On her new debut EP “It’s Not That Deep,” 18-year-old Olivia O’Brien sings with the skill and passion of a R&B veteran three times her age; she has a prescient, preternatural wisdom to match.
Calling recently from her new home in Hollywood, the Napa-raised singer was planning a low-key 18th birthday party for Nov. 26, to include a quiet dinner with friends and a trip to the local tattoo parlor to get the words “be honest” inked.
“That’s my most important value in life,” she says. “Especially being in L.A. and the music business, where no one’s honest, everyone lies.”
O’Brien — who plays this week in The City and a Dec. 11 North Bay fire relief benefit at the Gundlach Bundschu Winery in her old stomping grounds — didn’t plan on moving south.
When she innocently began posting cellphone-filmed cover songs on Soundcloud in high school, her take on a gnash number caught the attention of the producer, who flew her to Los Angeles (with her father and now business manager in tow), where they conceived the Top 10 “i hate u, i love u,” from gnash’s 2016 EP “us.”
O’Brien, who says she lives in Southern California because the producers she works with are there, is happily at odds with the sinful surroundings.
“Honesty has only gotten increasingly important to me as I go through life and keep meeting shady people,” says O’Brien, who would rather hang out with her roommates and two household dogs than attend an A-list soiree.
“I’ve realized that there’s a big difference between people in real life and on social media. They’ll act one way online, saying, ‘I don’t do drugs, and I’m so against bullying,’ and then I’ll see them in public talking bad about others and doing cocaine. And that really scared me,” she says.
O’Brien, who taught herself to play piano and guitar as a toddler, has become an adult so fast, she’s embarrassed recalling the elusive-beau lyrical conflict of “hate u,” which she penned at 15. She says, “That guy? Ugh, he’s so not anything to me now.”
Now single, she adds, “And thank God, because I don’t want a relationship. I’m all about the work now.”
On the forlorn tune “Empty” from the EP, she’s honest to an uncomfortable fault, singing: “I’m empty inside/ I don’t want to live but I’m too scared to die.”
Having struggled with depression since age 11, she adds, “I’ve been able to cope with my feelings, and that enables me to articulate them. I think a lot of people my age have these same feelings, but can’t put them into words. So I hope my song helps.”
IF YOU GO
Jack & Jack, Olivia O’Brien
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 7
Contact: (415) 346-600, www.ticketmaster.com
Note: O’Brien also plays the Old Redwood Room at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma on Dec. 11; tickets are $15 at www.ticketfly.com.
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