Rolla Olak’s Heavy Feather has already become a top contender for my 2016 Year End list. That’s right, we’re a month into January, and I am so in love with this record, that other msicians, you have a lot to live up to. Heavy Feather is filled with gorgeous instrumentation and steamy vocals; Rolla’s signature sound. His knack for combinining elements of indie and folk create an honest album, that is brought to life by his new singles, “2AM” and “Ghost Riders.” Hailing from Canada, Rolla calls upon a few friends, including New Pornographer’s Kathryn Calder, which easily makes Heavy Feather a musical masterpiece that will stand the test of time. I had the honor of interviewing Rolla Olak regarding the new album, and spoke about his creative process.
What comes first when writing, the music or the lyrics?
The music, then something that sounds kinda like lyrics, then the lyrics.
Heavy Feather is a record I gravitated towards immediately upon hearing “2AM” and “Ghost Riders.” What is the theme and concept behind the record?
We approached the songs by breaking them down to their most basic form, with me in a room singing and playing live while Aaron and Colin dialled in a vintage drum machine, then we slowly built up the tracks again. I think that process helped conceptualize some of the themes on this record. It feels pretty vulnerable at times cause it’s mostly live.
Do you have plans to tour the U.S. anytime this year?
Would love to. That’s always been a dream of mine. I’m just waiting for the right circumstances to come around.
Your voice is perhaps one of the best, most heartfelt I have heard in a longtime. Have you ever had any professional vocal training?
When I was younger I took some lessons with a professional vocalist in Victoria, BC. It helped me understand how to use your body like an instrument, and to breath properly. It’s good to learn that stuff so you can battle fatigue in the studio or on tour. I’ve still never really been sold on my own voice but I love singing with other people.
What kind of guitars do you use on the new record?
For the acoustic I used a custom Larrivée that my friend built when they still had the factory here in Vancouver. It had really old strings on it which gave it those bassy tones- we didn’t even need to add bass guitar on a few songs- and I could dig in without it being too loud. I used an old Japanese 12 string acoustic for some slide guitar. Then for the electric I used my trusty Tele. Everything was recorded so well by Colin Stewart.
How did you team up with Kathryn Calder who makes an appearance on the record?
Kathryn and Colin live together, so when she came home from tour we were all just hanging out at the studio and building up the songs. She’d be listening to a song while drawing a cartoon related to the tune, then she’d go in and play the perfect piano line or vocal harmony. She added a very cool touch to the record and we used the drawings she made on the inner sleeve.
Often referred to as a mix of “Shoegaze, Blues, Americana and Country,” how do you combine those elements to craft your own, unique sound?
I’ve definitely listened to a lot of that music. Always loved the classic singer-songwriters as well as the Shoegaze tones. I think my songwriting can be pretty straight up at times, so it’s interesting to try and play things a bit differently in the studio, or incorporate an instrument that you wouldn’t normally go to. Letting go of what you thought something should be is important. Especially when you’re recording your time. It sounds good to be open to change.
How did you decide on Aaron Older to produce Heavy Feather?
I met Aaron a few years ago during a session in Los Angeles where I was playing guitar for a friends album. We hit it off musically and became quick friends. He’s one of those people that you play a song with and it just clicks. Great bass player. Great listener. I had to figure out a way to invite him up here to jam on something cause I knew he’d help me take these songs to outer space.
Where do you see Rolla Olak, as a musician, 10 years from now?