Recently I was able to chat with EJ Olson of the band 09 (pronounced “oh-nine”) to discuss his band’s great collaborative record called Lost Years. The new album features 12 songs with 12 different vocalists ranging from marquee names like Kellin Quinn and Marty Mullins to lesser known names looking to take advantage of the spotlight. In this interview, I asked EJ how the album came together with his bandmate, Chancelor Reeder, as well as the key artists 09 looks to for inspiration in their music. Lost Years is a record that should not be missed and I’d highly recommend everyone checking it out sooner rather than later.
So thank you for your time today, and congrats on the recent release of an album called Lost Years. What’s the origin of the album title? And why did you and your bandmates both decide to brand this collection of songs with this title?
Oh, man, I guess there are a few different reasons. In some ways, this album was sort of making up for lost time. As Chancelor and I reconnected, as friends and musicians, and being away from music for so long, because we both were away for so long. And 09 brought us back together. So in one sense, making up for lost time, but also, all these songs are written about, it’s sort of the story of my 20s in the last decade, and it’s written about a lot of loss. And kind of looking back with regret, at times, but also just reflecting and acknowledging a lot of that loss I’ve experienced. So it’s kind of a multifaceted way we came to that album title.
That’s pretty cool to hear about because I just really listened to the record again, before the interview, to kind of get in that same mindset. And you’re right, a lot of those themes of loss and reconnecting with people that are the most important with you and your life. And also, just thinking of those past relationships along the way, it really, really stood out to me. So kudos to you guys for a great, cohesive record. So, how did the songwriting process go for these sessions? And how would you describe both you and your bandmates’ evolution as writers and musicians compared to when you first started out?
Man, this album was kind of all over the place because of the pandemic. I mean, we started it in 2019. And when Chance &I started this thing, we didn’t expect to be making an album. We didn’t expect to be working with some of the people we worked with. They were some awesome people. We had a lot of friends that we grew up playing with, and we said, “Let’s just go into a few songs, we’ll do one at a time, just have some fun.” We just wanted to make some music together. And so those first few songs, it was very much a go in, sit down with the singer and with our producer. And here’s these riffs, we have these lyrics, and let’s just see what we can put together in the studio together. As we were further along, we shifted to writing everything remotely. We were demoing at home, and we’re sending files back and forth. We’re on a Zoom call with our producer. And then, for most of those songs that we wrote in 2020. We did everything. We wrote all the lyrics and the melodies and our producer (Justin Abel) sung those himself. He’s actually on the record on track 11. But he would sing all the demos, and then we would pitch those two singers. Except for let’s see our song with Cory Brandan and our song with Kellin Quinn. They were both really heavily involved in writing those songs. But it was the same process over Zoom. Here’s a riff, here’s a chord progression, and then how do you feel about this? Here’s a few lyric ideas, and just sending stuff back and forth. And so it was kind of interesting. I think it definitely makes you over analyze every little thing. When I’m getting stems in an email and I have several days to just listen, when you’re in the studio it is a little more organic, a little more back and forth, and you’re just sort of riffing off each other. I think both really have their benefits. And like you said, the last half of the album was created under such a microscope because of those conditions. And so I feel like we’re fortunate we were able to kind of do it both ways. And there’s a lot of that arc over two years, how it made us better songwriters and collaborators. The biggest thing was just patience. You’re working with so many people, and there’s so many hands in the pot. And I mean the record’s just way stronger for it, I think.
Okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So kind of going back to that process of selecting vocalists…At what point did you actually narrow down the people that you wanted to work with and feature on certain songs? What was that process like?
Initially, we had a few people we knew we wanted to work with that we had worked with before. And I said we just wanted to get together with some of our friends. i think the first time we really said let’s try to reach out to someone we don’t know, really was Malia Endres from Glacier Veins. So that was sort of our first step into maybe going outside of our circle and we could reach out to some of these people that are artists we love and people you know. We never thought we would ever work with you know what I mean? Just because there’s so many artists that influenced us that we would love to do stuff with, so the opportunity with Matty Mullins came about we again had some mutual friends came up in the same scene you know, Matty I think grew up in Spokane, which only a few hours away from us, and we had a lot of mutual sort of connections. So when that came about we realized, hey, maybe we need to take this a little more seriously as a band. But then we need to think about, hey, if we’re going to if this is our model, how are we going to sustain it? And so at that point we looked at our list of guys we would love to collaborate with and we just started reaching out to people. You get an agent contact, you hit someone up on Instagram, and I will say the nature of this project is it’s just it hasn’t really been done in this scene.
