‘I had a few lost years – a lot of my career is trying to make up for that. That’s why I keep on hunting’

Richard Olson


For his debut solo album, Richard Olson & The Familiars, the frontman of London’s cosmic country kings, The Hanging Stars, and former member of The See See and The Eighteenth Day of May, has let his freak flag fly, with stunning results.

It’s a wonderfully eclectic and inventive record, opening with the spacey, Primal Scream-style psychedelic dub of I Can’t Help Myself, before movin’ on up to the irresistible and breezy, orch-pop of Fall Into My Hands, taking a detour into the English countryside for the gorgeous ‘60s and ‘70s pastoral folk of Down Looking Up, heading to a Swedish forest for the Lee Hazlewood twilight croon of A Thousand Violins and then moving into krautrock territory for the hypnotic Little Heart.

Elsewhere there’s a Spacemen 3-inspired cover version of Air by Brit-folk-psych outfit The Incredible String Band, a homage to the garage-rock of early Brian Jonestown Massacre records (I’m A Butterfly), a Velvet Underground-esque spoken word piece (Rain) and the haunting, psychedelic folk lullaby Inside Sunshine.

“I had a bunch of songs and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with them, so I was like it, ‘Fuck it – I’m just going to make a record!’ the Swedish-born singer-songwriter tells Say It With Garage Flowers. “The rules were completely thrown out of the window that was fun.”


How did the idea for the solo album come about?

Richard Olson: Firstly, I had a bunch of songs that didn’t fit with any of the projects I was doing and, secondly, it was very much a product of the pandemic.

For me personally, it was a huge step to test my confidence because I’ve always been surrounded by incredible musicians: Pat Ralla, Pete Greenwood, Paulie Cobra, Sam Ferman, Joe Harvey-Whyte… I was like, ‘fucking hell – can I do it?’

I’m a drummer – that’s my first instrument. When I was about eight, I asked my mum, ‘Can I please learn to play the drums?’ I pissed myself in the first lesson because I was so scared and I couldn’t ask the drum teacher where the toilet was. You’re welcome to write that.

One of the really key things about playing these songs that I didn’t feel fitted in anywhere was that I kind of got to know the bass guitar a little bit and realised that it is the king of all instruments.

Is that why you open the record with I Can’t Help Myself, which has a killer dub bassline on it?

RO: I came up with that bassline and I was like ‘fucking hell!’ Everything sits so well around it.

Are most of the songs on the album new?

RO: Most of them. It all started with A Thousand Violins

Which you wrote in a forest in Sweden…

RO: Yeah – I was on a little hill, overlooking a lake, and I had two chords that I was very pleased with. I had this idea that if I was ever going to do something on my own, I wanted to do some of it in a crooner vibe. I’m not getting any younger and I can get away with crooning – we all hope for Las Vegas eventually, right?

Were you channelling Lee Hazlewood and Richard Hawley?

RO: Yeah – and Serge Gainsbourg. I really wanted to sing A Thousand Violins in Swedish.

‘I got to know the bass guitar a little bit and realised that it is the king of all instruments’

You were born in Sweden, weren’t you?

RO: Yeah – I came here [the UK] when I was 21/22. I’m from the very south of Sweden – it’s a plain, which is very near Denmark. The forest line hasn’t quite started yet – it’s four hours away, and Stockholm is eight.

Malmö is Sweden’s third largest cityit has a little sister city, which is very full of itself, called Lund, which is where I grew up. It’s famous for its university and its 1000-year-old cathedral. It was a great place to grow up.

My mum was a single mum – she was a nurse. I grew up in a big, grey tower block with a lovely park. It was her just her and I – I got to know my father a little bit later in life. He was in a band with Björn from ABBA in the ‘60s – they were very famous in Sweden. I haven’t got a bad word to say about him – he was a great guy to drink a gin and tonic with.

My mum died when I was 19/20 – that was quite central to a lot of my career. It shook my whole world and I had a lot of ‘pillows’ that eased my pain – there were some good people around me. I had a few lost years and, speaking to you now, I feel that a lot of my career is trying to make up for that. That’s why I keep on hunting.

‘I wanted to do some of the album in a crooner vibe – we all hope for Las Vegas eventually, right?’

