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10 Q's With Olga

1. I know 2006 was a very busy year for you. Your latest CD “Now is the Time” was released and met with some great reviews. How does it feel to have your third solo CD behind you? What has surprised you in the aftermath of its release?

I am glad to have another Cd out of original music. Truth be told though, I finished that CD last fall (2005) so I’d like to think that I have grown and evolved more since then. I also am working on new songs that delve deeper into the spiritual psyche if you will…at least mine. I hope that’s a good thing!

The one surprise to me really, was that the majority of the reviews have been really good and that has been a wonder to me. You never know how things will be received so it is always a “bearing of the soul” every time.

2. You made a video to go with the title track for NITT…what was that process like? Did you find the task of putting your words to visual images a challenge? Do you think the videos final results captured the essence of what the song means to you?

Actually, Mike McCarthy came up with the imagery and concept for the video. I really didn’t have any input at all except for wardrobe! Well, I also imputed that I did not want to lose my legs hopping that moving train. I think Mike did a fantastic job and really it was a lot of fun. Everyone that donated their time and assistance was a huge help and we did manage to have laughs in the process.

3. You also starred in Jim Dickinson’s music video “Down In Mississippi”. Tell us about that day. How did the making of his video compare to the process of making yours? How did you first come to meet Jim?

I met Jim through Jimbo and Luther naturally. We drove out to Zebra Ranch several years ago and just hung out there drinking beer and letting the beautiful fall day pass by.

The day we filmed the nymph-in-the-woods scene for Jim’s video, was in October 2004. It was a rainy and cold day and we were out east Tennessee in Cordova somewhere, at this nice gentleman’s horse farm. We had to take these off road terrain bikes to get to the woods. Mike wanted us barefoot and tromping around in the trees, which were covered in poison ivy! At the conclusion of filming, we all went into the swimming pool to kill the poison ivy exposure. Sure enough, one person did have an outbreak after the fact, but that is Mike’s style…anything for the shot. And hey, it looked good too!

4. You spend a lot of time on the road between Memphis, Mississippi and New Orleans doing your shows. What is it like having three cities to call home? What is something special or remarkable (to you) about working in each of those places? Is there any particular reason why you seem to keep your shows mainly down south? Are you interested in touring abroad any time soon?

Well, Memphis and north Mississippi is practically the same area. Really Memphis is just a bigger city in Mississippi, except that it’s in Tennessee. But the style is quite similar. It is also in close driving distance from Oxford, Como, etc.. New Orleans has a lot in common with Memphis as well and it has always felt like home to me. A big connection is the river, which links the two cities together. The history of the MS River is quite wild and awe inspiring, with obvious reason why there would be an exchange of ideas, music, food, art, architecture, mojo bags, et. al. It’s been hard not being there full time, especially now with all the rebuilding going on, I feel like I should be there. But I think that sometimes life has you where you are supposed to be at that time for a reason. Perhaps my reason is to work on the befit album and keep New Orleans in the “news” if you will, by talking about what’s going on, and keeping it in people’s minds. The city is still in ruins for the most part, and it will be many years before she comes back.

I have stayed mostly in the south because of the many projects I am working on. It would be extremely difficult to build a studio if you’re on the road! Plus, Jimbo has been on the road a lot, so someone has to take care of business at home. I do a fair amount of traveling as it is, so I still get my wanderlust taken care of. Hopefully in 2007, I’ll be able to do more shows abroad. They seem to really like the music in Europe, so when the time is right, is when I’ll go. Seems like everything is about timing….

5. You have been working diligently on building the Jessie Mae Hemphill Foundation. How is that going? Do you have any unique fund raising projects in the makings?

The JMH Foundation is relatively new and still quite small. The challenge has been how to keep it going and growing. I really didn’t plan or set out to create it, it just sort of came about on it’s own. It also seemed like something important to do, especially with the passings of most of the north MS music masters. Now more than ever we need to preserve the music and the history for the future generations. I believe that is already happening… it just seemed like creating a focal point or center would be helpful in continuing and building the process. I also think, that creating a community non- profit would be beneficial to many down the line. I have a lot of ideas, but I cannot implement them on my own. I do think that with time and care, this could be a really great thing.

I am working on several projects. One is a benefit album for several non-profit organizations in New Orleans to help with the rebuilding. Another is creating the archive of the JMH Foundation, which will be ongoing. But I do have some items that will be displayed in the lobby of the new Delta Recording Service in downtown Como. I have been fortunate to be in touch with the Alan Lomax Archive, which has gracefully offered support to our organization. We will have several photos from the archive, taken by Alan during his trip to Como and Senatobia in 1949. We also have face casts of Othar Turner, RL Burnside, Jessie Mae and T Model Ford, which were created by Santa Fe artist, Sharon McConnell, who has recently relocated to Como.

