Odette’s ‘Herald’ Is A Brutal And Extraordinary Reckoning
"I can't keep putting the blame on other people...The whole aspect of this record was how people have hurt me -- I wanted to twist it around and say 'Well, actually this is how I've hurt other people'."
“It’s fucked,” Georgia Odette Sallybanks says abruptly, causing a burst of crackle over our Zoom connection. “No one tells you how fucked it’s going to be.”
I hadn’t quite finished the question, which was about how she dealt with the tumultuous period of early adulthood, but Odette answered it perfectly anyway. It is fucked, and confusing, and disrupting — and it’s this grand passage that spawned Herald, Odette’s beautiful, scathing, and confronting second album.
“What would I tell myself if I could go back?” She asks herself, before pausing for a moment. “Maybe…’It’s okay, it’s fine. It is what it is. You’re going to have to just deal with it. Maybe don’t be mean to your friends as much. I know it hurts, but let’s go to therapy instead.'”
Herald covers a lot of ground, and not all of it is easy — toxic relationships, mental illness, excruciating self-criticism, hatred, anger, love and lust… Odette bravely offers it all with her hands outstretched. The songs were written a while ago, at a time when Odette was “really unwell”, seeking to blame everyone around her — it wasn’t until much later that she realised it was her at the centre of it all, that she needed to face up to herself. The songs she had written stared back at her.
“Music is my way of being accountable,” she explains. “I want to make sure that I’m paying homage to how I feel, but more importantly, paying homage to the actual reality of what I’m singing about and those toxic traits, oh my goodness. They were prevalent for a very long time and I just had no self-awareness whatsoever.
“I was just completely absorbed in my own mind…it just got to the point where I was like, ‘Oh, it’s all their fault or it’s all their fault. It was actually this year that I changed the title of the album from Dwell to Herald because genuinely I had written this album almost in anger and as I evolved and grew from that feeling, I realised that my anger was a lot of it was at me and it wasn’t actually about other people.”
A song like the title track, she explains, was written with her ex-partner in mind, but after the words had settled for a few months or so, she realised the ‘you’ in the lyrics — “You sure lacked any convictions” — was completely directed at herself. “So many of these songs are self-analysis without me even realising it until I listened back and went, ‘Oh my God, Georgia read me to filth. Wow.'”
Piecing Yourself Together
The songs for Herald came together quickly, and she teamed up with producer Damian Taylor (who worked on her debut To A Stranger) and Carter Matschullat to pull it all together in the studio, in Los Angeles and New York, respectively. Herald was actually finished a long time ago, over a year, in fact, but was shelved for “business things”, Odette says. “It’s been frustrating,” she adds.
Where her 2018 debut To A Stranger was velvety, luxurious, soft, Herald is more abrasive pop — elements of PC Music-inspired production splice through on tracks like ‘Dwell’. There are moments of exquisite tenderness (the bright, oscillating piano line ‘Trial By Fire’), redemption (‘Amends’), and explosive anger (also ‘Trial By Fire’). Herald is defined by chaos, of upheaval — to sink into it is to be tossed through Odette’s mind during a period of turmoil. It’s an extraordinary listen.
It’s such a close and visceral listen that it’s hard for Odette to listen back — there’s a lot to confront, even now.
“I see a very young girl who was growing and trying to understand her emotions and I didn’t have a diagnosis of what was going on with my brain.”
“[When I hear it now] I see a very young girl who was growing and trying to understand her emotions and I didn’t have a diagnosis of what was going on with my brain,” she admits. “Last year I got an official diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. So that is a huge factor now for me in how I approach my career — and everything really — because it’s a very stigmatised thing, especially because the symptoms are bloody chaotic and pretty intense. So when I listened to this record, that’s what I can hear now. It’s like, ‘Oh, you were sick. I get it. You were very unwell.’ It’s interesting listening back…it’s kind of sad, actually.”
Getting the BPD diagnosis was a huge leap forward, a clarifying moment. But as Odette tells it — there’s no cure, there’s no “real medication for it”. “So it’s just a fun thing that my brain decided to do,” she laughs dryly. “So looking back, it’s like ‘Oh fuck I have no idea what the hell was going on and was just acting out like a child.’ That’s what it is. It’s emotional dysregulation. So you can see the ups and downs. You can see how I go from idealising to vilifying in two seconds.”
There are moments on Herald when it feels like Odette is just clinging on, reaching out for stable ground. On the swelling and thrilling ‘Amends’, she begs to be able to love herself again, to set herself free, to “lie in the light in the long grass”; the instrumentation, a cacophony of synths and horns and layered harmonies, lifts her to that ground. The closer, ‘Mandible’, is one of the softest spots on the album, a moment of hope to send it off.
“The whole undertone of this, even though I was sick, was that I could hear myself saying, ‘I want to get better’,” Odette says. “Am I going to be like this forever? What’s going on? The vulnerability of me in that time shines through. And that makes me so hopeful because it’s like, yes, you had self-awareness you just didn’t know what to do with it. You didn’t know how to grow. Now you do.”
Herald is a reckoning — with herself, with an illness she didn’t yet understand, with everyone around her. Ultimately, she says, Herald is about her trying to bring forth a new perspective of being.
“I can’t keep putting the blame on other people,” she admits. “The whole aspect of this record was how people have hurt me — I wanted to twist it around and say ‘Well, actually this is how I’ve hurt other people’. I feel like there’s a lot of shame and there’s a lot of fear around talking about being a toxic person or perhaps having abusive tendencies. And there’s a lot of, ‘Oh my God, what if something bad happens? What if people judge me for it?’ There’s not one person on this planet who hasn’t been horrible at one point or another.”
Jules LeFevre is the editor of Music Junkee. She is on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Giulia McGauran