Olivia Bray said she can’t remember the first song she ever wrote.
“I think what happened was I saw my sister writing music, and I thought, ‘Oh, writing music is what we do,’” she said. “That was the natural process of growing up. I became a teenager, and I started writing music. I thought that’s what a human does.”
Olivia and her older sister, Chloe Bray, are singers and songwriters attending BYU. The sisters formed a band together, Chloe Olivia, after Olivia returned from her mission in the Oregon Portland Mission a year ago.
They released their first single, a song called “Gilded,” on May 18, 2018. Over the past year, the pair has gained over 60 thousand Spotify followers from 63 different countries, and “Gilded” was streamed over 100 thousand times. Their latest single, “Cold Floor,” dropped March 22.
Chloe said she wrote her first song at the age of 10. It was called “Miracles.” When her mom came into the room to hear what she’d come up with, Chloe said her mom couldn’t believe she’d written it herself.
“She kept saying, ‘Chloe, are you sure? Who wrote that? Did you just change the lyrics to another song?’” Chloe recounted.
The sisters’ mother, Gale Bray, recalled her amazement at Chloe’s first written song.
“I didn’t believe she had written it because it was so beautiful and well-constructed, and the lyrics were so outstanding,” Gale said. “It was then I knew that Chloe was a songwriter. At just 10, 11, 12, I couldn’t believe the maturity of her lyrics.”
When Gale and her husband Christopher were first married, she said one of the first purchases they made despite being poor was a piano for their small apartment. From the very beginning, Gale said, her children had access to music. They’d play together as a family.
One year, when Chloe was about 9, Gale said she wanted to write a song for her husband for their anniversary. It wasn’t something she’d ever done, but she decided to involve the girls in the secret and crafted it over the course of two months.
She would play it for Chloe and Olivia and asked them what they thought. It wasn’t a year later until Chloe wrote her first song, Gale recalled. She said she believes her own actions may have opened her daughters’ minds to their creative potential.
“Maybe that made them think that was something you could do if you wanted,” Gale said. “It’s almost like what I’ve done with my life — even with pursuing higher education — has given them permission and the belief to do whatever they want as well.”
Chloe and Olivia said it was their mom who began posting videos of her daughters to a YouTube account to share with friends.
Olivia said it wasn’t long before the views rose exponentially to 20,000. Today, the channel maintains over 10,000 subscribers.
“It is funny because it was booming, and we were getting so many views, but I never paid attention to numbers at all,” Chloe said. “It wasn’t until after my mission that I was thinking, ‘Dang, we actually had quite a following.’”
Chloe and Olivia focused individually on their own songwriting throughout their teenage years, teaming up together from time to time for duets.
Olivia said she drew inspiration from anything and everything that made her feel something. She’d write about crushes, and she’d write about friends excluding her. Once, she said, she even wrote a song about a fight she had with her parents. But it wasn’t until the family moved from Oklahoma to Arizona in 2012 that Olivia felt her songwriting began to flourish.
“I went through a really rough time of not having any friends,” she said.
Olivia said she would spend Friday and Saturday nights learning to play the guitar and piano and would practice for hours each week. Olivia averaged about three songs per week during this time, she said, because she didn’t know what else to do.
“I look back now and realize that was my golden age,” she said. “I read so many books, and it brought so many emotions and colors and ideas to say different things.”
“Music was a lifesaver during those high school adolescent years,” she said. “I always had a sense of self because I had this unique talent that I could throw myself into.”
Chloe and Olivia said coming to Provo introduced them to new experiences that rounded out their talent. Chloe explained BYU offered her the opportunity to collaborate with other musicians on campus who taught her more about the production process.
“I’ve worked with people who play different instruments that bring a new element to my music,” Chloe said. “There are so many creatives here. That’s something I love about Provo.”
Chloe released her first EP in 2013 by the name of “Nomadic Melodies” just before she left for a mission in Italy.
Olivia took a songwriting class her first year at BYU despite having written songs herself for over seven years. She said she was assigned the task of taking the structure of a song and writing another song of similar structure.
“It really helped me think about writing music in a different way. I didn’t want to do what another person was doing, but it was interesting to think of the way the chords moved and the rhythmic patterns of it and think how I could use it myself,” Olivia said. “I used one particular scale continuously after that class.”
While developing their interests separately, the two said they always mused about working together, but it never really took off. It wasn’t until Olivia left on her mission that Chloe began to suggest in her emails that they team up when she returned.
Olivia said she believes their missions prepared them to be the kind of people they needed to be to do music together. The distance, she said, only brought them closer together.
“We learned to live with somebody else and to focus on somebody else’s needs,” Olivia said. “I’m not sure we would have become a band together had we not gone on our missions.”
Olivia felt the artistic and free-flowing environment of Portland opened her eyes to the belief that she really could pursue her dreams and be anything she wanted to be.
“I spent so much time realizing that I have something to give. And when I really thought about what I have to give people outside of my mission, I knew music was it,” Olivia said. “I knew that was something God had given me and Chloe that He wanted me to use to serve people after my mission.”
One of the first things the sisters did when they formed their band was create an Instagram account to promote their music. Their feed features release dates of new singles, performance recordings and a link to purchase band merchandise. Today, the page has more than 5,000 followers.
“Unless you hire a publicist, you are your own publicist,” Olivia said, detailing the hours it takes to take pictures, send them to blogs and get the word out about their craft.
The struggle, Chloe said, lies in creating a fan base that comes from music lovers hearing it on Spotify rather than looks on Instagram.
Chloe said social media has connected her and Olivia to producers, photographers and someone to do mixing and mastering for their music. The overall process of releasing a song independently requires hours of preparation and work.
Chloe said Olivia truly is her best friend and that they complement each other very well in a musical sense.
“My writing includes a lot of unique chord progressions and poetic lyrics,” Chloe said. “Olivia is amazing at writing a good chorus hook and telling a direct story. When we come together, we bring those elements of our strengths to create the songs we release.”
The experience they’ve gained puts them in an interesting place, Chloe said. They can pitch themselves not just as “Chloe and Olivia” when shopping for labels, but also as songwriters for other artists. Chloe estimated the pair has about 400 songs written they’d be ready to give to others in addition to pursuing their own brand.
Chloe said some people will hate her songs and others will deeply connect to them and listen on repeat, but gratitude for the simple opportunity to share is what keeps her confident as a musician, regardless of the response.
The pair said their focus is now on developing a brand and style that they can one day present to a label that will share their same vision. Once they feel the focus can shift from content creation to live performances, Chloe said, the public can expect to see them performing locally in places with an intimate setting like Velour, Kilby Court and The Boxcar Studios.
Olivia said performing live is one of the most vulnerable positions for her to be in. She said there’s a complete difference between being in the studio and having the space to write and create and displaying what she’s created to people standing right in front of her.
When people react with love for what they’re hearing, the connection Chloe and Olivia said they feel to their audience is unlike any other.
“It really does mean so much,” Chloe said. “Even one person telling us, ‘I relate to that,” means the world to us.”
“If they like your songwriting,” Olivia said, “They like a part of your soul.”