Bienen sophomore Olivia Pierce, in a series of interviews, talks about how music shapes the community around her.
[“MISSING YOU” PLAYS]
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Onyekaorise Chigbogwu and this is Sound Source, a podcast tuning into the music scene on and around Northwestern’s campus. Bienen sophomore Olivia Pierce’s relationship with songwriting began much before her latest song, “Missing You.” It was her second single in 2021. Her first, “Long Distance,” was released on June 18. In her music, Olivia sings stories of young love. And her music’s creation is a story itself — one that touches on identities, emotions, politics and community.
OLIVIA PIERCE: My name is Olivia Pierce, and I write music under the name Moyana Olivia.
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: This was back in April. It was the first time I got the chance to sit down with Olivia and talk about her music. At the time, Olivia’s latest release was her 2020 song, “X-RAY,” which carries themes of empowerment and social justice. It came after the rise in protests in response to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Olivia’s home city. But Olivia’s journey as a songwriter began before this.
OLIVIA PIERCE: I started writing music, just for fun, and then one of my friends was like, “You should try releasing your own stuff.” And I was like, “I guess I could do it by myself.” And so I started releasing officially in 2017 with my first EP called “Acoustic Ambitions.” And then it just sort of came on from there. I basically am just working on writing music that’s related to activism.
OLIVIA PIERCE: For me, music is very connected to my spirit. It’s like a very personal thing for me and so when I’m going through something that I can’t necessarily express with words, I’ll kind of turn towards playing piano. And so it’s not that I’m trying to, like beautifully and poetically say all of these things about activism and social justice. It’s really just, I’m in a place of pain and I want to kind of express that in a way that can be understood.
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: Olivia says the song impacted a lot of people in her community. But if you’ve had the chance to listen to her most recent songs, you may notice they’re not all about activism.
[“LONG DISTANCE” PLAYS]
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: I spoke with Olivia in June, after she released “Long Distance.” She told me she struggled with allowing herself to release music that sounded thematically different than what she had released in the past.
OLIVIA PIERCE: And I was kind of thinking about how to navigate long-distance relationships, especially in like a pandemic, where we can’t be seeing people. And so, that’s where it came from.
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: At this time, Oliva had started co-writing music with her friend and Weinberg sophomore Emilio Cabral. Emilio said writing music that wasn’t overtly political felt important, even if that’s not what Olivia’s past music was about. Olivia’s new music explores joy, heartbreak and love. Identity is not as visible in the lyrics, but he says it still plays a huge role in the story.
EMILIO CABRAL: There’s no references to, you know, being queer or, you know, not being white or anything like that. But I do think that, depending on who you are, how your heart breaks is different. It affects people differently based on, you know, how easy it is for you to fall in love with someone. Or is it acceptable for you to show how much you love someone?
[“MISSING YOU (ACOUSTIC VERSION)” PLAYS]
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: Olivia first showed Emilio her Oct. 29 release “Missing You” over a year ago.
EMILIO CABRAL: I remember hearing it for the first time and I was like, “Olivia, this is my favorite song ever.”
OLIVIA PIERCE: So I wrote it in October 2020. I was driving home, in the rain, as the song suggests. And I was really in my feelings because I had this whole situation with somebody at my high school, and it didn’t work out. Some time had passed. We, like, did gigs together, and so a song that we sang for one of our gigs was on the radio. And it still hurt like as much as it did when it didn’t work out the first time, even though it had been, like, a couple months. So then it was, like, crazy how you can miss somebody, and it still feels like, you know, the day after you stop talking.
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: But Olivia says “Missing You” holds meaning beyond longing for a past partner.
OLIVIA PIERCE: And in January of 2021, my grandma passed away from COVID. Now whenever I listen to it, I think about her because we like, all miss her very much. So it, like, has a different meaning. Even though it originally started as like a high school relationship, angsty ballad, nothing about the words changed at all, and now it means something way bigger.
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: When I spoke with Olivia about “Missing You” in November, it was our first time doing an in-person interview. Olivia said she also got the chance to collaborate in person with other students to design and take photos for her cover art. She had people helping her out on the music side of things as well.
OLIVIA PIERCE: Usually making music is not fun because it’s just me in the basement like grinding it out. But I didn’t record it by myself, I recorded it with Kay Cui. Doing it with other people makes it way better and way more fun.
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: Kay Cui is a Communication sophomore and music technology minor. She helped Olivia record vocals for the track. Kay also told me about the beauty of collaboration.
KAY CUI: It’s so much fun. I see myself more as a collaborative and team-based person. Everyone has ideas, but then you kind of speak through it together, like, “What if we take this part of your idea and that part of my idea and put it together?” And I think it’s a lot more fun when you can bounce ideas off of other people to get the best-quality product that you can put out.
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: Olivia produced “Missing You” herself — as she produces all her own music. But her friend, Weinberg sophomore Josh Fleckner, mixed and mastered the song. Olivia doesn’t only bring community together to create music, though; she also brings community together to enjoy it. Olivia hosted a live performance of her music at a November 15 release party for her acoustic rendition of “Missing You.”
[OLIVIA SINGING “MISSING YOU” LIVE]
OLIVIA PIERCE: I feel like there’s so many things that make it seem like music is inaccessible. Even the systems that we have around us try to make it seem like you have to know this, this and this, and you have to be — I don’t know what those note names are, I really don’t. But when I wrote “Missing You,” it was my second time picking up my bass. And then I wrote my little lyrics in my Notes app, but now it’s, like, a real song. And so I feel like if you just are in the mood to write a song, you should just do it.
ONYEKAORISE CHIGBOGWU: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Onyekaorise Chigbogwu. Thanks for listening to another episode of Sound Source. This episode was reported and produced by me. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Will Clark, the digital managing editor is Jordan Mangi and the editor in chief is Isabelle Sarraf. You can find Olivia’s music on Spotify, Apple Music or any major streaming service under Moyana Olivia. And follow her on Instagram @moyana_olivia. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud.
Email: [email protected]
— Sound Source: Rapper Audax the Damsel or Sofía Stutz releases EP
— Dia Jane and Jo Mackenzie release their indie-rock debut, “BrainBaby”
— Sound Source: Chicagoland band Ferret Bueller creates during COVID-19