On A Thousand Violins you sing about losing your way. Is that a reference to that time in your life?

RO: So much of it is – you never get over a thing like that, but you learn to live with it. At the same time, you don’t want the pain to go away…

I can remember asking my mother on her deathbed: ‘What am I going to do?’ She said: ‘There will be a scar but you’ll learn to live with it and you’ll never want to get rid of it.’

My mother’s death taught me so much – once I got out the other side. That’s why I’m so driven and on it.

Have you been wanting to make a solo record for a long time?

RO: No. I had a bunch of songs and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with them – it wasn’t how I wanted The Hanging Stars or The See See to be. I was like it, ‘Fuck it – I’m just going to make a record.’

‘I’m trying to make a £2,000 record sound like a £200,000 one’

So, you went into the studio with Sean Read, who produced the last Hanging Stars album…

RO: We go way back – he’s such a brilliant guy and he’s become better and better at what he does. He was the perfect guy to speak to when I was challenging my confidence and myself.

I like his brass and piano on the record, and there are some great string arrangements by Herman Ringer of the Buenos Aires Symphony Orchestra too…

RO: Herman got in touch with The Hanging Stars and said ‘If you ever need anything…’ He was mind-blowing – he did three-part string arrangements at home that sound absolutely massive.

It’s incredible and it added to the wildness of the whole idea – I’m trying to make a £2,000 record sound like a £200,000 one. That’s a good quote!

Fall Into My Hands has some great strings on it and is a breezy pop song…

RO: Yeah – exactly. It was one of those songs that wrote itself – as a lot of people tend to say.

You pulled in a few friends to help you make the album, like Pat Ralla, Paulie Cobra and Joe Harvey-Whyte from The Hanging Stars, Jack Sharp (Large Plants), Dan Davies (Wolf People), Jem Doulton (Thurston Moore), Cecilia Fage (Cobalt Chapel)…

RO: And Duncan Menzies, who is an incredible fiddle player, and Ben Phillipson, from The Eighteenth Day of May – he’s a key person in my musical development.

I know you’re really into ‘60s and ‘70s British folk music. Down Looking Up, which is a lovely song, has that feel…

RO: Thank you – I did a demo of that for the third Hanging Stars album but it never quite sat the way I wanted it to. We reworked it with Sean on piano.

It reminds me of Nick Drake’s Bryter Later

RO: Yeah, yeah. It’s got that vibe. It’s a funny song as well. I think I wrote the lyrics when I was touring and playing with Joel Gion’s band – the old Brian Jonestown guard. There were quite a lot of late nights and long drives. It’s a tale of drunkenness and cruelty.

Little Heart is the lead track on the EP that’s coming out ahead of the album. Why did you choose that song?

RO: Fall Into My Hands  was the obvious pop choice – during recording it was known as ‘the Lenny Kravitz song’ – but I wanted to make it clear that this is a different record. It’s a more challenging album than that song.

Little Heart was inspired by something your son said, wasn’t it?

RO: Yeah – kids say some really magical shit. He kept saying ‘Little heart’ and I thought it was a such a beautiful thing.

It’s a one-chord song, isn’t it?

RO: Pretty much.

And it sounds a bit krautrock…

RO: I asked Jem, the drummer, to keep the Klaus Dinger [Neu!] beat down and built on top of that. That’s what’s so fun – there are a thousand pop songs in a chord.

Has your son heard the song?

RO: Yeah – he got bored pretty quickly.

You’ve covered Air by The Incredible String Band on the album and on the EP. The version on the album is quite Spacemen 3-like, but the one on the EP is a country take on it…

RO: I didn’t know how to get the song across – I got absolutely obsessed with their version of it. I’m a huge Incredible String Band fan – I know they can seem a bit twee, but once you scratch the surface there’s some incredible songwriting.

That song is so evocative and the essence of how good they are. I’m not sure I did it any justice but I did send it to Mike Heron [from The Incredible String Band]. After a couple of months, someone got in touch and said he absolutely loved it. That was really nice.

