Dealing with shame and a split self: “False Front” by indie-pop darling Olive Bernard, out today (exclusive interview & video sneak peak)

Words by Willa Rudolph

Today sees the release of NYC-based independent singer-songwriter Olive Bernard‘s first single, False Front, from her forthcoming EP The Box Beneath My Bed with an accompanying music video dropping on April 5th!

The track is an indie-pop treasure trove of sweet vocals, a fun dancey bass line, catchy synth tunes, and an infectious melody. Among the influences cited by Olive herself (Liz Phair, Frankie Cosmos, Taylor Swift, Sky Ferreira), you can also hear Katy Perry, Kero Kero Bonito, Alvvays, and Caroline Polachek. In other words, it’s alt-pop that’s pleasing to the ear but still inventive with super-duper indie vibes. 

Inspired by D.W. Winnicott’s theory of the true vs. false self, “False Front” is about “the early stages of a relationship, where the narrator feels like she has to perform constantly and be this ultra-feminine version of herself to maintain [the other person’s] interest. There’s the pressure of both the performance and the fear that he will see through the ‘false front’ and leave at any moment. And then there’s also the fact that she doesn’t even really [care for] the love interest so she’s like, ‘Why the fuck am I doing this…?’” Olive explains to The Deli.

This isn’t quite Olive’s first rodeo, even though it may be the first you’re hearing of her, having released a ton of self-recorded/self-produced music on Bandcamp in high school. In 2020, she put out an EP (made in her bedroom) on streaming services for the first time called Pretty Easy with a couple more singles appearing since. “False Front” is the second song available so far produced with her friend Drew Schlingman who produced her entire forthcoming EP, The Box Beneath My Bed. Olive shares, “He’s so brilliant and talented and helped me bring all of my sonic ideas and influences to fruition. I’ve been working on this EP with Drew for the last few years. Between being in school and working, it’s taken so long to finish. ‘False Front’ feels like the biggest departure/evolution from music I’ve released in the past. I’m just super eager to share this new project!”

The making of the “False Front” video was a family affair–directed by Olive’s childhood friend & high school classmate, India Gray. Another childhood friend, Louise Buckley, oversaw the creative direction and styled the video alongside Olive’s friend Phoebe John. Gianna Guerino was the makeup artist on set, and Olive’s family friend Ian Park edited it. (stills from the soon-to-be-released video below)

“False Front” Video, LIVE 4/5 Here

The “False Front” video depicts the multifaceted Olive in front of a blank background, trying on many identities and personas using wigs and props. This is how Olive portrays Winnicott’s theory of the true vs. false self. “The look of me with natural hair is supposed to be a sort of narrator; the girl with long braids is the narrator at her ‘best.’ The ginger is a sort of bitchy false front she puts on to feel unaffected,” Olive describes. “The white bob and the blonde are both kind of ‘final forms’- the white bob is kind of a party girl, blonde is kind of fancy, pristine and classy, lol. Finally, the messy long black wig is the narrator after she’s cracked/been found out, but also represents what’s been bubbling up inside the whole time. The video mostly just cuts between each girl, building upon each persona and the main character as a whole.”

Olive sat down with The Deli to discuss her creative process within music and her imminent EP, The Box Beneath My Bed further. The project in its entirety won’t be coming out for another few months, but Olive is now beginning its rollout with this glittering and entrancing lead-off single. Stay tuned in with Olive for the soon-to-come “False Front” music video and more singles around the corner!

WR: What is “False Front” about?

Olive: My capstone research project in college was about shame in psychoanalysis, sociology, and political history. I wrote this song when I was reading about Winnicott’s theory of the true vs false self.

The true self (the interior self) is described as spontaneous, vulnerable, and authentic. The false self (the exterior self) is idealized, repressed, and crafted for others’ approval/comfort. 

When someone’s true self is shamed, they lean further into their false self.

I was reflecting a lot on the shame I carry and was just overall obsessed with the topic of shame, talking about it all the time, annoying and probably scaring everyone. This song is the product of that academic interest, and conversations with friends, specifically about the terrifying early stages of a relationship where someone who barely knows you, practically worships you. If you’re a person with a lot of shame (a highly developed false self), it can feel like this horrible waiting game like “When will they see the truth about me?

“False Front” narrates the shame-fueled fear of being “found out” through the eyes of multiple female characters (myself included, of course). Different verses in the song are about different people, which works to universalize an extremely alienating experience. It’s ultimately the story of the difficult path toward accepting (or rejecting/sabotaging) love.

WR: Why was “False Front” chosen as the first single from The Box Beneath My Bed?

