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Beyond Beats with OLSSON (Interview)

Beyond Beats with OLSSON (Interview)

From a band dubbed “Phil Collins on speed” to refining his solo music with samples. Swedish artist OLSSON has come a long way. For over twelve years as the vocalist of Grammy-winning band Fibes, Oh Fibes!, and the last years producing his own soulful and melodic pop/dance music. For his new album Tropical Cologne, samples–as well as Tracklib–play a more weighty role in his creative process.

By DannyVeekens

What’s your musical background?

I’ve been playing music ever since I was a little kid. My dad is a pianist so I’ve played piano since I was five years old. I’ve been playing in bands for all my life; started my first band when I was ten. I started releasing music with a band called Fibes, Oh Fibes! based in Gothenburg, Sweden, where I’m from.

We made music for about ten years and toured around. Someone once said Fibes, Oh Fibes! sounds like “Phil Collins on speed”. I think that’s a pretty good description. After 2012/2013 I started my own solo projects under the name of OLSSON–my last name. Besides that, I’m writing and producing for a bunch of other amazing artists.

(OLSSON sampled the track below for his song 'Smoke & Pancake'. It has also been sampled in the past by the likes of The Pharcyde, Warren G, Puff Daddy and Rae & Christian)

Track not found

How would you describe the solo music you now make as OLSSON?

Soulful, simple and melodic. And beat-driven.

Your new album 'Tropical Cologne' was released last Friday. How does its style fit into your development as a solo artist?

My first solo album, Millions, was like going into a basement: dirty, raw and low tempo. My version of a dance album, so to say. It was heavily influenced by what was going on in Manchester in the early 90s. Music like Primal Scream & The Stone Roses and so on: super dance-y, beat-driven pop, but with quite a lot of gospel in it.

If the previous album was like the 3 AM, going out, pissed version, then Tropical Cologne is the day after. The album is more relaxed and goes back to my musical roots a bit. I’m a big fan of Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, and a bunch of old school crooners. But then in my own way: an autotuned, sampled, smooth version of that.

Breaking down the songs:

Where do you usually start making songs?

I’m a pianist so I write everything on the piano. Normally I come up with melodies from my chords on the piano and take it from there. I can “fake-play” a few more instruments. If I’m not being humble, I’d say I play a lot of instruments. I’m a pretty good drummer, I’m an okay bassist, and I’m alright in playing the guitar. But yeah, that all doesn’t come anywhere near the piano. That's my main instrument to make music.

"Sampling opens a world of sounds you can’t reproduce yourself–no matter how expensive a studio setup is."

OLSSON

How did samples come into the equation?

When I started my solo thing in 2016, I started experimenting with samples as well as beats and building melodies: creating songs from just a drum, a beat or a pulse. One of the things I’ve been developing and changing lately is that sampling gives me so much new inspiration. It opened up a new world to me: less “limited” compared to doing my own chords and melodies.

My first solo album was released in 2017, so I started using samples thirty years after the trend of sampling [laughs]. Now, it’s more of an experimental and open process to me, rather than my traditional way of making songs. I got super inspired.

Inspired as in…?

I think samples open me up for other possibilities. When I was stuck creatively, I started “stealing” stuff. I started working with for example old reggae samples or old beats. I created a beat folder and for the first time, I started working with beats on my last album. On that album, I used two samples: one was of Kindness, who’s a British artist who samples a lot himself as well. So that’s kinda funny. He was in my previous studio when he was working on a song with Robyn. So there I was, sampling his music without his consent. But I also thought, this guy is sampling all the time so I knew if I asked him, he couldn’t say no… And he didn’t, he was super nice!

Stealing music, huh? Guess this is my cue to talk about Tracklib…

The timing of Tracklib’s beta-launch was perfect for me. I just finished my previous album and was struggling big time with those two samples. So as soon as I heard about Tracklib, it sounded too good to be true. I got the exact same feeling as when I went into record stores back when I was a record collector. A similar obsession with finding ‘the next thing’ and writing upon that.

When I started looking and downloading tracks from Tracklib–it went from children’s choirs to Chinese opera to old African tunes to old soul samples– I found chords that were more or less already in my head, but with for example a beautiful sound from a 1963 vintage studio. That’s the type of music which is just impossible to reproduce. No matter how expensive a studio setup is, it’s extremely difficult to get to the same sound as for example a late 80s/early 90s hip-hop beat or a 60s soul track.

"When I was in the middle of writing the album, I had a couple of weeks where I started every morning browsing through the Tracklib library."

OLSSON

Are there any Tracklib finds on your new album?

I work with samples in different ways. For example, the first song that I wrote for my new album is called “Pink Rambler.” I wrote that song within 45 minutes based on a Tracklib sample. It was a 1968 song called Zulu Lunchbag–such a great name! In that case, I wrote the track completely based on the sample.

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Another song on my new album is called “Youthless”, in which I use a guitar sample from Tracklib. It’s a major going back and forth to a minor. It was weird because when I heard that, it was exactly the sound I would never be able to create myself: a classic Motown-like guitar. So that sample fit in so well with the song I was right in the middle of writing. I was like, this is it. All of a sudden I have this “new musician from 1963 in my studio”, so to speak. That’s a pretty amazing feeling.

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So from The African Echoes to classic soul. How do you search for samples on Tracklib? By genre, or do you just browse around?

When I was in the middle of writing the album, I had a couple of weeks where I started every morning browsing through the Tracklib library. I wanted to be the first to find and start using music. I didn’t browse per genre or artist–I realized the library is so wide that I also wanted to discover other stuff than, let’s say, the soul I wanted. Like country, rock, or anything else I could use in my own way.

What’s your opinion on sampling in general? Has it changed since you sample yourself?

I come from an old school background of wanting to create music from scratch. But I was also brought up with A Tribe Called Quest and such. So I come from a culture of sample-driven music. But I also listened to Elton John and The Beach Boys as a kid, so I wanted to pay homage to musicians like them. Naturally, I think the person behind the music should get their cut–obviously. But at the same time, I love samples. It changed my way of writing music. When I open the door to samples, it changes a lot in my creative process. It’s an eternal new way instead of being limited to six chords or a melody. It opens new inspiration and a world of sounds you can’t reproduce yourself. And I think that’s pretty awesome.

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