Weather Forecast


Jayhawks founding member Mark Olson coming to Duluth

Minneapolis native Mark Olson is one prolific songwriter. His body of work includes two solo albums, four records with the Jayhawks, seven with the Creekdippers and another with former Jayhawks bandmate Gary Louris. Image courtesy Ingunn Ringvold

Just as soon as the Jayhawks started making a name for themselves on the national scene, Mark Olson quit the Minneapolis folk rock band he helped form.

"I just came to a point where I felt like I just needed to try something different in my life," he said. "It had been 10 years and I just felt like ... you only have one life to live, and I felt like we had gone down that road and we'd given it a really good shot."

With fellow founding members Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, the group had recorded four albums -- including the buzzed-about "Tomorrow the Green Grass" on Rick Rubin's American Recordings label -- when Olson left.

"Those guys went on, and I never had any sort of personal problems with any of the members of the band or anything like that," he said. "It was a little bit about the system, the system of making records and touring at that time.

"I went out to find my own system."

That system included recording a full seven albums with the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, a group which often featured the talents of his then-wife Victoria Williams.

Following his divorce from Williams -- whose battles with multiple sclerosis became common knowledge after a star-studded Sweet Relief tribute album was released in 1993 -- Olson decided to go it alone. His first solo record, "The Salvation Blues," came out in 2007.

"I basically write from two things that happen in my life," he said during the phone interview. "One would be that I observe something and the other would be an emotional, spiritual, intellectual, philosophical response to that thing. I try and have a dialogue between the two.

"I've always wanted to express the things that I saw with my family, how they worked, what their views on life were, and I try to form characters and things around that. I've always tried to do that and express the things that they believed in, that I saw when I was growing up."

Olson's next project was music to Jayhawks fans ears' worldwide: "Ready for the Flood," an album recorded and written with his former bandmate Gary Louris. Olson said it was just like old times.

"We learned how to write songs together," he said. "We learned how to record together ... so it's like anything that you go through that development with -- of course you feel natural with that person."

While that album (released in 2008) was a nice treat, Olson has already unveiled a new batch of solo material.

"Many Colored Kite" was released by Ryko at the end of July. The album features a number of duets with pitch-perfect Norwegian chanteuse Ingunn Ringvold.

And ... the two just happen to be dating.

"Well, let me just say this," Olson said with a laugh. "Regardless of whether she's my girlfriend or not, she's an incredible musician. She just has a lot of God-given talent. There's just no doubt about that."

The two met when Olson played in Bergen, Norway, four years back.

"Some friends of hers brought her down [to the show] -- she's a well-known musician in Norway -- and we hit it off," he said. "We just started laughing and talking and listening to Gene Clark records there at the club I had just played at. And we never lost contact."

'Half a Grand in Silver'

Here's a reason to never trade in your old records: Your kid could go on to form the Jayhawks.

"How I got into music is that my mom had a Buffy Sainte-Marie record," Olson said. "Though she didn't listen to it that much ... it was there and I put it on. Then I discovered Bob Dylan and the radio. I just really liked music."

As a kid, Olson took some guitar and banjo lessons, basically learning the building blocks of musicmaking. But he didn't really start hitting the town until the summer after he graduated from high school.

He recalled seeing shows at 7th Street Entry, the Longhorn and some venues on the West Bank. Olson would catch performances by everyone from folk singer Dave Van Rock to Hüsker Dü and "all the punk bands that were going on at the time."

"I didn't have any preferences then," he said. "I just enjoyed the music and the environment and basically the energy of it, you know?

"That's what attracted me to it.

"I listened to all kinds of music at the time. A lot of punk, a lot of folk. And, as the years went by, what worked best for me was sort of a folk/country mixture. That's what came naturally to me."

Olson said it took about 10 years of making music to find his "voice."

"At a certain point I figured out that I can write a song from top to bottom about something I experience or some expression that I feel in my soul," he said. "That didn't happen in my late teens, early 20s, when I first started. It took a while for me to figure out how to do it."

While Olson doesn't believe there will ever be a massive youth movement interested in folk rock like there was in the '60s, he said it's a type of music that will never go away.

"There's always going to be people who enjoy the music, and there's always going to be people who play the music," he said. "... What I've always said about, and always felt about [folk- and country-inspired rock], is that a lot of people enjoy that type of music who play music.

"It's really enjoyable to sit around and write that kind of a song and pick up a guitar and work on some beautiful country licks and things of that nature.

"The blues, country, soul, gospel -- it's just very enjoyable music to play. It's uplifting."

Olson's contributions to the steeped-in-history sound (particularly the Jayhawks' trademark alt-country jangle) haven't gone unnoticed. The musician was recently asked to give one of the keynote speeches at the upcoming Folk Alliance International conference.

He will be following in the footsteps of such icons as the aforementioned Buffy Sainte-Marie and the Byrds' Roger McGuinn (whose bandmate was one Gene Clark).

"I'll give the speech, and hopefully it'll go over OK. That's my plan," Olson said with a laugh. "... Hopefully it won't be too bombastic."


Mark Olson will perform at 10 p.m. Sept. 14 at Pizza Lucé. Cory Chisel is also on the bill. Cost is $14.