Gold Leaves: Rich & Rare

Grant Olsen mines pop's past, and hits the jackpot with The Ornament.

It’s a rare sunny Friday on Market Street, and Grant Olsen has just been handed a Sharpie. But it’s more than just a mere pen: With it comes the invitation to add his signature in the most permanent of inks to an impressive who’s-who of noteworthy musical patrons, like Kurt Bloch and Robin Pecknold, whose tags decorate the bins of Ballard institution Bop Street Records.

Bop Street is a store for the serious record enthusiast—a Sur la Table for music geeks, a destination for those seeking rarities. It’s staffed by the kind of folks for whom the mention of a single record title can launch a 20-minute discussion about said band’s bass player’s various side projects. It’s a place meant to be visited when time is not of the essence. On this warm afternoon, Grant shares: “I’m always looking for [The] Pre-Cambrian Lightning Bolt’s Hard Heartsingin’,” a record that still eludes Olsen’s own impressive collection.

Proprietor Dave Voorhees, the lovable musical encyclopedia behind the counter, turns the discussion to psychedelic folk auteur Joe Byrd, his seminal band The United States of America, and of course talk of the various members’ side projects. The recommended USA record takes up residence under Olsen’s arm; after a respectable hunt, it’s accompanied by titles like Telstar by brilliant but doomed British producer Joe Meek—a character much like Phil Spector both in his sonic stylings and his unfortunate firearm handling. Meek is soon joined by, on the cover of Everybody’s Talkin’, a shirtless, suntanned Fred Neil, the epic songwriter whose credits include the well-known Midnight Cowboy track. Also under consideration is a collection of works by Jack Nitzsche, whose music can be heard in dozens of films including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. When the fabled Sharpie makes its appearance, it’s almost a reward for Olsen’s flawless performance in a speed round of band-bombing. With such an impressive vault of musical knowledge, it’s easy to see why Olsen earned his pen.

The Ornament, Olsen’s debut under the name Gold Leaves, will be released by Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art next Tuesday, Aug. 16. It’s a record the likes of which you haven’t heard, because its sound is mined from a record collection that required near-fanatical discophilia. Like that of most avid collectors, Olsen’s life is filled with listening. “Most of the records I like tend to be old stuff,” he says, citing the Flamingos and the Tornados. “As for newer stuff, I’ve always been really into Broadcast,” a British band whose influence can be heard in The Ornament‘s melding of modern and retro tones. Olsen’s time is equally consumed by writing. “I’ve got notebooks, tons of scraps of paper,” he says. “For me it’s really a matter of honing and narrowing down.” The result of this honing is a record full of audio and intellectual exploration, touching on the themes of endings, renewal, and the dual nature of love.

The latter is a subject Olsen has ably navigated with his stunning band Arthur & Yu (Hardly Art’s first signees in 2007)—a project that still cooks on Olsen’s back burner, from which some of the songs that eventually became The Ornament were derived. But where A&Y was successfully homespun—an experiment born of Olsen’s own tinkering while he taught himself the ins and outs of low-fi production—The Ornament is a meticulous effort, four years in the making, helmed by Papercuts’ Jason Quever.

The result is rich, dense, and orchestral, influenced by Motown and the Wall of Sound and speckled with Americana. If you can wrap your head around Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson covering Gram Parsons, produced by Olsen’s most cited influence, producer Meek, you’d be getting close.

“I could have taken a lot of directions with this record,” Olsen says. “For a while I wanted to make an R&B record, real straight-ahead doo-wop, then I thought I could make a country record for a second; there was so much material, this record is where all those influences meet.”

It’s this ethos that makes Olsen and his beautiful Ornament much like that special bin at Bop Street: the most fun section to flip through, the one reserved for works so wholly individual they can only be categorized as “Cool and Rare.”

More in Music

Ian Terry / The Herald Kevin Morby performs at the Historic Everett Theatre as part of the Fisherman’s Village Music Festival in downtown Everett on Saturday, March 31. Photo taken on 03312018
Travis Thompson, Wolf Parade headline Fisherman’s Village fest

The Everett Music Initiative festival, May 16-18 in Everett, will showcase more than 50 acts.

TacocaT got you a new song for Valentine’s Day. Photo by Helen Moga
TacocaT Returns to Dance With Its Seattle Drag Pals in the “Grains of Salt” Video

The Seattle rock quartet’s new album ‘This Mess Is a Place’ comes out May 3 on Sub Pop.

Brandi Carlile needs more mantel space after taking winning three Grammys on Sunday night.
Seattle Cleans Up at the Grammys

Brandi Carlile, the Seattle Symphony, and Chris Cornell combine to take home six awards.

Pickwick’s Galen Disston stars as Drew in 5th Ave’s ‘Rock of Ages.’ Photo by Mark Kitaoka
Pickwick’s Galen Disston Takes the Stage in ‘Rock of Ages’

The local rocker steps outside his comfort zone for 5th Avenue Theatre’s ’80s hair metal jukebox musical.

Caroline Shaw. Photo by Kait Moreno
Caroline Shaw’s Classical Music Fan Fiction

Seattle Symphony premieres the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer’s postmodern take on Beethoven.

Quadrant and Iris performing at Le Bikini nightclub in France. Photo by Thomas Feugas
Seattle’s First Family of Drum and Bass

Leigh and Karen Caplan (Quadrant and Iris) are key producers in Seattle thriving underground electronic music scene.

On Being Trans: J Mase III Creates a Space to Feel Welcome

The Seattle artist hosts a three-day event at Gay City.

All Star Opera. Photo by Rachel Koll
All Star Opera Embarks on a World Tour of Seattle

The hip-hop/soul band’s second annual tour of the city’s venues with local artists raises money for homeless women and children.

Top 10 Albums of 2018

The best music of the year.

Travis Thompson’s Ride From Burien to the “Corner Store” and Beyond

The local hip-hop up-and-comer and Macklemore protege readies to headline The Showbox.

Top 10 Seattle Albums of 2018

The best the local music scene had to offer.

Minus the Bear is Ready to Hibernate

After 17 years of influential innovation, the Seattle rock band prepares to say goodbye.