hen the Kansas City trio of OLIVIA FOX formed in 2016, the musical goal was to create deeply emotive three-part harmonies with a modern sound.
Fresh off an album release party for Carbon, the members of OLIVIA FOX recently joined us to discuss their new work, what it means to them to represent women in the KC music scene, and their professional inspirations.
2019 was the year of skilled female groups with an emphasis on breaking down barriers. Last summer, we witnessed the debut of a supergroup of country music stars known as The Highwomen, consisting of Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby, and Amanda Shires.
The driving force behind the group’s formation was to address the lack of representation of women artists on country music radio and promote their talent.
On a local level, Kansas City has its own group of women who bring a similar idea of empowerment. OLIVIA FOX is a talented trio of singer-musicians that exude solidarity and strength. Consisting of Lauren Flynn (vocals, guitar, mandolin, piano), Aubrey Callahan (vocals, ukulele, guitar, piano, tambourine) and Tiffany Smith (vocals, violin, guitar, ukulele, piano), the group’s name reflects a fighting spirit and an appeal to all women fighting personal battles.
“We wanted to go with the theme of the female warrior,” says Flynn. “Somewhere in the base root of the word ‘Olivia’ means warrior, so that’s why we chose the first name specifically,” added Callahan. “Fox was something we liked aesthetically, the way it looked and sounded.”
Much like how The Highwomen have worked to promote their fellow female artists, OLIVIA FOX has sought out collaborations with Kansas City’s gifted pool of female singers and musicians.
The group has worked with other established names in the area like Katy Guillen of Katy Guillen and The Drive and Kianna Alarid of Yes You Are.
“It’s special that these women want to partner with us,” says Smith. “They invite us to open for them, and we invite them to come sing with us and have them on a few tracks on our new album.”
When OLIVIA FOX formed in 2016, the musical goal was to create deeply emotive three-part harmonies with a modern sound. There is no better way to describe what you hear from the group with songs such as “Play the Game” and “Utah.” A hybrid style of traditional folk melodies, harmonies and instrumentation layered with synthetic beats has led to a collection of music that is personal, affective, haunting, hopeful and beautiful.
The group has quickly built a following with this unique sound and polished live performances at places such as Knuckleheads Saloon. That venue is where OLIVIA FOX held its album release party last summer to celebrate its full-length album, Carbon.
The members of OLIVIA FOX recently joined us to discuss their new work, what it means to them to represent women in the KC music scene and their professional inspirations.
Where does the name OLIVIA FOX come from?
Aubrey Callahan: Somewhere in the base root of the word ‘Olivia’ means warrior, so that’s why we chose the first name specifically. Fox was something we liked aesthetically, the way it looked and sounded.
You formed the band in 2016. How did you all meet, and how did you craft your distinct sound?
Lauren Flynn: We (Lauren and Aubrey) had a mutual friend. We were just acquaintances, but our manager was the one that suggested that we work together musically. (Tiffany would join soon thereafter).
Tiffany Smith: (Our sound) is an ongoing process. We have really honed in on it a lot in the time between this newest album, Carbon, and our first album. We’ve really gotten closer to what we want our sound to be and how we want to portray ourselves through our music.
How does the new album compare and contrast to your previous work?
Flynn: With this album, we’ve started writing a little bit more with our style in mind. It’s a little bit easier this time around. A lot of the brand-new songs were written with OLIVIA FOX harmonies in mind.
What is the meaning of the album/title track, Carbon?
Flynn: I saw the word written one time and thought it was such a cool word. I started looking into what exactly it is and wrote the song with that in mind. The concept that you could be diamond or dirt. Carbon is found in everything, so I related that to the potential we all have. We can all be the diamond or dirt in ourselves or treat other people as diamonds or dirt, so that’s the concept behind that song.
How would you describe your sound to somebody who hasn’t heard it before?
Smith: It is hard to put it into a box, because we have different styles, but we all landed on a folk-pop marriage. There’s folk harmonies and acoustic elements like guitar and violin, all tied into programmed beats and synth sounds.
What do you like most about performing in Kansas City?
Callahan: People are really supportive, even the musician community. There’s competition but also encouragement. We were part of a show with Addie (Sartino), the lead singer of The Greeting Committee. She invited us and several other women to be a part of this big female empowerment performance. It was so cool. We thought, “We should keep doing this.” So we came up with this idea to have a monthly meeting/community group for female musicians and industry people, to promote inclusivity.
With your message of female empowerment, do you see yourselves as role models for women, especially young women?
Flynn: That is definitely something we’d like to have happen, to have young girls that are musicians see other female musicians, or even just see other females out doing what they love to do in such a male-dominated thing.
What are some of your musical influences?
Flynn: I’ve been a superfan of Brandi Carlile forever. I heard her on the Bridge [the Kansas City-area radio station for alternative music] several years ago and just fell in love with her music. She’s doing on a huge scale what we would like to be doing in Kansas City. She’s bringing together all of these women [through The Highwomen]. She’s definitely an influence on me and what I want to do musically.
Smith: I love 60’s/70’s music. I grew up listening to oldies, so especially the singer-songwriter stuff like Carole King. Anything with a lot of harmonies.
Callahan: We grew up on oldies, so it has a special place in our hearts. It’s all the harmonies that came with it that were so simple sometimes.
What is your favorite venue to perform at in Kansas City?
Smith: We’ve been to Knuckleheads Saloon quite a bit and that’s always a good experience. We’ve done a couple of Sofar Sounds in Kansas City and St. Louis. We recently performed on a rooftop bar, which was really cool. We (were) very excited to play the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in November.
Cheesy interview question time: Where do you see yourself in five years as a band?
Flynn: I would like to go as far as we can go. I want to enjoy what we’re doing, but I’d like to do the festival circuit. Shoot for the stars, right? I’ve worked as a musician for 18 years trying to be successful. I finally feel like with this group we have something that matters and that people could enjoy.