Podcast: Olyvia Jaxyn's songs of becoming

The Madison-based artist's debut EP is a striking, tender surprise.

Photo by Dallas Thompson.

Photo by Dallas Thompson.

Madison singer/songwriter/guitarist Olyvia Jaxyn's recently released debut EP, Lyv, tries to convey a pretty big story in just four songs. The EP's liner notes on Bandcamp sum it up this way: "The narrative takes us from naive crushes to public anxieties, to private pleasures to finally being crushed, naively of course, in public. Lyv is a little glimpse into two years of coming out."

On the surface, the songs might sound happier and simpler than all that—Jaxyn's clean electric guitar and their collaborative production with electronic musician Tom Thurlow (who has recorded under the names Earthman and David Poole) give the record a warm, seductively bright finish. But there's plenty of complexity wrapped up in Jaxyn's rich, tender vocal performances, especially in the melodies of the second track "Clementine." The song, Jaxyn explains, is about experiencing anxiety and unkind stares as a trans person on a public bus, and finding reassurance in a little orange gem from Burnie's Rock Shop.

"If it sounds pleasant to you, that tells me my coping mechanisms are doing the trick a little bit," Jaxyn says.

Lyv is Jaxyn's first serious recorded effort, and the process of writing and producing it has left them wanting to delve deeper into narrative and song structure in the future. "I want to work more on transitions between songs and having themes be a lot more overt—something that someone would listen to and they wouldn't have to go read the liner notes and really grasp a lot of it—and also just playing more with transitions within the song," Jaxyn says. "That's something I love, is when a song really evolves and hits you in two or three parts."

Lyrically, they're proudest of the EP's closing track, "Hi," which on the surface is also their most sparse and cryptic song: "I don't have the words / but I know that I / am but never seen / your kind," goes the first verse. The lyrics, Jaxyn explains, are "about being confronted on the street...just being confronted by someone who misgenders me and who makes me feel like they don't want me to exist, but they're smiling as they do it."

Jaxyn won't be playing live in Madison again for a good while—they're heading to Europe soon for an indefinite period of travel. But ahead of that, Jaxyn sat down with me to discuss their vocal influences, the production decisions behind the EP's sound, and how their visual art ties into the music. Give our conversation a listen here, or subscribe to the Tone Madison podcast on Apple Podcasts.