“The great thing about being a long term performer is that you have an established audience but the problem is you have to keep building it, you can’t just stop it.” Kristina Olsen has been in Australia since mid-October to promote her new album ‘Chemistry’ and to build her audience. “It’s a big tour with at least four or five festivals,” Kristina recently told me. The tour will finish at the Illawarra Folk Festival in Wollongong in January and in between Kristina will have played at a variety of festivals and clubs including the Melbourne Folk Club on 3rd December.
Kristina particularly loves festivals. She has a great time as it gives her the chance to hear musicians that she otherwise may not have had an opportunity to see or hear. “It’s great to hear other people and play with other musicians.” Kristina explained that it’s often at festivals that you can find musicians to work with. “One of my main musical collaborators is a cellist from Western Australia. We’ve been touring for sixteen years, not full time but part time. I met him at the Woodford festival. He just blew me away and we’ve been playing music together ever since.”
Kristina collaborated with American guitarist, composer, arranger and producer Peter Snell for the ‘Chemistry’ album. “The thing that made me so excited about working with Pete was that everything I threw him he just caught and got to the solo right away. It was really fun. It was like a stallion being let out of the gate.” With both Pete and Kristina having heavy touring schedules, they had just three evenings where they were both free to record the album. I asked Kristina if she felt pressured knowing there was only three days available. “Yes totally but in a good way. I always say nothing happens without a deadline.” Kristina has her own studio and has recorded a few recordings there but the problem is without the constraints of studio availability and budget you can go on forever. “We curse those things, but they are actually beautiful things in disguise because they say you only have this much time so you’ve got to get it done. It’s a beautiful restraint.”
Kristina believes some of the most beautiful art comes out of cultures that have constraints. “Look at Latin American cultures where they’ve had regimes that have been just horrible. No one has a free voice and so the way people speak is actually in these incredibly poetic terms because they can’t speak outright. I often think art comes out of pressure. If you have no pressure you don’t get art.”
Although there was a deadline for the recording of the album, the songs were not necessarily written under the same pressure. Some of the songs on ‘Chemistry’ have been works of art for twenty years. “I have a strong feeling that each song has its own amount of time that it takes to finish and a lot of people, because of something like a deadline for an album, will finish a song before it’s actually finished. One of the amazing things is that you know within yourself when a song is finished.” Kristina thinks too many musicians record unfinished songs because of recording constraints. Producers will convince them the song is fine when you know it’s not!
One way of ensuring that her songs are truly complete is the song writers support group she has been meeting with since 1979. The group used to meet in Kristina’s Venice Beach home but these days convenes online due to the members being scattered all over the globe with touring commitments. This group of supporters keeps her song writing honest and gives direction as to where the song needs to go. “We proof each other’s work, we give each other feedback and criticism and suggestions,” Kristina explained. “We are not heavy commercial pop writers, we are not trying to make a million dollars. We wouldn’t turn it down if it came our way. We are into the pure art of song writing. We are a support group.” Kristina went on to explain that members can rewrite a whole verse of each other’s songs but not get song writing credits because they are an ‘altruistic group that she adores’.
“The amazing thing of meeting with the same people for so long is that they know my short cuts, they know where I am lazy, they know where my potential is and so they will push me when they think I am fluffing off.”
With ‘Chemistry’, Kristina and Pete have an album that she believes has a live sound and feel. “We wanted it to feel really live, we wanted to not do over-dubbing and not use pick-ups or any of that kind of stuff. We just wanted to throw away the mics and hear what it really sounds like.”
Kristina loves performing live and loves an album that is true to her live sound. “What you hear is what you get.”
“Some people I’ve seen over polish things and that’s another problem. We always hear our mistakes and that’s the bane of being a musician, we are hyper critical of the things we blew. Yet you know it’s interesting, when is a mistake not a mistake.”
Kristina recalled a past recording session she did in San Francisco and in particular one saxophone solo. “During the mixing we noticed that at the height of the solo there was a note out of tune. I personally never use auto-tune, I hate it, I think it’s a horrible thing but the engineer said ‘I think you will appreciate it if we just tune that one note a little bit; it’s definitely out of tune’ and we did that thinking we were being kind to him but when we listened back all the energy of the solo was gone. There was something about that note, it was the highest note in the whole solo; it was a cry and the fact it was a bit sharp made it have this intensity and energy that, when fixed, we lost it.” Naturally they unfixed the fix!
Kristina always tours with at least five or six different instruments. On this tour she has her banjo, regular guitar, a slide guitar, concertina and saxophone. Every instrument brings a different feel to the show. “I love using the different sounds as a way of stepping into songs from a different vantage point. It also, on a practical level, helps a live show. If I play a whole show on a regular guitar I think the audience’s ears become dulled. It’s the same voice, the same basic sound of the instrument. So if I jump on a piano or concertina for a song it totally freshens up the ears of everybody and that’s a good thing.”
by Suzanne Bunker
Copyright © Suzanne Bunker 2014. All rights reserved
For all tour details check out www.kristinaolsen.net