Overcoming ego, cutting bangs and bold lyricism with Billy Otto and MITCHY

From their musical Von Trapp family-esque upbringings, to their deep love of the ocean, Billy Otto and MITCHY have many entwining lifelines. With both artists drawing inspiration from pretty much anything, they’ve sat down to chat new music, travel and their passion for passion.

Christina Mitchell of MITCHY and creative collaborator, musician and producer Billy Otto interview each other about guilty pleasures, being vegan, and voice memos by the sea.

Billy Otto Interviews Christina Mitchell of MITCHY

BILLY OTTO: You like bangs, I like bangs. Why do you like bangs?

MITCHY: I love bangs. Nothing like adding a bit of excitement to my life with a new hair chop. Bangs are bold and messy. Normally when I catch myself cutting my fringe it means I’m at a stage in life that’s pretty chill and laid back. Last time I did the chop I was headed off to Europe and North America for two months of travel. A few weeks back I Just got through an extremely busy season and to celebrate, once again, I chopped the fringe. So cheers to the fringe train! Glad you’re on it as well!

BILLY OTTO: DARK is such a banging debut single. It’s a fucking huge pop anthem. Congrats! How did you feel after releasing your first single? After all the build-up are you thinking about the next one?

MITCHY: Releasing a track was a high! My best yet! And to be honest, I’ve been thinking about my next release long before my debut single was out. I’ve been cooped up in the studio for the past year making lots of music. So I have quite a few releases that I’m getting ready for throughout the rest of 2020.

BILLY OTTO: What band or artist were you thrashing when you were 15?

MITCHY: It was 2012 when I was 15. Lana Del Ray released Born to Die and that rocked my world. But nothing compared to my discovery of Frank Ocean and his masterpiece Channel Orange. 2012 was the year of Frank Ocean. He’s been changing my life ever since.

BILLY OTTO: I wanna dive into some of your heritage. You’re from a small city called Bakersfield in California, and you grew up in a super conservative Pentecostal Christian family with 7 siblings. Such interesting foundations! Did religion play both a constructive and destructive role in your life? How have you come to terms with faith and deconstruction, and how has this impacted your art-making?

MITCHY: I’m grateful for the Bakersfield experience. I’m happy to say I never plan on living there again. My childhood was epic and weird. Both of my parents were great musicians/singers/songwriters. We travelled all over California playing in churches in a family band. I loved it. I tasted that performance rush from the age of five and it’s never left my system. When it comes to experiencing extreme conservative beliefs, I have kept a lot of the values I was raised with, but also adopted new ones as I grow into a new and better version of myself. I’m grateful to my parents. I believe they always gave us kids their best. My upbringing has impacted my journey as a writer immensely. I don’t like to view instances in my life as destructive. I think all of the challenging parts about my childhood created resilience within myself. I’ll be writing and processing through those things for the rest of my life.

Watch MITCHY cover Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell on the harp:

BILLY OTTO: If you could work with one producer in the world for one week, who would it be?

MITCHY: I’d work with Max Martin. Besides the fact that he’s one of the greatest pop writers of all time. I guess he just seems like a nice Swedish guy with great hair.

BILLY OTTO: Tell me about a place in the world that you have fallen deeply in love with. How did it inspire you?

MITCHY: I fell in love with Reykjavík, Iceland. It’s where I started writing the first MITCHY track ever. I felt extremely inspired by the beauty and welcoming people. Also, fun fact, the song I started there was just finished a month ago! Woohoo!

BILLY OTTO: What’s one thing you do every day to stay in flow?

MITCHY: The ocean is the place where I experience the most peace during my days. A couple of months ago I started diving regularly throughout my week and it’s made such a big impact on my mental health and ability to stay in the zone. I also love a good long run. I owe my sanity to getting in nature and experiencing her.

Christina Mitchell of MITCHY Interviews Billy Otto

MITCHY: Over the years your sound has evolved so much. What’s been the biggest inspiration for your ever-growing psychedelic/indie rock sound?

BILLY OTTO: Wow, yeah it’s been a huge journey trying to find my sonic feet in the world. I got back from playing music around the world for 12 months in late 2015, and I felt like I was done with creating folk music. Like, it was and will always be there for me, like an old childhood best friend. But I wanted to go further, deeper, wider. Tame Impala had just dropped Currents, and this was my catalyst for compositional transformation for my Billy Otto project. My producer Luke O’Dea said to me, “If you wanna go on this journey, I’m with you. But we have to commit.” I think psych/dream pop/rock as a platform, gives so much space for inner reflection, for experimental melodic architecture, and for a deep musical nostalgia. Tame Impala’s tracks like “Cause I’m a Man” and “Eventually” spoke to me with such a refreshing newness. Other inspiration has come from the likes of Temples, Local Natives, and Silverchair. And I think growing up listening to Jimmy Eat World, Foo Fighters and old Coldplay have had a priming effect on me in regards to my indie-rock trajectory.

MITCHY: If you could write a record with one other writer who would it be with and why?

BILLY OTTO: Jack Antonoff! I’m a big fan of Bleachers and I just love everything that he’s put his hands on in production. Whether it’s Lorde, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey or the Dixie Chicks, everything he touches turns to glorious gold. His mind seems so zany and quirky in interviews, and I think we’d totally vibe. He’s a genius writer, producer, and performer from New Jersey, and I would just love to be present with him and sponge up all that goodness. It’s difficult to find a collaborative friendship where you connect on a writer, producer, and performer level. I think working with people that live in those three spaces brings with it a shared understanding of the creative journey. I’ve had that three-fold creative partnership with a couple of different Australian and American producers and it has been the game-changer.

