Published Jan 16, 2019To Olivia Borkosky, music is all about community.
"Music just brings people together in a way that's pretty unique," says the founder, vocalist, principal lyricist and ukulele player for folk-popsters Olivia and the Creepy Crawlies. "It's really important, in this day and age, to feel part of something, part of a community, part of a group."
After an early string of solo performances in early 2013, the musician was spurred to expand her operations. "I was like 'I'm a little lonely! I think I want to start a band,'" she recalls.
The Guelph-born singer-songwriter had moved to London, ON to attend Fanshawe College's Music Industry Arts program, which offers students exposure to fields from songwriting and audio production to social media and networking. Making the most of her studies, Borkosky worked on recruiting her classmates and friends.
Olivia and the Creepy Crawlies formed in the fall of 2013, largely composed of Borkosky's classmates at Fanshawe College. Her troupe quickly swelled to a sextet featuring Borkosky, glockenspielist, acoustic guitarist and backing vocalist Kelly Samuel, drummer Aurora Evans, bassist Connor Grieve, and guitarists Jordan Moore and Chris Denise (all but Moore remain in the band, now including guitarist Trevor Dubois).
While the six-strong lineup kept her company on stage, Borkosky admits that they also helped her with off-stage elements like marketing, booking, staging and grant writing, which are each handled by specific band members as an extension of their on-stage duties.
"I have zero business savvy," admits Borkosky. "I can't wrap my brain around being business-savvy. I'm a very flighty creative. It's just really helpful to have business savvy people in the band." Efforts in stringent money management and fundraising have allowed the band to finance two EPs, a full-length album and plenty of tours in a scant five years.
It helped that the band hit the ground running, even in their earliest days. "Within a month of us starting the band, we went into the studio and started recording immediately," says Samuel. "We recorded our first EP, Charley, at Fanshawe College. Our old guitarist Jordan actually did all of the mixing and engineering and mastering for us. And then, after that album was released, which was February of 2014, we toured immediately. It was a lot of really big steps all at once."
Unlike most bands, Olivia and the Creepy Crawlies were able to break even on their very first tour, which they attribute to offering plenty of merch, designed by local artists, a hectic tour schedule that occasionally resulted in multiple shows per night, and "a lot of sleeping on hardwood floors and not eating well," according to Samuel.
The band parlayed their momentum into a second EP, Tongue Tied, released in March 2015. The five-song release earned the band significant acclaim, including "EP of the Year" by London-based radio station CHRW, and a nomination for Best Folk/Roots Artist at the Jack Richardson London Music Awards (now the Forest City London Music Awards).
Spurred by their rapid success, the band gradually moved to Toronto after graduation, where they're now based. But that didn't stop them from heading back to London to record their debut full-length, Room to Grow, released in October 2018.
A taut slab of folk, pop and rock, Room to Grow is equally sprightly and wistful, with lush arrangements and heartfelt lyrics. It's easy listening but, true to its name, there are plenty of introspective observations that are worth digging into.
"I find myself to be, a lot of my songs are very straightforward, but then I also can be a very metaphorical writer. I like people to be able to take their own meaning to what I'm writing," observes Borkosky, the band's sole songwriter. "I've always said that I want to make music that people can sit down and have a cup of tea with, because I do some of my best thinking just sitting and drinking tea and listening to tunes, and I want that for my music as well."
It's this line of thinking that compelled the band to seek out vinyl for Room to Grow, no easy feat for an independent band with no record label, especially in a volatile industry that has resulted in numerous pressing plant closures in recent years. They were able to afford vinyl thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, another example of the band's commitment to community paying off.
"For me, listening to vinyl — I don't want to sound really pretentious here, but it feels like such an authentic experience," says Borkosky. "You really have to listen consciously and pay attention because you drop the needle down and you have to be listening for when you have to turn it over. I just find I'm much less distracted when I'm listening to vinyl than when I'm just listening to music on my phone.
"There would have been no way that we would've been able to afford it, so we're very, very fortunate to have people who support our cause. Pretty amazing." Adds Samuel, "It sounds cheesy but there's so much more sentimental value to hold physically a record of ours. We did a vinyl listening party just the six of us in my living room, and when we got to 'Lost Forgotten Friend,' which is the last track, we cried!"
As the band begin to move on from Room to Grow, they stress the importance of strength in numbers. Says Borkosky, "I just wanna keep making music with my friends and I always want there to be an outlet for that. No matter what, I want to keep playing shows and making music. That's the dream right there."
Olivia and the Creepy Crawlies play Lee's Palace in Toronto on January 18 as part of Exclaim!'s Class of 2019 concert series.