I’m so excited to introduce you to a very dear friend of mine, Melody Olson, who is releasing her sophomore album, Controlled Burn, on October 1.
Melody and I share lots of fond memories from our childhood and teenage years together – sleepovers, boy stories, youth events, and of course the incredible musical heritage of the church we attended. She has a beautifully kind and genuine heart, is an exceptionally talented vocalist, and an amazingly creative songwriter. Today, she shares part of her musical journey, and the story of God’s redemptive power in her life through music, via interview with us. 🙂
CHRISTINE: MELODY! Thanks so much for taking time to chat with readers about your journey into music and especially the story behind your new album Controlled Burn.
MELODY: Absolutely! This obviously is a project that’s very close to my heart and one I’m excited to share.
SO, so proud of you friend, and so incredibly excited for this new project! Let’s go ahead and dive right into some of the interview questions to get readers caught up on your story. We’ll start off with easy ones. 🙂
What was your first experience with music as a child?
Oh man, I love this question. Ok, my first experience with music as a child was definitely church music. My family was super involved, so I was always singing in choirs, listening to choir or worship music, and loved it. I would cry at the songs that moved me, close my eyes, and sing my little heart out.
What made you first realize you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I feel very fortunate to have grown up in the church community I did that made space for students to be involved in musical leadership on a regular basis. So many people invested in me and created space for me to share and lead. So I would say I was hooked on playing music early on.
What do you feel is your greatest talent?
I think my greatest strength is probably being “in the moment.” As an artist, I love engaging with an idea, a theme, or an experience, and really feeling the emotion of it, which, if everything works out ok, will eventually become a piece of music that others can engage with as well.
What song or artist has impacted you the most?
There are so many songs and artists that have impacted me greatly, so that is a really hard question to answer. But, if I had to pick ONE the answer would be Sara Groves. I feel so incredibly honored to say that I actually got to sing with her for about 6 years as her background vocalist (which was and still is a dream come true). When I experienced her music for the first time, I heard something I hadn’t heard before from an artist. Her vulnerability, authenticity, and story-telling nature really made me want to engage more with her music. It became part of my life in a way that no other type of music ever had.
How would you describe your music for an audience who has never heard it before? What makes you stand out from the crowd?
I hope that when people engage with my music, they hear something artful. I love the craft of songwriting, and always appreciate when I hear something that seems deliberate, yet seamless and unforced. I also hope that people experience the heart behind the song, and realize they come from a place deep inside of myself that can’t help but be shared.
You’ve heard of the term “starving artists” before. How do you cope with major obstacles?
I think coping with obstacles has had more to do with my inner life than my outer life. There’s a huge temptation to measure my worth by the success of what I do. I think every human being goes through that struggle.
For example, I could feel ashamed that I’m 33 years old and still work a nanny job part-time (ALTHOUGH I LOVE THE PEOPLE THAT I NANNY FOR!!!!!). But I’ve learned every time that temptation comes, to put it out of my heart and walk away from it. It’s still going to be something that tries to get in, but I don’t have to let it. I can see this time in my life for it’s value. I’ve learned so much from every random part-time job I’ve ever had. Not once have I felt abandoned. I’ve felt lost, but never abandoned.
How did you become the singer/songwriter you are today?
As far as songwriting goes, my hopes and dreams of becoming a songwriter began in college, when I started writing for some bands I was a part of at North Central University. It was amazing to see how songs that were birthed during what I call “heart moments” were given a platform through recording albums and playing for people, and having the privilege of then seeing those songs become part of people’s lives.
I wrote a worship song called “Draw Me Into Your Presence” that really caught on with the student body at NCU. It was a very humbling moment when I began to see people connect spiritually with the song. When I started touring with Sara Groves (and because of her influence), I began to write songs differently and listen to a wider array of music. I fell in love with the singer/songwriter style.
Then, some really hard stuff happened in my life. My parents got divorced and our family went through some major turmoil. My mental and emotional state took a major down turn, and songwriting became a form of processing life, and with it pain, sorrow, joy, fear, etc. Songs “happened” during moments when words in and of themselves didn’t seem sufficient to express what was really going on inside of me. I wasn’t sure if the songs were any good, but decided to share them (with much fear and trepidation) with my friend Ben Gowell, who encouraged me to make my first record, All These Things (which he also produced). I guess that’s where the story began.
What did it look like to shift from being a musician to becoming an artist?
When I showed those first songs to Ben, he thought they were really good, which made me super excited. I started writing more and an album took shape. The songs were cohesive in sound and theme. I was absolutely terrified at the prospect of making a record, mostly because when I asked Ben how much it would cost, the amount of money seemed astronomical to me.
I got advice from as many people as I could, who for the most part, encouraged me to move forward. Sara shared with me how she went about making her first record, raising money through writing and sending fundraising letters (before Kickstarter and web-based funding was a big deal). I did that, and somehow, I got enough money to make All These Things. It was the most life-giving thing I’d ever done, and at the same time the hardest and most challenging . . . up until making Controlled Burn. 😉
What is the story behind Controlled Burn? Why did you write this particular music for this particular project?
