The power of music: Local musician PJ Olsson nabs Grammy nomination for project with Alan Parsons (with video)
How to watch the Grammy awards
The 61st annual Grammy ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. on Feb. 10 and will air on CBS. The technical awards, which Olsson’s nomination for best immersive audio record is part of, will be announced the day before. The final round of voting closes on Jan. 9.
What PJ Olsson loves about music is getting to be a part of the most powerful language on the planet, its connecting power, its ability to impact listeners.
That passion, along with his talent, is clear to anyone who listens to his music, including, apparently, the Recording Academy members who nominated his latest collaboration, a remastered edition of the Alan Parsons Project album Eye in the Sky, for a Grammy.
Olsson, along with collaborators Alan Parsons and Dave Donnelly, have been nominated for the best immersive audio album of the year, going up against four other albums.
“I feel good about it,” said Olsson, who co-owns Eagle Wind Sound Studio in Winter Park. “It’s an iconic record, so I took it very seriously, working on that record.”
Eye in the Sky, which originally dropped 35 years ago, was remastered over the course of several weeks. Olsson said they listened to every performance of every song on the album to find the ones that had been released and then remixed them into a stereo mix and a 5.1 mix, which is surround sound.
Olsson said it has been incredibly rewarding to work with Parsons, 70, who is known for his own work, both with his band the Alan Parsons Project and his solo music, as well as his production on several significant albums including the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Let it Be, as well as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
The two began working together 15 years ago, with Olsson as a sound engineer and, later, as his lead singer.
“With Alan, his ears are impeccable, his experience is impeccable, but his instincts are the things that really teach,” Olsson said. “Alan works long, long hours and is really picky about integrity and quality.”
This year’s nomination is Parsons’s 13th Grammy nomination and Olsson’s second. Olsson’s first nomination was for the album, A Valid Path, also made in conjunction with Parsons, for best surround sound album in 2006.
Throughout his relationship with Parsons, Olsson said he has learned so much about music and being a sound engineer.
“I went to the University of Alan Parsons and that’s a pretty cool place to get a degree,” he laughed.
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Through this experience, he learned how to be a sound engineer, which, according to Olsson, is like a liaison between the artist and the producer.
“The engineer is the person who quite often decides and helps make sure the musician is going to be captured in the best way possible,” he explained. “Whether that signal is an electric guitar, a vocal, a trumpet, a violin, all of them need to get treated in a certain way so that the quality of that instrument is captured and translated emotionally to the listener.”
His goal with the Eye in the Sky project was to be sure to respect the original music and enhance the quality. For example, Olsson said when he and Parsons were going through the original recordings they were able to hear different background noises in different takes, including a take where a train can be heard in the background, which they ultimately left in because of the energy it contributed to the music.
Olsson said he feels like this year he and Parsons have a pretty good chance of winning their category, partially because this year they aren’t up against one of his idols, Donald Fagan of Steely Dan, who won best surround sound album in 2006.
“This time, when it came out, I immediately looked and said yes, no Steely Dan,” he exclaimed.
Respect for the music is a sentiment that Olsson maintains for all of his projects. It’s important for him to understand the current industry, as well as what’s been done in the past. When he’s looking for inspiration, Olsson listens to Peter Gabriel, Howard Jones and Steely Dan, or he turns to his instruments, including a custom soundboard and his baby grand piano.
“The engineering is impeccable, the production is mindblowing and I’ve always followed their lead in quality,” he said of his contemporaries. “Every day, I give up everything I can to put all I am into a beautiful language that speaks to everybody.”
Not only does he give all of himself to his music, but also to his collaborators.
Olsson’s studio recently created its own record label, called Rebel Remi Records, named after Olsson’s late son Remi, who was also a musician and “a true rebel.”
Olsson said when he is considering who to sign to his label, he looks for music that communicates something and artists who change a room when they walk in. He isn’t interested in what he calls “disposable music.”
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been restricted professionally because of the relationships I’ve had with studios and labels, but our label isn’t like that,” he said. “We really embrace the future of an artist.”
Currently, Olsson is working on building that label, as well as working on his own record, continuing to work with Parsons and collaborating on a song for the United Nations in honor of his grandmother.
“I really listened to my dad who said to me gratification is one thing, but realistically it’s how you affect another person’s life,” he said. “You’ve got to make that your focus whether it’s in songwriting or whatever you’re doing.”
Listen to the titular song from the Grammy nominated album, Eye in the Sky.
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