Interview Olivia Sparnenn (Mostly Autumn)

"I wouldn't have been offered the job if Bryan didn't think I was the right person for it"

(February 2011, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures by Arthur Haggenburg)

Go Well Diamond Heart, the latest album of Mostly Autumn, was a new start for the band and especially for Olivia Sparnenn, the new female lead vocalist. In 2010 she replaced Heather Findlay who left the band in order to start a solo career. Olivia had a very difficult task because Heather was loved by all her dedicated fans, but she succeeded with flying colours. Therefore this was the right occasion for Background Magazine to talk to her about all the events that happened rather suddenly.

How difficult was it to replace Heather Findlay as a lead singer? Weren't you afraid that fans might not accept you as a replacement?

Olivia Sparnenn: “It was a strange thing to do, and very sad too. After you've spent five years of your life performing with someone on stage it's hard to imagine them not being there. Then to think that you're taking on their role is quite daunting. Heather is an amazing force on stage so I certainly had big shoes to fill. There was concern amongst the fans, but it was something that we didn't have a choice in. If people wanted Mostly Autumn to carry on, then they would have to see them with a new vocalist. I personally think it would have been very sad if the band had folded. As I've already mentioned, filling in for a couple of shows was very reassuring as the feedback was very complimentary. I think the main comparisons were always going to come with the new album, but the response has been extremely positive. People have embraced the 'new' Mostly Autumn and are looking to the future, as indeed we are.”

How did you react when Bryan asked you to replace Heather Findlay? Did you get some time to think about it? Was it a big help that you already replaced Heather during some live shows?

“I was very flattered. Initially I didn't know what direction Bryan was planning to take, or if he would offer me the place. It wasn't a decision that either of us took lightly. Yes, I had some time to think about it as I knew that it would mean finishing with my band Breathing Space and that was a very difficult decision to make. Filling in for Heather a couple of shows did help actually. Obviously it indicated that my voice would suit the songs, but the reaction from the Dutch fans was fantastic and that was very reassuring. It also gave me the inner confidence to think: yes, I can do this!”

I think you succeeded very well in replacing Heather. What do you think yourself or is it up to other people to decide?

“Thank you. I'm definitely happy with what I achieved in the time I had to do it, but it's always nice for other people to give positive feedback as well. As for performing live, I think the new songs will get better and better, so I hope I do too!”

How does it feel being a lead singer instead of a backing singer?

“Obviously the major difference is the fact that I was co-writing with Bryan, and unlike my backing singer role, I was involved in the development stages of the songs, with much greater input. It was also much more nerve wracking, waiting for the finished product to arrive, and knowing my input into it was much more than before!”  

How do you think about people who say that your relationship with Bryan helped you to become the new lead vocalist for Mostly Autumn?

“Ha, well if some people think that, then they certainly don't know Bryan. He is a very fair person and he will always do what is right for the band. I can wholeheartedly say that I wouldn't have even been offered the job if he didn't think I was the right person for it.”
Heather & Olivia

How do you look back at the farewell concert of Heather, and did you learn from her during the years you worked together?

“It was an emotional night in many ways. I think we were all concentrating on getting through the gig without crying too much. I'm glad we got a chance to do one last show together. I'll be forever grateful to Heather for taking me under her wings. She is an incredibly strong, focused person. I first met Heather five years ago and so many things have happened in both our lives during that time, it's quite incredible.”

What do you think are the differences between you and Heather as a singer?

“I don't think you can really describe the differences. Every person is influenced by music that they listen to and singers they admire, so in that sense we have very different personas on stage. My major influence came from my father, who was a rock drummer.”

Do you never get tired of answering all those questions about Heather Findlay?

“No, I've stepped into a band that has been going for thirteen years. You cannot forget that Heather Findlay was Mostly Autumn's front woman for that time and helped in making the band what it is today. You can't wipe history out, and I wouldn't want to, as that history contains some magical music and memories.”

You once started as a support act for the band. How do you look back at that time and did you ever expect to front the band?

