Leading up until the Upstream Music Fest + Summit, KEXP will be featuring a new local artist from the lineup with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. Today’s post features Seattle country outfit Ole Tinder, performing Friday, May 12 on the Macefield stage.
On a dreary, bustling Seattle evening, walking into an Ole Tinder show can be like stepping into another world. The nostalgic tones of a steel guitar waving in the air over acoustic strums and a baritone drawl aren’t exactly synonymous with the metropolitan setting, but it’s a welcome change. Their honky-tonk meets Americana sound has simmered throughout the local scene for the better part of the decade, documented in their 2012 Low Ways EP. We caught up with songwriter Mike Giacolino to dig deeper into the band’s roots and the harrowing choices that led him to the city.
Much of the story of Ole Tinder begins with your choice to leave behind a life in the suburbs, married and working on sewer mains. What made you want to leave the comfort of that life and pursue music?
I worked as a union laborer on a commercial pipe crew. Installing water, sewer and storm main line pipe. When I finally had enough, it was the summertime — dirt work is seasonal — so we were working six days a week for 10 hours a day and the job site was an hour and half away from my house. I had always played music but by the time I got home I had no time or energy left to do anything else. I looked around one day and realized there were no old guys doing my job. If they were around, they were often hunched over and beat up. I decided to find a better way to live life outside of traditional, financial compensation. I sold my house, my brand new pick-up truck, and my Harley Davidson. You’d be surprised how much happier you can be if you just go for it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard and a bit scary to walk away from a high paying job to do some thing you know will most likely end up bankrupting you. I guess I’d rather be broke then broken.
Before going solo and forming Ole Tinder, you were playing mostly punk and rock music. What led you to making that sonic jump?
My last project was an angular, melodic, punk rock band, like Fugazi, Red Sparrows, Refused type stuff. Like most bands, it was hard to get the off the ground with people being flakey, quitting, or moving away. I decided I wanted to make music that could exist on its own. Just me and my guitar. I have always loved folk and country music in the vein of John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Elliot Smith, Gene Clark, CSN. So I decided to concentrate on writing songs. After a few years of playing solo, I asked my friend Nils Petersen if he’d be down to come play and sing with me. Ole Tinder naturally progressed from there.
You’ve described Ole Tinder shows as being like “watching old friends play around a warm file.” How do you create that sort of atmosphere on stage, especially playing shows in such a metropolitan city like Seattle?
We are a band of good buddies, we interact with our fans as if they are our friends, we crack jokes and have fun with each other on stage as well as with the crowd. Since most of my songs are fairly heavy and sad in content, it still makes me laugh to see a room full of people dancing and partying to my heart ache.
The arrangements with the vocal harmonies and steel guitar on your records are beautifully intricate. What’s the process for you guys and how do you build such lush arrangements?
I bring fairly finished songs to the dudes, usually as demo recordings that I have flushed out all by my self. They will listen a bunch and come up with their own intricate parts and ideas. Jay Kardong (pedal steel/electric guitar) and I are really big fans of solid, lead parts and instrumental hooks. He will have a bunch of great, original ideas and we will geek out and find our favorites. Nils is a vocal harmony genius, a great bass player and an amazing all around musician. I’ll sing some thing to him and he will come up with a beautiful harmony or often two or three-part harmony. Pat Schowe is the most thoughtful and interesting drummer I have ever known and had the pleasure of playing with. He has a great feel, and takes his parts seriously. To be honest, the reason the songs sound well thought out is because we all love making music together and take the time to work on them.
Your last EP came out in 2012 and your last single, “New Boots”, came out in 2014. Are there any plans to head back into the studio? What are you working on now?
Ole Tinder has always been a live band, first and foremost. This fact coupled with a few year hiatus (Pat and Nils were out with Rose Windows) has left us with little recorded music at this point. That being said we are very excited to announce our recent endeavor with our favorite producer and long time collaborator Randall Dunn, for our first full length studio album. Our album, as well as a name change (fucking Tinder) is in the final stages and will be available later this year.