Ladybug Transistor frontman Gary Olson is gearing up for the release of his self-titled solo record, out via Tapete Records on 29th May. It’s a strange (maybe strange is the wrong word – perhaps uplifting? inspiring?) tale of recording between Brooklyn and the Norwegian countryside over the course of several years, with two brothers who asked to make an album with him, and how it all blossomed into the eleven track record that we will see before us by the end of the month.
But of course it wasn’t just the story that attracted our attention. We loved the recent single Giovanni Please, this string-laced slice of perfect pop, that could have come out of the songbook of, well, just about anyone really, such is it’s immediacy and almost unbearably melodic nature.
We caught up with Gary to find out a bit more.
Hey thanks for talking to us – firstly, how are you coping with lockdown?
It’s been ok over here. I’m thankful to have a big apartment with plenty of light and air as well as some outdoor space which is a bit unusual for New York City… so it’s a somewhat comfortable isolation. I am really missing people aside from the few friends that come around to the porch to wave hello. Otherwise I’ve been keeping busy with our vegetable garden, hoping for a good harvest this summer.
Has it affected any plans? Or rather, how much has it affected plans?
It feels a little strange to be promoting new music but maybe people are ready? I was looking forward to more touring opportunities with the release but I’ll have to be patient until there’s a way to travel safely. No one has convinced me to do a “lockdown concert” yet but maybe I’ll try to pull one together in the vegetable patch and intertwine it with gardening tips.
Have you been able to do anything creative in the time?
Well, I have a small studio at my place so there’s always something on the burner. I’ve been putting together an instrumental version of the album with all of the vocals replaced by trumpet, sort of an elevator music version of the record. I don’t think it will have any commercial value whatsoever but I might do a small run of cassettes… don’t tell Tapete!
I’m finishing some mixes for Phil Sutton from Pale Lights who has a new solo project Love, Burns that will be an album someday. I’ve also been helping as an editor on a soundpiece with the artist Kristin Oppenheim that will be showing once things open up again.
There’s a pretty amazing, or slightly left-field story about how this album came about – how did you meet Johannes and Jorn? And how did they talk you into making an album?
My band Ladybug Transistor used to tour in Norway fairly regularly in the early 2000s. I got to know Ole and Jorn when we played with them in Oslo all of those years ago and immediately felt a kinship that led to an enduring friendship. A couple of years ago Ole proposed we make an album together and sent over a couple of sketches of music for me to consider writing melodies and words to. It just grew naturally from there.
How does it work between Norway and the USA? Do some bits happen in one place and some bits in another – did you have to go across to their studio? How was that?
We met up four times over a year and a half. Every time there were a few new songs to record I’d go over to Norway and spend a week at Ole’s place which is sort of a barn in the countryside near the Swedish border. We’d discuss arrangements before bringing in the musicians for a couple of days of tracking. After we had the basic recordings finished we’d work on a lot separately in our own studios with files flying back and forth. Ole and Jorn took care of a lot of extra details and sent me daily updates while I worked from my place recording vocals, my trumpet and the strings. Ole mixed the whole album.
Tell us about the album? How did you write? What themes do you cover in the record?
Writing on my end was a little slow, being a little out of practice since Ladybug had not made a record for ages… and I’m not the kind of guy who sits around banging out ideas on an acoustic guitar so it took me a while to find a regular writing rhythm. Often I’d take the sketches of music from the Åleskjær brothers and listen to them on headphones on long walks. The ideas would seem to fall out of the air. Themes, I guess plenty of imaginary landscapes. I wrote Postcards From Lisbon before I even got to visit Portugal. When I did finally make it, I almost got stuck there once the country started going into Corona lockdown!
Apart from the brothers, you’ve got some guests helping you out – can you tell us who you’ve pulled in for the record and what they added to it?
The rhythm section is fantastic. Håvard Krogedal and Emil Nikolaisen. Emil has a tireless positive energy that he brings to the process. He also produces and runs his own studio and offers plenty of knowledge. In addition to bass, Håvard supplied some rich cello arrangements so he’s a super utility musician. We also had my old friend Joe McGinty do string arrangements for Giovanna Please and Navy Boats. He’s got a cinematic approach that weaves in nicely.
It’s out on Tapete – how did that deal come about?
I became aware of them through Robert Forster’s records and liked the extra care they seem to take with their releases, then I got to know them from producing Nick Garrie’s last record The Moon and The Village in 2017. They also have Comet Gain and the Clientele on the roster so I feel like I’m in the company of family.
Difficult to answer, but any plans for the next few months – if we get out of lockdown? Any plans to tour the record, or come across to EUopre and the UK for any dates?
No certain plans yet with the current situation but I’d love to tour more than anything. I’ll just try to be patient and hope that during this wait that people will get to know the album a little better.
What’s been soundtracking your lockdown? Any particular albums or artists or what have you?
I have one of those funny radios in my kitchen that fits under the cabinet, it’s always on. A lot of WKCR which is mostly eclectic jazz and classical. In the kitchen we listen to a lot of cassettes and might have 100 circulating at any time. This week it’s been The Feelies, Kraftwerk, The Clean, Roy Orbison and a Byrds box set. Oh and the contractor working on renovating the apartment upstairs is always blasting classic rock so I’ve gotten really good at identifying the bass lines that make it through the ceiling. Unfortunately it’s Eric Clapton’s Cocaine at the moment.
Gary Olsen the album is out via Tapete on 29th May