Hearing Odette discuss her debut record is the musical equivalent of a painter sitting before a canvas, brush in hand. She’s an artist prepared to make her mark.
The 21-year-old may be a relative newcomer on the music scene, but her arrival has been a long time in the making.
A self-described “geeky kid performing in primary school assemblies”, Odette’s first influences emerged at home. Her South African mother introduced her to soul and funk, while her father’s side of the family is responsible for connecting her to the keys. “My grandad was a jazz pianist during the war,” Odette says. “He’s been a huge influence on me, especially his taste and musicality.”
Her full name is Georgia Odette Sallybanks, and she was just 17 when she began working on the bones of what would eventually become ‘To A Stranger’, a bold and confident debut record brimming with deliberate melodies, clever compositions and lyrical meditations on love and life plucked straight from the heart.
The first taste of what she’d been building came in winter of 2017, with Watch Me Read You. An epic ballad about the complexities of processing trauma, it also serves as a eulogy to a toxic relationship, culminating in a powerful image of the physical effects of loss and pain: “I watch you read me. The burning pages of my life / Reduced to ash / And overnight / I find my body is not mine.”
The song’s carefully constructed blend of spoken-word and soaring melodies is emblematic of Odette’s passions and influences more broadly. The track samples audio from an interview with Maya Angelou, a poet Odette counts alongside Walt Whitman and Sylvia Plath as her favourites. “I’ve always been really into writing poetry and that’s kind of reflected in my music.”
Guidance for her debut record came in the form of producer Damian Taylor, who’s worked in the past with bands like Björk, Arcade Fire, The Killers and The Temper Trap. When they met, Odette had a trove of material to pull from, and Damian set to work both narrowing the focus and expanding what her songs could be.
“It’s just me and a keyboard when I’m at home writing a song,” she says. “He added all these new elements so I could actually enact my fantasies of putting strings in my music. We ended up broadening the world of it.”
No matter how broad they become, though, Odette’s hope for the songs on this record is that they can always encapsulate an experience – whether hers or a listener’s. “Even though I write with a lot of metaphors, I just want people to be able to hear my story and take something from it.”
‘To A Stranger’ is an inherently personal record. It’s Odette’s study of herself, capturing every fear and hope she had in her final teenage years before adulthood took hold. Its songs map every scar and heartbreak enacted during what she describes as “the hardest years of my life so far”, and she’s immensely proud of being able to use music to write her way out of that time.
“But I’m most proud of the fact that this record exists because I didn’t have 100% faith in myself. And I think one thing this process has taught me is that I’m capable of a lot of things. I think the whole point of writing is to grow as a person. So I think that what started with this album – and hopefully will continue on to my next project – is just growing and changing and experiencing horrible things but also beautiful things.”