Interview with Frank Olson Twins

Photo credit: Jon Cassill

Photo credit: Jon Cassill

“I love it when people connect to a song I’ve written. Someone identifying with you in that way, I think we both feel a little less alone.” -Frank Olson (Frank Olson Twins)

For the past couple of weeks we’ve been getting to know the music of The Frank Olson Twins. This week we get to know a bit more about the musicians behind the band, their musical histories, and what they do when they aren’t creating tunes.

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What and who does your act consist of?

Frank Olson, Hallie Rose Kelly, and Anelya Mayzlin

Where are you and your band from?

Frank: I’m from Michigan. I moved to NYC in 2005.

Hallie: I’m from upstate New York, near Albany.

Nellie: I was born in Kiev, Ukraine and grew up in Brooklyn and Staten
Island.

Thinking back to early childhood, what was your first experience with music?

Frank: The earliest thing I can remember is hearing the radio in Detroit:
Michael Jackson, Madonna, Phil Collins. But two things stand out in my
mind: The Billie Jean music video and a Black Sabbath concert on
television

Hallie: My dad is a musician. He had a recording studio when I was
growing up and when I was a kid he started performing with a childrens’
music group, so my first experiences with music were going to see my dad
play and learning to keep quiet when he was recording.

What type of music did you hear the most growing up? Is it different from
what you listen to now?

Frank: I caught all the 80’s pop (not New Wave as much then). My parents
both liked country music, and my siblings liked pop and rock. So I heard
all the major country stars of the eighties, and then lots of Genesis,
Sting, Black Sabbath, Rush, Creedence, Pink Floyd, Queen…and then when
grunge hit I was a young teen, so I picked up on a lot of that too.
Interestingly, that’s also when I started listening to the Beatles and
Motown. So on a given day, I’d listen to anything from Ozzy Osbourne to
Pearl Jam to the Beatles or Marvin Gaye. Whatever was on a radio station,
or the nearest mixed tape. Like so many music lovers of the time, I had
to ask friends or family to make me a mix with a list of songs I knew they
had, or I’d make it a point to record the songs when I visted them.
That’s how I listened to most of the music I had on any tape. Rarely ever
purchased new, since it was so expensive to me at the time. If I had to
guess, I’d say I bought less than 20 new cd’s in my lifetime. I
definitely bought more blank cassette tapes and made radio or duped mixes
from friends or family.

I’d say my listening habits have changed, and what I listen for in a song
has a sharper point to it. But generally, I still like the same songs I
grew up with. I might appreciate it for a different reason, but great
song is a great song, and sometimes you just want to hear it!

What was the first song that you ever sang?

Nellie: To my mothers chagrin, I would perform the entire score of the
Little Mermaid to my imaginary kingdom during bath time.

Frank: The first pop song I ever memorized and performed was Whitney
Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” as part of our schools choir. I
didn’t sing it solo or anything, but I still remember the rehearsals and
the performance because the teacher made us feel it was a big deal.
Interestingly, I think I was dressed up as a pirate, because it was the
fall concert assembly, so it must have fallen around halloween that year.

Hallie: The first song I ever sang, my dad let me sit in as a back up
singer on a recording session on one of his children’s albums. I think I
was 4 or 5. Most of the other kids there were these little professional
voice actors who sang on broadway and when I opened my mouth to sing they
all looked at me kind of weird. I remember thinking, hm, something doesn’t
sound right,
but it didn’t occur to me that that something could possibly
be me. Later, during a break, I overhead them talking about how bad I was.
I cried the whole way home to my mom’s house and didn’t sing in front of
anyone for a long time after that. I really thought I had a great voice!
But later, I listened to the recording, and there was a distinct voice
that stood out, kind of like an old woman with a cold and totally off key.
That was me.

What made you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in music?

Nellie: Playing and connecting to/creating music has been profoundly
fulfilling. It’s my solace.

How did you become involved in the type of music you play/sing now?

Hallie: I started playing with Frank through Nellie’s suggestion and I am
forever grateful.

