In Conversation with Olivia Maria from COWBOY BOY

COWBOY BOY Get Better Records In Conversation Olivia Maria

COWBOY BOY band photo
Photo: Olivia Maria and Mike Nevin of the band COWBOY BOY

COWBOY BOY'S Olivia Maria (one-half of the bi-coastal duo which also includes band mate Mike Nevin) recently answered a few questions for us about the band's super-charged full-length summer debut, "GOOD GIRL," released this past June on the Philadelphia-based independent label, Get Better Records. "GOOD GIRL" is a powerful mix of ebullient pop-punk and indie-rock punctuated by Maria's brand of open, heartfelt, and emotive lyrics. The new album combines the band's 2017 "PRINCESS" EP along with six brand new studio tracks.

We discussed the band's remote songwriting process (Maria lives in Los Angeles while Nevin lives in Boston), the band's dedication to their friendship and music, along with the band's milestone moments, their supportive artist community, self-care, new beginnings, and gear... We also couldn't help but include a top five emo desert island list question for Olivia who happens to dig early-2000s era groups like My Chemical Romance. We'll get right into it, then, read on--!

Carly: Congratulations on your full length debut on Get Better! It's such a fantastic album. I read that you (Olivia) wanted your songs to be ‘hyper-personal and relatable,’ (and they are). How long does it take when you are writing lyrics to your songs and are you and Mike collaborators on lyrics as well as music?

Olivia Maria: First of all, thanks so much for the kind words! Mike and I are really collaborative in almost every aspect of the songwriting process other than lyrics. Because the songs are as personal as they are, I’m pretty precious about them. I think it would be really difficult for me to write collaboratively on such a personal project. Lyrics tend to come pretty quickly when I write for this project because in a way all of these songs were born out of necessity — I had something to work through or express emotionally and writing lyrics was the way those feelings needed to be processed. 

How do you strike a balance and make space for yourself when writing so personally? Do you both think that holding personal space is important (as artists/musicians)?

Olivia: I think holding personal space is incredibly important for everyone, artists and musicians included. I think for me, writing these super personal songs is a way of holding space for myself and caring for myself deeply enough to say the things I would maybe in the past have been too scared to say, or too preoccupied with being a people pleaser to say. That’s kind of where the name of the album came from actually, deciding that being perceived as a cool, desirable “chill girl” who never took issue with the way I was treated by others for fear of being abandoned was a way in which I was compromising my own personhood and making myself smaller in favor of other people. So now I just make albums where I roast people who are mean to me and that feels a lot better than what I was doing before.

COWBOY BOY has been in wonderful company with bands and artists like Chris Farren, Illuminati Hotties, Cheekface, Suzie True, Rat Fancy, and others over the years. When you made the move from Boston to Los Angeles (even though it may not have been an easy transition) it sounds like you found your footing in a really positive way (and, among friends). What are three of your hardest lessons as an artist that ended up eventually turning into a positive during and after your move?  

Probably one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned as an artist that was precipitated by moving away was that sometimes you have to make yourself really uncomfortable to make art that you’re excited about. I’m not necessarily talking about intentionally existing in a state of emotional or mental distress in order to create new work because I think that’s a really harmful trap that musicians are often led into, but I’m talking more about choosing to do something that is difficult and uncomfortable in order to have life experiences that push you to create. This album definitely wouldn’t exist without me having moved across the country, and if I’d stayed in Boston I would still be wondering what would’ve happened if I moved. Something else I’ve really tried to internalize since moving is that I need to advocate for my own music as passionately as I advocate for other people’s. In my day job I work in digital marketing, and I usually work directly with artists, so it’s really easy to let my own stuff take a backseat when I’m spending so much time and energy riding for other people’s projects really hard. The fact that this album ever saw the light of day is a direct result of me making the decision to put my own shit first. And lastly, as you mentioned, this move has reinforced the importance of a really strong musical community and I’ve been so incredibly fortunate to have experienced that in Boston as well as LA. It’s really an honor to even be mentioned in the same sentence as the artists above, cause they’re all great people in addition to being awesome at what they do, and I feel really lucky to have received as much support and guidance and friendship from my musical communities as I have.

You began collaborating with artist and friend Elle Dioguardi in Boston when you were first starting out. The COWBOY BOY font and look from early singles to the PRINCESS EP has carried on in different and interesting ways: was your friendship written in the stars? 

I could write this whole interview about Elle and it wouldn’t come close to being enough space to say good things about her. She’s my best friend in the world, she’s my family. I am literally the luckiest person in the world to have her in my life, never mind get to collaborate with her on projects. I consider Elle to be the third member of CBB and I want everything we do to always involve her in whatever capacity works for her. She also happens to be, like, the most interesting and creative person I’ve ever met, and everything about her body of work speaks to me on such a deep level. I think a lot of our respective mission statements as artists really overlap, which makes our collaborations a natural choice — we both strive to make really personal, emotionally evocative work that the audience can easily see themselves in. Even if Elle wasn’t my best friend, I’d still be obsessed with the idea of collaborating with her.

