(Soundbite of song, "Salvation Blues")

Mr. MARK OLSON (Singer): (Singing) There's such joy and sweet moments to be found in this world. We know…


This is singer Mark Olson, one of the founding members of the band, The Jayhawks. He left the band to work with his then significant other, Victoria Williams. Now he's solo in more ways than one. His new record is called "Salvation Blues." Let's hear some more of that.

(Soundbite of song, "Salvation Blues")

Mr. OLSON: (Singing) No light like your light 'til we do something good. In the morning, the things we once did overboard and lost all friends ignored. All these longings and the gifts we had given…

BURBANK: Mark Olson dropped by the BPP studios a while back to talk about his new record, which he says is one of the most personal he's ever written.

(Soundbite of digital sound)

Mr. OLSON: Yeah, well, it's more along the lines that I - over the years, I always had an idea of what I wanted to write about, and that was about, you know, what goes on in a person's life. Getting to a moment of a decision being made, the path they choose. It's like, you know, it's a subject of many novels and movies and things like that. But it interests me how a person gets on the road they are taking in life. And, you know, you see that in your friends, you see that in people you just meet.

And that's sort of what interests me about writing. And I was able to finally do that after having gone through some personal experiences. I was never able to really get that across in song, but I think I did it this time, so.


You did something I think a lot of people wish they could do or have the courage to do. That let's get lost thing, I'm just going to take off…

Mr. OLSON: Well, I…

STEWART: And go to Europe. I'm going to try to figure out what's going on.

Mr. OLSON: I stayed with my aunt in America, and we were more along the lines of let's get you a job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Because you've been on my couch, is that why?

Mr. OLSEN: No. She had three kids. She's only five years older than me and a really good friend of mine, my aunt. And so we kind of got me going down the road of getting that together. But music kept calling. And I had friends who were writers. He writes kind of a - his name's John Williams and he writes sort of a Raymond Chandleresque novels in Wales - set on Wales.

And they asked me to come over there. They'd booked shows with me over there. And I stayed with him for a month, and they just really convinced me. By the way, they were working that I was going to work again in the musical field. So they gave me…

STEWART: Because you'd thought about giving up for a while?

Mr. OLSON: Yeah, doing something else for a while. Because I've been working hard, I've made four records in Europe and I toured for the past four or five years, five months out of the years there. So I had been working at it real hard. And I come home, and I didn't have really have much going on here. So that was where my aunt thought, you know…

BURBANK: What would you have done for a job?

Mr. OLSON: Well, I always signed up for a school. I have some education so I was going finish that.

BURBANK: But, I mean, what did you - did you have any thoughts on ultimately what you wanted to do?

Mr. OLSON: Well, I had a - well, it was just in the newspaper here. I was going to do the same thing someone did in the film, "Harmonic," which was the ENT(ph) walk of life. When you're a musician, you like to, you know, get out there and do something. You're going fast down the highway and hopefully you're a - you know, you like to think of your music as helping people. So that's what I was drawn to, through a deep psycho…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLSON: That's when I found out I wanted to be an ENT.

BURBANK: Let me just tell you that before I did this show, I had kind of a job where I could set my own schedule a little bit and going to a thing every day, sucks. I think you should totally made the right call to stay in music.

Mr. OLSEN: Well, we go to our music every day, believe me. We were in it fulltime.

BURBANK: No, no. I know, but at least you don't have to do it at six in the morning.

Mr. OLSON: Yeah, well, four in the morning sometimes. We catch planes and stuff and people don't know about that. But we play late and we get up at four and catch planes and things like that. So it's a - we don't sleep anymore. When we were young, we did.

STEWART: Well, we got you here a little bit early.

Mr. OLSON: No way.

STEWART: To perform.

Mr. OLSON: Today was fun.

STEWART: Introduce who else is in the studio and tell us what you're going to play.

Mr. OLSON: Inggun Ringvold is going to sing and play the drum, and she's from Norway. And she's a very beautiful singer. She sang her whole life. And this is Michele Gazich. She plays the violin from Brasi, Italy. And I've toured with them in Europe. Like I said, I made records over there. And so they're my band, along with a fellow from Los Angeles named Jimmy(ph) who wears a funny hat, so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLSON: If you come to the show. Shall we do it?

STEWART: Please.

Mr. OLSON: "Tears From Above"

(Soundbite of song, "Tears From Above")

Mr. OLSON and Ms. INGGUN RINGVOLD (Back-up Vocals; Drummer): (Singing) Oh let mercy, oh let grace. I cannot call, may it come by this place. May it fall like tears from above, may it fall like tears from above.

Mr. OLSON: (Singing) The sun will hide its face. My rooms will be a prison. My work will be taken away by the night.

Mr. OLSON and Ms. RINGVOLD: (Singing) Darkness and light are at us like a mold. Darkness and light are at us like a mold. Oh let mercy, oh let grace. I cannot call, may it come by this place. May it fall like tears from above, may it fall like tears from above.

Mr. OLSON: The rain that falls in the morning will keep the doves from the sky. The green grass is plenty, the green grass becomes knee-high.

Mr. OLSON and Ms. RINGVOLD: (Singing) Darkness and light are at us like a mold. Darkness and light are at us like a mold. Oh let mercy, oh let grace. I cannot call, may it come by this place. May it fall like tears from above, may it fall like tears from above. May it fall like tears from above, may it fall like tears from above.

STEWART: Oh, that was tremendously beautiful.

Mr. OLSON: We enjoyed it.

