Q&A With Ladybug Transistor’s Gary Olson


(left to right) Jeff Baron, Gary Olson, Ben Crum, Kyle Forester and Julia Rydholm

Interview by Michael D. Ayers

I wanted to address the elephant in the room right away, though I’m talking with Ladybug Transistor founder Gary Olson in more of a basement, really, situated in a 100-year-old house on a sleepy street in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn–the recording studio for all six of the Transistor’s delicate, baroque-pop-heavy records. In April, longtime drummer San Fadyl passed away after a severe asthma attack; obviously, it hit the band hard, and I wondered if they’d thought about shutting off the Transistor for good.

Fishwrap only has so much space, so here’s the rest of Ayers’s conversation with Gary Olson that didn’t make it into the most recent Voice. Highlights from the transcript as follow.

Did you guys think about calling it quits when San passed?

In some ways it brought us a bit closer; I think we probably would have felt worse, if we had been sitting around, at home, after going through all the feelings and everything. It felt like it might be a good idea to keep playing, as some sort of therapy. And it’s been hard, and if you’ve ever heard him play, his touch and feel is very distinctive, in terms of anyone we’d play with. It was really special, and he brought a lot of character to the band. We were really good friends. So it was a huge thing for us. Even though he had been living in Switzerland for the past four or five years, we were still really close.

So I was used to seeing him about every six months or so. Its funny, we’d all come from different places, and we’d be at the first show, and it was always just a breathe of fresh air to start those tours with him. So now, it is about that time, you start to feel…

It’s coming on six months.

Yes, exactly.

Has the incarnations and rotating casts, keep things fresh or hindered things?

After we did the self titled record, there was a point where the membership was lacking definition. I really had to decide. So it was really up to me, to decide whether we should keep doing it. So I got my toes wet a little bit; it was around that time I started to work with other people, especially live. We were offered a lot of European tours, and it seemed like a good opportunity to get other people involved. And it felt really good; it was the first time I had started to play with a very different line up of people, and they were already bringing something different to it. In the early days of the band, when we did the Arbernale Sound record, I guess it was the novelty. There were two couples in the band, and a brother and sister. That can only last so long. So we were doing that for two or three years. So after the last record, I started working with different people and it seemed to open up my mind a bit. And I think that’s a reason why there was such a delay between the two records–finding people to write with, and looking outside the band a bit more.

Eventually I found Kyle Forrester who plays a lot of keyboards on the record, he really helped a lot with the initial demos, and building things up. Last Spring, 2006, we started largely rehearsing and working on the songs.

So, with that in mind, how does Ladybug write songs these days?

For me, I’ve definitely slowed down a bit as far as ideas that have come through me. I like taking scraps of people’s ideas, if they have a basic tune, and give it some direction. Writing lyrics and melody for it. Kyle and Ben and Julia brought together initial ideas for songs that we all built up.

It seems like you’ve take a bit of the pressure off yourself then.

I mean its sort of like picking good songs, rather than ones that come originated 100% from me.

So within this four year gap, what’re the band and you doing?

Aside from a lot of touring, not so much here, but I did a lot of European touring. Spent a lot of time over there. The big thing that used up a lot of time and energy, was working on the Kevin Ayers record. That was a long term project, spread out over six months. Their management got in touch with us, about working together. They came over to Brooklyn, and they got him a loft over by BAM. He’d come over almost every other day, and had a bunch of demos for songs that we were building up. It was pretty amazing, and a surreal experience to have him in my home for so long. He was a pretty big influence on the early Ladybug stuff.

Was that out of the blue that they contacted you guys?

Well, along time ago, we were doing a theme record, that was French-themed. He had an old song he did in French, and by chance, we asked him if he wanted to do the vocal for it. But it was all through the mail, but that’s how he became aware of us. And when they were looking for someone to work with him on the new record, that’s how it came. It’s definitely the biggest production job I’ve had. And it was great getting the band together; I got to choose a lot of the musicians.

Bridgette St. John is living in New York- an early folk singer, that sang on one of his early records. And they hadn’t seen each other for like 30 years. And I knew she was around, and it was my dream to kinda get them together. So I’m glad she made it on to the record.

So you’ve been pretty busy then, and not just watching The Real World.

Yeah, it was pretty exhausting. We were away for like over a month in Tuscon, doing more recording, and when I got back, I really didn’t want to do anything for awhile.

You guys have been doing this for so long, but are still flying under the radar. Why is that?

There are some dedicated people, wherever we go. But they always seem to be apologizing, “Sorry there weren’t many people here.”

And we don’t really know what happened either. I don’t think our music is that strange, where it shouldn’t have a bit more of an audience. I think in a way, since we were never a hyped band, that may have contributed to our longevity in a way. Maybe if we have gotten hugely popular, there would have been more tension in the band and pressure to do stuff, instead of working the way we do. I guess that’s a romantic way of looking at it. But yeah I wish I knew why, because then I’d be able to solve that problem.

For “Another Day,” recording, what stood out in the process?

Since I’ve been here for so long, I have it pretty figured out. It’s a pretty small room, with low ceilings.

Do you do it all down here?

We have remote-control tape machines upstairs, and the piano if we need more space, but a lot of it is down here. It’s a funny little space.

Do you leave the couch here?

Yeah, pretty much everything is how it is now. We have little nooks and closets, that these little chambers around the basement to isolate things. We discovered on the last record that if we put the mic in the far far closet, with the door closed, we can get this huge drum sound, that we could leak into the mix. That’s pretty much the drum sound for “Here Comes The Rain.” There was a mic in a far off closet that’s pushed up a bit in the mix, and it makes it sound like a stadium.