5 Minutes With… Odetta Hartman

Odetta Hartman
Odetta Hartman

Odetta Hartman: “I feel like I’m a vessel maybe translating or transmuting energy.”

The New York future-folk singer-songwriter reflects on new album ‘Swansongs’ and delves into the inspirations that shaped her unique style

Odetta Hartman is a mesmerising future-folk singer-songwriter from New York. Having recently signed to Transgressive Records, her eagerly anticipated second album Swansongs finds Hartman building on the foundations laid by her debut mini-LP 222 and 2018’s acclaimed Old Rockhounds Never Die. With a distinctive style that fuses the rock and roll/blues folk of Jack White with daring electronic experimentations, innovative pop numbers like Goldilocks sit comfortably alongside the string-led drama of Dr No. Bringing together her diverse influences Swansongs is a reflection on love and ambition and we can’t wait for it’s release on 22 March.

In the meantime, Rachel Walker Mason caught up with Hartman to find out a little more about her process…

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Where are you speaking to us from?

“I’m in my house in Lower Manhattan, New York. I was born and raised on the blocks that I now live on and I split my time between New York City and the Catskills.”

What have you been working on recently?

“I kicked off the campaign for my new record Swansongs in October, which was really exciting because I have been sitting on this album for years, so to finally get the ball rolling on it has given me butterflies!”

What’s coming up for you?

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“I’m going to be touring again this year as a solo artist, which I haven’t done since before the pandemic. But this time there will be one big change as last year I had a baby and I’m bring her with me on tour. So yeah, a lot of my planning right now is like, ‘What do I need to bring a baby on the tour bus with me?’”

Odetta Hartman

Odetta Hartman: “My dad would be listening to Afrobeat in the front of the house and my mum would be listening to Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton in the back of the house.”

Welcome to the mama musician club! How are you finding it?

“I’ve always joked that there’s actually like a Venn diagram of touring artists and mums, and there’s a lot of similar skill sets. Lack of sleep is a huge one and, carrying a lot of gear, you’re always lugging bags and instruments, so I feel like I’m already figuring it out. It’s gonna be exciting to travel with her, it will be really special. I am on a group thread with a bunch of other music mums and touring mums and so we give each other a lot of support and tips on, you know, let’s buy these headphones that are good for sound cancelling, or this blackout tent that you can put in the green room.”

What’s your earliest earliest musical memory?

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“My family has a restaurant with a vintage jukebox and, as my dad has a huge record collection, he would curate the records in the jukebox. My earliest memories are hanging out at the restaurant with my family, climbing on a chair and looking at all the records. I loved punching in the numbers and choosing a song from all the records. The lights and the colours on the jukebox were so pretty, it was such a sensory experience for a child.”

You mention your dad collected records, are your family musical?

“Yeah, my parents loved loads of different kinds of music and encouraged us to listen. My dad would be listening to Afrobeat in the front of the house and my mum would be listening to Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton in the back of the house. My sister, brother and I would run down the hallway in between and hear a weird fusion of musical styles. I feel like I am so lucky that I got exposed to so much music from a really young age. My brother, sister and I all learned violin too so there was always music around us.”

Who are your musical influences?

“I admire what Grimes has done in her career. David Bowie is a big influence in terms of these kinds of mythological artists that are pulling in all kinds of influences and just always changing. I love that they’re gonna just push the boundaries of their craft and their art and redefine things. So I have the forward thinkers and then I also love the traditionalists. I wrote my college thesis on Alan Lomax, who was an ethnomusicologist and created a huge archive of field recordings that he started in America, he then went on to the whole world. So that’s a huge part of my story. As well as that, I was really influenced by folk songs, old fiddle tunes and murder ballads.”

Where does your inspiration come from?

“My best ideas come when I’m playing the banjo on the porch-swing at my house upstate. Often I start with a chord that I am really excited by or there’s one line I’ve got in my head. I feel like I’m a vessel maybe translating or transmuting energy and when I can tap into that stillness and that space that’s when the music flows. I really admire people that have a consistent practice where they’re like, ‘Everyday at 10am I start writing a song,’ but that’s not how I work. Maybe I’ll be like that one day. Perhaps when the baby goes to school!”

Odetta Hartman

Odetta Hartman: “Usually songs come out in one sitting.”

Can you tell us a little more about your songwriting process?

“My songwriting process happens really quickly most of the time. Usually songs come out in one sitting, so if I’m rolling in the moment I feel like it’s like lightning in a bottle and I have to keep writing while I’m in that magic moment. Then it’s the production and the arrangement that I tinker over forever. They’re such different creative processes that I love both in their own ways.

“I learned in some science class that radio waves don’t pass through the atmosphere; they’re just bouncing around. I think about songs in that way, also that it’s like, maybe I’m just hearing something that somebody put out to the universe before.”

You are always working on so many projects at the same time. Would you like to tell us about another one?

“My sister and I are both educators and musicians and we purchased a Victorian boarding house that is the only house next to my family house in the Catskills. During COVID we started to think about how we could share this space with a greater community and offer a space to play music, to paint, create things and just ‘be’. So we we’ve been developing that project and renovating the house since 2020.”

Amazing! Finally who is your songwriting idol?

“I definitely come from a country music tradition, ‘Three chords and the truth,’ is what I’ve tried to live by. So I’d have to say Dolly Parton. I think as a songwriter she has shown us how to tell stories. Her writing is just so authentic and creates these pictures of real people that are so relatable and memorable.”

Swansongs by Odetta Hartman is out on 22 March via Transgressive Records. For music, shows and more head to facebook.com/odettabesshartman and you can find out about her writer’s retreat here ladybugland.co

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