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INTERVIEWS OLAV LARSEN
MAY THE SUN ALWAYS SHINESpeaking as a person who has never visited Norway, I can only assume that the Scandinavian country is a million miles away from where anyone would expect to find a strong concentration of roots-americana music. But then again, ROCKWIRED has been pleasantly surprised in the past ( namely through the rock band HANGFACE - a ROCKWIRED favorite). However, rock music has been global for fifty years now, and no one stateside expects music as American as Americana to be served up by a man from Norway. Hell, you wouldn't expect a man from Norway making this kind of music to be black. Even folks in Norway don't expect it. "They don't say it but when I make a joke about it, everyone starts to laugh. They almost seem relieved." says OLAV LARSEN of THE ALABAMA RODEO ALL-STARS. "When they laugh it ussually tells me that they're thinking that it's wierd for a man of color to be making this music."
OLAV LARSEN TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT DIGGING THE AMERICANA SOUND
HIS ALBUM 'LOVE'S COME TO TOWN'
AND KEEPING THE MUSIC ORGANIC
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
LOVE'S COME TO TOWN (HYENA RECORDS) is the debut album of OLAV LARSEN AND THE ALABAMA RODEO ALL-STARS and while many in the press have been eager to bill the act as a novelty black-guy-doing-country act, LOVE'S COME TO TOWN is a collection of songs that go a little deeper than mere country pastiche and skin color. It's semi-spiritual,rootsy sound is at turns optimistic (MAY THE SUN ALWAYS SHINE) and at other turns bleak (UNHAPPY/DREAMER) yet the vintage sound is always engaging (the album was recorded on reel-to-reel instead of PRO-TOOLS). LARSEN brings a tremendous brashness and honesty to the music with a delivery that'll bring back a memory or two of the late GRAM PARSONS, especially on the rollicking track ATOMIC BOMBS AND WINE.
ROCKWIRED spoke with OLAV LARSEN over the phone after he had put his kids to bed. Here is how it went.
Now that you have the album, LOVE'S COME TO TOWN behind you in a sense, how do you feel about it?
I feel relieved. I've had these songs with me for a long time and now that the CD is out there, I feel like I can move on to new music.
Who are the ALABAMA RODEO ALL-STARS and what do you think each of them brings to the table.
What I think that each of them brings to the table is their diverse backgrounds, in terms of their music. The guitarist ERLEND AASLAND comes from a jazz background, and the bassist TORJE FANEBUST ÅS used to play in funk bands. It's funny, because when he met me, he said 'I've been dreaming all my life of playing in a funk band and I finally meet a colored guy in Norway that can sing, and he's in a country band.' He was bitter about it at first but he's happy now. And you have the drummer ARNE ANDERSEN who is more like a classic rock drummer and with Country music a lot of things are simplified from Rock music. All he has to to do is use the snare drum now. The piano player/ keyboard player JONNY ENGELSVOLL is also classically trained and had no idea what country music was all about until he joined the band. I'm the man who loves Americana, in the band, but having all of these musicians come from such different backbrounds makes us sound the way we sound.
What drew you to this Americana sound?
I've been growing up with this kind of music through my dad. It was everyone from HANK WILLIAMS to JIMMY RODGERS, all of the blues guys, as well as JOHNNY CASH, NEIL YOUNG, BOB DYLAN, STEVE FORBERT and all of these guys. These were the artists that I was exposed to from the begining and then I got into this period where I was listening to rap and then I rediscovered DYLAN and there was no way back. It was actually through DYLAN where I started digging back and finding all of the old guys. In reading all of the old interviews with Dylan, he often mentioned where he got his inspiration from . From there I started digging through allof these old gospel records, so I'm really interested in american roots music, both historically and musically. I listen to all kinds of music except for maybe electronica, but I'm always drawn back to the Americana sound.
In Norway, what kind of a music scene are you surrounded by?
There has been a singer-songwriter wave that's been going on for the past couple of years now, but I think that rock is really strong here in Norway. I think the biggest band here right now is this band called MADRUGADA. They got their record produced in LA. They are a good solid rock band. American hip hop is also big in Norway.
How is your music recieved in Norway?
We get good responses from our shows, but it's hard to get radio play and things like that. We're just starting to get decent gigs through our booking agency and we're looking forward to playing as much as possible, in Norway and abroad. We're planning on doing some shows in the States at the end of the year, but it's difficult.Money is always a problem. A lot of people have read about us but have never heard us and the media here labels our music Country music, which is fine by me, but once people come to our shows, they see that we're not so much country but more roots music.
Your music sounds like some of GRAM PARSONS' work.
People have made that comparison before. I think, it's the way I sing. I'm not a great singer but I try to put my heart out there in the studio. I just try to get the point across. Some people like it and some people don't but what I'm trying to do for the next album is have a girls-choir behind me; three or four girl singers that can help me with the refrains and everything. I think it would make me sound better.
I saw the video for UNHAPPY/DREAMER.
You think you'll do anymore.
Yeah, but not from this album. I'm thinking more for the next album.
How long did it take to record this album?
I would say, just under a week, but we did it a couple of hours here and a couple of hours there, but for the first two days of the sessions, we just layed all of the songs down and spent the rest of the time, overdubbing. We recorded this album in a old analog studio. No computers or anything.
You recorded reel-to-reel?
Yes. There was no cutting and pasting here. A take was a take. If we messed up, we re-wound the tape. This was how we went about about it and I hope it makes the album sound more organic.
The album sounds very vintage. Now I know why.
Even the microphones we used in the studio were from 1951. I wanted this album to sound as natural as possible.
Where does the music come from? How does a song get written for you?
This album was written on buses and trains. I had just gotten my driver's license about a year ago. I just had my notebook and my i-pod with me and a pen. Other times, I just get a tune in my head and I just take my notes and I scribble things down and try to get a song out of it. Sometimes, you just wake up and you have a song. I have to write everything down whether it's good or bad. Sometimes ten bad songs can make one good song.
This is a country band that is fronted by a person of color. Is that as puzzling in Norway as it is in the States?
Yeah, it is. They don't say it but when I make a joke about it everyone starts to laugh. When they laugh it ussually tells me that they're thinking that it's wierd for a man of color to be making this music.
From LOVE'S COME TO TOWN are there any tracks that you feel particularly close to?
I think my favorite is the title track, LOVE'S COME TO TOWN. It's sort of my tribute to DYLAN. I didn't want to write a song that was logically built up in a way. What I always loved about DYLAN was the length of the verses had nothing to do with the rhythm but more with what he had to say. That was what I wanted to do with LOVE'S COME TO TOWN. I like the words of the song. I wanted to say that when love comes to town, it can be wonderful but it can laso be depressing to fall in love.
Before the interview started, you were telling me that the kids were asleep. You have a family.
Yes, I have two kids.
How easy is it to balance family with the music.
Music is really the only thing I do. It's not a problem. The key is to just try to plan things as good as possible. That's the way to do it if you want to do this for a long time.
What do you want someone to walk away with after hearing your music?
I want them to like it and I hope they think that it sounds truthful and I hope that they would want to listen to it some more and get an interest in the genre. I had some rather touching feed back once.This guy told me that someone in his family had passed away. The mother of this person liked our album and at the funeral she quoted one of the songs, MAY THE SUN ALWAYS SHINE. She found comfort in that song. What more can you ask for? I never imagined one of my songs touching someone that deeply. It makes me happy but it's a bit scary at the same time.