I began writing for this record after I moved to Florida in 2011. I was truly at the end of myself, not sleeping well, really suffering internally from depression and anxiety. I exited from life for a bit, went to Florida to live with my mom, and had the most amazing 2-year period of healing and recovery. God met me during that time and began to speak to my heart. Slowly, I became myself again with the help of a lot of good friends, churches, and a really good therapist.
These songs were written along the way. I called on Ben Gowell again and made plans to do a Kickstarter Campaign which was successfully funded. After a long 2-year journey of recording which involved recovering from a back injury that affected my voice (along with recovering from the effect that stress and anxiety had on my physical body and mind), I finished the recording process in 2015 and am excited to release the album on October 1st.
What is the song you are most excited about? What does it mean to you? Why is it most precious?
This is a SUPER hard question to answer…. a lot of the songs are very close to my heart. I think the song I’m most excited to share – just because it really captures the overall story of the full album and I love the way it sounds – is the title track, “Controlled Burn.”
I wrote “Controlled Burn” right after moving to Orlando while I was walking through Wekiva State Park – my “happy place.” I felt really lost and alone, and was trying to process that pain and loss. Without knowing what I was getting into, I walked through an area of the park containing a lot of dense forests and plant-life that had just undergone a process called a “controlled burn.”
What I saw that day was so inspiring, and so meaningful. I had a deep sense that the process I was seeing with my eyes was happening in my soul. Things that had become over-grown and were taking up too much room, were slowly being burned away by a Force so loving, so caring, that He knew exactly what to burn, exactly when, and exactly how. I felt the whole purpose of this was to make space for new life to grow. I knew that the part I had to play in that process was surrender. That all I could do was be wherever I was, and offer myself completely to the process. To grieve every loss, to let go of every bitterness that was trying to take root, and to hope in the fact that a miracle was taking place. Believing that God was working in the middle of my pain, to show me Himself, and the life He alone can bring. To trust that He truly can work everything out for my good. That He wants good for me, and that He, and His work in me, is not too good to be true.
Melody, that is so powerful. I think a lot of readers can identify with that concept and the truth of your words. God does want good for us. His work in us is not too good to be true. I love that. Thank you for sharing that with us.
What do you hope to communicate to listeners through this second album?
I’m just hoping to tell my story. I want people to hear about the change in me, and to come to know how and why the change happened. I want people to know that suffering is not something you can just skip over in life, however much we want to do so. Americans in general do not suffer well. We’re not as used to it as everyone else in the world. I also think that Christians are not known for talking about the shameful, painful, parts of our lives very well. We like to live in the “count it all joy” stage of life and I don’t think we really know what that means sometimes.
Naming my life as joyful has not meant ignoring what has been painful. I don’t think I really experienced unrestrained joy until I fully explored and healed from what I was sad about. And God was deeply directing me in that process, allowing me to voice to Him my sorrow, my questions, my doubts, even my anger at times. Until I got honest with Him, I’m not sure if I really knew Him. I’d love to show people a picture of that process with this record.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing so honestly with us, and for reminding us that sometimes pain does exist next to joy. That it’s ok, and that God can walk with us through both.
What has been the biggest challenge for you on this journey?
I’d say the inner struggle of fear and self-doubt. For a while, fear was the loudest voice inside me, and I’ve had to learn how to not only put fear on the shelf, but deal with it, and work through it. It rears it’s head often (for all of you Enneagram fans out there, I’m a true 6), but thankfully, I’ve also grown in courage and faith, knowing that I’ve been given everything I need to continue making music and sharing it with people. I’m also learning how to let go of expectations and rest in whatever the outcome of sharing the music may be, while working hard and being diligent with the opportunities and songs I’ve been given. It’s an interesting balance, and I don’t balance it well all the time. Meltdowns happen every now and then, for sure.
Last question . . . what have you learned through this project that you would share with other musicians/singers/songwriters/creatives starting out on a dream project of their own?
Oh gosh, keep going!!! Don’t give up!!! This is hard work and it won’t be easy, but it is (to me) the best kind of work. Don’t be afraid to put as much as you can into the things that you are inspired to create, and share it with the world. And, don’t be afraid to be yourself! The world needs more non-conforming artists, who are creating beautiful things.
Melody, thank you so much for your vulnerability and sharing what God has been doing in your life through this record. You are such a blessing, both musically and spiritually to those around you. Wishing you influence and much success with Controlled Burn!
To purchase a copy of Controlled Burn visit melodyolson.com or find it on your favorite digital downloading source (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) on (or after) October 1st.
Originally from the Chicagoland area, Melody moved to Minneapolis in 2000 to study music at North Central University where she realized her passion and ability for songwriting. Music is now her way of processing life and the mode of communication that best represents her soul and worldview. She toured with friend and mentor, Sara Groves, for six years and has had the privilege of sharing her songs with audiences both across the United States and abroad.
Although she moved near family in Florida a few years ago to focus on writing Controlled Burn, the music community of the Twin Cities that is so close to her heart drew her back, and now she proudly calls Minneapolis home. The release of Controlled Burn follows her debut album, All These Things released in December 2010.