Listening to The Queen of Hearts, the debut album by Offa Rex, is a bit like traveling back in time. The project, a collaboration between singer-songwriter Olivia Chaney and the indie-rock band the Decemberists, is a love letter to British folk music and an experiment in bridging musical sensibilities and finding common ground in the shared histories recounted in these classic songs.
Their first single, "The Queen of Hearts," perfectly captures the spirit of this record, with magical harpsichord sounds and Olivia's angelic vocals that are an escapist dream in these current times. And we are excited to premiere "The Old Churchyard," a beautiful, slow-burning hymn that feels like a warm embrace. The record is an excellent introduction to the genre, with Olivia and Colin Meloy, the Decemberists' lead singer and guitarist, selecting and arranging songs that capture the spirit of the originals while putting their own modern spin on them. Olivia and I chatted on the phone about her love for the genre, planning a record over email, and folk music's socialist sensibilities.
Laia Garcia: What attracted you to this genre of music?
Olivia Chaney: It's hard to explain without it sounding a bit mad. I think whenever I play I'm always trying to communicate things that are on a rather inexplicable level. For me, folk is an incredibly broad term, it's really music from all over the world, from ancient, kind of ritualistic cultures to the Victorians. It helps me feel rooted as a musician, I think.
There's some Johnny Rotten quote — I can't remember quite what he says — but it's kind of at that root, like if you want to know a culture, you just look at its traditional music and you'll find out so much about that society or whatever. For me, it does tell you so much, it communicates so much. Also, I'm not a prolific writer!
LG: How did this collaboration with the Decemberists come up?
OC: Yeah, so, it was really a thing where Colin tweeted something about me that was very sweet, and I didn't know that he knew my records or anything. I was in the middle of a big tour for my album, and I responded, and then he was like, "Oh, come and open for us." And then literally within hours, our agents had hooked up. A few months later, I was back on the road with them, and we just all got on really well. They were all very supportive, and their crowds were really lovely to play for. It was kind of pleasant. We were surprised by the whole experience. While we were on tour, Colin would say things like "Hey, have you ever considered having a band?" and "You should come out to Portland, you should come and work with Tucker [Martine, who produced The Queen of Hearts and had previously worked with the Decemberists]." But it was kind of, you know, friendly banter, and then I left the tour and that was it, we all waved goodbye.
Quite a while later, I got this email out of the blue from him saying, "I've been thinking about this, let's make a record together." I suppose we both had time out and then came together.
We emailed a lot about what kind of angle we wanted to take and some lists of songs and stuff. I think [I have a more] loosey-goosey approach, and his was more like, "No, this is a love letter to those folk records." I am quite proud of what we achieved, because it is a genuine mishmash.