Olivia Scibelli has slept in my house twice while on tour, and yet we’ve never met. Both times I was out of town, and so she’s been something of a ghost, a name without a face, an invisible presence known—until we spoke on the phone this month.
When Scibelli isn’t working as a hair stylist at Nashville’s Local Honey or organizing at the DIY all-ages venue Drkmttr, she is playing guitar and touring with the psych-pop band Idle Bloom. Scibelli (vocals/guitar) along with her bandmates Katie Banyay (bass), Callan Dwan (guitar, replaced by Gavin Shriver this past September), and Weston Sparks (drums) recorded their full-length debut, Little Deaths, in the rural woods of Tennessee with my roommate and friend Kyle Gilbride of Wherever Audio—which explains her spectral residence in my life
Following their 2015 EP Some Paranoia, Idle Bloom’s full-length was released February 17 on Fraternity as Vanity Records. Filled with textured layers of guitar ranging from sparkly melodies, to haunting chorus pedals, to Dinosaur Jr.-esque riffs, Little Deaths explores the myriad of losses and gains experienced during your 20s with Scibelli’s vocals blooming through with conviction. She Shreds is excited to premiere the music video for “Dust,” a guitar heavy anthem off the debut. Directed and filmed by Idle Bloom, the video is a surreal overlapping of rapid clouds, dance improvisation, relics, the band, and song lyrics. “And I am not the only one who’s looking to improve,” sings Scibelli in a melodic chant. “I’ll turn to dust and blow away in hopes of finding you.”
During our phone conversation, Scibelli transitioned from an apparition to a reality. From Florida, where she and Banyay were on a weekend vacation, we talked about the making of Little Deaths, the inevitable growth that sprouts from grief, and the role of the musician in the current political climate.
Check out Idle Bloom’s video for “Dust” now. Little Deaths is available now on Fraternity as Vanity Records.
She Shreds: I’m excited to finally talk to you! I love Little Deaths and I’m curious to hear about the process of writing it.
Olivia Scibelli: You know, the EP was suppose to be the full record, basically. We recorded the EP with our good friend Shibby Poole who’s in Yautja, a pretty big indie metal band. We took the best of that, turned it into the EP, and then wanted to re-record the rest of the songs. It was a weird blessing and a curse to have more time. Working with Kyle [Gilbride] was so easy in so many ways, really comfortable and chill. We had a vision of what we really wanted, which was to try and be as true to our live sound as we could for the first record. Keep it simple, but have fun with it.
I totally get that vibe. It doesn’t sound like a live record, but it also doesn’t sound overly produced—in the best way.
That was our goal, for sure. Sometimes when you hear a record, it sounds cooler than when you see the band. You’re like, “Wow, you really worked on this a lot in the studio, but you can’t pull it off live.” That is a personal preference, but for our first record we wanted it to be a real picture of our band. We didn’t do it live, but we wanted it to feel live.
It totally comes across. In terms of the songs, how were they written?
A lot of the time I’ll write the song and bring it to everyone, and then we’ll hammer out everything together. I love talking about things in terms of rock camp, because I work at the Southern Girls Rock Camp in Nashville. I teach songwriting and I always tell the kids that writing a song is like pulling taffy: it’s kind of soupy and sloppy at first, but then you pull it in every direction until it becomes this really sweet, more solid thing [laughs]. It sounds kind of cheesy, but that’s one of the best ways I can describe how we write songs. It’s so fun, and being in a band with your best friends, everything is so excitable. It just comes alive in a way where you’re like, “Fuck yes, this is exactly it!”
How did you all meet?
Katie and I met because I did her hair one day. I was in another band called Fancytramp, which was originally a two-piece, me and my friend Natalie, just drums and guitar. I had met Katie and we clicked, and she asked about Fancytramp and I told her we were looking for a bass player, so she came to practice and learned all the songs. That ended, but we still wanted to play in a band, but something different. Fancytramp was heavier, and we wanted to add a second guitar. We met Weston through some friends, and the three of us really wanted to form this band together, and that’s how Idle Bloom started in 2014. St. Patrick’s Day was our first show [laughs]. I’ll never forget that because it’s such a goofy day. Everyone’s like, “Wear green!” and we were like, “Uh, come to this show, just because it’s a show.”
So, I had your publicist send me the lyrics to Little Death—
[gasps] That means a lot! I’m a lyrics person. I studied poetry in school, so that was my first love.
As a writer, I am such a lyrics person. And so, with the lyrics on Little Deaths I notice there’s a major theme of grief. Not necessarily about death, but also about other kinds of loss.
