You find a lot of different characters in the music business. There's no shortage of try-hards and dreamers, trying to 'make it big' for reasons only their own ego understands. It's always refreshing then to chance upon someone who is here for the right reasons—for the love of the craft, for the desire to create beautiful art.
Kristen Olsson is one such person. From writing songs on Martha's Vineyard to singing jazz in New Orleans, it's clear that for her, music isn't a vain pursuit of followers or streams. For her, music is a way of life. It's who she is.
It's all about identity.
Matt: We've spent a good deal of time talking about your decision to adopt a stage name. Can you talk us through your thought process behind this, especially in terms of the impact is has on your identity as an artist?
Kristen: I think the most important thing about identity is being comfortable to be who you are. There are many reasons people use stage names. It is a great way to separate your personal life from your public life. The more I release music under my real name, the more I get the sense of whether I want to use a stage name or not. The name has no impact on my music. But sometimes the music impacts which name I will use for the release. I’m currently using the stage name ‘Ella X’ for electronic dance music projects.
Matt: You mentioned that part of the reason you chose to take on a stage name was to allow you space to create organically when writing for others. What's your process when it comes to writing something for somebody else?
Kristen: This is really a great question because there is so much to be said about writing for others. To an extent, you take on the role of the person you are writing for.
When working with other artists, it starts with a conversation about what they want to say with their song; is it coming from a personal or objective place? Sometimes they bring a reference track of the sound/arrangement they are inspired by. Usually they have a part of the song or idea already written. This can be in a form as simple as a voice memo on their phones, written lyrics, or a melody with a few chords. Or, artists have arrived with an already written song that they want to work on. Working on projects one-on-one with an artist is a great experience.
For top-lining (which is when someone sends me an instrumental track and I write the melody and lyrics), I take more liberties with the lyric and the story. Although still, what I write is influenced by the style of the track. It’s like getting half of a painting and having to finish the second half—of course you’re influenced by what’s already on the canvas.
Matt: This interview started as a conversation we had about gender identity in the music industry. Can you share some of your insights on this based on your experiences?
Kristen: Gender is an interesting topic because I think there are unspoken aspects of being a female both in the music industry and the world in general that a lot of people don't think about.
In terms of making art and what is created in a session, there is no difference between working
with men or women in my experience. The only advantage you have is when writing lyrics; you can have different perspectives in the room dependent on the different personalities and genders you’re working with. At the end of the day, art is art, no matter what the gender.
With that said, gender related issues arise in all work places whether it’s the music industry, sales, finance, etc. Yes I have encountered them. Like any issue, you have to speak up, communicate with those you are working with, and set your boundaries. Often, people might not even know they are offending you, especially in regards to gender because everyone is different and sensitivities on this subject are still being unveiled.
Most track producers I work with are guys. However, there are more female producers and DJs out there now and it’s nice to see the playing field equaling out in the production world. I recently pitched a song to Nora En Pure, a female DJ and producer. It felt cool to pitch to a female producer! Like we got each other in a way.
The most influential female artist for me is Sia. I’ve followed her work from before her mega fame and I’ve always really admired it. I also love Eva Cassidy’s voice. As for male artists, I’ve always loved Neil Young. He is by far one of my favourite songwriters of all time.
Matt: Finally, in the time since we last spoke, a few things have changed and developed for your career. Can you give us an update on where things are headed for you and what the future holds for you as an artist?
Kristen: Sure! I have two songs coming out with Liam Mason, a producer out of Australia! I’ve always wanted to go to Australia so this is exciting for me!
In summer 2019 I released a song with Soulkids out of Spain. This was exciting because Don Diablo placed our song, ‘Take You’, on his radio show. ‘Take You’ was also placed on ‘Shuffle Syndrome’, a curated playlist by Spotify.
I’m currently working on my own album! Stage name or real name TBD.
You can keep up with all of Kristen’s work on the following channels:
About the curator - Matt Jenko
Hi my name is Matt, but my friends call me Matt. I’m on the wrong side of 28, definitely feeling my age, but never felt happier and more content than I do at this point in my life. I’ve been through some rocky patches (who hasn’t) and lived to tell the tale, and boy do I gots some stories.
When I’m not putting my soul through existential hell in my day job, I’m making music, drawing pictures (and making them move in time to the groove, playa), and writing about everything from high-concept sci-fi rigamarole to my thoughts on the intricacies of the music industry.
I’ve been curating for musicto for bloody ages now, and am certainly one of the old guard; my fellow curators are like my family. I love belonging to this tribe of like-minded cats.
If you’re into music that paints vivid sonic landscapes, then we’re going to be the best of friends. And if you’re a Westerosi or from Rivia, hmu: I can talk about that shit all damn day.