And so trying to pitch people on that is always interesting, and trying to get them to see can sort of see the vision of what we’re trying to do. But then also we had a few artists who we were really excited to collaborate with that didn’t work out. And sometimes you have to make the tough choice of, “as much as I want to work with this person, it’s not right”. And we have to sort of every time that happened, the song ended up so much better for it. So, it’s just one of those things, but it just sort of progressed organically. You just have to go out there and if you have these people you want to work with, you need to be vulnerable about it and pitch your idea without being aggressive. I guess by being honest about it and being upfront, it worked out in logical ways.
Yeah, I had a feeling some of that was kind of going on behind the scenes. But just listening back to this album with fresh ears, just a couple hours ago, it seems like each vocalist brings their own unique flavor to it, but it also fits into the overall cohesiveness of it. It doesn’t sound like a compilation, you know what I mean? It sounds like a true album from start to finish. So whatever you guys did behind the scenes, it definitely worked out!
Thank you! Yeah, that was such a conscious effort. I mean, really, since the beginning, but especially after that song with Matty, which was written in 2019. Yeah, we talked about every song we did. We want to be able to sort of push the boundaries, and a song like “Impermanence” is so much different than a song like “Dead Roots” or “Consolidator.” Later we wanted to sort of push some of those edges while also saying, “How does this fit in our own universe?” Because we have different vocalists. And so I think that how much we wrote before pitching to the singers helped that, obviously. But it was cool seeing everyone come in and bring in what they do best. And maybe one day all these demos will all see the light of day, so others can be seeing how they took what we did and transformed it. It’s crazy to see how those songs evolved. And like you said, they’re still cohesive.
To have a similar-sounding tone to where it is, it’s hard to kind of describe for somebody who hasn’t heard the record, you know? So who actually wrote the lyrics for each of these songs? And what tips or guidance did you give each of those collaborative singers along the way?
Early on, I would come to a singer with a Google Doc filled with sort of random lyrics. But a paragraph of, here’s what this has written about, here’s sort of the vibe that we’re going for this and the story I want to tell. And so those first couple of songs, it was very much a collaboration. And sort of a back and forth, right. But then after this, the first maybe three songs, it really came down to, I sort of had to take what I learned from these singers early on, and I started writing almost all of it.
And then, our producer would sit down with us together and crack these melodies and figure out arrangements and demo them out. With the exception of I said, Cory sang Kellin’ssong, where again, it was the same thing. Kellin actually came to us with an idea. He sort of workshopped it from there and he wrote quite a lot of that song. And Corey, same thing I came to him and I said, Hey, here’s what I’m gonna write about. I would love your take. And I know you’re not supposed to pick favorites but I actually think “Dead Roots” with Corey might be my favorite song, with just the influence he had on me growing up. And hearing that demo for the first time I got back from him, it was so it was exactly what I wanted from him, knowing his style and how he’s evolved over the years. It was just like, the quintessential take.
That must’ve been pretty rewarding to hear that all come together, with your vision, and the guy’s voice, too.
It was very cool. But yeah, I think it just depends on the song. You know, the level of collaboration was quite high with some and, and not existing with others, you know, a couple of songs, we just basically pitched wholesale. And we said, “Hey, change whatever you want melodically to fit your vibe. But otherwise, here’s what we wrote.”
So what are some of the biggest challenges you think, to having a band with no lead vocalist, from not only a marketing perspective, but also a touring perspective?
Yeah, it’s been a crash course. I’ve been trying to figure out pretty much all of it. Playing the algorithm game, figuring out, how do targeted ads work? In this scenario, trying to not only figure out, for a typical band, you kind of figure out what’s your niche? What’s your genre? What artists are we similar to? When you have a different vocalist on each song, you’re trying to figure that out every month. And I can’t say I’ve totally figured out how it works yet, and we’re always experimenting with how we sort of get our stuff out there to people. And we’re lucky that a lot of the artists we work with have been really stoked on what we did, and have been really cool about sharing with people. I think that’s the biggest thing at the end of the day, that not all these songs are going to appeal to everybody. There are going to be fans of really heavy music and they’re going to love one or two or three tracks on this record, but there’s also going to be fans who like what Rory Rodriguez just did. He did a reimagined version of our song “Echoes” that he did with us, and it’s totally mellow, and totally different. And he ‘s sort of has his own audience. So people who may not be into most of the songs on this record, because it’s so much heavier. I think the main thing for me is just being consistent in who we are, and why we’re doing this. And just getting cool content out there that we believe in.
But for that era of 09, and also where the pandemic was at that time, maybe touring didn’t make sense at that time. You know what I mean?
Well, we’ve talked about this. I don’t see a future where we tour, since we have 12 different singers on this album. We’ve always talked about, what if we do a one-off show, and how many people can get involved in and play through the album or something. It’s always something that’s in the back of our minds. And we’ve talked about it, and who knows, one day if the opportunity were to ever come up, we have a lot of really talented friends who could pull it off.