Speaking of friends: what makes your and Mike’s collaborations and work together inspirational (and how do you support each other when working in separate time zones and states)? Do you have any hard and fast rules if either of you are struggling with time, writing, or inspiration, that keeps you both going during the good and bad times?

Collaborating with Mike is a huge honor above all else because he’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever known, but I also think it’s, like, weirdly magical. I’ve collaborated with a lot of people in a lot of different capacities but I feel like Mike and I understand each other creatively on a different plane than I’ve ever experienced. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that he and I are consistently on the same wavelength when it comes to how we want things to sound, and it makes working together such an easy experience, in spite of distance and time zones and schedules et cetera. I think the only hard and fast rule we really have is empathy, honestly. Mike and I at various times have both been the person that lacks time, or lacks emotional bandwidth, or lacks creative drive, or whatever, and I think we’re both aware that there doesn’t need to be any fear when it comes to expressing that. We’re both passionate about this project, we both know our roles, and we can take turns carrying the weight of the project if needed. We’re generally on the same page of course, but it’s good to have the option to take a backseat and know that the project isn’t gonna fall apart.

Cowboy Boy "Good Girl"

I read that Mike had a moment when opening the shipping box with the new COWBOY BOY record stock arrival at his work (Newbury Comics). Priceless! What was your moment, Olivia?

Oh man, I feel like this whole process has been a series of moments for me. The one that springs to mind was the Alt Press feature because I grew up collecting copies of that publication and dreaming about being in a band. Pretty much the ultimate full-circle moment, and a moment that I knew my younger self would be proud of. That’s really important to me because I have always kind of used that as a temperature check to make sure I’m moving in the right direction creatively — would 15 year old Olivia think this was cool? Yeah? Okay, we’re doing the right shit.

Tell us five tracks and snacks on your ultimate lonely island emo playlist—go!

Damn, okay — I’m gonna make an executive decision that this list is gonna be five songs that fit my personal definition of emo, so the five emo tracks are gonna be "I’m Not Okay," by My Chemical Romance, "Sugar We’re Going Down," by Fall Out Boy, "I Will," by Mitski, "Cut To The Feeling," by Carly Rae Jepsen, and "So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings," by Caroline Polachek. Maybe gay yearning is a more accurate description of this playlist, but in my world they’re synonymous. As far as snacks, Diet Coke is the first on the list for sure. Then maybe like a fancy cheese and crusty bread, Funyuns, gummy worms, and popcorn with some kind of funky flavor, like pickle, or something.

What is the gear situation like for a show in-person vs. online: do either of you have favorite instruments or gear that you can’t give up or are always excited to use when playing live?

Online shows are super different for us than regular CBB shows because online it’s just Mike and I, and we’re playing in two different places. We haven’t played a show together in the same place since 2017 which is pretty wild. My setup is incredibly simple — the only two pieces of gear that I use are a TC Helicon VoiceLive Play for vocal effects, and my Critter & Guitari Organelle. 

Los Angeles label Solidarity Club Records issued the physical cassette for your Princess EP (a year after its initial digital release) and that seems like one (of many) early pivotal moments for COWBOY BOY. When “PET” was initially released had you already been in talks with Get Better Records?

Also, were the tracks from the PRINCESS EP that appear on "GOOD GIRL" remixed/remastered or re-recorded?

The Solidarity Club tape release was huge because to have them approach us was so validating; it’s an amazing feeling to have someone care enough about your band to want to release your music in a physical medium. It definitely propelled us to pursue a physical release of the album. We have endless love and respect for Solidarity Club and all the projects they’re affiliated with.

When we released PET initially we hadn’t yet connected with Get Better Records, and it was some months later before we even reached out to them. Reaching out to them was the best decision I’ve made regarding this band, and I couldn’t think of a better home for the record. We love GBR, we love the entire roster and the ethos of the label and have nothing but the highest praise for everyone we’ve met or worked with that’s affiliated with GBR. The EP tracks were remixed and remastered by Zach Weeks at God City Studio, who does consistently incredible work and is a great friend. Zach gave those tracks new life and gave the album a really polished, cohesive sound.

What’s next for COWBOY BOY? A new album or future tour?

As far as an album in 2022, I think we need to give "GOOD GIRL" the life cycle she deserves before we think about recording anything else — releasing mid-pandemic meant no release show, no touring, et cetera, so our main goal in 2022 is to kind of belatedly do all the stuff we didn’t get a chance to do in June. So yeah, there’s definitely going to be some touring happening in 2022, likely in the spring. We’ve got a couple of shows coming up locally in October and November, and then we’re gonna get the ball rolling to get our butts out on the road.

Purchase the debut album, "GOOD GIRL" by COWBOY BOY here in our store, or online at Get Better Records or on the artist Bandcamp--

Find COWBOY BOY online:
Get Better Records | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook
Solidarity Club Records | Bandcamp

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