Exclusive Mark Olson and Victoria Williams interview
An exhausted but quite content Mark Olson kindly took some time to bring us up to date with his latest releases and their European tour. (Tour dates and gig review here)
I'd never really seen you as an upfront political songwriter but Political Manifest is pretty clear about your dislike of George W. How did this album come about?
Mark Olson: Well, I was always a fan of Woody Guthrie and all these songs just came flying out and I somehow ended up playing them at the [Democrat's] Iowa Caucus.
Was there a major event that made you want to write those songs?
MO: Not really, no. I've always written songs that were kind of political. Like Clouds [on the Jayhawks - Hollywood Town Hall] - God of the rich man ain't the God for the poor... I've always had this realisation that the big money boys have us by the balls. It interests me how we can wrestle power back from the powerful - that's about the bottom line for me.
Unlike some bands, you really seem to enjoy touring. What makes it so much fun for you?
MO: Well it's not all about music for me - I just love diving in; taking the trains, meeting people - I'm really interested in different cultures. I always wanted to be linguist so hearing all these different languages and dialects fascinates me.
You've just released two albums in quick succession, Political Manifest and Mystic Theater.
MO:Yeah, Mystic Theater is only available in Europe now though. Political Manifest is just being sold on our tour. Like the old Bluegrass way of doing things - in fact the politcal thing is also quite Bluegrass, like when Bill Monroe took the Bible out to hit someone on the head with it!
So what are major musical influences at the minute?
MO: I listen to all these old records that I've collected. Bill Monroe, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson. I like Gospel - I found all these Gospel records one year ago - Soul, Blues - I just like all that old music and people doing stuff with it like Doug Sahm or Bob Dylan.
Are you happier now releasing your own records without label support?
MO: A lot happier from a writing stance. When I was in the Jayhawks, I was a young man, trying to be successful but it got to a point where I had to cut lose so I could write the way I felt it, even if I was going to be a big flop. I've got no masterplan now so I'm just taking each day as it comes...
Slightly tired after the intensive touring, Victoria Williams is relaxing after their Glasgow gig watching a Willie Nelson concert on DVD. Despite the strain on her voice, she kindly talked to us about her solo career and the current Creekdippers lineup.
So you like Willie Nelson?
Victoria Williams: I love Willie Nelson - I've even been to his house, the one with the Golf course...
The one the taxman took away from him?
VW: I'm not sure... Maybe! I think his stuff got auctioned off by the taxman but lots of people returned his stuff to him since they loved him so much.
VW: Yeah I think so...
So how is the touring going?
VW: It's going well, lots of people turning up and listening to us play.
You've changed your sound slightly with the addition of Mike on the trumpet. How did that come about?
VW:I love the trumpet. Mike was playing out there in Joshua Tree [where Vic and Mark live] and he came and played with us and it was great. He had a good ear and since Razz Russell wasn't going to be playing the fiddle for us and neither was Joshua [Grange - Creekdipper guitar player] so we felt he would add a bit more to the music.
So are you still touring using only public transport?
VW: Oh yeah - I love it. It's going great thanks to having the rest of the band there to help us out carrying stuff about [laughs].
You're renowned as much for your solo work as the Creekdippers. Do you have a solo record in the works?
VW: Not too soon - I haven't recorded anything since Sings some old songs. There's Mystic Theater we've just released as the Creekdippers along with Political Manifest - I arranged some traditional Gospel tunes for that.
Lots of bands like Pearl Jam and Lou Reed played your songs on Sweet Relief [a tribute album aimed to raise money to help her pay for treatment for MS] bringing them to a wider audience. Do you think that helped more people get into your music?
VW: Those covers were all real good - yeah, it got lots of people hearing my music which was all good.
You're now doing mostly independent releases now, selling through the internet. Is that working out better than being with a label?
VW: They both have their benefits. If you're with a big label they give you a lot of clothes! You can do a lot with big label but I was never signed to a big label. All I saw was big, huge bills from being on the label.
Do you think that the MP3 phenomena has helped you to sell more records?
VW: Well, I spoke with this lady today who told me she could MP3 my record right now but she wasn't going to since she wanted to support us. The only money we do make is from selling CDs at concerts so I suppose if everyone copied us, we wouldn't really have a livelihood anymore. That said when we were playing in Zagreb, all the kids knew our songs. Apparently, one person had managed to got our December's Child CD and had copied it for almost everyone in town. After the show, we sold out of CDs! MP3 works great to spread the music and love so that's the good side of it.
So when will we see another solo release from you soon?
VW: I don't really know - we'll see how things work out. This tour is three months long and I'm really involved in the Creekdippers but hopefully I'll get something together at some point!