For the better part of the last decade, Brian Olive has been someone’s guitarist — sometimes as Oliver Henry or Henry Oliver — from post-high school outfits to his stints with The Greenhornes and Soledad Brothers. When the time finally came for Olive to blaze a solo trail, he had plenty of experience to draw on when considering what he wanted to accomplish as a solo artist.
“I had a lot of time to find out what I was trying to get at by playing in basically other people’s bands,” Olive says. “In both The Greenhornes and The Soledad Brothers, I had kind of a say in what went on, but it’s different than the one we have now where I put it together for this purpose. I kept thinking, ‘If I keep running into this trouble playing in bands …’ Everyone’s got their own idea and everyone’s so fixated on having their idea used that you end up losing something. I always liked playing in those bands, but I felt like neither one of them got to where they could be. Playing in those bands made me want to do it in a more focused sort of way.”
Olive got additional inspiration from a more unconventional source. After reading The Devil’s Anarchy, Stephen Snelders’ history of Dutch pirates in the 17th century, Olive came to the conclusion that the buccaneers ran their larcenous affairs in a pretty efficient manner.
“I’m trying to figure out how to be the leader of a band, because I’ve never done it,” Olive says. “These Dutch pirate captains ran their ships like a true democracy, where everyone had a say and the captain could be thrown off the ship. I was reading this and I was like, ‘I want to model my group after this thing.’ ”
Olive already had a fair amount of material for what would become his self-titled debut album, released this week on Alive Records.
Some of the songs date back to his Greenhornes/Soledads days, while some of them were as fresh as the sessions for the album.
“One of the songs I did a recording of with (drummer) Dan Allaire about five years ago,” Olive says. “We ended up using his drums and the rhythm tracks and then I played new horn lines and sang it. That one had been around awhile. I changed it to suit the rest of this album. A couple songs were on a 45 I put out last year. I wrote the rest of the songs as we were recording them. Once we had three or four songs going, I could see what the record was going to sound like. I don’t know if it affected the way I wrote the rest of them or if it was just meant to be that way.”
Like the bands that he has contributed to, Olive’s solo album has a definite Garage/Blues feel to it, but there’s also an undeniable streak of Memphis/Stax Soul running through the album. A good deal of the way the album sounds is clearly due to Olive’s musical vision and influences, but he’s quick to spread the credit around.
“In the past, I would have played a lot more of the instruments, but then I realized I had all these people around that I could call on and do the parts,” Olive says. “And I realized they were doing it as good or better than I would have, because they were coming in with an outside perspective.”
As the lone songwriter on the project, Olive certainly feels as though he was able to draw on a wider array of musical influences to craft these songs. At the same time, he’s philosophical about how those influences are reflected in the finished work.
“I was listening to some of the songs the other day and I was trying to figure out what I was thinking of when I did it,” Olive says. “I think the best songs turn out when you don’t zero in on a certain influence or style or group. I hope that I am drawing on many influences and letting them work their way through me.”
At the moment, Olive is booking essentially local shows — his farthest drive so far will be to Cleveland. But he intends to hit a much longer road very soon, with bassist Max Bender, organist Jared McKinney and drummer Mike Weinel (and possibly more) in tow.
“I called agents I used to work with in the Soledad Brothers — a guy in France and another guy in England — so between the two of them hopefully we can tour in the UK and most of western Europe,” Olive says. “And we’ve got a (booking) guy in the States. We intend to take at least a five-piece band anywhere in the world. We’ve got Holly Kadish (of The High & Low) playing guitar some and organ and filling up space with percussion and doing a lot of singing, too. And we just had her sister Tori come up and sing and she’s busting out the harmonica and recorder, and I’m thinking, ‘That sounds great.’
“Now I’ve gotta tell the label it’s a six-piece band and listen to them cry about it — ‘It‘s too many people.’ Well, we’re not The Black Keys.”
BRIAN OLIVE performs Saturday at the Northside Tavern. Get details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.