A long time ago, someone looked at my son when he was a little boy and said about his ability to be wise beyond his years, ?He is an old soul.’ I had the privilege earlier this spring to speak once again with singer/songwriter Michael Olson and the same words could easily be applied to the talented singer, songwriter, and musician. Olson is not a wrinkled old man; in fact, he is still if I am not mistaken in his twenties; however, he is very wise and insightful when it comes to matters of faith. He is also a tremendously gifted artist as his recent CD Where Fear And Faith Collide and his earlier debut Long Arm Of Love bear witness to. You have probably already surmised that when it comes to Michael Olson you can count me among those who are found in his cheering section.
Earlier this spring Olson and sat down over the airwaves and we discussed the CD Where Fear And Faith Collide. Relaxing in his home in the midst of a twenty-gig tour to promote the album the affable Olson talked about the songs and creating the new disc.
When we last spoke, Olson was in the process of moving from Minnesota to Nashville, with his Canadian bride Ashley. “We love where we are living, especially this weekend (he laughed), because I spoke to some friends in Minnesota and there is about five inches of snow on the ground (late March). We are in sunny Tennessee, and we are thankful that we made the move south,” he says.
“This record is titled Where Fear And Faith Collide, and this past year and one half, especially the past six months have been extremely challenging. There has been more transition than I have ever experienced before in my life,” says Olson. He recounts the move to Nashville, being newly married, moving into a new house, a new career path and finding a new church to attend. There were also some difficult issues to deal with in his extended family that caused his faith to stretch.
Olson says of the song “On The Third Day,” “It was pitched to me, I didn’t write the song and I struggled with it at first. Then I realized that song is a response to the things that I was going through. It is true that in the darkest time of man, God’s saving hand is found. Even though we experience turmoil and transition, we have this ultimate hope that God is going to work things out for our good. That hit me like a lead brick when I got hold of it,” he says.
Whereas on his debut CD Long Arm Of Love Michael Olson opted to work with producer Nate Sabin a fellow Minnesotan, on his sophomore project Olson hooked up with producers Nathan Danztler (Tree 63, Kids In The Way) and Jason Ingram. “I met Jason Ingram through the songwriting that we were doing together. Nathan Danztler and I had recorded the song “Helpless” as a trial run. It came off sounding like it would compliment what Jason was doing. It seemed like Jason’s stuff was going to be more artsy, and Nathan’s was going to be more straight ahead pop. Don Donahue from Rocketown Records and me felt those two things complimented each other,” he says.
Since they were using more than one producer and Olson was also more hands on with this project, in the early stages there were some concerns at striking continuity and arriving at a harmonious sound throughout the album, however that concern was soon dismissed. “I feel the way that the record is paced as far as the order of the songs is concerned, that it comes off quite unified. I really love the way that it worked out,” Olson says.
“The difference between (creating) this record and the last record is that Nate and I came down to Nashville, hired a bunch of seasoned session players and had only four days to work on it (the debut CD). We just cranked it out. We worked like crazy for those four days, brought it back to Minneapolis and overdubbed it. This record (Where Fear And Faith Collide) came out in a completely different fashion. I was more involved on the production side of things, mostly because I played all the acoustic guitar tracks and all of the drum tracks. We had three months, instead of four days to work on this and to tweak stuff out. It allowed me to be more involved in that process,” says Olson.
Olson’s music falls into two distinct camps, one being music that in the artist’s opinion is ideally suited for corporate worship at the local church level, such as “On The Third Day,” “God Is With Us,” and “Our First Love.” Songs such as “If You Can Stop The World,” “Tell Me Again,” and “Drawing Near” allows Olson the freedom to express his opinions views and shares his experiences.
While the song “Our First Love” is a worship song, it originates within Olson’s personal experience. “That song was written over a course of four or five years. The chorus of that song materialized out of nowhere when I was leading worship while in Minnesota. It came about naturally. It was so meaningful to me that I didn’t want to hurry or throw a couple of verses and a bridge on it (just to finish it). I wanted to wait, and I ended up waiting four years until this record. We were making sure that we had all of the songs we needed heading into the recording process and I said to Jason Ingram, “What do you think of this song? He had written the first lyric (that wound up on “Our First Love”) for a record of Michael W Smith’s and it never got used. We were amazed at the way it fit together with (what Olson had written). It took us half an hour to write the whole song, get it arranged and create a two-line bridge. It was an amazing experience.”
Olson says my observation that the song “Tell Me Again” acts as a touchstone for the frailty of our faith, is correct. “The title of this record states that. I hope it is a bold statement, and helps people to open their hearts to talk about those things. The line between fear and faith is closer than we would like to admit. I think a lot of people view their faith more like a statue that sits on a mantle. It is nice to look at, but it really doesn’t do much. I think our faith should be more like the lawnmower that sits in your garage. You have to take it out, service it, and get it dirty and then it is worth something to you, “says Olson.
He then goes on to explain the meaning behind the lyrics to “Tell Me Again.” “The way that “Tell Me Again” opens up, I was wondering what was going through Abraham’s mind when God made him that promise. There is this interplay of, ?Can I really believe this, is this true or is this all in my head.’ Could David really believe in his lowest moment that God would reach out and make him new? That is where fear and faith collided for those guys. It has been happening for thousands of years, and it is nothing new.”
Olson’s music is not fluffy and comprised of shallow imagery as is the case with many mainstream and Christian songs today. His lyrics are infused with theological meaning, and he is the first to say that they derive their inspiration directly from the Bible. “Even a pop song like “If You Can Stop The World,” is taken out of the thirty-third chapter of the book of Jeremiah. The song (speaks to) a promise that God made to Jeremiah while the Babylonians were sacking the city of Jerusalem. There is so much depth in the Word of God that it is difficult for me not to go there when I am writing. Those are the things that move me. I believe as the song “Tell Me Again” says that we are all part of a huge story, and the story is about God’s salvation history. It started with Abraham, and it has moved to the moment that we are sitting at right now. God is reaching out to try and bring people closer to Himself. That is the greatest story in the world to write about and so I have this very deep affection for using that for my lyric. It comes very naturally,” he says.
Copyright © 2007 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs, www.rivetingriffs.com .