Frank: Yeah, Nellie mentioned it to me too, before Nellie herself was
involved in the music. Basically, I wrote the basic bones to an album a
few years ago. After a period of many years of writing songs and
recording what I essentially considered to be demos. Suddenly, something
clicked and this new batch of songs felt a lot like an album of music. I
wanted to start performing the music live, to refine it and explore it as
a band before really committing it to tape. That’s how this album was
recorded really. Me and the Olson Twins (Nellie and Hallie) played about a
years worth of shows and sorted out what we liked and what we didn’t like.
And then we recorded it. Many of the songs didn’t have drum parts or
bass lines or backup vocal parts. A few did. But much of what you hear
on the album is what we hashed out together in rehearsals and on stage.

For those who have never seen or heard your music before, how would you
describe your music for the public audience?

Hallie: I think Frank’s music is refreshingly and deceptively simple. He
doesn’t haul out any overly complex chords and it’s up to your mind to
fill in the rest. I love that. The songs immediately got stuck in my head.

Frank: Yes, I want it to be simple but powerful. The sound doesn’t even
have to be huge or anything, but I want people to walk away from our shows
with something.

Would you rather play live performances or be in the studio?

Frank: A live show, ultimately. All of that energy in the room. Everything you’ve put into it for the preceding weeks and months, you just get up and do it. And for me, there are no apologies or anything. You get on stage and give it your best and that’s essentially what and who you
are in that moment. Sure there are better or worse days but basically me
onstage is pretty much me as an artist. Live shows have so many
variables – this mic or that amp, dodgy cables. But as long as our guitars
have all their strings and we can hear each other on stage, you’ll hear
who we are and where we’re coming from.

Have you been involved in any benefit performances?

Frank: Yes, last year we were part of the Stand Against HB2 Benefit shows
in North Carolina. That was an important show for us to be a part of.

What do you think your greatest accomplishment has been so far in your
musical career?

Nellie: I’ve always been shy and reserved. Learning how to play drums
taught me it’s ok(and fun) to be loud sometimes. Listening back to
recordings I’m on, I always think, wow I did that!

If you had to categorize your music, what genre would it best fit?

Frank: Most of our music has some drive to it. Indie folk is a good term
for some of what we do, but more often there are heavier indie rock
elements that don’t fit that genre title. So maybe a better term is
“Driving Indie Rock ‘n Folk.” There is probably more crunchy, loud
electric guitar on the album than acoustic, but our single “Conversations
with Bad Acquaintances” is entirely acoustic. But, it still pushes.

What are your songs about and what general themes do they talk about?

Frank: The song themes are usually pretty self explanatory, but generally
they are personal songs which are pulled from my life. Some of them are
about how I fit into the current society, and some about interpersonal
interactions. Love, loss, rejection on both sides of the coin.

Why do you choose to focus on these themes?

Frank: They tend to be major or minor existential crises which I’ve
encountered as a person living my particular time and place. These are my
experiences, and I expect the same experiences as many other people for
many generations.

What has been your strongest influence to continue performing?

Frank: Getting on stage with our friends and playing shows with bands
that we love to perform with. For me, it’s one of the biggest motivators.
You have a show booked, and your friends are quietly counting on you go
up give your best, because when their band gets on stage, they are going
to bring it as well. And at the end of all of it, there’s a truly
memorable night. I love being part of that.

What are your immediate music career goals?

Frank: We’re working on a few videos for the current album, and also
working on songs for our next album. Pretty excited about both.

Music tends to appeal to everyone, young and old. Do you have any advice
for the youth of today?

Frank: Make an awesome youtube channel! Eventually it will be your
calling card.

Nellie: Don’t ever think you are too old or not good enough to start
playing an instrument. Everyone starts somewhere and its very rewarding
(and humbling) to see your own progression.

Do you have other interests or talents you would like to share with us?

Frank: I love tape recorders, and I often find ways to integrate them
into our recording process. My first songs were recorded to cassette
tape, and most of our music is finished onto a reel to reel master
recorder.

Hallie: My other interests include animal rescue, particularly working
with cat trap-neuter-return and bottle feeding baby kittens.

What do you do with your time away from music?

Frank: I like repairing old musical equipment. Tape machines, mic
preamps, guitar amps. I’m not sure if you consider that time away from
music, though!

As an artist, is there anything special you hope to be able to accomplish?

Frank: I love it when people connect to a song I’ve written. Someone identifying with you in that way, I think we both feel a little less alone. At times, I feel I have accomplished that, and special is a good word to describe it.

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