‘I’m a huge Incredible String Band fan – I know they can seem a bit twee, but once you scratch the surface there’s some incredible songwriting’

The album track I’m A Butterfly sounds to me like it could’ve been a Hanging Stars song. It’s a bit country-garage rock…

RO: It’s more garage rock and maybe it could’ve been on one of the last See See records. That was the one that I was most worried about fitting in if I’m honest, but then we put a weird recorder on it that goes all the way through it. It’s a bit of a homage to the Brian Jonestown Massacre – they have that weird recorder vibe on a few of their early records.

Christof Certik [from the Brian Jonestown Massacre] actually does a spoken word part on it…

RO: That was really funny – I kept on saying to him: ‘Can you send me a voice message of you saying ‘I’ve seen the light in all its might and it is something to behold?’ He kept saying, ‘I don’t know how to say it’, so I said to him, ‘OK – you’re an 18-year-old surfer and your mum has just told you off for not doing the dishes,’ or ‘You’re a Hollywood cowboy…’ In the end, I said, ‘You’re a wannabe beatnik in 1959, but you’ve got it a bit wrong’. That was the one we ended up with.

Is that song autobiographical? In the lyric you sing about going to school, bumming around and getting a job…

RO: Without sounding too pretentious or dramatic, it’s about being who we all are – us and the people who go to our shows. We’re butterflies – we’re colourful, we look silly but, ultimately, we look beautiful. That’s what I think – that’s why those people are my people. But people don’t always see it that way. It’s slightly putting the boot in at all the people who tell you’re a prick and that you should grow up. Hence, ‘I’ve seen the light in all its might and it is something to behold.’

Your wife, Lucy Evans, does the spoken word part on Rain, which you recorded at home during the lockdown summer of 2020…

RO: The rain is real – it might’ve been when Walthamstow got flooded. The beat is off an iPhone app with all these classic drum machines on it – most of the vocals and the guitars were done at home, but then Sean mixed it. In some ways I wish I’d done it all at Sean’s to make it more ‘hi-fi’, but, you know, it’s all part of the journey.

‘With this record the rules were completely thrown out of the window – that was fun’

Paulie Cobra sings the harmonies on it…

RO: He did an incredible job – when he sent it back to me, I was like, ‘What the fuck?’

He sounds like Dennis Wilson…

RO: I know – that’s exactly what it is. He completely created it.

Was the song inspired by Spiritualized?

RO: You’re the second person to say that. I was trying to go for more of a Velvet Underground thing.

Ben Phillipson from The Eighteenth Day of May plays guitar on the last song, Inside Sunshine

RO: Yeah – he does. That song is very dear to my heart because I feel like it is a bit Eighteenth Day of May – it’s very much what him and I conjure up with that band. I’m so pleased with that song – it’s got all the elements.

The Hanging Stars

Do you think this record will surprise people?

RO: To be honest, The Hanging Stars is my main thing, but it’s not the ‘60s, ‘70s’, ‘80s or ‘90s anymore, and you can’t just say, ‘We’ve really got into Kraftwerk and we’re going to make a Kraftwerk-country record…’

We have to play within our field, but with this record the rules were completely thrown out of the window, which was quite freeing – that was fun. I would’ve spent a lot more time and money on it if I had it, but it came together the way it did because there was no money and there was no time.

I also have to celebrate the community – it’s so easy to slag London and scenes off, but we’re all very lucky. I’m surrounded by some brilliant musicians – London is full of them – and, in our little corner, it means something to us.

I wish I could’ve celebrated it more and got a lot of my friends from America on it, but it was just after the pandemic and people weren’t travelling.

Are you pleased with the album?

RO: I am, but I won’t know how I feel until I get the vinyl in my hand. I’m still learning how to walk and I feel rather self-conscious promoting my own name, as much as I am. At the same time, it’s just a work of art – something that I’ve conjured up. I’m trying to project an emotion and a dream onto you. When I get over myself, that’s all it is, and I feel like I’ve done quite a decent job.

This record came to me a lot more naturally than I expected it to. I’m not trying to be anything – well, I’m trying to be funny from time to time with some of the lyrics – but it’s quite an unassuming record and I’m kind of happy with that. And do you know what? They’ll probably be another one.

What would you say to people who aren’t, er, familiar with your or your music?

RO: I would say there’s a little something for everyone. There’s Air for the ‘Heads, and you’ve got Fall Into My Hands if you like Lenny Kravitz.