Photo: From the set of the ‘Chemical’ music video

MITCHY: You talk very openly and vulnerably about your mental health journey. What sparked that in you? Why do you think it’s being talked about more than ever in the past year?

BILLY OTTO: I grew up with very little masculine vulnerability. Newcastle is a coal mining town. A rugby-league-following small city. An epic hub for Holden Commodores. I feel like I was told to “man up” and prove myself as a young man. But when the shit hit the fan in my twenties, I had no idea how to deal with it. Part of me just wanted to resolve to my Christian roots and just pray to God about it. But I had depression and anxiety. And I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. The shame factor ruined me!
It wasn’t until my fiancé at the time broke up with me that I felt like I needed to face my demons head-on. I’d been in denial for years and years, but now I knew that I craved core transformation in my life. I started to open up to the beautiful people around me and that held space for me. I also opened up on social media. Both of these things were crucial for me, acknowledging before my tribe that I wasn’t ok. I began to change my life; I got off porn, I stopped drinking, I exercised twice a day, I stopped eating gluten, and I began seeing professional help and deepened my meditation practice.

I now encourage young men all over the world to practice mindfulness, to write down things you’re grateful for, to find friends and community that you can be vulnerable with. There’s such a stigma around mental health and men nowadays. We are still breaking through this toxic-ego realm. But, it’s happening. Every-time I talk about mental wellness at a show, I’ll always have men and women coming up to me thanking me for being real, raw, and honest about my struggles and breakthrough. We are living in the dawn of the new man. And I’m frothing to be a part of this. I was privileged to perform at Splendour in the Grass last year, and on the main stage, I saw James Blake tell over 20,000 people about his depression battle in his twenties. Something is happening, it’s a healing energy, it’s a global conscious renewal. But I’m no guru! I now love speaking out about mental health in schools and at shows. It’s become a part of my ethos.

Check out the dynamic video for Billy’s latest release Chemical, below:

MITCHY: What’s the most sacred part about the writing process for you?

BILLY OTTO: Most of my songwriting comes from spending time in the ocean. Surfing is my world! I’m sixty per cent water, and I think that this is one of the main reasons why I thrive there. From being in the ocean I come out feeling uber revitalised and grounded. And it’s from this space that I get my iPhone out and start recording some melancholic voice memos.

MITCHY: What’s the most annoying part about being a vegan?

BILLY OTTO: The plastic packaging involved in purchasing vegan cheese and vegan beef patties! Beyond Meat is heavenly though!

MITCHY: How do you not feel scattered with all of your projects you throw yourself into including being an environmentalist, a full-time producer, writer and surfer?

BILLY OTTO: I’m a list kinda guy. I plan my weeks and days, and I feel like the half-Malaysian in me loves to be productive and tackle multiple projects and channels at once. I only involve myself in things that I’m 100% into. For me, it’s either a “fuck yeah” or a “fuck no”. I’m in a love affair with music creating. I’d give my life to protect mother earth. Surfing is in my veins. I feel so blessed to be able to live such a curated and intentioned life of adventure and connection with these three things closely intermingled.

MITCHY: You’re a bold lyricist. A lot of your writing is very abstract and full of melancholic metaphors. Does this come naturally in your writing process? Or do you like being abstract and using words the average person would have to google?

BILLY OTTO: Yeah, I think I need to be a bit careful to not get lost in the rhetoric in a way that is overly scholastic and existential. My parents are scientists and architects, and maybe this played a part in my weird vocab. I read a lot of books on anthropology, psychology, history, and philosophy, and I feel like all these things play into my mode of communication. I’ve traveled fifty-two countries and learnt aspects of many languages, but English is still my favourite. You can paint pictures with a palette and brush, or words and metaphors. Why not get creative and find new and renewed modes of speech and poetry? If I am going to love on someone, it will be through words of affirmation. I love speaking words of delight over my lover and my mates. So when it comes to music, I bring a tonne of intention to my phrasing and word choice. I want to create a feeling, a nostalgia, a new world to step into through my words and choruses.

MITCHY: If you had to start a tribute band, who would you be and why?

Billy Otto: The band would be U2 and I would be Bono. I fucking love their early albums so much. I love everything they stand for and would be honoured to raise the banner of change (in front of seventy screaming mums)!

MITCHY: Which mainstream female pop artist is your guilty pleasure and how does she influence your writing process?

BILLY OTTO: Dua Lipa, what a babe. I think her hooks are so watertight, and the production on her tracks is pen-ultimate. Be The One carries such a simplicity and grounded energy. It makes me feel something so deep. At the same time, MITCHY really got me into Beyonce. And her Lemonade album still blows my mind. The catharsis OMG.

MITCHY: Is there new music on the horizon? Potential sophomore album? If so, what’s the mantra for the new music you’re working on?

BILLY OTTO: I’m releasing a new album over the next year! It’s called Rogue Ocean. Most of the songs are about healing through a deep loss. My breakup with my fiancé destroyed me and caused me to pursue some heavy lifting in the inner work world. I think that so much growth can come from grief, and I set my heart to create from this place of chrysalis experience; that space of intense heart wrestling and evolutionary metamorphosis of self through pain and process.

MITCHY: What artist do you think is changing the music game in 2020?

BILLY OTTO: Ry X. What other global name is bringing together the elements of folk, ambient and soul into such a guttural form of storytelling? I call Ry’s dad my Uncle. We surf and do men’s work together. And I just have this feeling that Ry is going to continue to take the world by an even more thunderous storm.. Watch out!

Tune in to Billy’s latest release, a stripped-back cover of The CranberriesDreams with singer-songwriter Kyle Lionhart: