Mark Olson – We’re refining something, whatever that is
There are five of them now, these albums credited to a California desert aggregate called the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers — or, in the case of the two most recent releases, Mark Olson & the Creekdippers. Five records in six years is a remarkable output in the modern-day music industry, but then the Creekdippers’ aim from the start was to work outside that industry, which is why their first three records were self-released.
Things have changed somewhat with the last two; My Own Jo Ellen was picked up by HighTone, while the new disc, December’s Child, was issued June 25 on Dualtone. Not that the music has changed in any particularly noticeable way. Certainly there’s been no attempt to streamline or shoe-shine the wonderfully shambling odes of Olson, who followed a perpendicular tributary away from the old mainstream when he departed the Jayhawks in 1995.
Interestingly, however, December’s Child does bring to bear the first collaboration between Olson and his former Jayhawks songwriting partner Gary Louris. “Say You’ll Be Mine” is a fairly simple song, just a couple of short verses set to a shuffling rhythm spiked by a twangy banjo riff — but when their voices intertwine, it reminds immediately of the magic they made during their days as bandmates.
Don’t expect this welcome surprise to necessarily prompt expanded endeavors along the same lines, though. Not that either of them rule out the possibility of future collaborations; plus there’s one item from their past, the Jayhawks’ 1986 self-titled debut on Bunkhouse Records, that deserves to be rescued from oblivion someday.
At the moment, however, Louris is making another album with the Jayhawks, and Olson is plenty busy making music with the Creekdippers and with his wife, Victoria Williams (who continues to put out her own records in addition to playing in her husband’s band). When they’re not on tour, they spend their days at home in Joshua Tree, California, which is where we caught up with Olson by phone on an afternoon in early May.
I: DO IT REAL FAST, GET IT DONE, AND PUT IT OUT
NO DEPRESSION: So you recorded this album in Mississippi, instead of at home?
MARK OLSON: Yeah. Well, we toured for about sixteen months there, and every now and then, we’d have a little time off at home — but that time, we had a week between gigs. We had a gig in Atlanta, and a week off between Iowa and there. So we just drove right down to Mississippi, we kind of figured it out on the way there, with the studio. It was pretty good, as far as just coming in off the road, because we’d been playing together so much. Just being able to go right in the studio and cut, it worked out really nice.
ND: So was it just a spur of the moment decision?
MO: Sort of, yeah; it was like a month in advance. We saw that spot [in the tour itinerary], and what were we gonna do, drive the gear back and just sit around? I checked into Memphis, because we had been through there and really liked it. But we ended up down in Mississippi, and that turned out really nice too. We’d go into town, there’s only one place to eat in the middle of the day, and the rest of the time we were playing.
We pretty much cut eight of the songs in one day. Then we did nine and ten, and then we redid one out here. And then Gary and I did that other one out here too. We redid “Alta’s Song” out here with just Vic and Don Heffington and myself; it was kind of a power trio. And the woman who it’s named after is from Joshua Tree, so that kinda worked out cool, that we did her song out here.
ND: How different was the setup on the road, compared to the way you record at home?
MO: I liked it a lot because we had all the gear we’d been playing; we just plugged in all the gear we’d been using on the road. We had an engineer, Jeffrey Reed, and we had another guy come down from Cincinnati, Tyler Brown. This is kind of the second time I’ve recorded without myself being the engineer, and I liked that, because I could just play the music. But I liked doing it on the run, just having a very short amount of time, and really pushing to get it done.