Richard Olson & The Familiars, the debut solo album by Richard Olson, is released on vinyl on April 7. It’s available to preorder here (Cardinal Fuzz).

The digital version will be out on March 31, preceded by the Little Heart EP on March 24.

Richard Olson & The Familiars are playing a one-off show at The Waiting Room, London on April 27. Tickets are available here.

‘I like barroom songs and songs about f***ing up and creating chaos – I’ve done my share of that’

Nick Gamer

Suburban Cowboy, the debut solo album by Oregon singer-songwriter Nick Gamer, was one of my favourite albums of last year.

It was written during the Covid lockdown of 2020 and the peak of the West Coast’s wildfire season.

Reviewing it for Americana UK last summer, I said: ‘Set in a world of midnight truck stops and neon signs, Suburban Cowboy raises a glass to classic Americana and country, but every so often, Gamer slips in a shot of something extra that gives it a dark edge and keeps it fresh, like on Cenote Saloon, which is spacey, cinematic and psychedelic, with wonderful Lynchian twangy guitar, or the short, vaguely jazzy instrumental, Sidereal.’

‘Suburban Cowboy was one of my favourite albums of last year. It was written during the Covid lockdown of 2020 and the peak of the West Coast’s wildfire season’

I singled out some of the highlights, saying: ‘The ghost of Gram Parsons hangs over the barstool prayer, Midnight Angel, as well as the pedal steel and fiddle-laced trad country of Ballad of the Suburban Cowboy’, described Riverbed as a ‘raw and dark rocker, with thundering, doomy bass’ and said the widescreen Sedona, which is about driving all night through the Arizona desert, had shades of Springsteen and Jason Isbell.

I likened the stripped-down and intimate Any Neon Sign, which starts with the noise of a train, to early Ryan Adams, and said the mid-paced country rocker, Tennessee, had a similar feel, with Gamer, former guitarist for Japanese Breakfast and frontman of Le Rev, singing: ‘We drank our way from Memphis down to New Orleans – got kicked out of every honky tonk in-between.”

On Ballad of the Suburban Cowboy, he sings: “You can find me at a tavern, chasin’ bourbon with beer/ In some strip mall sprawl at the edge of the western frontier…”

But I tracked him down to his home in Eugene, and, in an exclusive chat – only his second interview ever – he told me about writing and recording his debut album, moving on from his chaotic twenties, getting away from where he grew up, the moody sound of Pacific North West country music and the crumbling American dream. 


The album was written in 2020, during the Covid lockdown and the wildfire season. How was that?

Nick Gamer: There were six months of being locked down and then the wildfires came – it was sepia sky and a neon sun. It was bizarro – it felt like you were on Mars. The fires came up to just outside of Eugene. It was crazy – an apocalyptic feeling.

I was cooped up. I’ve been playing music in bands for 20 years and my friend was like, ‘Hey – you’ve never put out your own album’… so I took him up on that. I booked a date, with my friend Bryan [Wollen – producer], who’s up in Portland, and it forced me to write some songs.

So, all the songs on the record were new and written for it?

NG: They’re all new songs – I had all of them except for Sedona, Riverbed and Fever Valley Pitch

Those songs stand out because they’re the heavier, poppier or rockier tracks…

NG: Yeah – I thought that the record didn’t have singles. If I had a record label, they would probably have said I needed some three-minute, up-tempo songs, so I kind of had a writing project. The recording was delayed because of Covid – it happened in intervals, so it took a lot longer than we wanted, but those songs came later.

What was the studio like?

NG: Bryan calls his studio Cat/Man-Do – it’s an old office on the edge of Portland. There used to be this old town called Vanport, where all the black Americans lived, working on the docks. It got flooded – all the houses are up on stilts.

Bryan has this bizarre, abandoned office space which he turned into a studio house. It has a big basement and it’s right by the train tracks – you can hear a train on the record. He just stuck a microphone out of the window to get that.

You’ve got some guests on the record, including Bryan on guitar, drums and bass, Rick Pedrosa playing pedal steel, Lauren Hay on vocals, Jimmy “Jazz” Prescott on electric and upright bass, James West on drums and Garrett Brown on bass. Did you all meet up in the studio as a band to make the record?