STEWART: Oh, so your tour schedule, Mark, is insane. In the next, I think, month, you're going to Kansas, Oklahoma, Vermont, California. Keeping up a schedule like that, which is grueling enough and then singing all these really personal songs, does it ever take its toll on you?

Mr. OLSON: No I - the singing, that's where I can lose myself in the music and that's fine. There is the meetings of strangers in truck stops that is strange, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLSON: Just, I - people think I'm trying to butt in…

STEWART: At the Flying J?

Mr. OLSON: Yeah.

BURBANK: It's - that's always strange for all of us, I think.

Mr. OLSON: Yeah.

STEWART: To senators too.

Mr. OLSON: Because I'm in a hurry - because of the schedule, I'm in a little bit of a hurry, people get upset sometimes and say, he's trying to butt in line, you know, things like that. But that's about it. We get a little tired. We don't eat regular meals, but that's okay. But we get those moments. You know, late at night, you're also near in Toronto, you could sit out on the street, have a beer, relax and laugh, so it has its - a lot of plus sides, really.

BURBANK: What's the best kind of show? Is it when there's a lot of people or is it when there's like 10 people and they're really into it? I mean, what makes it kind of (unintelligible)?

Mr. OLSON: Well, if it's a numbers thing, the best show would be about a hundred people who are there just really knowing the songs and relating to the different parts in the music. And that does happen in various times because they're picking up on a particular solo or a particular singing session part. And that's the best kind. You have your, you know, more rock shows where you just kind of rocking out and people going, rah, rah, but they're not really listening to the different parts. So I enjoy more the - about the hundred people who are singing and listening.

BURBANK: Is it hard when you show up somewhere and maybe everybody there doesn't know the music and they're talking with their friends. And you're like singing about your life and you just got to power through?

Mr. OLSEN: Well, let me tell you about that now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLSON: I used to be married to Victoria Williams, I'm still a very good friend of hers and I live right by her, and that was horrible. We were in the band together. And sometimes, she has a very soft voice…


Mr. OLSON: It's almost Billie Holidayesque, and it's just gorgeous. But she can't sing over that kind of thing. So I was the guy that would do that in our band. When they started talking, I'd get in there and I just bang out, you know, these songs that it - that was sort of - I kind of enjoy that. Okay, they're talking over Vic, here I go. I'm going to take them on head on. So it's sort of like, you know, and I don't ever say, whoa, stop talking or anything. We just go about out job. We put our head down and do it.

And that happens on occasion, and that's your bar crowd. And there's nothing you can really do about that. You know, I would say, one-third to one-quarter, you might get some of them now, maybe one-quarter to one-eighth. That will happen. And it is discouraging. And I'd rather take them on and sit there and watch somebody I like, you know, have to deal with - that's singing softer, but me, I can sing loud so. It is a deal though on occasion.

STEWART: Tonight's the big night for you. Obviously, you have shows all summer long.

Mr. OLSON: Yeah.

STEWART: But tonight is the night when your documentary is…

Mr. OLSON: I didn't go out and said I wanted to make a documentary, but this guy Ray Foley - he has made the documentary…

STEWART: Ninety hours of footage, is that true?

Mr. OLSON: Well, he followed us around. We came here for two weeks, and he followed us around.

STEWART: How was that?

Mr. OLSON: It was a little weird, but we all started to enjoy it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLSON: We all started to talk like we're being filmed constantly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLSON: And, you know, so that was…

BURBANK: I've been doing that for, like, 31 years.

Mr. OLSON: So when the camera's off, you go, where's the camera? Because I'm acting again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: I'm about to be fabulous and say something witty, where are you?

Mr. OLSON: Yeah, real funny. But we took it. So the best part of it was Ray just had some people filming us. And he was watching. He was kind of very encouraging about the thing. And we're actually staying at his house. But he took us out to Coney Island on a rainy day, and that seemed to be where - most of the footage is actually from that day going out to Coney Island and walking and talking various topics.

STEWART: So it's a day in the life - a little slice of life of a musician in New York City.

Mr. OLSON: I'm a musician, yeah, that's basically - the gist of it is that I performed in Europe for many years, but now, I'm just coming back to America to try to have a run at it again. That's the basic idea. And we discussed things, family things. We have some laughs there. It's mostly there's - it's kind of funny in some ways. So it's okay.

STEWART: Can we talk you into one more song?

Mr. OLSON: Okay.

STEWART: What's this going to be?

(Soundbite of guitar strumming)

Mr. OLSON: Why don't we do "National Express"?

(Soundbite of song, "National Express")

Mr. OLSON: (Singing) Once I lost my self-respect. I was stranded in blue and dull by myself. Then my love came up to me. I want to ride with you by the sea.

Mr. OLSON and Ms. RINGVOLD: (Singing) Oh my love. This travelling blues got a hold on me. It makes no difference what you do or where you'll stay when you come home, who will know your name. A gypsy by the footbridge standing in the rain. Here's comes the national express. Here comes the national express. Here comes the national express.

Mr. OLSON: (Singing) Two of the station was empty then, light bulbs were broken, announcements grim. Children to follow, how they talk. Children to follow where they walk.

Mr. OLSON and Ms. RINGVOLD: (Singing) Where's my home? How could I lose this in a day? It makes no difference what you do or where you'll stay when you come home. Who will know your name? A gypsy by the footbridge, standing in the rain. Here comes the national express. Here comes the national express. Here comes the national express. An ancient survivor from a parish far away. With a dream they all share, words fly through the stations. Here comes the national express. Here comes the national express. Here comes the national express. Here comes the national express.

STEWART: That was Mark Olson, performing live here at THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, NPR studios. His record is called "Salvation Blues."

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.