Olive: I’ve been performing with a band sporadically over the last couple of years and have felt limited in my performances by the kind of sad, soft music that comes naturally to me. I love energetic pop and rock music and those are my favorite performances to attend. For this project, it was really important to me to make songs that I could dance to and have fun with on stage. When I brought “False Front” to my band, it came to life in a way that felt different from the music I’ve produced in the past. The EP as a whole has a huge range of production styles, influences, and energy levels. This song in particular feels bigger than anything I’ve ever released before.

WR: Who are some of your musical influences?

Olive: Liz Phair, Frankie Cosmos, Elliott Smith, Alex G, Okay Kaya, and Taylor Swift have been the most consistently influential to me as a songwriter since I started writing music as a teenager. This song was influenced by LCD Soundsystem, Metric, The 1975, Sky Ferreria, and Beck. Local bands I love like Pretty Sick and Push Ups were also super influential.

WR: What do you envision for Olive Bernard as a project?

Olive: I have a few super fun music videos in the works. I want to play lots of shows. I want to wear wigs. I want people to dress up and dance. I want to throw and be a part of more themed shows.

WR: How does your forthcoming EP reflect how you’ve grown since Pretty Easy? How do the projects differ sonically?

Olive: There’s a lot of thematic overlap between Pretty Easy and The Box Beneath My Bed. Still writing about crushes, desperation, and femininity. However, this new project explores themes of love, friendship, heartbreak, and even parental disappointment.. often from a perspective of shame rather than victimhood (Pretty Easy was very much a breakup album and this is not). I think The Box Beneath My Bed is a lot more self-reflective.

Pretty Easy was the first project I put on streaming services (after many years of putting stuff on Bandcamp). It was really important to me at the time to do everything on the project myself. I played, produced, recorded, and mixed everything on Pretty Easy on GarageBand, except for the drums on the song “Kitchen Knife” which my friend’s dad did. I think growing up in New York, in the shadow of LaGuardia High School, where seemingly everyone knew music theory and was booking shows and recording studios at 15–I didn’t even go to LaGuardia but I still felt huge amounts of imposter syndrome…With Pretty Easy, I felt like I had to do it all myself to prove something (I don’t even know who to).

That project was in the spirit of all the DIY shows/artists that shaped me as a teenager: Frankie Cosmos, Harmony Tividad, Alex G, and early Porches. I‘m still super proud of it and I think the imperfections add to its intimacy and charm. However, I hit a point where I felt limited by my lack of certain technical skills. I met Drew in my junior year of college in a class about conceptions of the body/soul in different global religions and scientific practices. We had the same Audio-Technica headphones and quickly figured out that we both made music. We listened to each other’s work and loved it. I’m most comfortable as a songwriter and he’s an incredibly gifted multi-instrumentalist and producer so we decided to try working together.

When we first got together, I played Drew “Born to be Alone” on acoustic guitar. He loved it and immediately had ideas for drums and an electric guitar part. It was literally the coolest experience of my life: he brought this draft of a song to life. I loved all the guitar and synth sounds he was drawn to. I felt like he could express things through music that I felt inside but couldn’t execute on my own. We were so proud of how “Born to be Alone” turned out that we decided to record a whole EP together. We both share a love of acoustic artists like Sibylle Baier, Vashti Bunyan, Elliott Smith (duh), Alex G, and more pop/rock/synth-y artists like The Strokes, MGMT, Grace Ives, The 1975, Taylor Swift, and LCD Soundsystem. All of that comes through on The Box Beneath My Bed. There was a lot of synth on Pretty Easy but it was all GarageBand sounds that I had messed with. 

There’s a lot of analog synth on this new project, and drums Drew programmed with an Octatrack sampler. I am forever inspired by Sky Ferreira’s Ghost EP. That EP has folky acoustic songs, synth-pop, and grunge tracks. It was influential on Pretty Easy and even more influential now. The 1975 often does a similar thing, where each song on the same project has a different production style. I’m very in favor of producing songs based on what the song needs/wants, rather than trying to make it fit within a particular genre.

We recorded The Box Beneath My Bed at Drew’s house- he’s a genius so it sounds much cleaner and more professional than Pretty Easy. We wanted to blend the intimacy of a home recording with the glossiness of a proper pop recording. Drew mixed it and then Charles Mueller of Tiny Panther Recording (who is also my boss) mastered it. It feels like an evolution of Pretty Easy in many ways, but also like it covers much bolder pop-y sonic ground.

Stay tuned in on Olive Bernard’s upcoming music videos and EP, The Box Beneath My Bed ! She’s not one to miss.

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