Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold will release their third duo album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation, on 5 June via Fiesta Red. To celebrate the release, the husband and wife duo are offering fans a short performance video recorded in Joshua Tree, California. Several hallmarks of Olson‘s writing are intact here: Doses of sunbaked 1960s pop, further enhanced by Ringvold’s vocal harmonies, co-mingled with complex, thoughtful imagery that recalls Lee Hazlewood at the peak of his powers.
Three of the songs are culled from Magdalen Accepts the Invitation: “Children of the Street Car”, “Then You’ll Find the Morning”, and “Black Locust”. Within the lyrics are stories of new beginnings, strange endings, and meditations upon the passage of time. Both the words and music provide a complex, nuanced journey that becomes richer with repeated listens.
There’s also a gorgeous reading of “Over My Shoulder”, written during Olson‘s tenure with the Jayhawks and first issued on the band’s 1995 LP Tomorrow The Green Grass. Rather than a return to former glories, it’s a reminder that Olson remains a formidable writer and that his prowess in that arena continues to mature and expand and that his partnership with Ringvold only enhances the peculiar and specific beauty of his writing.
The short film proves an interesting juxtaposition between the past and present. In the pre-MTV era, artists often created video clips that were shipped off to territories where they wouldn’t be touring. During the COVID-19 pandemic, artists have once more turned to the visual medium as a way to connect with fans for whom they cannot perform in person.
Olson says that he and Ringvold were already rehearsing for their first run of dates in support of Magdalen when cancellations started. “I write in a lot of open tunings, but when we go on tour, I can only bring one guitar, maybe two,” says Olson. “That means I have to be in standard tuning, which means I have to re-learn all the material. We had gotten through most of that and then realized we’d be at home for a while.”
Though many artists have turned to live streams via their social media accounts, the remoteness of the Olson-Ringvold home provided some complications. “The Internet up here goes in and out,” notes Olson. “We said, ‘Let’s film ourselves and put it out there. People can view it when they want.'”
The video feels, to use an over-used phrase, intimate. That, in part, is owed to the cozy quarters in which the musicians live. “The house is so small we had to have the camera outside,” Olson cracks. “That led to me saying, ‘This isn’t working! Let’s go outside.'”
The couple’s dog, Alma, also appears in the video, even adding a contribution or two to the performance. “She seems to like music, and she likes being with us. She wants to do the things we’re doing”, says Olson.
Being at home has provided Ringvold and Olson some welcome changes. Married since 2011, the couple spent several years living something of a vagabond existence. Ringvold, a native of Norway, had some visa problems, which limited her ability to stay in the US. Having spent time in South Africa and Armenia, they eventually settled into their cabin in Joshua Tree.
Living there and, according to Olson, “taking any tour that came our way”, worked for a while. Then Ringvold had something of an epiphany. “I’m more European than I realized!” she says with a laugh. “It was summer and I thought, ‘When am I got to have a summer holiday? Where is my Easter holiday?’ Where is my winter holiday?’ I felt burnt out.”
The pair signed up for ceramics and drawing classes at a college near their home. It was a compromise of sorts: Take some time away from music but undertake a creative endeavor that might enhance their musical lives once they were ready to return. “It was a little healing, actually,” she notes, “to just sit with clay in your hands. It forces you to stay in the moment.” When their coursework was over, Ringvold says she felt rejuvenated. “It was fun to be around people who were not musicians or engineers, to just be in a different world.”
“We wrote three songs from scratch after that,” recalls Olson. “We got our minds in a different place and started thinking differently about the goal.” The pair tracked the album at Thermometer Shelter Studios, not far from Death Valley National Park, in the dead of summer. Recording in an environment that they controlled proved to be relaxing. There was no dollar-per-hour meter ticking and more time to contemplate the choices they were making with the tracks.
“We converted our whole home into a recording studio”, Ringvold says. “Over the course of three albums, we went through every problem you can have with home recording,” Olson offers. They learned to be more careful with baffling for vocals and weren’t afraid to rent high-end gear as necessary to finish the project. This involved treks to Los Angeles and, the Minnesota native adds, with virtually every trip would come some strange experience.
Absent from their property for a few days, an area resident decided to disconnect Olson’s watering system, throwing various pieces into the trees. He then unburdened himself of his clothing and dug a makeshift swimming pool in the yard. “It was horrible,” says the musician.
With such complications behind them, Ringvold and Olson remain comfortable with the idea of being off the road at the moment. Olson says that staying healthy while on tour has always been a challenge and so not gambling with his health at the moment is a priority. “I’ve done so many tours over the years and wound up coming down with something. You get a heavy-duty fever, and you still have to play. Unless things are safe, health-wise, I don’t think going out on the road right now is going to be safe for anyone involved. I’m right with the program of staying at home.”