Beyond “The Silver Lining”: An Interview with Grant Olsen of Gold Leaves

Having written about local and national bands for some time now, we’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of buzz bands come and go. While quite a few leave us wondering what all the hype is about, a small percentage not only live up to but manage to surpass the high bar often set by fellow music bloggers and the “music community” at large.

As you’ve no doubt figured out, Grant Olsen’s Gold Leaves falls into the latter camp. Combining lush orchestration and quite possibly “one of the most flat-out pretty voices in contemporary indie rock,” Olsen and his fellow collaborators manage to create a sound that recalls simpler times with enough flourishes to firmly root itself in the here and now.

As we’re always wary of hyperbole, we’ll cut our own ramblings short and turn to a great conversation we were able to have with Grant in advance of tonight’s album release at The Croc tonight. Be sure to get there earlier as SEA live MUSIC favorites Joseph Giant and Kevin Murphy of The Moondoggies open.

What prompted you to start setting aside songs for something other than Arthur & Yu? Was it a conscious decision to do something different or was it more that the songs, once created, pushed you in the direction of a side project?

I think it was probably closer to the latter. We tried out some of these songs in Arthur & Yu and they weren’t feeling right in that band for a few different reasons. Mostly, it was just that these songs were a bit more 1st person and more personal and Sonya graciously encouraged me to record some of this on my own and try to make Arthur & Yu something more collaborative. It makes sense to want to feel connected to something if you’re going to go broke in a van for a handful of months why playing these songs every night. Anyway, we’re trying to make that work in Arthur & Yu and I think it’ll make for a second record that we’re both really happy with.

You’ve got quite a list of collaborators. How did you decide who from your talented group of friends would play what on the album?

Well, it was more begging and pleading than deciding really! I didn’t have a lot to compensate everyone and I still owe a few major favors for sure. As far as vocals go, some of them we did early to fit into everyone’s schedule. There were some things that we had to scrap because we didn’t have the proper time to get them right. I regret that a bit. I would’ve liked to get Amy Blaschke on the record more but we’ll have to make it up on the next one. As far as instruments go, Jason and I just kind of hopped around the studio and tried stuff out for some of the more open-ended overdubs. Jason’s take won most of the time. He’s pretty good.

What’s been the most surprising reaction you’ve heard or read about Gold Leaves since The Ornament first debuted?

The comparisons are always interesting. Usually they get piggybacked on, like one week a few will say that I’m aping Richard Hawley and the next week Ian McCullough, or I’ve even heard M. Ward, which is weird, and lots of others. I guess what’s interesting is that I’ve never listened much to any of those guys. I was happy that I got introduced to Richard Hawley’s music that way and I have an Echo and the Bunnymen record somewhere that I’ll probably listen to differently now. And I think it’s all totally fair and so far that’s good company really.

Tiny Mix Tapes’ review of The Ornament noted that it is a “cerebral piece.” Where did you draw your inspiration for this album in particular?

I haven’t read that, but they could be right that it’s more cerebral than visceral and I’m not sure if that was the intention or if that will be the goal for the next record. I haven’t really thought of that. I think I’m sometimes drawn to more abstract ideas in other peoples’ writing and that might come through in some of my lyrics. I like associative phrases and those are a little more personally interpretive, which is maybe where “cerebral” came from. A lot of the inspiration really came from my brain failing me and coming to terms with the shabby mind I’ve been given. A lot of the record deals with the fleeting and failing of memory, and some of it deals with embracing the question marks as well.

How will your 9/1 show differ from your set at the mural stage other than the lack of abundant fresh air and impressive views?

Well, I’m hoping it will be a lot better! I think it will. We really spread ourselves out from hearing each other at that Mural show. That was my fault and inexperience I think. But it was a really fun day and we were honored to be asked to play for KEXP.

For the Croc on Thursday, we have a lot of old and new friends coming up on the stage that night. Bill Patton is going to play the pedal steel on some stuff. Jaclyn Shumate is playing strings on a couple songs. Those rehearsals have been really fun. The Moondoggies guys are playing on the set some and Kevin Murphy is opening that show. I’m really looking forward to it.

What’s your favorite Seattle venue to play and what’s your favorite Seattle venue to attend a show?

I really like the Jewel Box at the Rendezvous for both, actually. Columbia City Theater is a great place too and I hope they stick around. I’m actually really excited to play the Crocodile. I know people have had a hard time with the remodel, but I like it. That Charllote Gainsbourg show a while ago was one of the best shows I’ve seen in Seattle and it made me really want to play there. I hope people come out.

What’s next for you, Gold Leaves and Arthur & Yu this year?

My goal is to get that Arthur & Yu record done. There are some songs I’m really excited about. I actually really think there will be some more Gold Leaves songs recorded by the end of the year as well. I’ve said that all before though, but the clouds are coming in again and pretty soon I plan on not coming out of the house until it’s done.

9/1 Gold Leaves / Kevin Murphy (of The Moondoggies) / Joseph Giant @ The Crocodile :: $8 :: Doors at 8 p.m.

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