Photo by Jack Sheen

“I’m really close to finding the perfect sound”, says Olivia Sebastianelli on the latest stage in her remarkable life-long musical journey. The teenage singer songwriter has a maturity forged in years of heaving her guitar around “every live music place in London”. Now, her soulful voice, deep lyricism, and gutsy determination have won her the Holy Grail of X Factor wannabes – a record deal.

The South Londoner describes the events leading to her contract with RCA Records (Sony) as a “bit of a fairy tale”. She joins a roster of big names like Beyonce and Pink, after a talent scout saw her supporting The 88 in Shepherd’s Bush. However, she is quick to point out that her “epic” sound is something that admirers struggle to define.

“I keep describing it as a cross between Fleetwood Mac and Foo Fighters, which everybody gets really confused about. It’s the melodies of Fleetwood Mac, and the way they construct their harmonies, everything’s so tight, with the punk and anger of Foo Fighters, that kind of vibe.”

Having signed her contract in September 2010, Sebastianelli is now fine-tuning her act with a new band, preparing for her debut album release in 2012. “We’re just currently finishing off the EP, and making sure it’s all ready and sorted. Once that’s done we’re going to do a small UK tour in smaller venues to work in my band and get us all well oiled and ready. Then I’m going to LA in the beginning of July to go and meet a few big-time producers [Brendan O’Brien and Butch Vig].”

With a credit list including Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen, working with O’Brien and Vig would be daunting for anyone, yet the teenager is nonplussed. She admits that exposure to seasoned music professionals initially “freaked me out”, but now feels more secure as she reaches “the end of my development stage”. “The more I started working with producers and going into the bigger studios I stopped researching them as much, I found that was much easier to do.”

The more you chat with this 17-year-old on the cusp of womanhood, the more you realise she is unlike your usual teenager. While her contemporaries are at college, she is a full-time musician whose decision to forgo further education initially clashed with her mother. “She told me it really hit her when she came to a gig and saw a 45-year-old metalhead who had really long hair, a beard, covered in tattoos, crying at one of my songs that I was singing. She really realised then the massive impact it has on the people who see me.”

Sebastianelli has no qualms about taking an alternative route to her friends, as her commitment to music has always been apparent. Since early childhood, the Croydon-born singer has been able to “hold a melody”, which continued in covers bands and solo performances from the age of 13. The former Old Palace school pupil confesses that she wasn’t “the model student”, and that gigging resulted in 2am “homework time”.

A few weeks before her 18th birthday, she reflects on how her love of poetry at school provided a well from which lyrics were “translated”. Sebastianelli believes the importance of song writing has diminished today, with the charts displaying a “lack of interesting lyrics”. “It’s really important that people start to actually notice that it takes a lot of effort and care to put your emotions into words, and have to go and sing them at the same time without breaking down every five minutes.”

Sebastianelli’s first EP will be available in July.

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