The Lazarus Rocket may seem like it burst out of nowhere. But Nate Olson, the project’s founder, has been working on it behind the scenes for nearly three years.
Olson started The Lazarus Rocket as a mostly solo idea, recording demos on his phone and his iPad and polishing them in GarageBand, posting the finished products on SoundCloud. But not long after, he started playing with the folk-inspired indie-rock act The Darling Suns, a band with which he’s currently closing out his run.
“I spent a year and a half with them,” he said. “I watched how Rob (Krause, The Darling Suns’ frontman) was handling business, watched how it was collaborating with other people because I had never been in a band long-term like that. So I learned a lot, and I felt like I learned what I needed to learn. I helped write a lot of that new album they’re putting out, so I learned how to write with other people. It was cool gaining all that experience with a group.”
“But I felt a burning drive to really push this.”
Olson, who recently signed on as a Breedlove Guitars artist, took advantage of a transitional moment for the Suns to step back to his own project.
“We recorded this awesome album we’re all super proud of,” he said. “But then Sam (Rorie, The Darling Suns’ former bass player) moved. We wrapped the album, and it was in the back of my head because I had put The Lazarus Rocket on the back burner. And I was like, ‘We had our run for a year and a half with that lineup, and we put out an album we’re all really proud of. Maybe it was time to try to do the same thing by myself.’”
“I think half the fun of being a musician is starting from the bottom and building a fanbase and seeing what you can do, seeing how much noise you can make,” Olson said. “I felt like there was a lot of stuff I wanted to say. I wanted an outlet for that.”
He started with the two singles and their videos — “Manic//Depressive” and “Way Out,” both recorded at DZ Records — premiering here today, to pave the way for a new album, now in the works.
“Way Out,” a revamped version of a song Olson originally wrote three years ago with friend and collaborator Sean Bryan, is about an experience with someone he went through four years ago. Much like Olson, the song has gone through an evolution in that time. What started out as a cloud rap tune — “spaced-out sounding, drugged-out, ambient rap — now has more of a singer-songwriter bent.
“It’s a totally different song. But the melody is exactly the same and the lyrical content is exactly the same. It’s crazy just to see how that song has changed and where it’s come from,” he said.
“I write about things I’m feeling and going through at that time. That’s just how I write best. ‘Way Out’ is about one person, but other songs … sometimes it’s taking a line from an old song and a verse from another one.”
“It’s almost like taking ten B-sides and taking your favorite lines from them and mashing that together into a song. That’s one of the ways I write. … None of my songs are very abstract. That’s kind of a conscious choice.”
What results is a time capsule of sorts, not illustrating specific snippets, but rather encompassing the overall vibe of a period.
“It may not all be about the exact same time period or the exact same situation, but basically the message of the song is ‘Hey, I’m going through a rough time right now, but I got this’ or whatever. Usually I try to end it on a ‘This sucks, but I got this’ kind of a vibe.”
It’s not a stretch to trace Olson’s creation of sweeping emotional songs over specific stories to how he still embraces the full-album purism in an increasingly singles-driven musical landscape.
“When the Beatles put out a single, it still had a relevance to the rest of the album. It was still one cohesive thing,” he said. “I really want to do that with my album and have it be kind of a throwback and have it all make sense. Not necessarily in a concept album way, but having the consistency in sound and theme and lyrical content, the way it’s produced, and all that. I wish it was still that way, and I hope one day there’s kind of a resurgence.”
Olson is taking what he’s learned and folding it into his new work. “I cringe at my old songs as a whole, but I keep them.”
“We have home video of me playing guitar. We still have it actually which is really awesome to me because my little nephew, he’s 2, he comes over and plays the same guitar I did,” Olson said. “I didn’t even learn on it. There’s videos of me thinking I was playing guitar, and I was always singing. I have a brother who’s 5 years older than me, and he and I used to sing. When the Backstreet Boys’ ‘Millennium’ album came out, we would sing all those songs. We would sit at the kitchen table and he would teach me how to harmonize. … It’s stupid, but he really taught me how to layer vocals and how to harmonize.”
“Around 2012, I recorded a cover of the Ed Sheeran song, ‘Don’t.’ I was thinking ‘I can play this song. This is easy.’ I recorded a cover of it using a laptop mic and free recording software.” Olson posted the song on SoundCloud and linked to it from reddit. “Within 24 hours, I had over 300 plays and I hit 100 downloads, which is the maximum. … ‘Cool, I’m 19, 100 people downloaded it and I’m about to take off.’ Obviously, here we are, 7 years later,” he laughed.
“I took a lot of my old SoundCloud stuff down, but I have to leave that up. That’s where I started, and it’s always going to be close to me.”
Olson is performing those songs, both old and new, at a series of upcoming shows. He plays Friday, June 21, at downtown Geneva’s Livia (207 S. 3rd St.) from 7 to 9, helping kick off Swedish Days. He follows that up with a June 27 performance at The House Pub (16 S. Riverside Drive, St. Charles), in addition to one last set with The Darling Suns at the end of July.
“This whole thing is like starting over. It feels like a rebirth. I have to earn my way back into the scene,” he said.
“But that fire got reignited. You have to earn your stripes again.”