By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
In 1997, the resolutely independent combo formed its own label, Ranchero Records, to produce and distribute its albums. As Red Meat's audience grew, so did its musical ambitions, and when it came time to record a second album, the band set its sights on roots-rock veteran Dave Alvin as producer. Olson in particular made a determined effort to enlist Alvin's aid -- "stalking" is the word she uses, although he prefers a milder, less prosecutable, term.
"Jill got my number from a mutual friend and literally pestered me for three months," he recalls, imitating her relentless phone messages from the time. ""You need to produce Red Meat, you need to produce Red Meat, you need to produce Red Meat. Hi! This is Jill Olson from Red Meat, you need to produce Red Meat!' Finally they sent me a CD, and I listened to it and I thought, 'Yeah, I could do this -- it'd be fun!'"
Alvin took up the band's cause, producing 1998's 13 and 2001's Alameda County Line. Like his work with independent country bands Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys and the Derailers, Alvin helped sculpt a clean, rock-tinged style recalling the "Bakersfield Sound" of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. That bold new mix eventually paid off last year, when Olson was approached after a Red Meat show in Los Angeles.
"This guy who's a film editor saw us and really liked us, and bought one of our CDs," she says. "Then he got in touch and said, 'I really like that song, "Broken Up and Blue," and I want to edit it into this movie I'm working on, even though it's kind of a long shot it'll ever get into the movie.' And I said, 'Oh, fine -- go for it.' But then the director really liked the edit, and later they put it on the soundtrack album. I was thrilled!
"Then we were watching the Academy Awards over at a friend's house, and I was being really cynical and snotty, making fun of people's clothes and not really paying attention. All of a sudden we hear John Williams conducting the Academy orchestra, playing 'Broken Up and Blue,' and I turned to my husband and said, 'Is that my song?' And God bless Halle Berry, because she kept crying and crying and she couldn't stop herself, so the orchestra kept playing it over and over again.
"Of course," laughs Olson, "my theory is that it was just the easiest song on the soundtrack for Williams to score, because it had the least number of chords."
Although she enjoys playing country, Olson also loves writing pop songs, an interest that surfaced in 1996 on her first solo record, The Gal Who Would Be King. With her new sophomore effort, My Best Yesterday, Olson again indulges her passion for '60s-style pop, utilizing the bright, chiming guitar sound she remembers from a youth spent listening to the Beatles, Beach Boys, and the Lovin' Spoonful.
Many of the songs had been kicking around for years, but things finally jelled last year when she found herself with a lot of free time. "I had this long-term freelance job that just ended suddenly," she says. "So I had three months to devote to music, just me working at home in Oakland. I had been focusing most of my creative energy on Red Meat, but I had some songs that I was working on that were just not Red Meat material, and I thought, 'Well, here's my chance!'"
Dave Alvin was the natural choice to produce the new album, even with -- or because of -- Olson's intention of diverting from a country vibe. "I'm a big fan of the Bakersfield sound, and I'm getting to be kind of a quasi-expert on how to duplicate it," he chuckles. "But I'm actually trying to get away from that now, because I got a bit typecast as that kind of producer, and I don't want everything I do to sound like 'a Dave Alvin record.' So I was really glad when Jill wanted to do her solo record, because it was a different kind of sound."
While My Best Yesterday has a lot in common with Olson's 1996 debut, it's also less bouncy and more doleful. Olson says the record's still influenced by the AM radio sound she grew up with, but now she's channeling Dusty Springfield instead of the Byrds. Also, her emphasis in songwriting has changed the more she's worked at her craft.
"In my twenties, I think I didn't care so much if my songs made sense or not," she says. "But I think as I've grown older I'm more interested in how do these words sound together, and also in what is the message of this song, how do I want it to end? I think that my songs have become more simple, but I think that they're not as made-up, they're more honest and about real things.
"It's not a concept album, but I would say that a lot of the songs are about things that were going on in my life, as well as things that were going on in friends' lives," Olson continues. "Like, all the depressing things were about my friends, and all the happy things were about my life. But you can't really say that, right? Because then people will say, 'Hey, wait! That song was about me and my wife breaking up. How dare you!'"