywood to discuss songwriting, the positive impact he hopes to have on the world, his ambitions, and the changes that 2016 may bring for the Olivver project...
"There's definitely a selfish aspect to being an entertainer. I think the selfish aspect for me is that I'm not religious, so I want to leave behind something tangible."
COUP DE MAIN: How does your songwriting process work?
OLIVVER THE KID: Early on, it was necessary for me to just work with whoever. For the first EP I worked with so many of my friends and my peers. We made about 25 songs and picked five for the EP. But then, this latest EP, we knew what we wanted to do, to make this story that's five songs. We didn't write any other songs, we wrote five. Usually, me and my buddy Daniel write everything, but on the last EP we got my guitarist Jake to write on a couple of the songs. But now we want it to be us three on every song - we've got a small group of people that we know works for this. I don't want this project to just be me anymore. For everything. I want Jake to be involved, always, for future interviews, photoshoots, branding, everything, I want him to be here with me. He writes the most unique stuff I've ever heard.
CDM: Do you write your lyrics specifically for the songs, or do you write poems or prose and then evolve them into song-form?
OLIVVER: For this EP I was struggling with what to write about. I was in a bad place for a while. I took a break from music, because it was no longer something I enjoyed. I went up North and I made an entire album for me. No-one will ever hear it. I made it because I needed to realise why I make music. I have a physical need to make music. If I wasn't, I would think that my life wasn't being fulfilled. Even with my old band, I was playing drums, and when it came to writing the second album, my role had just become writing drums, and that was never how the band worked before that. Before that we all wrote whatever and it came together to make the songs. I was like, 'I don't love drums that much.' If Kanye West asked me tomorrow to be his drummer, I'd be like, 'No, thank you!' I don't want to do that. Well, maybe I do for a tour. But then I'd quit. But I don't want to just play music. That's not why I'm doing this. So I took some time off, and then when I came back, I wrote this short story that I didn't finish, but I really liked the concept of it, so we turned it into the EP.
CDM: Lyrically, what's your favourite song that you've written?
OLIVVER: It's hard for me to single out one song on the new EP because it's such a story, but I'll say 'Hell'. I was afraid to put it out because of what it's about, and who it's about. Some people figured it out. Some people didn't. And now nothing's off limits. A lot of times people dress up what they're saying so that it sounds more beautiful, whereas sometimes it's more beautiful just to come right out and say it. That's what I want to do for my next stuff, I want to have moments where it can be vague and beautiful, but then I want there to be other moments when it's undeniable what I'm talking about. 'Hell' was a big song for that, because when I wrote it with Nick [Long, of Dark Waves], it was refreshing for him to be like, why wouldn't we say this? I was like, 'Because it's about somebody and I don't want them to hear it.' And he was like, 'We're saying it.' That's all I needed, somebody to push me in and go, 'You'll be fine.'
CDM: The songs on your new EP, 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf', all use the woods and wolves as a repeated lyrical metaphor. What is the meaning behind these metaphors?
OLIVVER: What it actually means to me, personally, I've chosen not to tell anybody because I want it to be vague enough for people to relate to it. My friend hit me up one night and asked if my EP was about addiction. I said, not drug addiction, but in one way or another, yeah. He was like, 'So the wolves are people who have succumbed to the addiction, and you got out, but you're seeing your friend start to succumb to the addiction and you want to help them?' I was like, 'Yes, perfect.' And the end is bittersweet. You can't ever change somebody else. You can warn somebody all you want and give them all the facts in the world, but they're going to end up making their own decision.
WHAT I USUALLY DO AT 4AM…
CDM: To take that metaphor literally for a minute, have you spent much time in the actual woods, or had experiences with wolves?
OLIVVER: Yeah, I was a camp counsellor for four years, I worked at a sports camp, and I worked at an outdoor education camp, which was literally in the woods. My grandparents lived in Eldred, Pennsylvania, and their backyard was 50 feet from a forest and their front yard was 200 feet from a forest. So some time. Not as much as I'd like. It's always been in a controlled environment, never in the wilderness. But we're actually going to film a video for ['The Woods'] in the woods in January.
CDM: Some of the lyrics from the EP that stick with me are from 'Hell' - "I've had blood on my hands / I stepped over the body of a good man." It seems that in freeing yourself from the woods, you had to confront some things that you regret or feel guilty about. Is admitting wrongdoing something that's easy for you?
OLIVVER: I don't think it's easy, but it's freeing. If you know the problem, you're ten steps ahead. A lot people look at me and think I'm a very positive person and a great role-model, but in reality, there's things in my life that I'm not proud of, and things that make me not a good example. But Olivver can be. Bryan isn't. He's still working on it. But this fictional person, Olivver, he can be the guy that you need.