In addition to all this, I am working on creating a headstone fund. There are several music makers that I know of ( and many I still don’t), that have no tombstone. I hope to change that through the foundation. As with all things, public awareness is the first step. Through that start, other possibilities can grow.

6. I know you were dear friends with Jessie Mae- and even shared the same birthdays. Have you had any great revelations or discoveries about her since she has passed on? Is there anything you would like our readers to know about her life (or death?)

Yes, I have realized a great many things since she has been gone. More importantly, I think it’s important to forgive and show compassion even when you feel like you have been wronged, hurt or mistreated by events or people in the past. When someone close dies, it is an opportunity to “bury the hatchet” if you will, and let go. Jessie found forgiveness before she died. She was a complicated woman, with beauty and flaws. I think we all have that. But individually, I believe we have the power to change our surroundings, our attitudes, and ourselves…this is so not an easy challenge!

7. 2006 also saw you busy with helping get a recording studio built and open for business for your husband Jimbo Mathus. Tell us about the visions for this new official establishment in Como MS. Jimbo mentioned to me awhile back that Bob Dylan would be a dream client for him. Who would you love to see get in there and make a record?

There are two possibilities I am hoping to see happen. Would love to have Chris Isaak and Robert Plant come and record albums. Chris, who I recently met and opened for in New Orleans, is a huge fan of Memphis music. He would have a great time in Como and would cut something incredible! Robert Plant has already been hanging out in Como, so he may just yet come by and flip the switch on.

The studio has been an opportunity for both Jimbo and I in so many ways. As mentioned, it will house the JMH Foundation in the lobby. But it will also be our ongoing project together. I welcome the challenge of becoming a better musician, of learning how to produce and record, of building my skills as a performer, and of the new ideas it will bring. I also really love, that it is bringing a lot of kindred spirits together. Luther recently called it the “north Mississippi co-op” which made me laugh, but I think he’s right!

8. With all you have going on it must be hard to find time that is just for you! When you find yourself with that rare bit of free time- how do you best like to spend it? Are there any free time activities (non music related) that you and Jimbo enjoy together to inspire creativity for you both? Where do you find that your song writing inspiration comes from these days? Are you one of those people who will write stuff down on cocktail napkins to retain a thought and come back to it later?

Yes, I have written on cocktail napkins, envelopes, newspapers, receipts, magazines, grocery bags…it’s hard to keep track of those little pieces of paper! The music usually just pops in my head and the biggest challenge I have had these days, is that it seems to be getting more complicated and intricate. Now I have to work on my skills in order to produce what I’m hearing. I recently had an idea for a brass band tune come to mind, which I think could be really cool. I could hear the whole thing in my head… I am still trying to find the words, but the music is there, now if only I could play trumpet…

There also have been about 5 waltzes, 1900’s style, which came to me last month. I am plunking them out on the piano, but I think I may need to get with someone on that!

Free time? What’s that?? Well, I guess we do drink beer in our free time…does that count?

9. Are you working on your next record yet? If so, when do you expect that it might be finished? Will there be anything special or unique about it to set it apart from your others?

I am in the process of demo-ing songs. I usually do that at home, but now I’ll be able to do that in the studio with a full band. I don’t have any timeline for it… I really want to take my time on this one. In the past, I always felt like I had deadlines and listening back, there are things I wish I could have changed. This time, I would like to slow the process, so that I have time to deliberate on each song and make it the best it can be. The music will likely be spiritual in context. The lyrics I am writing these days are rather introspective and thoughtful on a deeper level. There have been many events in my life that have caused me to take inventory of who I am, what on earth I am doing, and what I really want to do. The new songs will reflect that, but I also think a lot of people will relate.

10. You have worked really hard to make the music, earn the respect of listeners and gain the connections to the industry that you have. When you get discouraged what helps you to get back on the good foot? As an independent female artist, do you have any wisdom to share with any young girls out there who hope to make a career out of singing the blues?

Geeze, I don’t know. Singing the blues is a tougher road, maybe the toughest in the business. I didn’t really set out to do that, again it came upon me, so I assumed I should follow where the signs and events are directing me. I get discouraged a lot, I am sure I am not alone in that! I guess just try and be your own person. That is a long process of discovery and part of the evolutionary process of an artist. One ting that does help me get “back on foot”, is the encouragement and input from my peers and mentors. Sometimes it’s not what you want to hear, but it is the truth and they will be honest and kind, because we are all brothers and sisters of the same tribe.

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