Dave Olson ventures into Americana with Pieta Brown (INTERVIEW)
Gimme Noise: You describe your music as Americana-folk, but it also has traces of country music. How did this evolution come about?
Dave Olson: Country, and folk and blues, are all part of the musical fabric of Iowa. I learned to write and perform in Iowa City, starting when I was 18. At the time, there were two genres of music that were part of the musical fabric of that community: folk music, from the likes of Greg Brown and Dave Moore, and roots-rock, which is a combination of blues, rock, and country. It was very difficult to live and make music in Iowa and not pick up on the country influences. Even if you don't listen to mainstream country, just about everyone can get down to folks like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Jimmy Rogers, Emmylou Harris, etc.
You seem to have a lot of storytelling elements in the pieces off of the new album. Do you draw from personal experience when writing?
I draw from my own personal experiences and from the experiences of those around me. I "steal" stories from friends and family, and many of the songs on the record are inspired by the experiences of people I know and are close to. "Old Birds Sing" is partially about my Grandpa. "Blues for a Girl" is partially about my Dad. No October is based partially on the experiences of a friend of mine who visits his brother in the Southwest and finds that he doesn't have much to say to his brother once he's there because they're such different people. A good hook can make a song interesting, but a good story makes a song personal and intimate and enduring.
What comes first, they lyrics or the music?
They both come at the same time. I've never been able to write lyrics without a melody, and I tend to forget or lose melodies that don't have a few lyrical phrases. I get yet-to-be-written songs stuck in my head all the time. Usually it's just a piece of lyric and melody and I have it stuck in my head until I can find the time to sit down and write it down.
Most of No October was recorded in a barn in rural Minnesota. Where did this idea come from, and how did it play into the feel of the sound on the album?
There are a lot of great studios in the Twin Cities, but my producer, Richard Medek, and I really wanted to find a place to record the record that would inspire the musicians and set a tone for the record. The barn was such a neat building and had a ton of natural character -- it would be impossible to play there and not be inspired by the surroundings. Being removed from the city and day to day life also let us focus on the task at hand without distractions.
What's the meaning behind the name No October?
No October is about someone whose life has changed but he is unwilling to adapt -- he'd rather run away and avoid the situation and continue to live in ambiguity. A lot of the songs on the album are about people living in ambiguity -- people who are are on the verge of a change or people who are in the process of learning and growing. Growing, changing, and adapting can be awkward, painful, and difficult. People who learn a life lesson or reach a certain understanding are less interesting to me than people who are in the process of learning or on the road to understanding. I felt like the title No October captured that ambiguity.
The artwork too was very intentionally ambiguous. The bird on the cover is against an uncertain backdrop -- it could be dawn, or dusk, or a really bad storm.
Favorite track off the new album?
I love "So Long Blues" because it really captures the mood and atmosphere of the barn where we recorded. It is simple, but rich and atmospheric at the same time. "Buddy Holly" was really special for me, because we recorded it at night on a deck outside the barn. It was just me, a guitar, and a mic beneath the stars on a perfect Minnesota night. I can't describe how amazing it was to play like that; you can hear the frogs and crickets at the beginning and end of the track.
How did you come to working with Benson Ramsey, Carl Broemel, and Pieta Brown?
I've known Benson since I lived in Iowa City. We were looking for a guitar player who could add a lot of "feel" and texture to the songs, and we knew Ben would be perfect for that. He's a very honest and open player and he gave the album a lot of it's character.
Richard (drummer and producer) goes to Nashville fairly regularly to record ambient jam-sessions that they called Winthorp. He, Carl, and Teddy Morgan, who mixed the album, are the main player sin Winthorp. In between sessions, Richard would play them songs from No October; they both liked what we were working on and ended up tracking parts for the record.
As for Pieta, we had a part that needed the perfect voice. I rearranged Ton Waits' "Georgia Lee" as a duet, an we decided to record it for the album. The success of that song depended entirely on finding the right voice for the character of "Georgia Lee." It needed to be someone who could be vulnerable and haunting, and Pieta nailed it. I can't believe how much character she has in her voice.
You come from Iowa City; what brought you to the Twin Cities and what made you decide to call this place home?
Opportunities and challenges. Iowa City is an amazing town, and it's very easy to live there. My wife and I stayed several years after we graduated from college, because we loved it so much. Eventually we both felt that we needed to broaden our experiences a little bit. I was attracted to the Twin Cities music scene, and we both felt that the Twin Cities could offer big city amenities and was still sufficiently "Midwestern," which was important to us.
Although you've just released an new album, what's next?
I am really excited to support the record, play as much as I can, and focus on writing again. Songwriting went to the back burner while I focused on the album, and I'm looking forward to taking it up again. I'd also love to find ways to collaborate with some of the fantastic local musicians -- I'm absolutely amazed at how many great songwriters and players there are in this town.
Dave Olson will have his CD release show at the Bryant Lake Bowl with special guests from his album and Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers.
AA, $10, 6 p.m. Sunday, May 6. Click here.
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