BLURTING WITH… MARK OLSON

The alt-country
godfather gets back together with his old Jayhawks partner Gary Louris.

 

BY AARON KAYCE

 

 

When Mark Olson and Gary Louris led famed alt-country outfit
the Jayhawks, it was their earthy songwriting and interlocking harmonies that
defined the group’s sound. In 1995, Olson left the band to spend more time with
wife Victoria Williams, causing fans to wonder if they’d lost the dynamic duo
forever. The two kept in loose touch and worked together on a film score in
2001, which sparked the fire for future collaborations. In 2006, struggling
after his divorce from Williams, Olson set off to find Louris in Minnesota. They spent
their days in Louris’ garage effortlessly piecing together songs that would
become Ready For the Flood.

 

Finding the perfect creative foil to produce the album, they
enlisted old friend and ex-touring partner Chris Robinson. This is the album
Olson and Louris have always longed to make and it welcomes one of the
strongest partnerships in music back to the limelight. In a recent interview
with BLURT, Olson allowed his Midwestern charm to permeate our discussion about
the past, present and future of the Mark Olson & Gary Louris
relationship.  

 

 

BLURT: When you left
the Jayhawks it was assumed there was some tension, was that difficult to
overcome when you came back together with Gary?

 

OLSON: I don’t really think about that too much now, but at
the time, yes I’m sure there was tension. But it was more in the line of, I’d
been in the band a long time and thought there might be a different kind of
life for me. So what I basically did was play different instruments in
different kinds of music.

 

 

Is this a
continuation of where you left off with the Jayhawks, or is this something that
seems different to you?

 

It was always something that was brewing in a way. Even when
we made the records I was on, there was always feelings coming from Gary and from me that we
really wanted to have an acoustic song on those records, but it just wasn’t in
the cards. And we’d always listened to acoustic music and liked the combination
of band and acoustic; not so much straight ahead folk stuff, but experimenting
with that, different chords, different grooves, weird harmonies, weird lyrics.
We’d both been into that for many years and this was the first chance to try to
put it on an album that way. Nobody was telling us what to do at this point.
And Chris [Robinson] was very versed in British folk so we just went for it.
And this is so strange, but this was the first time we sang together in the
studio and we kept all the live singing tracks, there wasn’t any overdubbing on
the vocals.  

 

 

How did you guys get
Chris involved to produce the record?

 

We toured with them [The Black Crowes] and there was
something different about them; they were like these Southern Gentlemen in a
strange way. You wouldn’t think so with these “crazy rockers,” but they had
manners and they kind of impressed us. They went out of their way to do things
to make us feel welcome and to talk to us and invite us bowling and that always
stuck with us. And I think Gary
kept up with Chris, I actually got together with Marc Ford a couple times over
the years, and they were all decent guys. And I was aware how much he [Chris]
listened to music and how much he knew about music and I really thought it
would be a good idea to work with him and it worked out great. He’s a very
encouraging guy and he takes it very seriously.

 

 

In terms of lyrical
themes where do you tend to draw inspiration?

 

I think some of the stuff has always been clued in on
Midwestern society, just the way people relate to each other. I certainly
haven’t moved in the way I think about the world, that’s still how I grew up.
And the music you listen to really influences you and I think we’ve listened to
a lot of Band and early country stuff that had stories that were mysterious in
a way, and I think that influenced us on the lyrical level. We wanted to tell
an interesting story that left you hangin’.

 

 

Do you have any
thoughts about the future; will there be another album with Gary?

 

That’s all to be determined, but I’m really interested in
making another record. I sat around listening to this record this past week
because I’ve been getting ready to do it [live] and I’ve been relearning some
songs and getting the beats down, and I really really like it. It’s a challenge
and that’s what I like about music in general, anytime you go in it’s a
challenge to get something you really like and have it sound good down the
road; and this is one of them. 

 

 

 

 

 

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