In our latest interview, we caught up with Luke Olson. From varsity athlete and acting school to established musician, Luke Olson has made a name for himself in the Chicago scene. Read all about his emphasis on family, his free-spirited writing style, moving on from The Walters, and more. Don’t forget to give him a follow on social!
My name is Luke Olson. I’m a musician and a life enthusiast from Kenosha, Wisconsin.
You first hit the Chicago music scene with the band The Walters. When the band broke up, how did you know it was time to pursue a solo career instead of another band?
Really out of necessity and survival. I grew up in a competitive home with lots of siblings and a Dad who was also my coach. I’m wired to always believe and fight. The band breaking up was unfortunate and I still love The Walters. It may end up being the project of my life and I’m honestly okay with that. When I picked up the guitar at 20 years old, all I wanted to do was write songs. I kept telling my Dad to give me a couple years to make something of it cause he was helping me out with money. He would say things to motivate me like, “those are pipe dreams Luke” because all I was doing was smoking pot and playing guitar on the front porch, but I knew he believed in me and I used that chip on my shoulder to push myself. I wanted it so bad. Everyone was excited when the band started doing well, especially my family. My family is everything to me and when we called it quits, I felt like such a letdown. People still talk to me about it and it’s something I have to live with. It happened and sometimes you let people down. I had to ask myself, “Am I just going to stop now?” What I’m doing now may not be The Walters, but I still have something to offer.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, you come from a large Catholic family and were a varsity athlete. How do you think your past influences who you are today and the music you create as an individual?
I grew up going to church every Sunday and still to this day faith life is important to me and something I don’t want to lose grasp of. At a young age, I would play sports with my older brothers and they never went easy on me. I’ve also taken a lot from my parents. Those who think I’m high energy and spirit would have had to see my dad coach to know where it stems from. I’ve always tried to be confident and believe in myself but a lot of people interpret that as being cocky or arrogant. I try to not get caught up in that. I know my heart and being a musician you open yourself up to people having opinions about you. Most have never had a conversation with me, looked me in the eye, or shaken my hand, yet they will still form judgment. It is hard enough to make yourself feel good every day.
Everyone pushes each other in my family. I would say it is tough love. You know how much they love you but they aren’t just going to tell you that you’ve made it or done enough and that’s important for me cause it checks my ego and helps me stay grounded. I embrace where I’m from and how I was raised and I want that to reflect through me. When I’m playing shows I tap into athlete mode and always picture my dad in the crowd watching me. I want to make sure I’m giving my best with each opportunity.
Sticking with the theme of family, I know in your solo endeavors you have been able to perform live with your brother Anthony. What is the dynamic of playing with your brother?
It’s incredible. My younger brother Anthony picked up the bass at the age of 24 to play with me when I began my solo career. We grew up playing sports together, but getting to tour and play music together is everything. When we play sports we have a habit of fighting and swearing at each other but none of that is the case when playing music. No one ever thought he would play. He didn’t even think he would play. The Walters was hard to swallow and something I think about every day, but if that hadn’t happened I never would have gotten the opportunity to play with my brother. Now for the rest of his life, he will know how to play and we will have these memories to share.
In January this year, you released a two-track album with the songs “Skipping Rocks” and “Flowers.” Was your EP in the works then or what was your decision behind putting two songs out?
I just want to make shit and not wait around. Those songs were ready to be put out and they may not be the best songs or what I have been accustomed to making, but I think they are nice. I was working on the EP at the same time, but recording it was on and off for a year. Once we went on tour I wasn’t able to work on the EP so it worked out well.
In August you released your highly anticipated debut EP, “Playful Enemy.” You have mentioned how you are not concerned with a cohesive sound or sticking to one style, but instead just writing what feels right. What was the significance of not overthinking your work while creating this EP?
I have had song ideas for years that weren’t meant for The Walters. I don’t usually go into the studio prepared or with finished songs. I go in and pick a song to work on that day and see what we can create. I like the free-spirited approach, I would say that is my style. I just want whatever I’m doing in life to come from my soul and not an overthinking mind. I am not trying to fool anyone. I want to be authentic and create the way that works most naturally for me.
I went to acting school in New York and they teach you how to be authentic. I don’t want to make songs and take forever because I am nitpicking everything. If I am being honest, I don’t know how much time I have left here. I think about stuff like that all the time. My family owns a grave digging business. My whole life I have been confronted with death. I’ve lost some important people in my life and those I love are getting older. I am here now and I am looking to create and perform while I’m still here.
You have also been able to take your music on the road since the release of your EP and travel to places such as Denver and Texas to perform. How does it feel when performing your music outside of the Chicago music scene setting?
I love Chicago and will never forget about the shows I’ve played here coming up with The Walters but there is a part of me that feels like I’ve done my work here performance wise for now and so touring outside the city gives me chance to build connections elsewhere. For the rest of my life, if I never tour again I’d be happy because I got to experience what it is like to travel the country playing shows. My family didn’t travel growing up so it was my chance to see the country.
Also, touring has allowed me to meet so many people who have followed my music. A lot of them, I felt like I already knew because we were following each other on Instagram. I think that’s important. If I’m putting myself out there and these people are taking the time to listen to my music, it is an awesome feeling to actually meet them and know what they are up to.
Beyond your EP you have come out with two music videos for “Blue Skies” and “Skipping Rocks.” Before pursuing music you went to acting school in New York. What role would you say your acting past plays in creating your music videos?
Acting school helped a lot and acting, in general, allowed me to be more vulnerable and expressive. In high school, I did theatre and played varsity sports so people thought of me as a jock and then would see me up on stage in a leotard. All my friends thought I was good, but it was still a joke to them. Once I got to New York, there was an energy you harvest and take into your creative endeavors. I’ll never forget getting off the train in Manhattan with my mom and dad for the first time, it really changed my life. I had never been to NYC prior, I auditioned for a school and they accepted me. Without even visiting, I committed. In my classes, I was learning the Meisner technique along with movement and speech classes that really helped me grow.
The “Blue Skies” video was done with my friend Dylan Fout down by the lake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We didn’t have any plan other than to have some fun while I do whatever the hell I was doing and he just made it look very nice. “Skipping Rocks” was shot by Bryce O’Boyle, another Kenosha local, and his video team from UW-Milwaukee. We shot and filmed it in my building for a few days. I let Bryce and the team do whatever they thought necessary and I just played my part. When I trust an artist, I am more than happy to give up control and let them run with their vision.
Your music video for “Skipping Rocks” was recently screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival. What does that kind of validation mean for you?
It was cool because it was a film festival and the first time anything of mine has been at a festival. Honestly, it inspires me to make more short films and get back into acting.
In a previous interview, you stated, “Performance art is where my heart lives and I’ll keep making songs so I can live on that stage.” What has music been able to offer you that other performance realms you have explored such as acting and sports haven’t?
You get to be your own director. When I am playing a show I am my own choreographer and get to run around the stage as I please. I have had to do other people’s work and I have different ideas on how things should go so music allows me that freedom. It allows for more variety. I’ve gotten fired from a lot of jobs and it was usually cause I would self-destruct. I was not passionate about what I was doing and it’s hard for me to put myself out there and work for people who don’t seem to care about me. Creating art and performing is therapeutic for me. As long as I can pick up an instrument and sing a bit every day, I should be ok.
Written by: Colleen Kennedy