There’s like this band, I don’t know if you’re familiar with them, called Big Data. They had a similar type of setup. They had Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, and a couple others from other pop rock bands. And when they did their touring, they would have like one or two different singers performing the different parts. So it can be done, if that’s one of the things you’re kind of mulling over. I would definitely encourage you guys to continue to explore that route, because that seems like how a lot of people get their name out there too, especially for newer bands.
It’s definitely something we’ve thought about. It would be cool. I think it would also be one of those things where just the artist in us, of being like, how do we do these songs justice if we have somebody basically “covering” it live? And it’s something to think about for sure.
Cool! Can you talk a little bit about the visuals going on in some of the music videos released? Just wondering if there could be a tie-in to those visuals if you ever performed the album live.
Oh, man, that’s something I haven’t even thought about. A lot of our music videos so far, they’re not necessarily connected to each other, or even to a broader theme. Most of our music videos are actually just performance videos, right? Just kind of rock it out. But “Masquerade” and “Permanents”, some of the songs do have their own kind of story…But yeah, I haven’t thought about that. If we were to play live, my initial thought was that we will probably do something new and fresh for a sound like that.
What are some artists that you look to for inspiration in your music?
Oh, man, we could talk for hours about this, right? I’m all over the place, personally. Chancelor’s talks about this publicly, and some of his biggest influences are Thrice, Silversun Pickups, and I adore Thrice. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time. Bring Me The Horizon’s sort of newest, I guess evolution of themselves over the last half decade or so. I think that was probably the biggest influence on him just in the sense of like, creating these really big, really driving, really hooky songs. How’s that for vague? <Laughter> I just think that was probably our biggest influence in the beginning as far as sort of structurally and sonically. Especially like his guitar tone and trying to get his sound dialed in. It was definitely those guys. One of my favorite bands ever is Kiss. I grew up in an era of rock and roll. My old man listens to that sort of stuff. But when it comes to heavy music Norma Jean is one of my all time favorites, and Coheed and Cambria too.
You mentioned bands like Thrice and Bring Me The Horizon. What qualities did you bring into this album that you kind of admired about them? I know Thrice has gone from almost like a speed metal band to now more of an artsy, and experimental type of band. So what qualities did you bring into this new album?
Yeah, I think for when it comes to Thrice, vocally, there’s a lot of stuff that Dustin Kensure does that lyrically I look to, but the original version of “Masquerade” actually has Chance and I singing on it, and vocally, Thrice was the inspiration for that. I don’t know how much that cuts through now that Matty is on the track. It’s a very different song now. But I think when we look at those guys, and like you mentioned, their evolution over the years from being like a punk, almost sort of hardcore influence group, and how they’ve always sort of been one step ahead of the scene over the last two decades. And that is really cool to us. Seeing how a band can be true to themselves and what they do, and still make awesome music. And for me Thrice’s music, and some of my favorite records, has been what they’ve put out in the last seven, eight years. So seeing how someone can evolve and change so drastically, but keep putting out just better and better music.
And it’s not the same thing every time, right? They repackage it with different sounding guitar parts or something. It’s a completely different vibe for each record.
Yeah. And I don’t think we evolved like that over the course of two years. Like I said, we tried to make this album as cohesive as we could. But whenever we tried to do something a little bit different, whether we you look at the bridge of “Consolidator” or you look at “Impermanence” or even “Dead Roots”, which is the heaviest on the record, or “Digital Vagrant”, which is totally off the reservation, I think, totally, but still somehow sounds like us. We kept that in mind we can do this, and we want to do it. We believe in these ideas. We don’t have to put ourselves in this little box and so bands like Thrice that’s absolutely sort of how they inspired us. And like I said, just sonically, and structurally, we wanted to just create these really big driving vocal driven songs. And they did. I think that was probably the biggest influence there.
What do you think makes your band so unique? What’s your quick pitch to someone who should check your music out?
The quick pitch is 12 songs, 12 singers. I think that’s honestly the biggest appeal. We just have such a variety of known quantities and people can glance at it and, and I think they know that they’re going to get something cool here just based on who’s involved. If you like post-hardcore if like big, heavy catchy tunes, there’s something for everybody here.
Yeah, that’s great, and I definitely recommend that the first time people listen to the album, get rid of all distractions, put on some headphones and really just kind of engulf yourself into the sound that you guys went for here. It’s definitely one of those records you want to put on and kind of just get lost in the noise, so to speak.
Yeah, there’s definitely an arc to it.
There’s definitely something in there for all music fans, so congrats! You guys have a killer record and I wish you guys nothing but the best in the future.
You too, Adam.