Olivier St. Louis originally made a name for himself as a featured musician, adding vocals to tracks by artists around the world. Eventually, the Washington, DC-born singer-producer wound up living in Berlin, collaborating with musicians as wide-ranging as Onra and Hudson Mohawke, and even became a member of the live band supporting DC rapper Oddisee. However, throughout his time as an in-demand feature and supporting artist, he did so under the moniker Olivier Daysoul.
As he now continues to step out as a lead musician in his own right, St. Louis has returned to his birth name, bringing equally honest, intimate, and unique music along for the ride. Influenced by blues and R&B, St. Louis’ songs ripple and burn, fueled by his smoky, passionate vocals. As a musician whose own life spans from Germany to the United States, he’s also a perfect fit for Hamburg’s upcoming Reeperbahn Festival and its accompanying New York showcase, highlighting the festival’s international depth and powerful appeal.
While you born in Washington DC, you spent your childhood in the UK. What is your first memory of music, and how has growing up in a different country informed your musical taste?
It’s funny that you ask that question. I was just going through my mother’s old records last night back in Maryland. My first memory of music was hearing Anita Baker, George Duke, and Marvin Gaye blasting in Mom’s apartment during her cleaning frenzies on Saturday morning. Anita and Marvin were it for her! Growing up in boarding school in the UK introduced me to new forms of music, which I most likely would not have experienced until much later in life. I was hearing copious amounts of dance, electronica, and cheesy Britpop, from the likes of Massive Attack and Aphex Twin all the way to The Verve and Spice Girls. That time allowed me to develop a wider palette and appreciate other styles of music.
You completed your studies in Bio Science, but it took a while to realize what your calling was. Is your approach to making music methodic and scientific in any way?
I definitely have developed a formula to how I approach synthesizing potential song ideas I hear in my head. Can I attribute that entirely to my studies in science? Not exactly. I probably use that approach more when trying to figure out how to execute certain ideas that are not entirely obvious to recreate as well as advancing as a live musician. It’s not too dissimilar to how someone without a background such as mine would approach music. You hypothesize an idea, research ways in which you can achieve the idea, and then you experiment until you arrive at a desired conclusion. They are one and the same, really.
You’ve collaborated with Hudson Mohawke and toured with Laura Mvula, which shows the vast width of your interests and capabilities. How important was it for you to take the step to define your voice with your own releases as opposed to just that vast potential?
It was a very important step. My gift was my curse. While I could lend my voice to a variety of styles of music, it pushed me into the category of what I call “glorified session vocalist.” Sure, I could make good money writing songs for other producers. I was only developing a reputation and not a brand. I essentially had no identity. Within the ability to associate with different artists, I had to also make a stamp on what I represent musically. Taking time out to ask myself those questions has allowed me to finally discover that.
How important is collaboration to your development and to your creativity? You rose in prominence as an in-demand feature; was that essential to the development of your voice, or was it just a way for you to show what you could do?
Collaboration in some way, shape, or form is integral for all artists. Sharing ideas with other artists you respect and trust gives rise to new discoveries and approaches towards an idea you otherwise may not have attempted. It’s the beauty of challenge and opposition.
In addition to writing your own material, you’re a touring guitarist for Oddisee and his band Good Company, as well as his opening act performing your material with your band The Danger Robinson. What is it about the ‘band’ dynamic that you enjoy, and do you find a sense of familial creativity — a bigger force — when you perform with others?
Both my band ‘thedangerrobinson’ and ‘Goodcompny’ comprise of very advanced and educated musicians. Adrian Reed, who plays keys in my band, has a BA in music. Goodcompny’s bass player, Dennis Turner, also holds a BA in music and composition, while Goodcompny drummer Jon Lane holds a masters in jazz theory. I consider myself the youngest musician in both instances. I’m a self-taught guitarist and have only been playing guitar for about six years now.
It’s an honour to create with such developed musicians, and that’s expedited my development and understanding of my instrument in both live and studio settings. The fact that we are all such good friends has added to the fluidity in our communication when we perform together. You can “hear” the brotherhood.
You’re Berlin-based currently, but American-born. How meaningful is it to be part of a showcase in the United States for a German festival? How do you see the music world changing in terms of that international connection?
I assumed because of how packed my schedule has become, thankfully, playing in two bands in two entirely separate regions of the world would simply not be something I’m able to execute — Reeperbahn being one of them. The fact that I’m still able to be a part of this German-based festival while touring in the states just confirms how much and how quickly the world is changing. It’s gonna be a challenge keeping up.
What song are you most excited to play, and why is its message important in this day and age?
I am most excited to perform the song “Careless”. While the song appears to give the impression that it pertains to relationship turmoils, the lyrics are more rooted in the process of acceptance. In my experience, life can mercilessly throw you curveballs you don’t expect. As emotional beings, these instances can set some of us back from moving on with life a lot longer than is healthy. Somewhere in the process of acceptance being able to say and believe the words, “I couldn’t careless,” about how this is affecting me can be a real saving grace towards moving on and figuring how you get past the offending issue — whether it be by fixing it, being realistic with what you can and cannot change, and most importantly not faulting yourself for your limitations. This is a really important mindset to have for your mental health in our current social climate.