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article imageInterview with Kristina Olsen Special

By Adrian Peel     Oct 9, 2014 in Music
The American folk icon, currently on tour in Australia, talks to Digital Journal about her most recent album and what she enjoys most about plying her trade in this part of the world.
Admired and respected throughout the globe for her tireless dedication to her art, the well-travelled Kristina Olsen, spends roughly nine to ten months of each year on the road, an exhaustive undertaking she describes as "The best job in the world with the worst commute!"
Fittingly for a country that seems to be undergoing something of a folk revival at present, the San Francisco-born songbird is in Australia for the next three and a half months promoting her most recent album, Chemistry, a collaboration with Pete Snell, a long-time member of Lyle Lovett's Large Band. What does the lady herself, who was in Canada last week, like about playing Down Under?
"Heaps of things... They are fun, laughing audiences. They love a good joke, they love a laugh and they're just fun to play to. I mean I love audiences all over the world. Anyone who sits down, faces the right direction and likes listening to my music, I think is phenomenal! But also the fact they have summer in our winter - I think that's brilliant! It's a lovely country, it's a good place to be..."
"One of my favourite things about watching acts from over here," she continues, "is that they have this insane irreverent humour... I've seen people do the wildest things on stage. People in the States feel like they just have to play music, but Australians will do these crazy stunts in really funny get-ups and all that kind of stuff.
"I like the fact that entertainment and humour they take quite seriously, in a way. I think that Americans could learn from them! Have you seen the Spooky Men's Chorale? They're hysterically funny and do ridiculous things, but then they actually do great music."
I mentioned to the acclaimed singer-songwriter and winner of the New Folk Songwriting Competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1985 that the Aussie folk scene appears to be thriving, and that I keep on discovering new and exciting acts in the genre.
"Absolutely..." she agrees. "Every musical style goes in and out of fashion and I'm old enough to have seen this happen quite a few times. So to me, it's an interesting phenomenon, that on the rise of any fashion, it gets quite rich. Everything will come in and out of fashion if you wait long enough.
"I don't really care much for fashion trends. I just do the music I do and every now and then I'm hip, and every now and then I'm not hip. Eventually I'll be hip again, I figure, if I live long enough..."
When discussing her new album, released at the end of September - an album that contains three songs, "Practising Walking Away," "
Preheat The Oven" and "In This Ancient Game," that actually took over 20 years to write - the likeable 57-year-old is endearingly chatty.
"The title came from, I don't know if you know Ted Greene, now passed away - a very famous jazz guitarist? He had a wonderful book, that's kind of the bible to anyone who studies jazz, called Chord Chemistry.
"I must have got Chord Chemistry in the '80s and it was so above me then. Every decade or so, I go back to it and think, 'Man, I'm gonna go learn some more of those insane hard jazz chords'. So I went back to it and pretty recently, I was working on it again and there was this lovely progression in there where he was saying, 'This is a butt-ugly chord, but listen to it in this progression; listen to how well it works because all the components are leading to each other'.
"So I played that little progression and liked it so much I decided to use that progression to write a song. I called it 'Chemistry' because it was certainly directly influenced by Chord Chemistry. Then, I was studying jazz composing with this amazing musician, Pete Snell, and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be fun to do a gig with him?'
"I thought, 'I don't even know if he'd consider doing a gig with me', but he did and we had so much fun, and it was just like letting a stallion out of a gate. Anything I did, he could just master and that's an unusual thing...
"I play too many styles - that's almost a problem. Like I'll do a blues, and people who haven't spent a lot of time playing blues might struggle over that, or I'll play a jazz tune and if you get a great blues guitarist, it's unlikely that they're gonna be able to handle jazz changes.
"But I couldn't stump him. Everything I played, he just had this beautiful ability to find the soul of it and play it in exactly that genre, which is why people like Lyle Lovett use him. We had such a great time at that gig and I was taking off on a tour the next week and I said, 'Hey, is there any chance we can go in the studio and record this?'
"We managed to hammer three days out together and get that album, and it felt like a musical chemistry. That's how Chemistry came about."
For more information on the album and the tour, visit Ms. Olsen's official website.
More about kristina olsen, Folk music, Australia, lyle lovett, Chemistry
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