Artist Spotlight: Ola Sweet

By Andrea Lara

Photo Courtesy of Ola Sweet via Facebook/Instagram

Don’t we all enjoy those moments in life that pull us out of reality, even if it is brief? Moments where you just listen or focus on something and begin to connect to it. Music that strikes you, leaving you wanting more of its sound. Well, may I present to you a band that does just that.   Ola Sweet is an indie rock duo that is made up of Brandon Wallace and JJ Martinsen from Boise, Idaho. Back in 2017, the group introduced themselves by releasing a five song EP called Santiago. The closest thing to describe their sound is the idea of what being on a floating cloud is like. Ola Sweet’s dreamy songs pulls you into a retro euphoria and their tone of voice is mellowing and well blended with their instrumental choices. The band is passionate about creating a sound that connects with their audience. I got the chance to speak with Brandon on behalf of the band. Here is a little bit about them and what makes them worth the listen:          

What brought you guys together to form your band

Quin (our drummer) and I had been creating songs together for several years and had been on what felt like an eternal mission to find the right type of voice for our project. I had a few ads out on social media and a few musician networking sites. We had sort of a revolving door of auditions and meetups with people, and just couldn’t ever seem to make the right connection. We weren’t just looking for a singer, we were looking for a unique voice; something with character and flaws in all the right ways – like Neil Young or J Mascis. I myself sing, but I was hoping to split or share the singing role – something like what Dr. Dog does in their lineup. 

I eventually got a message from JJ that included a video he shot on his phone, and links to some demo songs he had on Soundcloud. There was so much vulnerability in his voice in those recordings, but power and confidence at the same time. It just felt so relatable. I knew we had our guy. He also told me that My Morning Jacket was his favorite band when we talked on the phone the first time, so that helped too.

We got together and started jamming. Within five times meeting up, we had written all five of the songs that went on our first EP, Santiago. We were in the studio just a few weeks after first meeting.

How did you come up with your band name? 

There’s a little known highway between two of the tiniest towns in Idaho: Sweet and Ola. It’s actually a really beautiful stretch of road in a quiet, peaceful valley. I discovered it on my way into the mountains one summer on a camping trip. The highway is called the Sweet Ola Highway, and that always stuck with me. The rest of the band liked it, but we just couldn’t decide between Sweet Ola or Ola Sweet. You can probably guess which way we went.

Ola Sweet’s Carnation album cover

The band’s latest album, Carnation was released on March 5, 2021. The album consists of nine songs which include Honeymoon, Meanwhile, Re-Entry Intrusion Theory, Caught in the Ceiling, Frivolous, Carnation, Flood, Angel Drone, and Ghost RPT. In creating these songs, Ola Sweet got to work with Kai Welch, Dave Eggar, Gus Seyffert, and Dave Cooley. Each person contributed to the albums dreamy style. Gus Seyffert has also worked with artists such as Dr. Dog, Beck, and The Black Keys. Along with this new album, the band has also created a short film series that features these nine songs. The film series is about a troubled painter who wakes up in an empty void, in which someone or something placed her there. The two artistic creations together form a psychedelic sensation. Here is more insight from Brandon Wallace:    

What sort of thing do you use for your inspiration to create? 

This record was uniquely inspired by one night in particular. JJ and I had decided to go on a bit of a journey together. We had been tossing around this notion of creating “the album of our lives”. I know that sounds predictable, and it’s something that you’d obviously want to do every time you make a record, but this was different. We just knew this was our time to make THE record. Our own Dark Side of the Moon. The purpose of our planned journey together was to discover what that record was going to actually be, and what that meant. Ultimately, we didn’t discover any of that on our journey together at all. Instead, we discovered something else entirely: trust. We had previously lacked the trust to care enough about our creation together; and that we would not damage or destroy it. 

Beyond that night, there was definitely inspiration each and every day during the process of making the record. There were highs and lows, and it’s all in there. It wasn’t a “write all the songs entirely, then go record them” kind of album. JJ was really into the idea of making the record in the studio. That basically means that we intentionally chose to not finish songs before we began recording them. Being able to mangle and manipulate sounds can lead to songs changing shape entirely. We wanted the freedom to take a song wherever it wanted to go while in the studio, in real time. And that’s exactly how it went. Songs that began one way routinely ended up another way entirely. All this to say that inspiration impacted the mood of the songs. We were fortunate to not be impacted by any COVID health-related concerns personally, but we certainly saw people struggling. And of course there was just so much happening out there – it all impacted these songs.

What made you decide to also create a film series?

JJ and I are both huge film fans. We had always talked about creating a companion film for the album – something that had a storyline that was unique to itself but could run in parallel to the ideas in the songs, if even in a metaphoric sense. 

We were discussing PR strategies one day, and it occurred to us that maybe we could create a film series instead of a single film. We see so many artists create promotional videos for their new and upcoming album. But it always feels a little reactionary – like something you do systematically when you finish an album. Make the album, make some video content. We thought it would be pretty damn unique to write the film series in tandem with writing the record. And that’s exactly what we did. The story of the film series was developed while we made the album.

It ended up being a massive undertaking. I learned a lot about location permits, renting soundstages, entertainment insurance, production staffs. And of course, we learned that making a film in the height of quarantine shutdowns in New York isn’t an easy thing. 

And interestingly enough, I’m not sure that the people who enjoyed the film series were necessarily the same people who enjoyed the album. It’s all a bit much to absorb, honestly. Each is its own thing, artistically. Something we hope to do is to explore finding a good audience that’s well suited for the film series. 

Take a look at their nine part film series:

 For the fans: What makes Ola Sweet who they are. 

We just really hope this record connects with listeners at exactly the right time and place for them. We’ve found that when people tell us that they loved the album, they described exactly where they were, and what time of the day they listened. That makes a lot of sense to us. These songs come from a deep and complex place. And I think that they have to sink in a little bit. They may not connect on the first listen. But we hope that people are able to make a little space to let them in.

With a unique sound and backstory, Ola Sweet is someone to be excited about. Check out their new album and film series on their website.

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