This year, I got a birthday treat to remember:
90 minutes with charming, talented, multi award winning singer songwriter Dan Olsen.
Those who know the man, know what a joy he is. Those who don’t, well… read on and you’ll see.
Greeting me with a wide, gleaming smile and a big hug, he wished me many happy returns and thanked me for meeting him. I was touched; he must have checked out my Facebook profile. I wasn’t wearing a birthday badge or party hat after all.
Thinking about it, I guess it’s a wise move to research your interviewer. Make sure you’re not about to meet some psychopath.
Then he ordered me a birthday brownie. Anyone who knows me, knows the surest way to secure real estate in my heart for all eternity is to hit me with chocolate. (Not literally though.)
The new single, Candy Shop (out on the 19th June) couldn’t be more aptly named. Dan Olsen, with his unmasked appreciation of all the exciting opportunities and miracles of the world around him, is exactly like a kid in a Candy Shop.
About 15 minutes into our conversation, Dan raises a brow and says, “I’m not sure if this is how you want to do things, but I always like to tell things chronologically. Maybe it’s a guy thing..”
Good job I’d kicked off the interview with a question about the Faroe Islands then.
With rapturous praise Dan paints an image of the childhood playground of dreams. Endless summer days (literally – 24 sunlight hours) playing out in mountainous countryside with friends, enjoying freedom and independence without the fears associated with urban areas.
And the music scene?
“Music is a huge thing back home. Almost everyone plays music and the standard is really high. I guess because there’s not much else to do!” he laughs and adds that it’s the main national hobby besides sport, with Football being the favourite.
Just to clarify, that’s football as in soccer; not the American version. We spend a few minutes discussing the absurdity of naming a game “football” when for 99.9% of it, no foot ever comes into contact with the ball.
I remark that it should be called “Hold Ball”
Dan laughs. “That’s a good one. I’m glad you didn’t say “Handball” because we have that too…”
Is that like Volley ball?
“Um, no…. its Handball.”
Then he describes a game sounding a bit like broom-less Quidditch without the snitch.
Apparently, music wasn’t a serious thing for Dan. He’d been learning classical guitar since age 12 and jamming with his friends most days for fun. But his heart was firmly set on football.
In fact, had it not been for an accident, Football could have laid claim to Mr. Olsen and deprived the world of his brilliant music. He was on track for sporting stardom, playing professionally for the U21 national team against Denmark in 2012.
Then he snapped his leg on the pitch, and that was the end of that. Bye bye footie fantasy, and hello… what?
He knew with certainty only three things.
He wanted to travel.
He wanted to speak English fluently, and
He wanted sunshine.
So packing up and flying thousands of miles to Australia’s Sunshine Coast was the obvious next step.
The following two years were like a golden dream. His anonymity allowed him to shrug off his sporting identity and introduce himself as a singer songwriter. His first outing at a local open mic led effortlessly to regular paid weekend gigs.
“I was thinking ‘Hey, this is the life!'” He grins. “Earning good money, playing music every weekend, studying during the week, enjoying the sunshine.”
To his vast repertoire of cover songs he added his first ever originals, thrilled at the positive feedback. Audiences worldwide love his light hearted, ‘chilled yet upbeat and fresh’ style. With lyrics like “Hey now, hold your horses I’m sure that we’ve got time” (from new single Candy Shop), his music echoes those innocent, fun times when Beach Boys and Buddy Hollys rode on waves of catchy hooks and harmonies.
Somehow, in the midst of all these fun distractions, Dan got his bachelors degree and began seriously considering his next move. The plan for some time had been to continue his studies in China, immerse himself in a new culture and learn a new language. Indeed, the pull of travel and adventure was strong. But around about this time, Dan also began to feel an itch which had nothing to do with mosquitoes, sand flies or shabby shared digs.
Words of wisdom found in a book prompted some deep questions.
“Imagine you’re 80, looking back on life. If you had a second chance, what would you change?”
This hit Dan like a kick in the solar plexus. What did he really want to do with his life?
Without missing a beat, he answered, simply; “music”
So, heeding the burning in his heart rather than the logic in his head, he headed south and wound up in Central Sydney, sharing a place with 13 other guys.
Here he studied acting (“I just wanted to try everything!”), gigged on the weekends and found creative inspiration in the echoing staircase of his building. He dusted off his well travelled recording equipment to experiment, make some demos, and begin making his mark on the famous Harbour City.
But it wasn’t all a bed of roses.
“It was really scary at times,” he admits. “There were times I didn’t know if I would be able to pay the rent. But somehow it always worked out.”
His journey had been a solitary one, running contrary to the conventional mindset of his nearest and dearest back home. I comment on his courage and he modestly replies,
“One thing I discovered early on, is that you have to be really careful to surround yourself with encouraging and supportive people. Good influences. I’ve been really fortunate.”
It wasn’t long before the tides changed again. The promised scholarship for Acting School didn’t materialise. A visa could not be renewed. And again, it was time to make a move.
Not one for doing things half-heartedly, Dan swapped one extreme for another, launching himself from the bright Sunshine on one side of the planet for the grey lowering skies of the great City of London on the opposite side, all pumped up and ready to enjoy a repeat performance of his resounding success in Australia.
