Midway through our phone call last week, the musician Oklou abruptly stopped talking. We were discussing the making of her critically-acclaimed EP Galore, which dropped last year, when she suddenly went silent, only to return a few minutes later, laughing. It turns out she stepped away to gaze at the evening sky from her Paris apartment. It must have been a pretty impressive sunset.
That sort of romantic whimsy doesn’t come as a surprise, given the sonic landscapes the 28-year-old singer and producer tends to craft with her music. Oklou’s lush and entrancing sound makes for an almost dream-like experience. Last September’s Galore is at once devastating and enchanting — a reflection on the challenging and sometimes confusing gradient of human connection. On the standout track “Fall,” plucky and muffled strings play in the background as Oklou sings about allowing herself to fall in love, despite its inherent risks. “It’s not a blessing and it’s not a curse/But a whisper saying that I just/ Need to fall,” she croons.
Oklou sees the album as a document, a “way to keep a trace of what happened in my heart,” she explains. “It was intense and it was beautiful, even if it’s a bit sad. I had something beautiful in my hands and I felt like I had to immortalize it.”
The vulnerability and openness she embeds in her music partially explain the decision to write lyrics in English, as opposed to her native French. Released from the pressures of articulation using her native tongue, Oklou says it’s easier to navigate her music’s emotion in English. “I’m a person who overthinks a lot, when it comes to words, I have a hard time,” she says. “It was easier for me to let go in English.”
And while you could say that her sound — softly enchanting vocals meticulously doused in reverb and warm synths — has become the dominant motif in today’s pop music, Oklou finds a way to infuse familiar terrain with a singular vision.
“I love romantic and nostalgic stuff. I know that at some point a few years ago, I tried to detach myself from it because I thought it was too easy. You can just add reverb to something and bam, it works,” she says. “But what’s important for me [is] what it can make you feel. So I don’t really care if it’s easy. It’s [all in] the balance and precision. You can be very precise, even with this lush stuff. You actually have so much control.”
Now, as she prepares for a North American tour opening for Caroline Polachek, Oklou says she’s excited about her creative vision. “I feel so much more confident about the story I’m telling and with the music itself. I am actually excited, for the first time, to do that many shows. Because I know what my purpose is onstage. I know the story I’m gonna tell,” she says.
Born Marylou Mayniel, Oklou grew up in the French countryside outside the city of Poitiers. Early on, she began training in classical composition, attending music school where she studied cello and piano. In her late teens, she felt a pull towards experimental music, discovering Soundcloud and becoming infatuated with underground heavyweights like Yung Lean, Arca, and FKA Twigs.
After attending university for two months, she dropped out to travel around Europe. She’d eventually meet the producer Casey MQ. They quickly discovered a creative twin flame in one another and co-produced the 2017 mixtape For the Beasts together. The 4-song project is dark and sensual, a sonic experiment that uses distorted samples of Miley Cyrus and Carly Rae Jepsen and lands somewhere between a nightmare and a celestial dream.
The duo kept making music together, eventually bringing Galore to fruition. To work on the project, they rented a home for two months in the secluded mountains of Serra Calderona, outside of Valencia, Spain. In addition to assisting with arrangements and song structures, Oklou says MQ helped her work through the pangs of an existential heartbreak. “He helped me as a friend to shed light on the story I wanted to tell. I always say that he made me realize that I had a beautiful one,” she explains.
It makes sense that Oklou finds herself so interested in telling stories. Her musical resume includes a number of side-quests, all concerned with exploring the relationship between sound and narrative. In 2018, she and the French artist Krampf released an experimental video game, “Diggin in the Carts” for Red Bull Music Academy. Inspired by the visuals of Assassin’s Creed, Oklou composed the score to the game and conceived of the storyline — an adventure tale about a young boy searching for his lost sister. She’s currently working on another video game project, this time scoring an immersive installation by the artist and close friend Saradibiza, which will be exhibited in Arles, France this winter.
Eventually, Oklou says, she’d like to score films. “It’s my dream, actually. I’ve found a way in my career to always do different things that are sometimes off the radar,” she explains. “It’s super important for me to have spaces where I can express myself in other forms.”
For now, as she travels the world sharing scenes from the depths of her heart, she’s content just soaking in the view.