The Olds Sleeper Interview


Olds Sleeper is a singer/songwriter who hails from the hills, shade and streams of the great state of  Pennsylvania. Four a.m. is when the creative juices flow for recording for this busy working man. It is at this time that most of the world is still in slumber, getting home from bars or fixing to get off work from the graveyard shift, while Olds Sleeper is pouring coffee and penning lyrics for the broken, beatdown and lost. Olds Sleeper is a guy you can relate to with his poetic Lo Fi sounds. I recently had a chance to talk to him about a few things.

JR: Why don’t we start off by telling me a bit about yourself and how the moniker “Olds Sleeper” was born?

OLDS: Well, I’m a songwriter from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I’ve been playing music since I was a kid, and messed around in some punk bands when I was a teenager but only really started down the singer/songwriter path about eight years ago. I write pretty consistently, and am always trying to capture those moments of inspiration that fly through my head.

When I first started releasing music through Myspace in 2007, I was recording under the name “myquietsongs”. It was a time of finding my voice, and I was pretty guarded about the whole thing. After a few years of writing, I changed the name to Olds Sleeper because it seemed to have a vibe to it that matched what I was playing. An “olds sleeper” is really a reference to plain looking cars, Oldsmobiles,  that have big engines underneath, some of them over 400 cubic inches. The idea is that something that looks sedate can blow the doors off of anyone who wants to race- that idea of hidden power. I like that idea.

JR: I read where you record most of your songs at 4am. I personally find that to be the most peaceful time of the day. Everyone is asleep or coming home from the Graveyard shift. Do you find inspired at this time of the day to create?

OLDS: Well, it used to be an act of necessity. I would wake up an hour earlier than I needed to so I could write songs before work.  My life is pretty busy and for a long while, that was the only time I could find to sit down and get all of the ideas out of my system. It’s also a good time to let dreams become words. I would often pour a cup of coffee, and sit down in front of the microphones in the basement, candle light on the table, almost total darkness. I would hit record, start to strum and let the first words of my day be the song.

That doesn’t happen so much anymore. I’ve learned to make time in different places. Sometimes I still get up at 4am, but I have to plan it.

I think once you learn to recognize the feeling of creativity boiling up, you have to find the time to capture it. Now, I record all the time- whenever the feeling hits. I record all over the house too…sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in my bedroom, sometimes outside. For me, mood is more important than technique, and there are times when I’m gonna be able to sing a particular song in a way because of the mood dominating my body. It’s a really intuitive type of experience. It’s a letting go.

JR: What singer or band inspired you to start?

Olds: As a songwriter, I was first inspired by Townes Van Zandt, Dylan, Guy Clark, Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams, John Prine, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Lightning Hopkins, Son House, Neil Young, Greg Brown, Kris Kristofferson, Paul Burch, Ralph Stanley, Lucinda Williams, and countless others. I am an avid reader, so Kerouac, Kesey, Twain, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Sherman Alexie, and Hunter S. Thompson have to be mentioned to really get at the root of what has inspired me to express myself with words.

I am always looking for new music, and have been lucky, in the last few years, to find so many excellent songwriters who still remain relatively underground. They are my real inspiration now. I’m talking about Willy Tea Taylor and Soda Gardocki,both from California; and Drew Peterson from Minnesota, and Tom Vandenavond from Texas; Drew Landry from Louisiana; and locally, Dave Lefever and Thomas Roue from Pennsylvania… these guys are writing songs about real life from their guts. Lyrically, they all share a sense of being plainspoken, gritty, personal, and that is what is driving me to write my songs these days. These guys write and play for the love of music and expression; there is no devised “image” driving the sound and the music is really heartbreakingly honest and personal. They seem to do what they feel without catering to a popular aesthetic to make money, and that, to me, is what real music is about. Their lyrics hit the bone. Look every damn one of ‘em up and see for yourself. These writers inspire me to trust myself and write honestly.

JR: The low-fi sound is like an onion with peeled off layers. I feel it takes a certain breed of person to display his or her feelings. Do you feel like this is your niche, to say? or any plans to do any fancy studio recordings?

OLDS: I feel like the raw recording techniques I use really match the style I’ve developed. I record all my songs myself, and I don’t use computers to do it- I use a lot beat up equipment that I’ve pulled together over the years.

I’m doing two types of recordings now…Sometimes,I use a portable mp3 recorder for a lot of my songs because I want it to feel honest,  and by that I mean I want it to sound as if you were sitting there in my kitchen with me. One take- no overdubs. I grew up around my grandfather playing banjo and guitar with his friends in his basement, and I find something really beautiful about the natural acoustics of a good guitar and a voice unaffected by reverb or effects.  It forces me to give everything to a song at that moment.  I think there is an intimacy about it that is hard to match in a studio. Sometimes, that ONE take is THE take. It never will get better than that moment, sitting on the edge of my bed or at the kitchen table, and letting go. I want to capture that.

I also record other songs on a Tascam 8-track. That’s more about building layers and often I do 8 tracks in less than an hour…like splashing ideas at a canvas in a way …it’s an intuitive process, so I don’t get all technically obsessive, because Im trying to capture a fleeting idea. I often use distorted microphones to record, running them through an effects pedal because it goes back to the “myquietsongs” days, when I was using distortion to hide my voice. I try to let the mood come through… I like the sound of dirty old blues records and bootlegs, and I think a lot of my recordings reflect that. I love shitty microphones.

I don’t foresee any “fancy” studio recordings. I tend to like to work alone because it allows me to be really work within myself to bring out the ideas. It’s ultimately rewarding. And as a bottom line, its cheap.  I offer all my recordings as a “pay what you want” on bandcamp. ( I’ve released 7 albums on there and lots of people get my music for free, and I have no problem with that because I don’t have a label helping me distribute my tunes. I wouldn’t be able to give music away if I spent money on producers, engineers, and mastering.

JR: What does the future look like for Olds Sleeper?

OLDS: I will be releasing a new album in January 2013, entitled before and after the here and now.  It will be released on bandcamp. I think it might be the best set of songs I’ve ever put together. I have chosen 13 songs out of over 100 takes that I have recorded in the last six months.

I’m gonna keep on writing songs and playing and pushing myself, playing a few dates a month, hopefully a few festivals, and maybe making a trek to Minnesota to play Weber’s Deck. That would be a dream come true. If you don’t know about Weber’s Deck, look it up. It could be a pathway for you to find some of the best songwriters in the country.

I’m always looking for the next song. For me, after family, that is what life is all about. Once you find something that lets you express yourself honestly, and I mean anything creative- woodworking, painting, poetry, photography, whatever – wherever you find yourself at peace- you realize that life is very rich and full of possibilities. It took me a long time to get to that realization.  I feel fortunate to have found this outlet for myself and to have also found an audience. Years of sitting alone in my basement playing alone suddenly makes sense now.

I want the music to keep coming. Sometimes I think that the music Im making is really just a vehicle for finding like-minded  and cool people. I’ve met so many great folks through all of this- both playing live and sharing on the internet-and I want more of that. I’ve met all kinds of people that really inspire me. If you like my songs, look me up on Facebook, I know we will have other things in common. That’s how it always happens.


Album cover photo by Genevieve Patchell
Live Photo by Casey Weber

For more videos, please visit Olds Sleeper on YOUTUBE.

~ Jason Robinson

Jason Wallace Robinson hails from Spartanburg, South Carolina. He’s a writer, storyteller, philosopher, single father raising two children, music lover, dreamer, joker. He writes to speak for the Common Man. He enjoys football and driving around in his ’96 Chevy Lumina adorned with an American Flag and decorative bird offerings.

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