Thursday, May 8, 2008

Former Jayhawks vocalist Mark Olson plays Redlight Cafe on Sat. May 10

Posted By on Thu, May 8, 2008 at 4:46 PM

Mark Olson

GLOBE TROTTER: Mark Olson (photo by Krissie Gregory)

With his latest solo album, The Salvation Blues, former Jayhawks vocalist Mark Olson has crafted a collection of simple, languid Americana and spiritually at ease singer/songwriter fare. The demos for The Salvation Blues were recorded in various haunted locales around the globe, including an abandoned Communist music school in Krakow, Poland, in the hills and mountainous rural outskirts of Oslo, Norway and in the recesses of his hometown of Minneapolis, MN. Each song summons a skewed and world-weary take on Americana that wraps around drifting narrative tales that cloud the lines between heartbreak, happiness and warm, reflective bliss. These songs arrive at then end of an era of depression and soul-seeking after Olson’s break-up with his wife, neo-folk songwriter Victoria Williams.

Olson’s global travels may have been part of a spiritual journey to get away from it all, but the songs that make up The Salvation Blues prove that no matter where you go, there you are.

Chad Radford: The Salvation Blues has a very old timey Americana feel to it, but when I read about the locations of where the demos were recorded my mind starts looking for these exotic and far away locations and how they may have worked themselves into the songs. How did these places influence you?

Mark Olson: Songs and songwriting come from inside you. So you’re kind of yourself wherever you go. The idea of traveling was brought about by circumstances. I really enjoyed Cardiff, Whales because I have friends there and there is a really cool community arts center there. I met some people there – an engineer – and I just kind of used the place and the people. Some places are conducive to music and theater and things of that nature. This was one of them. So I got my mind going in that direction and I set up 10 days there to work on a song. I knew a couple of friends there and I saw them, but most of the days I was totally isolated. That eased my mind and I was able to think about the songs and the chord changes and things like that. Being in different places where I didn’t have my normal routine was a very important part of it. I had the time and the space and didn’t have anyone to talk to. I was alone with my thoughts so I put what I was thinking about into the songs. When I got into it I also started noticing a lot of coincidences happening around me, so I put a lot of those into the songs as well.

Give me an example of a coincidence in the songs?

"The Broken sheets outside of dirty windows…" I was walking by my aunt's house. I stayed with her when I wasn’t traveling, and that was in the four corners area [where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet]. I saw this house that was just like the house across the street from where I grew up, only there was this really dirty sheet hanging out of a window… That was just one coincidence that worked its way into the music; in the song “My Carol.” There are a number of things like that popping up all over the songs.

Were there other places that particularly affected you?

I have toured in Europe so much that I have met quite a few people over the years. People that I just sort of knew for one day, and I wanted to go back and spend more time with them. So I ended up going to lots of places. There was one fellow in Norway that I had met once because he warmed up for me at a show so I went to Oslo. He was an engineer and I spent some time there with him and did some demos. Then some people from Poland contacted me to do a show and I hung out there for a week around Easter. Poland is just such a beautiful and interesting place. I recorded there in an old Eastern European school in Krakow where they have a beautiful studio where they do a lot of overdubs because they can hire orchestras for cheap over there. They can’t hire them in America anymore, so they do it over there. It was interesting and it wasn’t in a very pretty part of town, either. All of those old, cement high-rise block buildings that they built in the ‘50s are very post-modern.

You recorded some songs with Gary Louris from The Jayhawks for this album.

Yeah, he sang on three songs on the album. That went really well and he played guitar on the song “Poor Michael’s Boat,” too. That went so well that we decided to record a record together and that will be out in September. It’s called Ready for the Flood. Jeez, that's pretty soon... I have that to look forward to this year!

Mark Olson performs at Redlight Café on Sat. May 10. $15. 7:30 p.m. RedLight Café, 553 Amsterdam Ave. 404-874-7828. www.redlightcafe.com.

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