By Nicholas Jason Lopez
On Oct. 8, 2021, Atlanta chill-pop/R&B artist OFTEN will drop her debut LP ‘Dirty Saint,’ which listeners can get an early glimpse of what to expect based off the latest single “Palm Trees.”
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with OFTEN about ‘Dirty Saint’ and more.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Atlanta to someone who has never been there before?
OFTEN – Atlanta brought me up and home to myself in some very powerful ways. I once heard someone describe Atlanta as a city where “Blackness can breathe.” While beautiful in its phrasing, I also know it loses some of the truth of how tirelessly Georgia’s government body is working against that very breath. In the last year alone, there have been closed door Jim Crow-era legislation signings by Governor Brian Kemp, along with the current proposal of military style training for police at what is being informally referred to as “Cop City,” but fortunately, what makes Atlanta such a powerful place for growth is that it’s fully grassroots. The people of Atlanta – particularly, the Black queer folks of Atlanta, are consistently striving to decolonize life. To not only imagine what the world could be like without the battered systems negatively impacting literally every breathing soul on Earth, but to spread that counterpart of love and thoughtfulness and care the best way they know how. It can certainly get messy, but when you’re working without a model to create something that hasn’t existed in over 400 years, there will of course, be growing pains. The heart is there though. You can feel how strong the city beats.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
OFTEN – I think the people who listen to my music of their own volition are open to being a little sad, which makes me laugh as I say it, but it’s true. It excites me that people are willing to be open and vulnerable with me. I like the idea of my listeners feeling like they’re in the room with me and we’re at the point of the night where you can just say whatever it is you feel. Music is the place where I feel safest and certainly, my most honest. I spend a lot of time – too much time – in my head and being able to slowly get things out on my own terms at my own pace is incredibly comforting.
Music Bugle – How did you decide on the name “OFTEN” and its stylization?
OFTEN – Both of these things weren’t necessarily chosen by me. I introduced myself to someone and they thought I said, “Often.” At the time, I was toying around with the stage name Sorrow, which in retrospect, was a little more melodramatic than I need to be, but when they said, “Often,” I thought, “Oh, that’s it.” What’s funny is since then, nearly every time someone has written the name, they’ve immediately capitalized it. Wasn’t a part of my plan, but I probably need it, considering it’s taken me so long to fully put myself out there. It’s almost as if everyone is announcing me for me and I appreciate the unconscious support.
Music Bugle – Did the video for “Palm Trees” come out the way you had hoped?
OFTEN – When I think of making videos for these songs, they generally start with an anchor point and I try my best to fill it out from there. The hardest part for me is making sure what I envisioned in my head translates well for the viewer. I think that happend with “Palm Trees.” Ultimately, I just hope people feel something when they watch those two figures walking side-by-side, the care between them, but also the distance.
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your debut LP ‘Dirty Saint’?
OFTEN – The majority of “Dirty Saint” was created after my girlfriend and I lost our house due to Covid-19. We spent a year on the road moving between friends and family and hotels when we could afford them. It tested a lot of those relationships. Some of them completely crumbled while others, thankfully, grew stronger than ever. I’d never truly experienced anxiety quite like that. It showed up as heart stress and panic attacks. I had always been the kind of person who was “chill,” but the last year left me completely unsettled. There were a lot of things I had to let go of to grow and a lot more of myself to rebuild. Music was the only thing I had to ground myself throughout that process, my only real sense of direction. After everyone else went to bed, I would stay up late and work through melodies and ideas. Some of the tracks like “Palm Trees” came really quickly and others, I would find time throughout the day to play around with and get out what I could. I’m incredibly thankful to have had the time to create “Dirty Saint” and I truly don’t know how I would have made it through the year if I hadn’t had this specific work to focus on.
Music Bugle – How have you felt yourself mature as a musician?
OFTEN – It’s hard for me to trust or listen to myself sometimes and making music has really taught me to go with my instincts. Working on “Dirty Saint” solo allowed me to play around enough, while sticking to my vision. In some ways, I’m a people pleaser and with this, there was no one to please but me. Doubt is ultimately my achilles heel, but the more you make, the more you can tell yourself to just keep going. I still really struggle with believing in myself sometimes, but I’ve learned how important it is to get out of your own way and let the music speak for itself. I’m excited for what’s coming after this, as I continue to grow as a creator.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
OFTEN – Losing our home was difficult. My girlfriend and I are both Sagittarians, so initially, there was this open road excitement, but the constant uncertainty of where we would be able to sleep without feeling judged for our predicament became taxing. It was bizarre to be living through this universally awful experience, while still having this worry of how you were stacking up to others within the confines of late stage capitalism. It really brought out the worst in some people. I knew we had a long way to go as a society, but watching the dark depths of white supremacy and capitalism from that vantage point, as someone who still had options in a difficult situation, really opened my eyes to just how long the road is.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
OFTEN – It is very much mood-dependent, but Beverly Glenn-Copeland makes me feel so comforted and seen, like I am allowed to be exactly who I am. Arlo Parks reminds me of what it’s like to be young and in love and sweet and sad. SiR’s voice is so smooth and he never misses. DRAMA, keiyaA and Brittany Howard. A few days ago, Ultraviolet Boy introduced themselves to me and they’re so good. Also, Frank Ocean. Always Frank Ocean.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
OFTEN – Right into my head. Otherwise, somewhere green. Or a restaurant or bar I really like. I worked in the service industry for quite some time and I’m very into the dining experience. I moved to LA last month and there are already so many places I want to visit, but if I’m being really good to myself, I’ll meditate and pull some cards.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
OFTEN – In a larger quote about race, Toni Morrison says in an interview, “And all you got is your little self and what is that?” I think about my “little self” a lot. That we’re all just little lights, souls in bodies, on one small rock in a galaxy larger than we’ll ever comprehend, here and able to do whatever we want with the time we have, so there’s no point in dimming your light all on your own. Live greatly, as best you can, whatever that means to you.
*Photo Credit – Kate Carson*