Olivia Neutron-John specializes in emotionally dense, unfiltered electronic music delivered live with throbbing intensity—and it’s safe to say there’s nothing like it in D.C. right now.
The brains behind the outfit is Anna Nasty—also a member of Ian Svenonius’ Chain & the Gang—who brought the project to D.C. upon moving here from Tempe, Arizona, just a handful of months ago. Olivia Neutron-John is the artist’s (mostly) solo act, a project whose sound feels like a rare experimental gem discovered in some neglected attic.
Easy listening this is not: The vocalist’s guttural screams mingle with fluttering, screeching saxophone as Nasty hovers above synthetic drum beats with occasionally indecipherable but heartfelt lyrics. A couple of ONJ’s tracks on Bandcamp are actually multiple songs strung together into short albums, with names like Injury Train And I’m Never Getting Off It. They’re somewhat long but worth the journey. (Nasty’s Tumblr page promises a proper debut album—and a music video—sometime soon.)
Olivia Neutron-John performs at CD Cellar in Arlington tomorrow night. Before the show, Bandwidth caught up with Nasty to discuss performance style, the inclusiveness of the D.C. music scene and the unlikely influence American Idol had on the project’s name.
Bandwidth: Tell me about Olivia Neutron-John. How do you describe your sound?
Anna Nasty: I describe it as “aggressive bedroom pop”—music made in my bedroom with emotion and aggression. It’s post-bro music. There’s a lot of music that’s post-feminist. I don’t really like that term. A lot of music made is post-feminist, but I’m actually post-bro. Music made outside of the influence of bros.
What’s an Olivia Neutron-John performance like?
Visceral. I wear a 100 percent wool jumpsuit. I wear it year-round. I don’t know how to describe it. Some would call it, maybe, provocative, in a weird way. It’s just a jumpsuit that I wear. But my performance is very emotional and aggressive, like my music. I dance when I play. I make these dance routines to all my songs, but I can’t fully perform any of them because I have to play keyboard and sing when I play. So live is just me trying to negotiate that.
Since you’re new to D.C., what do you think about the music scene? What kind of response have you been getting to your act?
I think it’s really cool here. I’ve gotten such an overwhelmingly positive response being here that I really feel welcome and a part of D.C. I knew some people before I got here. It’s been really good being in D.C.—I feel like I’ve been able to be really active and I play in other projects besides Olivia Neutron-John and I’ve been totally busy with music since I got here, which is cool.
You also play in Chain & the Gang. Is it difficult to devote time to Olivia Neutron-John when you’re busy with them?
Yeah, I’d say so, but I like to keep my plate full. So it’s OK with me—I’d rather be busy than not.
Are you a huge Olivia Newton-John fan, or is your band name the kind punny of joke that’s been rampant among indie-minded bands lately?
It’s out of admiration, really. I’m not one of those people who made this weird celebrity funny band name because I’m making fun of anyone. I was watching an episode of American Idol and Olivia Newton-John was the judge, and she was just wearing this shirt that said “it is what it is,” and it was really inspiring. I love that phrase, and I just love that she was a judge on American Idol, wearing that shirt. And then my friend turned to me and said “Is Olivia Neutron-John a really bad band name, or a really good band name?” And I had just shown everyone my music for the first time, and I didn’t know what to call it—and everyone kinda looked at me and was like, “That’s what your thing should be called.”