Hard Graft, Festivals, and Rock Royalty – a Chat with Kylie Olsson
Many dream of a successful career in the music business, but getting there and making it last is tough.
I caught up with Kylie Olsson who, through a big dose of hard work has managed to do just that. With a presenting career that’s included interviewing bands such as Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and Jane’s Addiction for the likes of VH1, Planet Rock and Sky Arts – she’s built up a pretty impressive list of creds in the music biz.
Fresh from Download (don’t forget to watch her coverage on Sky Arts here!), we chatted through some highlights and challenges faced along the way.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Thank you, Kylie, for joining me. It’s really cool to chat with you. How’s everything going?
Kylie: It’s all good, thank you. Busy, but I can’t complain. It’s a busy time of year because of festivals are kicking off.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Awesome. So I guess for those who aren’t aware of you, can introduce yourself and tell people who you are and what you do?
Kylie: Yeah, sure. My name’s Kylie Olson, as you just said, and basically I guess you can say a TV/Radio presenter that dabbles a little bit with journalism that’s all based around music, and in particular rock music most of the time as well.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Awesome. You’ve worked with some pretty major publications and radio stations. Right?
Kylie: Yes, I’m very fortunate.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Your career sounds pretty cool. How did you get into presenting, and in particular, presenting in the music industry?
Kylie: I started the old fashioned way, really. Many years ago, you had to write letters off to TV shows or producers and basically say, “Can I come and get work experience with you?” So my career literally started off by making tea and coffee for people. I started as a runner on the production side…which is a great way to meet contacts, and then someone said to me, “Oh, you should try a little bit of presenting,” so that’s kind of how it happened. It all grew from there really.
“So my career literally started off by making tea and coffee for people. I started as a runner on the production side”
The music side of it… I’m a failed musician myself. I played the saxophone. I wasn’t very good. I’ve always had a bit of a passion for music. I started in radio, local BBC, and then sort of stayed in the music lane, so MTV, VH1, and then I worked for Global Radio so Capital radio, XFM and Magic. Music has always been my main focus.
OnlineGuitarLessons: I think a lot of people when they start, they do the dog’s work to get started and as a way in, but then worry is that it’s never going to quite move on. How long did it take from doing favors and all that type of stuff, to actually starting to see some progress? Did it take long, or was it quite quick?
Kylie: No I think it took quite a while actually, and after a while you do start to think…”Jesus Christ, am I ever going to stop being a runner,” and then..
OnlineGuitarLessons: I bet you make a good old cup of tea though.
Kylie: Rubbish it seems. Honestly, I thought if I make bad cuppa, they won’t ask me to keep making it and I might be able to do something a bit more taxing on the brain.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Maybe that’s the secret. Make really bad tea, and then…
That was what I tried, but it didn’t quite work. I used to also walk Al Murray’s dog as well because I worked on the TV series “Time Gentlemen Please”. That was quite fun.
But getting back to your question, It did take quite a while, especially to be taken seriously. I wasn’t into pop music. I got pushed into that when I was at Global. But I always loved rock. It took me a while, I think, to get taken seriously within the rock world, because at that point, a lot of comments were, “Oh you don’t look like you’d like rock and you’re too young to know about bands from the 60s and 70s.”
“I’ve always thought that Rock was an attitude and just because you don’t look a certain way or dress a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t be serious about it.”
Kylie: Which was really weird for me because I’ve always thought that Rock was an attitude and just because you don’t look a certain way or dress a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t be serious about it.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Wow. I guess it’s paid off though, which is really cool. It’s a great story.
Kylie: Yeah, I mean I think it paid off. I think maybe people take me seriously. I hope so!
OnlineGuitarLessons: I think they definitely do. You mentioned playing sax. This site’s all about guitar – have you ever given it a go?!
Kylie: I have actually. Last year, I decided I wanted to learn. I’ve always loved guitar. Whenever I hear a guitar solo, its what draws me to a song. If I hear a good guitar solo, I’m done. I’m finished. I always get on with guitarists as well. I seem to collect them.
I’ve always had this secret – not so secret anymore – desire to be on the stage playing an eye watering guitar solo. So I did decide to try and learn how to play, and Fender gave me a guitar and an amp, and they gave me few lessons. BUT, It’s really bloody hard! The thing is it’s like, okay. You can learn a few chords and stuff like that, and then you keep practicing it, and then you have to think about moving. I was like a tree, I just couldn’t move at all whilst holding a guitar.
OnlineGuitarLessons: It takes so much time. I think that’s exactly it, that you can tell the difference between a good player and a bad… well, not a bad player, but a really good player, because they’ve gotten so good at playing that they can think about other things and perform well…
Kylie: I completely admire people like Pete Townshend and Ritchie Blackmore even more now. And then last weekend at Download, I was watching Monster Truck, and the guitarist was giving it a bit of an Angus Young and dancing around stage and stuff. I just thought to myself, “I get it. I know how hard that is now.”
OnlineGuitarLessons: You obviously need a good website to learn from, right?!
Kylie: That’s it, I do need a good website. That’s clearly where I was going wrong. If only I’d found you earlier!
OnlineGuitarLessons: I know, I know. The stars should have lined up earlier. Never mind.