CDM: When it comes to putting together your album, as I expect you'll be doing pretty soon, do you think you'll dismantle the EP and use the songs for the album, or will you be starting with a clean slate and all new songs?
OLIVVER: Clean slate, for sure. This year will be interesting. We might pull some shit, this year. We'll see what happens with that. It'll be a step backwards, but with the potential of three steps forward. At a certain point, if something's not clicking on a global level, you need to reevaluate. That's kind of where we're at now. So there might be some changes, come this year. First change is that Jake is now involved in whatever we're doing. We'll see what happens later in the year.
CDM: You've made some gripping and intriguing music videos for your releases prior to this EP. Are visuals something that are in your mind as you're writing and recording the songs?
OLIVVER: They're definitely in my head, but for this EP, I relinquished control. For the first EP, I was too involved, and so I muddied it up a bit. I was like, 'I'll write the treatment, I'll executive direct, I'll act in it.' I don't know what we're doing in January. I have nothing to do with it. I'm not going to be in it very much, maybe just at the end. But I like that. I need to step away. I need to focus on what my strengths are.
CDM: You recently tweeted that you're the happiest you've been in a long time. When you were in the woods, could you ever have predicted that you'd be this happy now that you've made it out?
OLIVVER: Maybe. I think I would've been optimistic and said that it was coming. The situation I was in at the time wasn't good and should have never furthered. But that happening led me to where I am now. Whatever I was attached to that was hurting, once I put out the songs, it was gone. I felt 100 pounds lighter and I could do anything.
MY THOUGHTS ON 2016…
CDM: If you were a country, what would be your national anthem?
OLIVVER: It would have to be something simple. I'm a huge hockey fan, so I hear the American national anthem all the time, and the Canadian one too. The Canadian one is awesome! I don't know if there's a key-change, but it's so powerful. So probably something like that. I'd want to do something no other country's done, because that's how I feel with music.
CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good song and a great song?
OLIVVER: I used to say that it was bass. I think that's a huge difference. If I listen to a band's album and the bass is just doing root notes the whole time and they take no real risks, it's not interesting. And then I think lyrics. There's a big difference between fast food music and a five star restaurant. I like both and there's a place for both, but that's the difference between a Katy Perry and an Adele. You can tell that Adele writes all of her own songs. They're personal, and that's why 'Rolling In The Deep' will still be on the radio in ten years. Whereas Katy Perry has hits that come up and then go away. But any night of the week I can listen to an Adele song and go, 'Wow, that songwriting is insane.' What she's saying is so relatable, and that's why she's sold three million albums in the first week.
CDM: At what age did you write your first ever song, and what was it about?
OLIVVER: Probably about sixteen, but it sucked. It was called 'Dementia' and it was about my Grandma. She didn't have dementia, so in retrospect, stupid subject matter. But she had cancer, and they gave her the wrong chemo and it sped up her death. My family actually sued them and won. Towards the end, she started forgetting things, like people's names. So one of the first songs I wrote was about that.
CDM: What do you hope for people to take away from listening to your music?
OLIVVER: There's definitely a selfish aspect to being an entertainer. I think the selfish aspect for me is that I'm not religious, so I want to leave behind something tangible. I'm always posting positive things on social media because I want to make a difference, even on a small level. When a kid gets a tattoo of one of my lyrics, like, "I'm not one thing," it's like, wow. The fact that you've got that tattoo of something that I wrote, that's huge. That's why I do it. There's a quote that I like to live by which is, "Be the person that you needed when you were younger." I struggled with depression. There were moments when I wanted to kill myself because I was young and didn't know what to do. And so, if I can help young kids not feel like that, it's worth it.
CDM: If O.L.I.V.V.E.R. were an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
OLIVVER: All the V's I can think of are bad! <after extensive Googling of adjectives beginning with V> Original, Loving, Introspective, Varied, Vast, Earnest, Raw.
CDM: What's on your bucket-list?
OLIVVER: A lot. I want to visit every major place in the world. I want to win a Grammy, for sure. A quote I like is, "Big quotes scare small minds." But I'd rather put it out there than not put out there at all. I want to keep doing music forever. I want to have a family. I think I'd be a good father. I definitely want to write a book. I have these crazy ideas to do long-form stunts. I don't want to tell you one, because if I do it, nobody can know. But I want to go and commit to something for a long period of time and then afterwards write about what it was like.
IF I HAD A DAY OFF IN NEW ZEALAND…
OLIVVER THE KID's 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' EP is out now - click HERE to purchase it via iTunes.
Watch the 'Freak' music video below…
P.S. Click HERE to check out more of CDM's 2016 Must-Know artists in CDM Issue #17!