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Local Music Spotlight: Olivia Vika’s new ‘Curse of the Passionfruit’ features a lot more blues

UPDATED: Thu., July 1, 2021

By Julien A. Luebbers For The Spokesman-Review

From the introduction, local music artist Olivia Vika is a little different from most Spokane residents: “My name is Olivia Vika. I’m 18. I was born in Veliky Novgorod, Russia. I’m half Russian, half Egyptian, and I’ve been performing for about five years now.”

With some quick math, she’s been on the stage since she was 13, when “a music mentor of mine, Sean Burgett, heard my voice, and he wanted me to sing. But I was always super scared, and I had never done it before,” Vika said.

Some encouragement from Burgett went a long way, and “about two weeks later, I performed at the Bartlett in front of like 100 people, just me. It was the best feeling ever. I was like, ‘Damn, I want to do this for the rest of my life.’ ”

Since then, Vika has been living by that volition. And after years of hard work, Thursday marks the release of her first album, “Curse of the Passionfruit.” It’s a handily crafted blend of indie rock, psychedelia and the blues. The songs are spacious and nearly spaced out, but grounded by the bluesy progressions, walking basslines and Vika’s raspy, Amy Winehouse-esque voice.

The album’s sound differs slightly from Vika’s previous track, “70s Haze,” which is vividly indie rock. While there are traces of “Curse of the Passionfruit” in “70s Haze,” this latest project shows significant change and development, along with a lot more blues.

“The bluesy sound that’s in this upcoming album is a lot more like me than this kind of indie-rock sound that I had before, or even with (lead-off single) ‘No Invite.’ ” There are a lot of motivations for that shift toward jazz and blues. Firstly, the indie-rock anthem that is “70s Haze” blew up on Spotify.

“About a month or two months after I released it, I got on Discover Weekly and Release Radar. That boosted my numbers insanely. I’m almost at 500,000 (listens) for that song. And I never thought that would happen. Like that was the first song I was truly, truly proud of.”

Being in such a spotlight for the first time meant figuring out who she wanted to be as an artist, whether it would always be “basic indie music” or “something different.” Vika looked back to her musical roots and found in them something she could make into her own.

“My brother is a jazz musician,” she said, who throughout her life showed her much of the music that influences her now. “He actually wrote the outro on my album, so I featured him because he really started this off for me.”

Her love of jazz, the blues and psychedelic rock all came nearer to the forefront as she worked her way through the album. But even with increased clarity about the sound she wanted to achieve, the process of writing remained difficult.

“I was getting a little insecure,” she went on, “because I’ve changed so much as a musician. I started feeling like those couple songs” from earlier in the writing process “were embarrassing or not good enough.

“But that’s just what art is, you’re just gonna keep getting better. You’re just gonna keep moving forward. We’ve all got to start somewhere.”

She had some help, too, from bandmates Johnny Curley and Ayden Eyre.

“It was like our creativity sparked together,” she said. “And we were really pensive, and we were sensitive, and the artistic decisions that we made were crucial to the sound that we achieved in the end.”

And what they achieved is an impressive debut, something of which Vika will no doubt be proud. Across the whole album, her voice is overflowing with tone. For example, on the slow-moving and dim “Flavor of You,” she is faded and sweet, winding through the urban nostalgia of a kiss relived.

Her psychedelic rock influences are present throughout the album, but the title track “Curse of the Passionfruit” exemplifies especially well the swooning, slight reverb of the genre. Her lyrics, too, are vivid and unusual, piquing the ear and drawing in listeners.

As a whole, “Curse of the Passionfruit” is certain to be a success. For those new to her music, it’s an impressive and mature feat, sure to please and prompt thought. For her, it is a step forward into a passionate vocation that is professional music.

Julien A. Luebbers can be reached at julien.luebbers@gmail.com.

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