“It seems such a long time ago and no, I never thought I would be fronting the band. It's just a really happy time to reflect on as well. I've been performing since I was thirteen, and I've learned never to take anything for granted. I feel honoured to have the position that I now have in the band.”

Being the new lead vocalist meant that you had to say goodbye Breathing Space. Couldn't you participate in both Breathing Space and Mostly Autumn? How did they react when you left BS?

“Yes, this was probably the hardest decision to make. I had some real good times playing with the guys. The reaction was understandably shock, but I think they all appreciate that it was an opportunity that couldn't be turned down. I don't think it would have been possible to be the lead singer in both bands, and I didn't want there to be any conflict, especially where songwriting was concerned.”

Mostly Autumn 4-Apr-2009 "De Pul' Uden (NL)

Is there any difference between working with Bryan Josh and with Iain Jennings in Breathing Space?

“It isn't that much different, although I would say that I probably wrote a lot more lyrics to Iain's music. Bryan generally formulates the ideas himself and takes input if he feels that it's right for the song.”

Why did Mostly Autumn perform several Breathing Space songs during the short Dutch tour in April last year?

“The April tour was a bit of a crossover period. I hadn't written anything with Bryan at this point, so I was singing a lot of material that I had nothing to do with. It was nice to be able to have a few songs in the set that were personal to me, in particular Questioning Eyes. I'm very grateful that Iain has allowed me to take this song, as it was written after a very dark time. It means such a lot to me to still perform it live.”  

How did you work together on the songs you did with Bryan Josh?

“Bryan had already started writing for the album a few months before Heather's departure, so I was thrown in the deep end a little, but it was exciting nonetheless. On some occasions, Bryan develops an idea, and then he asks me to contribute to the lyrics. Alternatively I'd work on a melody and get Bryan to develop it with me. The whole process was new to us both, and I think it will grow stronger with every album we work on together.”   

Olivia had to take over from Heather unexpectedly, 4-Apr-2009

To what extent could you mark your own stamp on the lyrics and vocal lines? Would you please briefly explain the lyrics for the songs you wrote?

“I co-wrote lyrics with Bryan on four tracks and I wrote the lyrics for Forever Young. The inspiration for this particular song dates back to a place that sticks vividly in my memory. During a holiday abroad - when I was very young - I remember we visited an old Cyprus plane tree and my father told me to hang a handkerchief from it, as this was the famous 'handkerchief tree'. If we did this, legend stated it would help all people we love who are unwell. That's why it's so poignant to me.” 

Are you satisfied with the final results of your vocals on Go Well Diamond Heart?

“Very much so, yes. It was a new process recording with Bryan, but the great thing is that he has very strong ideas about the sound and vocal style that he wants, so he could point me in the right direction. I actually think he has brought something different out of my vocals, something quite unique to Go Well Diamond Heart.

What's you favourite track on the album and do you think your input will become bigger on following Mostly Autumn-releases?

“That's too difficult to say; I like so many of them for different reasons. Hold The Sun is particularly special, but as you listen to the album more often and as we play them live, my answer will inevitably change. Concerning the song writing, it was a learning curve for both of us, and I think as we both get to know each other's writing techniques and styles, we will feed off each other.” 

In which musical direction do you wish Mostly Autumn to go? Do you think you can show your own talents and musical taste?

“Well I'm extremely happy with the direction that the new CD has taken. Some people say it's slightly different, but very much still Mostly Autumn. I feel my musical tastes fit in with the band already.” 

Can we ever expect a solo album from you or don't you have such goals?

“At the moment, I'm more than happy to songwrite with Bryan. I think we work well together, and his talent is such, that it is an absolute pleasure to work with him, and see how songs develop from an idea on a guitar or piano, to a beautiful piece of music. However, I'd certainly say: never say never.”

Thank you for answering my questions Olivia.

“It's my pleasure, thank you.”

More info about Mostly Autumn on the Internet:
       Mostly Autumn Website
       review 'Go Well, Diamond Heart'        Concert review 18-Apr-2010
       Concert review 17-Dec-2009
       Concert review 4-Apr-2009

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