the fashion, art, and unfamiliar pop of brennan olver
Hali Christou caught up with the multi-disciplinarian artist to talk about gender, love, work, and whales.
Foto: Michelle Huynh
If you've ever seen a Bill Henson photograph, Brennan Olver's face might seem familiar. In addition to photographic muse, Brennan's also a multi-disciplined visual and recording artist who has produced work out of Melbourne over the last decade. With music being the raison d'etre, Olver recently concluded a tour of USA's East Coast under the guise of Wet Kiss - an upbeat experimental-pop 70s inspired solo act. The new album, introspectively titled Brennan, has just been released online with a small run of limited edition tapes to come. Across his practices Brennan explores love, animals, memories, sex, and politics and here speaks to Hali Christou about his world.
Hali: You've been doing some modelling in New York, and had previously worked for Pageant, Centre For Style and photographer Bill Henson. I noticed you're always placed in a male role, but you've mentioned you don't like to be referred to as "he" or "she".
Brennan:I don't know what it is but if someone refers to me as "he" I can't identify with it. When I was a kid I was always into female dress. I was very supported by my family to wear what I wanted. I think clothing really helps with how I orientate myself. I also have a strong community of trans people in Melbourne who I love and who support my decision.
As soon as I started disassociating with being male, I felt a lot better with myself. It wasn't until recently a close friend encouraged and supported me to become open with that, but it's been this way my whole life. There are lots of non gender binary ways you can identify yourself, gender-queer is just one of them.
Your modeling ties into your relationship with fashion more broadly—you've just finished working for Susan Cianciolo. What is it about fashion that interests you the most?
I'm interested in people's individual style, why people choose to wear certain things, why people are drawn to a certain garment. I went to work for Susan because I was interested in her process and how she made work. It's at times so personal and subtle, improvised yet so methodical—she works on a single piece for months and sometimes years. I really learnt a lot from her patience and dedication. These practices influence both my art and music.
How do they intersect?
I'm an artist. I went to art school but I actually made music before I was trained as an artist.
So music has been a constant throughout your creative life?
Yes. Art is something that I've always made, I'll always be an artist and continue to make work, but to be a musician and to be on stage is another feeling. It feels like all the different aspects of my work are merging.
You and I have had some heavy Bowie moments since you've been here.
We have! I've been listening to Young Americans which was Bowie's 1974 soul project and partly produced in New York. That's where he left behind the Ziggy Stardust personality, yet so many people consider it a failed album. It's been haunting me lately. Maybe because it was considered a failure or that it represents a transition period in Bowie's work—and of course being in New York.
Is the new Wet Kiss album Brennan a pop record?
I'm influenced by the goth aesthetic and my music always comes off sounding very dark. Those goth 80s bands like Malaria! were always kind of tongue in cheek and I really identify with that energy. I fixate on the 70s era of music a lot, and I want to bring that energy into the music and my performance.
Nico once said in an interview, "I wish I could live on stage". I want to as well but I dread when I have to perform.
Are there themes in your lyrics?
They're about love, they're about dreams, they're about death, they're about whaling in Japan. They're about global warming and they're also about nothing. They're really embarrassing but I have to put them out there because that's what comes out when I write.
You also write poetry, don't you?
Everyone writes poetry.
Where can we listen to your album?
wetkissing.bandcamp.com. I'm also releasing tapes which you will be able to order from Band Camp or at any of my live performances.
Text Hali Christou
Photography Michelle Huynh