Odessa Press Assets
- John at Force Field PR
Odessa was at a low point. Her record deal had crumbled, her savings account was depleted, and, worst of all, her creative well had run dry. With pressure mounting on all sides and nowhere to call home, she decided that the only sensible course of action was to cut her losses and, quite literally, head for the hills.
“The picture I’d painted was melting,” she explains. “Nothing had gone the way I thought it would. I genuinely didn’t know where to turn, so I moved into this house on top of a mountain in Eagle Rock where I could just be alone and regroup.”
It was on top of that mountain, looking out over Los Angeles with the kind of calm and perspective that can only come from a healthy distance, that Odessa’s muse unexpectedly returned. Over the course of the next three months, she wrote at a remarkable pace, penning a series of increasingly gorgeous, revelatory songs that would go on to form the bedrock of her stunning new album, All Things. Produced in tandem by Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Conor Oberst), Wilco’s Pat Sansone, and Spoon’s Jim Eno, the collection is both psychologically raw and emotionally mature, a graceful meditation on acceptance and perseverance that’s fueled by ethereal vocals and elegant string arrangements. It’s a work of catharsis and release, to be sure, but more than that, it’s the sound of a songwriter rediscovering herself, of an artist reclaiming the strength and promise she’d all but forgotten she possessed.
“So much of what I was going through at that time was rooted in learning how to be at peace when the whole world is storming around you,” Odessa explains. “It takes work to recognize the beauty in pain and disappointment, and it takes courage to put those moments on display for everyone else to see, but ultimately, sharing those hard times is what connects us all as human beings.”
That yearning for honest, authentic connection is what led Odessa to step out on her own in the first place. After initially gaining recognition as a sidewoman playing violin with the likes of Rayland Baxter and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, the California native released her first single as a solo artist, “I Will Be There,” in 2012. Upon landing in a prominent Subaru ad campaign, the track became the year’s most-searched song on Shazam, and the buzz surrounding it helped Odessa score a major label record deal for her self-titled debut, which came out to a rapturous response in 2015. The New York Times hailed Odessa’s music as “an emanation of California spaciousness,” while Paste called her songwriting “delicate and beguiling,” and Harper’s Bazaar dubbed her “the coolest singer-songwriter you haven’t heard of yet.” Songs from the album, meanwhile, racked up roughly 40 million streams on Spotify, soundtracked popular series like Grey’s Anatomy and Hart of Dixie, and landed Odessa her first national television appearance. She toured relentlessly in support of the record, too, performing both headline dates and support slots with everyone from Conor Oberst and Jenny Lewis to Bret Dennen and The Lone Bellow.
“I was out performing solo for pretty much a year straight,” Odessa says, “and it left me feeling overwhelmed and depleted. I’m naturally a very shy, introverted person, and I wasn’t prepared for the toll that the experience would take on me.”
Once she finally made it back to LA, Odessa set about writing a follow-up record, but the songs simply wouldn’t come. She tried changing scenery, revisiting the Nashville apartment she’d called home for much of her time as a fiddler-for-hire, but still the writer’s block remained. To add insult to injury, her label began withdrawing its support when her songs didn’t find the same immediate success at radio that they’d enjoyed with streaming and press, and by the time Odessa returned to LA for a gig in late 2016, she found herself without a home, both personally and professionally.
“I gave up and I just prayed,” she says. “I didn’t know what I else I could do.”
It was then that Odessa moved into the house at the top of Eagle Rock. The place was both familiar (she’d stayed there for a spell five years earlier while playing with Edward Sharpe) and isolated, which made it an ideal location to forget about the music business and focus on the essential work of healing. As is so often the case, though, life had other plans, and suddenly the songs that had eluded Odessa for the better part of a year began to reveal themselves in rapid succession.
“I felt as low as I’d ever been in my life,” she reflects, “but when I accepted that feeling and stopped trying to fight it, it unleashed this creative whirlwind in me.”
While living in Eagle Rock, Odessa picked up side work playing on records for celebrated producer Jonathan Wilson, and once she’d amassed enough of her own new material, the two began collaborating on an album. The sessions were adventurous and exhilarating, but Odessa could feel the music at times straying from her original vision, and so, after two weeks, she decided to take a new approach, relocating to Minneapolis in an attempt to record the album herself. That, too, left her unsatisfied, and after a third false start in Nashville, she finally met Wilco’s Pat Sansone, who offered to help her sculpt a record out of all the raw material she’d collected.
“Pat and Jonathan have actually worked on records together before,” says Odessa, “and their dueling influences proved to be this perfect yin and yang for my songs. After I spent a month working with Pat, I met Jim Eno, who offered to record a few more tracks and mix everything in Austin, and just like that, the album was finished.”
All Things opens, appropriately enough, with the dreamy title track, which finds Odessa proclaiming “All things are born / All things must die” in shimmering a capella harmony with herself. It’s a devastatingly beautiful moment, one that sets the stage perfectly for an album all about the power and liberation that comes from letting go. The waltzing “Live On” celebrates the endless possibility of starting over, while the hypnotic “Full Circle” meditates on the inevitability of change, and the slow-burning “Tipton” recognizes that there can be no light without darkness, no joy without sorrow, no peace without conflict.
“It’s a song about the juxtapositions that make up our lives,” Odessa explains. “This whole experience taught me to be present and grateful through all the turbulence because everything, positive and negative, is all connected.”
Despite the geographically disparate recording sessions in LA, Minneapolis, Nashville, and Austin (one of the tracks, the gentle “Hard As I Try,” is actually just an iPhone voice memo), the songs on ‘All Things’ are remarkably cohesive, tied together by Odessa’s heavenly vocals and swirling, cinematic soundscapes. The tender “Don’t Care” barely rises above a whisper in its hushed intimacy, while the soaring “Thunder” floats on a bed of densely orchestrated strings that were arranged and performed by Odessa herself, and the playful “Paradise” channels a buoyant mix of 60’s girl groups and vintage reggae. It’s perhaps the record’s sparest moment, though, that proves to be its most arresting. “Disco ball turns and celebrates with light,” she sings on album closer “Disco Ball,” her voice backed only by hymn-like piano. “If we can weather all the seasons and change / We will be beautiful at every age.”
“There was a disco ball in the back of that house in Eagle Rock,” Odessa explains, “and I remembered it from years ago when I’d stayed in that same room. Seeing it again felt like this perfect metaphor for the circular route my life had taken.”
In the end, through all our highs and lows, victories and defeats, happiness and misery, time marches on. Whether you resist it or embrace it, the world spins all the same. It’s a humbling notion, but Odessa chooses to see it as inspiration. Just like that disco ball, she’s determined to keep on shining with every single turn.
Street Date: November 15, 2019
1. All Things
2. Live On
4. Full Circle
5. Don’t Care
7. Hard As I Try
8. Lost My Head
11. Disco Ball