Hailing from Manchester, singer-songwriter Abbie Ozard combines her penchant for indie pop escapism with candid explorations of modern life and coming-of-age. Having toured with the likes of whenyoung and Phoebe Green, she recently followed up her 2017 debut project, the lo-fi-leaning Growing Up, with a new EP called let’s play pretend. It’s an infectiously catchy collection of songs that sees her fleshing out her sound with help from co-producer Rich Turvey (Oscar Lang, Vistas, Blossoms) as she continues to navigate the anxieties of being in your early 20s. From the propulsive, sun-drenched hooks of ‘pink sky (endless summer)’ to the understated yet soaring ‘tv kween’ and the Tarantino-inspired, Avril Lavigne-channelling ‘true romance’, Ozard retains a dreamy aesthetic while radiating a newfound sense of confidence that solidifies her status as an artist-to-watch.
We caught up with Abbie Ozard for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her influences, her new EP, and more.
You’ve talked about growing up listening to artists like The Cure and Mazzy Star, and some of these dreamy 80s and 90s influences definitely come through in your music, but there’s also more of a pop–punk energy on your new EP. What were some of your reference points while making the record?
I think the sound has just kind of naturally evolved. I don’t think I’ve got anything specific that I’ve taken inspiration from – it’s just kind of happened. I don’t know, the music that I listened to growing up, with my mom and dad listening to all these 80s and 90s bands, and then I’ve got an older sister that was listening to, like, Busted and Avril Lavigne and people like that, so I think it’s all just naturally formed into its own sound.
Do you have any early musical memories that have stayed with you over the years?
Yeah. My parents are big vinyl collectors, so I used to go through old vinyls and play them. And I think as I’ve got older, I’ve kind of become more knowledgeable, and I’m like, “I know that artist! I know that band!” My mom is a huge Blondie fan as well, so we used to dance in the kitchen to ‘Sunday Girl’. I think that was one of my earliest memories of really enjoying music.
How did you become interested in songwriting in particular?
It all started off – I was doing classical music when I was little, and I used to have piano lessons and do like grades and stuff like that. And I joined a church choir for about five years. And then I grew older and kind of grew out of it, so I dropped out of doing that and I got a guitar for my birthday and I started to just write songs from there. I don’t think I’ll ever show anyone the first songs that I wrote.
Do you remember what they were about?
Yeah, they were just about, like, boys and stuff. [laughs] Literally no one can ever see them, I think it was just me trying to be an angsty teenager, trying to be cool.
To get to your new EP, could you talk me through the timeline of writing and recording these songs?
Yeah, so I wrote ‘pink sky’, and then straight after ‘pink sky’ we went into lockdown. And then I wrote ‘tv kween’ and released that. And then we came out of lockdown and I went into the studio and wrote ‘true romance’. ‘breakdowns’ was also written when we when we were allowed to be out of lockdown for a bit, and then it was finished just at home. So they’ve been pretty close together, but I think a lot has changed since when I first started writing the first EP, so it’s kind of gone through the different phases of year and what was happening in my life.
What would you say is the biggest thing that’s changed?
I moved out – I moved away from my parents’ house. I think when I was writing ‘breakdowns’, I was living at my parents’ house and I would feel shit about being, like, twenty-something and not having my own kind of routine and life. All my friends were moving away from my hometown, and I just felt like rubbish and bitter about it, so I wrote a song about it. [laughs] So that’s changed, and like, relationships, that’s all changed. Things are just ever-changing, and I think the EP is just a reflection on how the past year has been.
That leads me to my next question, because I was thinking about ‘breakdowns’ in relation to what you’ve said about the pressure and the lack of direction that comes with being in your early 20s. And you mentioned something specifically in a press release about having “a massive conversation about Generation Z.” Do you remember how that conversation went?
I was writing it with my friend Ben in Leeds at the time, and we were thinking what to write about, just throwing out ideas. And I was like, “Yeah, the other day I saw someone post on their social media, like, ‘having a break from social media.’” And I’ve literally done it before, like I’ve shared a post like that. And I’m like, “How ironic is that, you post about having a break from social media?” Like, I get it, people are so used to posting every day, and I guess you kind of have to inform people when you’re not in that world, otherwise your followers are gonna be like, “What the hell? Where have they gone? Are they okay?” And it’s just so weird – it’s kind of fucked up that you have to do that.
I think a lot of people have started talking about mental health a lot more the past couple of years and especially this year. And I just felt like, even though they were starting to talk about it more, a lot of people couldn’t cope with what was happening and they were having breakdowns. I kind of think the song has got a sarcastic manner to it, like people might think I’m taking the mick out of people having breakdowns, but that’s not what I’m doing. I’m just talking about how it is to be in your early 20s in this time, and so many people living at their parents’ houses can’t afford to move out because they’ve not got jobs, and there’s so much pressure, like, “What am I going to do in my life?”
You mentioned you wrote the song with Ben – do you feel like making this EP as a whole was a more collaborative process?
Yeah, I think the songs that I write on my own verses versus the songs that I write with other people are really different. This EP has been more collaborative, but with the next few releases I kind of want to make sure there’s a mixture of songs that I’ve written by myself and with other people. I don’t want everything to sound the same because I get bored of the sound so quickly; I just want to go to the next thing and I want to make sure that there’s a variation of soundscapes and lyrics.
It sounds like you’re at a phase where you’re experimenting with a lot of different ideas and going from one sound to the next pretty quickly. In what ways has the pandemic affected your approach?
At the start, there wasn’t much to work with in terms of inspiration. I was like, “Nothing is going on in my life, I’m literally stuck in my room. That’s all there is to write about, the fact that you’re stuck in your room.” And a lot of people were doing that at the time, and you’re like, “Ugh, that’s so unoriginal, I’m writing about corona again.” And then I started doing Zoom sessions – I kind of avoided it a bit for a bit, but I thought, you know, if we’re in this for the long run, then I’ve got to start writing and collaborating with other people, as well as writing by myself, so I pushed myself to do that a bit more. And that was cool, because ‘tv kween’ was written on FaceTime, and that’s my favorite song yet. In a way it’s been a blessing, but at the same time, it’s really hard to find inspiration a lot of the time.
Maybe as a result of that, a running theme on the EP is that’s largely about romanticizing different aspects of your life. And you’ve said as well that that’s something you didn’t realize until after you’d assembled it. How did you think that common thread came about?
I’d released each song individually, not knowing that they were going to be put into an EP, and I thought – each song has its own little separate world, and I wanted to keep it like that. But then I thought, “Wait, all the songs have that running theme throughout them,” and I’m kind of playing ignorance is bliss, ignoring what’s happening and creating little separate worlds to kind of escape from it. And I kind of wanted to just bundle that up into a project, because I think the songs work really well together in that each song has a different form of escapism. And for me, that really helped, and I kind of want other people to realize that could help as well.
With that in mind, where do your ambitions stand at the moment in terms of music?
I just want to carry on releasing music and keep growing through my music with every release. I think it’s nice that people are starting to relate to the songs and the lyrics more, because that’s my main goal, to help people and to make them think, like, “Yeah, I’m feeling the same as her, so that’s okay.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Abbie Ozard’s let’s play pretend EP is out now.