Olivia Klein, AKA songwriter and artist Ladybabymiss has always had her mind tuned to making music. When she came to New Orleans, she found plenty of opportunities to make that happen. She and I sat down in late December in the cozy studio of WWNO to discuss her writing process and what she has coming up in 2017.
Q: Well to get us started, tell me a little bit about how Ladybabymiss came to be?
OK: Ladybabymiss is a solo project that I started in 2007 after being in a kind-of successful (for my standards) band in New Orleans with now DJ Rusty Laser— who was my drummer at the time. And we had a band called A Particularly Vicious Rumor. So, after that it sort of disbanded and then I started Ladybabymiss.
Q: How would you describe your sound for the project?
OK: That’s the funny, funny thing people ask me all the time. The last apt description was ‘adult contemporary,’ which makes me laugh, but sometimes they say, ‘It’s easy listening.’ You know? I think that the music is pretty. And I also think that it’s reflective. A lot of people have told me, ‘Oh, I don’t want to listen to your music at the club! I like to sit in a bathtub and listen to it there.’
Q: How does a song start for you, and when do you know it’s finished?
OK: The best songs of course write themselves. You know, they’re gifts that you just play one day. Usually, for me, songs begin with a sound: a piano [or] some sort of chord progression I might be interested in. And then if I can sing something that I feel like is interesting— even if it’s just Dooby-dooby-dah— but there’s some sort of interesting play between the melody and the piano. Then I take that Dooby-dooby-dah and I try to fit it into a rhythmic statement.
That statement, if it’s a good one, will create a song. And then it becomes like a puzzle like, ‘Why did you write that? Why did I just sing some phrase?’ And then I have to figure that out. So through the lyrics I can kind of untangle that. And you decide when songs are finished as far as I’m concerned. You just say, ‘It’s done! I’m finished with it!’
It’s dangerous sometimes. You put out a song before really finishing. I’m like, ‘Oh, I could work on that more, but I’m going to put it out in the state and finish it.’ But, if it’s worth it and if you keep doing it you’ll change it. And you’ll find that ending or you’ll find that thing that really does finish it. If it’s in your repertoire for more than a set, you know?
Q: Recently you worked with writer and artist Michelle Embree on a collaborative project. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
OK: So she wrote this story called Make Beautiful Things, and I wrote the music and then we had a live performance of it. Then we took that live performance on tour. It was amazing.
Q: How did you find the process of writing music for Make Beautiful Things different from your regular songwriting and how did it feel to be collaborating with someone in a different medium?
OK: It was so refreshing. It was incredible. I loved Michelle’s work ethic. I loved to see how she made herself write and when we first did it we didn’t really know how to do it. At first she gave me a copy of the text, and I went alone into my workspace and read it in my head and then came up with certain themes. And then, I tried to put that with her reading. It totally didn’t work.
I was like, ‘Oh this makes no sense to do it like this.’ So, then she came into the room with me. I just had her read it and I had my keyboard like really, really quiet. I found the rhythm of her words and what it was making me feel. And then, if we would come upon something we liked, I’d turn the keyboard up. Like this is starting to feel in the right direction.
And then it was cool because when you talk about music and feelings— especially for scores or soundtracks— you’re trying to evoke something. I mean you’re really manipulating how people feel with this music, you know? Is this passage going to be sad? Is it going to be epic? Are you supposed to feel mystified or [do] you just feel scared?
Q: What are some projects you’re working on right now?
OK: So, I am right now the Musical Director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch which is going to be shown at the Allways Lounge. And I don’t even know exactly how much work I have in store for me yet. I just started to learn the songs, but basically the task is putting together a four piece women’s rock group that will be the backing band of Hedwig who, if listeners aren’t familiar, is a rock-n-roll star from East Berlin [who] got dumped in America somehow. So, that opens on Friday, February 3, [and] I believe the show is going to be at 10:00 p.m. There’s going to be a show that Friday, Saturday, taking a break for Sunday, and [then] Monday as well. And then, we’re going to let Mardi Gras happen as it does for the next three weeks or whatever. And then we’ll be picking it up again in March, doing every Friday that month.
So that’s what’s coming up very shortly. Then, Michelle Embree and I are talking about working on her new piece which is going to be called ‘Splitting the First Atom,’ and it’s going to be a new story. And then, on a more personal project that I’m working on: the Marigny Opera House has this musical meditation series on Sundays and Dave Hurlbert, who is the owner over there, he was very fond of me and allowed me to do one of these meditation series last month with my friend Ellery Burton, who is an experimental contemporary dancer. We really took the idea of the meditation really seriously. I also happened to have a lot of bells at that time from a friend from India and I was like, ‘Oh, we have to use these bells somehow!’ Meditation bells, you know? So we kind of wrote this show called Fatigue of the Bells. It was this half instrumental music and then half singing for me. So I hope to have another one of those coming up in the spring.
This interview shortened and edited for clarity.