NG: No. My buddy James, who is kind of like a hip-jop/jazz drummer, pulled in his buddy, Jimmy Prescott – he plays bass in G.Love & Special Sauce. I sent them the tracks. No rehearsal – we just went in the studio and went through all the songs in one day. We got a lot of them – they added a whole other flavour to the songs. The other songs Bryan and I single-tracked – he played drums and I tracked the rhythm guitar. There were a couple of different methods going on.

‘I’d been playing in indie bands, like Japanese Breakfast, but my last band, Le Rev, had a moody, cinematic sound – I love soundtracks’

The record has classic country influences, like Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Emmylou Harris, but it’s also dark, edgy, cinematic, psychedelic and even slightly jazzy – it sometimes does things you’re not expecting it to. What did you want it to sound like?

NG: I’d been playing in indie bands, like Japanese Breakfast, but my last band, Le Rev, had a moody, cinematic sound – I love soundtracks. Growing up, I liked Eternal Sunshine… the John Brion stuff, so it was a combination of that and getting back to songwriting. I’d always wanted to write a more country album, so it just kind of came out like that – it’s me trying to write country.

Are you a big Gram Parsons fan?

NG: I didn’t get into country music until I was of drinking age – Bryan got me into it and and we had a country covers band that we played in bars with. It was like Sweetheart of the Rodeo – that album was the bridge. I think it was for a lot of people – then Gram Parsons. I got heavily into him and that led into everything else, like George Jones and all the rest of  ’em.

The album often has a barroom feel. On Pale Horse, you’re “roaming the streets, after the bars close, with no place to go…”

NG: A lot of the songs I like just happen to be barroom songs and songs about fucking up and creating chaos. I’ve done my share of that. The songs all come from an honest place.

‘A lot of the record is looking back on my chaotic twenties – that was wild and I’m moving forward from there’

I turned 30, then Covid happened and the next thing you know I’m in my mid-thirties… What the hell happened? A lot of the record is looking back on my chaotic twenties – that was wild and I’m moving forward from there.

Did you grow up in Eugene?

NG: I was born in Long Beach, California – we moved to Portland pretty soon after that. I grew up in Portland then we moved to Eugene when I was in grade school. As soon as I turned 18, I went back to Portland and pretty much played in bands for ten years.

I like to think of the sound of the record as Pacific North West country – it’s so moody out here and a lot of the bands that come from here have that darker edge.

Your song Sedona is about driving through the desert at night  it reminds me of Springsteen and Jason Isbell. It has a widescreen rock sound… 

NG: I was going for that purposefully. I wanted to write something that was simple and relatable – I don’t often try to write something that’s a little bit more poppy.

It’s a song about being stuck in the same place and trying to get away. I still live in the place I grew up, pretty much. It’s about picking a random spot on the map and just getting out – I feel the need to do that probably once a week.

That’s one of the themes of the album escaping from a small town…

NG: Yeah. It’s part of the concept it’s a bastardisation of Urban Cowboy. Thirty five to 40 years after Urban Cowboy, instead of all these oil workers dressing up as cowboys, there are people who work in minimum wage jobs in restaurants and are getting into country music, but they can’t afford to put a downpayment on a house in their own town because everything’s so expensive, with inflation and all that shit. It’s the crumbling American dream.

Any plans for a follow-up record? 

NG: I have another record that I’ve started recording in the same spot – Bryan’s studio.It’s going to be single-tracked – eight songs. It’s called Oregoner – it’s all Oregon-themed. It’s Americana / country stuff and it’s a compatible album with Suburban Cowboy.

When I wrote Suburban Cowboy, I didn’t have any parameters in mind – I just wrote. This has a little bit more structure and I’ve been sitting on the songs a lot longer.

Will Oregoner come out this year?

NG: Absolutely. I’m hoping to record a couple of albums and put at least one out. 

‘I have another record that I’ve started recording. It’s called Oregoner – it’s all Oregon-themed’

Are you a prolific songwriter?

NG: I try to write every day. It’s so easy to put an album out now, but you want people to get as much out of them as they can. I like to do a couple of tours, send an album out and see what happens, but you don’t want to do that too much, because if you get too caught up in it, you stop writing music. 

Suburban Cowboy by Nick Gamer is out now (Professional Guest Records).