A lot of the songs are about relationships, but the different aspects of them, and not just romantic. The growth that goes along with them, and the growing up process in general. I think being in your 20s is such a growing period. I just turned 28 this year, and it’s so fun to feel so different from 26. It’s such a short period of time but so many things happen to you, and you really find out a lot about yourself. Figuring out who you are, and what you want to do. And romantic relationships, too. There’s a lot of turmoil that goes into that sort of thing. [I was] going through a breakup at the time when we were writing the record. Like the song “Wake”—that was a big part of the breakup for me. Just figuring out how to break free and become your own person, and the hardships that go along with that.
There really is a huge aspect of growth in some of the songs, which is inevitable once anything dies.
Not to sound cheesy, but I think a lot about the tarot deck. The death card, for example, is always on my mind about stuff like that, the way it represents the rebirth of something instead of just the death.
Let’s talk about your gear setup. What do you use to achieve your sound?
As a guitar player, there’s so many different ways to approach sound. When we started Idle Bloom I was obsessed with big sound, loud and clean amps. I have a ‘70s Fender Quad Reverb that was a 4×12. It was a huge beast and I had it rehoused to make it a 2×12, and it’s still really heavy. Actually, fun fact: it belonged to Isaac Hayes. That’s so Nashville [laughs]. I love my amp so much because it’s loud, a little sparkly, and I can color it with my pedals—different fuzzes, overdrives, and always lots of chorus.
My guitar looks like a Les Paul but it’s technically a Melody Maker Special. It has two P-90 pickups, it’s TV yellow, and I love her so much. I was literally looking for that exact guitar, and then found it on Craigslist the next day. I love Nashville. If you ever need any gear, come down here.
What kind of pedals do you use live?
I have a vintage Ibanez Chorus that I think is the most beautiful sounding chorus. An Electro-Harmonix Freeze [sound retainer] that’s such a fun pedal and a really good tool for sustain, loud noises, and weird droney sounds. I have a Carbon Copy—a really great, reasonably priced analog delay when you’re a bab on a budget [laughs]. And then I have a Black Forest Overdrive [by] Black Arts Toneworks. They make some really sick pedals. And then I have one called the Violet Menace by Stomp Under Foot. Last year my pedalboard got stolen from a show and [Stomp Under Foot] sent me [that] fuzz, which was really nice. And Black Arts sent me the overdrive too.
I’ve always been super stripped down with pedals, but I’m trying to experiment lately. There’s just so many.
The trouble that I run into with pedals is that I have a pedal train, and then I have a Voodoo power supply that goes under it, so it’s suppose to be easy and clean. But man, there have been a few times when I’m playing live and something goes wrong, and then I’m just like, “What the hell could it be? It’s one of 20 things!” I never want to forget that it’s okay to just plug straight into your amp. Pedals are fun, but it’s totally okay to be stripped down. You can just pull a Fugazi and be direct in.
When did you first start playing guitar?
I got my first guitar when I was eight. My mom played and had a beautiful Gibson with little stars in the fretboard. I used to play that, but then she got me my own little one. I really started playing when I was 13. I took guitar lessons for a while. I think playing other people’s songs and then writing your own is a really hard jump if you’ve never done it before. I think I wrote my first song when I was 16.
What songs were you learning to?
The first song my teacher taught me was “Blackbird” [by The Beatles]. Classic. And then he told me to bring him songs, so at the time it was Saves the Day [who] was a huge influence to me. That was real hard to translate to acoustic guitar, so he was like, “Why don’t we try something like…” And then I fell in love with Joni Mitchell, I learned all of her songs. And Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen.
This brings me to something I wanted to talk to you about. I recently watched a live video of Idle Bloom performing “Salt” and I really appreciated the things you said before you started playing regarding the political climate and how people need to use their voices more than ever. I’m curious to hear what you believe your role is as a musician during this time.
I’m from upstate New York originally, so I was always politically aware, personally and through a folk lens. Growing up I volunteered at a place called Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, which was a hotbed of protest singers in the ‘60s. “Salt” is one of our newest songs. It has that political undertone of not being stomped out. The Nashville music scene is a really beautiful place, and it’s also very business oriented. It’s important to find common ground. You know, you’re at a show and we’re all here together, and you hope we all agree on at least one thing, whatever that is. People like to blame or shame, but I think it’s really important to raise each other up in different ways and start conversations, especially in Nashville. Our scene is not really diverse at all, if I may be real. It’s pretty whitewashed and bro-heavy. We tour a lot, and going to places like Philly or New York we meet so many people of all kinds, and then we come back home and it’s really hard.
What can we do as musicians? I think we can facilitate conversations and also raise money through shows. We raised over $3000 for The Oasis Center, a local youth shelter in Nashville [at] our first show of the year. We want to set a precedent of people trying to figure out ways to support our communities, specifically. It’s great to give nationally, and it’s great to talk about things nationally, but it gets overwhelming. It’s important for us to lift up our community, to directly impact community through support or action. Like rock camp—that’s always been a huge political thing, and it’s even more important now because you get to show these young girls protest songs.