Back to the presenting. You actually do a lot of festival work, which is obviously amazing but you’ve done some really interesting documentaries as well. What do you prefer? Do you prefer being out in the field doing that kind of live work, or do you prefer…
Kylie: I’m gonna be boring and say it’s the variety which keeps it interesting. No matter what it is, even if it’s a job you love, if you keep doing the same thing, it’s gonna get boring.
If I had to choose though, I would have to say sitting down and having a proper chat with someone. When you’re at a festival, you don’t have very long and the questions have to be a bit more generic. That kind of kills me. And you’re in a festival environment, so there’s no point of me asking questions about this obscure track that they made on that album. Because when it comes to editing it, they’re not going to use it in the edit because they’ll just use the section where the artists is talking about playing live and the tracks that they’re performing today, and being at the festival, and how great it is.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Totally get that…
Kylie: Get your teeth into something a bit, you know.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Yeah. I guess it gives you a chance to really research and find some really interesting…
OnlineGuitarLessons: You’ve interviewed, basically, rock royalty. Have you got a highlight? Who’s been your favorite person?
Kylie: Oh my God. It’s hard, and my problem is I forget. I forget who’ve I’ve interviewed sometimes. I worked for the Stones a couple of month ago now. That was defiantly a career high for me. I don’t think I can get much higher than that on my list of dream artists to chat to.
Kylie: But again, it was a little bit controlled, what you can ask and stuff, but that was pretty cool, talking to Keith Richards because I love him. It was really nice doing that. And Ozzy Osbourne was funny. He’s very funny, so I had quite a lot of fun with him. Steven Tyler is a real character as well. funny as well and super bright. Then you get people like Jimmy Page, who can be quite intense and a bit more serious. When I made the doc on John Bonham for the BBC, that was quite nice to sit down with Jimmy for an hour and half and just talk about Led Zeppelin and John.
OnlineGuitarLessons: That must have been amazing. That’s not a bad list of names, is it?
Kylie: No. I’m very lucky. I have met most of my heroes and none have disappointed.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Where do you see music going? What do you think it’s got ahead?
Kylie: God. I think there’s a lot of challenges because there seems to be a lot of bands around and unfortunately not all that good. It feels like it’s quite saturated with bad bands that maybe the good ones can’t get through. The future in the music industry, I don’t know. I think it is more of a makeshift thing.
When you look at someone like Joe Bonamassa – I asked him about what he thinks his legacy will be. He said to me that he hates to say it, but he doesn’t think it will be his guitar playing. He thinks it will be the business model that he created. He’s done everything himself, and it’s because he had to because no one wanted to sign him. That’s his words, not mine, and now, he’s doing very well.
OnlineGuitarLessons: It kind of comes back to the way you’ve approached it as well. I guess media or TV has got to be saturated with people who want to get into it. It comes down to who’s got the most brunt, who’s gonna work the hardest, who’s gonna roll their sleeves up and keep pushing until it works. It’s survival of the fittest, perhaps.
Kylie: Yeah, you’re probably right. I think new bands…I think the best thing for them to do is just get out and play, play, play.
Kylie: Because again, you can see the difference. I remember when I saw Rival Sons the first time. I was completely blown away because live, an incredible band, and then I saw someone like the Temperance Movement. I preferred their album to Rival Sons’ album, but then when you see them live, there’s no comparison. Rival Sons were a better live band, and that’s because they’re constantly on the road.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Yep, yep. Hard graft.
Kylie: Yeah it is. It’s just playing. Playing as much as you can constantly, constantly playing, and then becoming better. Like anything, isn’t it?
Kylie: If you do it enough, you’ll become really good at it.
“I think new bands… the best thing for them to do is just get out and play, play, play.”
OnlineGuitarLessons: Yeah, totally agree. All the best bands I’ve ever seen have been the ones that are just out all the time and just don’t stop. It creates this natural thing that you just don’t get if you don’t go and do that, I think. And you can tell. It’s a subtle difference, but you can tell.
Kylie: Yeah, and actually the Temperance Movement this year, I’ve seen them, and they were playing Download, they were a much better band now because they’ve played more. Compared to when I first saw them, they’re a lot better.
OnlineGuitarLessons: On that, what music do you like? What’s inspired you? Are there any new bands that you really got your eye on at the moment?
Kylie: I love Monster Truck. I saw them at Download for the first time, and they were brilliant, and so I like them a lot. I also love a band called A Thousand Horses. Didn’t like the album. I thought they were a little bit country pop – but actually, when you see them live, Jesus Christ, they are quite heavy. They’re really good. Still like The Cadillac Three. They’ve been around for a few years now, I had them in session on my show at Abbey, and they were brilliant.
OnlineGuitarLessons: Finally, have you got any advice or tips for anyone wanting to get into the music industry?
Kylie: try to get work experience…I’m not sure if that model even exists anymore because I’ve not come across that many people doing work experience. But this industry all boils down to contacts so that’s a good starting point. Another option is do it yourself. Write a blog, get some videos up on YouTube. And don’t take no for an answer! It took me nearly ten years to get a job on Planet Rock. And I’m still only cover presenter but still, the foot is in the door…
OnlineGuitarLessons: Excellent. Look, thank you so much for your time. That was very interesting to hear your story and some of the people you’ve interviewed and some of the stories there, so thank you so much.
Kylie: That’s all right.
OnlineGuitarLessons: And hope to speak soon.
Kylie: Yeah, it was good to chat to you.