And this was when cold hard adversity stood squarely in the doorway and stuck out its tongue. Apparently Dan wasn’t the only singer songwriter whose master plan involved breaking London. Every aspiring musician on the planet seemed to be here, trying to somehow get heard through the dissonant clamour.
We Londoners are spoilt. The talent is not only abundant but genuinely amazing; quality, not just quantity. Hence, my most burning question for Dan was exactly how he’s managed to raise his head and shoulders above the roaring ocean of voices and truly distinguish himself, in so short a time. He’s been here only 3 years, yet his achievements are impressive. Caffe Nero’s featured artist for June, with his EP played daily in every outlet. New single “Candy Shop” out on the 19th June. Touring China earlier this year, supporting some huge stars. Regularly gracing the best known stages and festivals in the UK. Record deals and modelling contracts and goodness knows what else.
“A key ingredient? A secret?” I prompt.
“Um, it really only comes down to being prepared to do 18 hour plus days. And also, being prepared to do everything yourself.” He smiles earnestly and leans forward as he continues, “you have to decide that you aren’t going to rely on anyone else for anything. Take responsibility completely. Be the artist, be the manager, be the promoter…. when people see you are investing in yourself, that you’re focussed, they take you seriously.”
I offer him some of my Brownie, and after enthusing about its’ awesomeness, continues; “Funnily enough, when you decide you don’t need help, it just turns up.”
Ah! What a neat transition… “so tell me about Luc Floreani”.
“Luc is amazing.” Then, with eyes alight and a huge grin of enthusiasm, Dan recounts a serendipitous tale, beginning with his decision to spend his life savings on recording with famed producer Steven. A. Williams, from whose studios Dan happened to be travelling home when the bus service terminated unexpectedly (thanks to emergency roadworks) leaving him stranded on Putney Bridge with the drivers’ unsympathetic advice to “find another way home” ringing in his ears.
“I was still new to London, my phone was dead and I didn’t know how to get home.” Dan recalls. “So I wandered over the bridge and suddenly recognised the Larrick Inn, where I’d played an open mic once before. I thought, “Hey, it’s Thursday, open mic night! I’m here with my guitar, why not?'”
Luc Floreani was running the show. “He loved my music, I liked him; we just hit it off.”
He looks reflexive. “But the fact that I had this story about coming straight from an expensive recording session, was lucky. I didn’t realise it at the time but the sequence of events meant I could share how serious I was about my career without having to engineer a fake conversation.”
Birds of a feather flock together. Luc took Dan under his wing and since then, they’ve been setting the city of London on fire. An artist himself before turning his hand at management, Luc works tirelessly to develop and promote Dan’s career. In two years he has secured appearances in all the best places and steadily cultivated the profile of one of Britains brightest stars.
“So you guys are like the dream team then?” I observe.
“For sure. Luc is amazing at connecting people. He is naturally sociable, extroverted. I’m somewhere between being an ambivert and an introvert, so though I love the social side too, what I am best at is making the music.”
Thinking aloud, I say all success stories are about teamwork. Finding the right people; people with a shared vision.
In this partnership, Luc finds the opportunities and Dan brings the performance.
“But it only works because we both work.” Dan quickly points out. “I never think to myself, oh I can relax now because I have a manager; Luc is on the case.”
Upon this point of self-reliance, Dan is adamant.
Well, if this is the story so far, what’s next?
“The single ‘Candy Shop’ is out soon, so we are promoting that, and ….”
He looks shy suddenly….
“Actually, I’ve been producing my own music recently.” Grinning excitedly, he tells me one of the songs being played at Caffè Nero this month he wrote and self-produced only two weeks before the Caffè Nero contract was agreed.
“It’s the best way to learn. I spent hours on google every time I had to tweak the tiniest thing. But when you’re driven by passion for a project, you learn and remember so much more.”
I can’t help laughing. Unbelievable.
“A real baptism of fire, then!”.
“Exactly!” He beams, looking shyly proud. Then he bestowed upon me the honour of owning the first pair of ears to hear his latest self-produced track, “For You”.
Do birthdays get any better?
I apologise before asking the inevitable final question.
“Where do I see myself in 5 years time?” He looks a bit uncomfortable. “You know, this is the only area me and Luc really disagree on. My philosophy is to let results speak for themselves,” (Results such as over 100k (organic) views on YouTube certainly does speak volumes..) “whereas Luc is hyper-conscious about the importance of Hype.”
He takes a deep breath “Luc is always on at me to post, post, post. Put content out all the time… and I know he’s right. And I’m much better at doing the social media stuff now… But I still cringe my toes each time I post a picture on Facebook!”
The poor guy is actually blushing now, and a charming VIP has just arrived to meet him, so it seems a perfect point to end our chat. We part ways with another big bear hug, plenty of polite “thank you’s” and smiles.
Authors licence means I get the final word. Since Dan Olsen is coy about predicting his future, I feel entitled to share my own forecast.
With a philosophy as inspired as it is pragmatic, self belief of the quiet yet powerful kind and an formidable inventory of personal qualities, experience and talents, Dan Olsen would be going places, even if he had to go it alone. Fortunately, he has some very special friends to share his incredible journey.
Team Olsen are playing to win.