Interview: Robyn Ottolini Found TikTok Fame and Landed a Record Deal, All While Stuck at Home
Robyn Ottolini signed her record deal with Warner Music Nashville in October, but six months later, she's yet to even visit Nashville.
"I haven't met my label in person yet ... It's really weird. I haven't even really been to Nashville as 'Robyn Ottolini' before," the singer shares from her home, just north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. "I've been there as a tourist ... but I've never been there as an artist."
Such is life when there's a global pandemic and you're based in another country. Still, it's sort of the way Ottolini was hoping it would happen.
"I always said, if I got to Nashville, I really wanted to be invited ... so, yeah, it's pretty surreal that when I step into Nashville, it's because a label signed me," she admits. "Manifesting works! I swear to goodness gracious, the universe has your back if you just tell it what you want."
Ottolini earned her record deal after her current single, "F-150," became popular on TikTok, but she's been making music for years: She's released two independent EPs and earned a Country Music Association of Ontario Rising Star Award nomination in 2019.
"It's so surreal because it's on the internet, so you don't think it's real. You put your laptop down and you're like, 'I'm still here. I have not moved geographically,'" the rising star admits. "So it's a weird feeling, 'cause, to me, it doesn't feel real, but it's very much real ... To me, I'm like, 'I'm a kid just doing her best.'"
Raised in Uxbridge, Ontario, Ottolini exudes Gen Z chill, though she reasons that she got her carefree attitude from her mom, who works with people with disabilities, and her quick-witted humor from her dad, a short-haul truck driver. Both she and her older sister, Ottolini says, also inherited their "workaholic" tendencies.
"I definitely have my personality from my parents ... They don't like arguing; they don't put up fights," she shares. "My dad was just constant hard work, and my mom was patient."
Ottolini's musical side came from her grandparents, she thinks — "My mom can't hear notes at all ... and then, my dad has a really good ear, but he doesn't play any instruments," she says — but she recalls her dad playing constantly country music in the car. In fact, Ottolini has a distinct memory of begging him to rewind a cassette copy of Diamond Rio's debut album over and over again so she could hear their single "Meet in the Middle" on repeat on the way to preschool.
Her mom, meanwhile, took her to her first concert: Nickelback, at an outdoor venue in Toronto. She was a preteen, "and I was like, 'What smells like skunk, mom?'" Ottolini recounts, affecting a little kid-like voice and laughing.
She wrote her first song when she was 13 or so: a song called "Me, Myself and I." More than a decade later, she can still sing a little bit of it. "I wanted a song about dreaming and going for your dreams," she remembers, adopting a hokey sort of voice as she adds, "Oh, I was such an inspiration!"
"F-150" is attractive for its honesty and casual, yet earnest sort of delivery. That's how Ottolini speaks, too, but musically, she says she's inspired by current stars including Kacey Musgraves, Sam Hunt, Maren Morris and Walker Hayes.
"A) They're really good at songwriting, and B) it's 'cause they're so honest and say what they wanna say," Ottolini reflects, "and if more people said what they wanted to say, there'd be cooler songs in the world."
As Ottolini's learned, saying what you want to say doesn't endear you to everyone. She points to "Good S--t," an independent release that finds her infinitely better off after a breakup. She's particularly proud of the upbeat kiss-off, but, she fake-whispers over Zoom, her ex and his family were "not stoked" about the song, even though it doesn't name names.
"It was hard when I first released it. I cried a lot," Ottolini says. "But, hey, it helped a lot of people on the internet."
She has spent the six months since signing her record deal writing (both solo and with co-writers via Zoom), on a virtual radio tour and, more recently, making plans to record some new music. She's always been eager to put her songs out into the world, but she's a bit more nervous this time around because it'll be her first major-label release.
"[I keep wondering], 'What if a better [song] comes?'" Ottolini says. "[And my label is] like, 'Robyn, this one's great.' And I'm like, 'But what if there's something greater?'"
Until she can make it to Nashville, she will be hanging out in her hometown. It's where the guy she's singing about in "F-150" is, too.
"Sometimes I see him in town and I put my head down and walk really fast," she admits, then reflects on how far the song's brought her.
"But, hey," she adds, "I win that breakup."
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