Fast rising UK soul-pop star Olivia Dean today shares ‘Carmen’, the new single from her forthcoming debut album Messy, out June 30th via Island Records. ‘Carmen’ is the album’s closing track and is a love letter to her grandmother who moved to the UK as part of the Windrush generation from her home country of Guyana.
Dean sings ‘You transplanted a family tree, and a part of it grew into me’, an ode to her grandmother’s strength and the imprint she’s made on this island, as steel pan drums and horns fuse together joyfully to form a uniquely modern British backdrop. She explains, “Carmen is a love letter to my granny and an ode to the wind rush generation. I wanted to write a song of celebration that encapsulated the beautiful cross-culture that was created by the Caribbean community in the UK. Steel pan is such a powerful and emotional instrument for me so having that feature throughout the song makes it that extra special. I am a product of her bravery and I want her to be remembered forever!”.
Featuring the singles ‘Dive’, ‘Danger’ and ‘UFO’, Olivia Dean’s debut album Messy cements her as one of the most original and versatile voices in UK pop. Crafting classic yet conversational hooks with genre-fluid tinges, she’s honed a way of exploring universal themes of love, loss and everything in between with razor-sharp but open-hearted storytelling.
With Olivia Dean’s debut album Messy, we gain a refreshingly textured snapshot of a young woman embracing the beauty in freedom and acceptance: of life, of love, of mess. On it Olivia’s signature soul-bearing lyricism joins forces with some of her most expansive and varied production to date, all bolstered by a newfound determination to defy any categorization except her own.
Whether it’s the tension she felt in figuring out what space she wanted to occupy musically, or the logistical mayhem of actually producing such a big body of work, or just the everyday cacophony of life and feelings, Messy is a punchy and unexpected debut exploring a wealth of sounds, influences and styles. “Even with the sonics of the record, I’ve left a lot of sound in there, of talking, of the piano pedals. I like that it sounds human. On the title track, there’s a layer of me doing mouth trumpet sounds that was just meant to be a placeholder and I was like let’s just keep it! There’s no rules!” she laughs. “I tried to just expel people’s voices from my mind about what I was supposed to make or what would be cool or what would be the most successful thing for me to make and made stuff that I want to listen to.” The project ushers you seamlessly through a patchwork of different atmospheres, gathered together into beautifully organized chaos. At times it’s jazz-filled, at others futuristic, pared back and intimate in moments then playfully bold in the ones that follow. “There’s a vocoder and guitar Imogen Heap-thing and then there’s Motown Diana Ross-mode. And the last song’s this kind of orchestral thing. It’s just a whole mix. Because why not? I feel like this album is a big fuck you to genre,” Dean says with a laugh.
Elsewhere, she’s been invigorated by her travels outside of the UK, visiting Grenada and Brazil within the last 18 months while writing. The former reminded her to conjure joy in her music too, “to make sure I have some songs on this record that are a joy to perform, that give me the opportunity to have fun and dance,” while the latter introduced her to a whole new perspective on music. “There’s this genre called MBP that’s all old Brazilian music. And I was told it’s something that you listen to with your loved ones and by yourself. It’s really cherished in the culture as romantic music for special moments. And like, what is the English equivalent of that? Of a really cherished genre that’s our special thing or for our quietest moments. And I thought, I want to make that! I want to make music that’s for your special times, to soothe you, to attach to beautiful memories that you have.” In many ways, that is precisely what Messy is and will go on to be for many – something to be cherished, shared and relished in. And in the same vein, the process of making it served a similar role for Olivia too: “I’m not a religious person but I would say [making music] is the closest thing I have to any sort of spirituality.”
2023 is set to be Olivia’s biggest year to date, with the expected release of her debut album and her biggest shows to date.