Calgary-based singer Ollee performs at West Stettler Park on July 14th as part of the summer-long Entertainment in the Park series.
Blessed with a beautifully compelling, clear voice, Ollee recalls singing from the time she was a child – performing at school, church and talent shows in her community.
“To me, music was just kind of always there – it was my other language,” she explained.
“And to some degree, it was a bit of a lifeline because my upbringing was a little chaotic. So music was something that I could always go back to. And people enjoyed it – it was like a gift that I could give others,” she added.
“So for me, it’s just always been there – that is probably the best way that I can describe it.”
She went on to do quite a bit of performing during those years, later meeting her husband-to-be about 24 years ago.
“We got married and we had kids right away. And we actually met over doing music together! Once the kids came along, I knew that I had to give my energy to focusing on them,” she explained.
Music would still play a part during those years of course.
“It’s something that never leaves you. Five years ago, the girls were getting older so I just started attending local open mic nights here in Calgary, and I remembered how much I missed it and how much I enjoyed it,” she added.
“So, one thing led to another and word started getting out again!”
She went on to record an album, and is currently in the process of recording her second project.
“I have a producer in Nashville and one locally – so we are doing a bit of a ‘team’ approach here.”
A superb single, Every Step of the Way, was released from that project back in March – an inspiring and hopeful tune that showcases the charms of Ollee’s voice to perfection.
Looking back, Ollee grew up in a musical family where the sounds of southern rock, country and gospel could often be heard on her Dad’s stereo. But it was during her teen years that she discovered artists who she found a powerful connection with artistically – legendary singers like Etta James, Mavis Staples, Mahalia Jackson and Janis Joplin. Other influences included Buddy and Julie Miller and Eric Clapton.
“I think what it comes down to is the level of vocal intensity – there is emotion there. And the lyrics within the emotionally-charged music. Because music was and always has been a very emotional thing for me, I think (this music) is what I was drawn to the most,” she explained.
And not only is she a prolific performer, she also is a gifted songwriter as well.
“I’ve been writing music since I was about 10,” she said. “I was cleaning out our old storage room lately, and I found my old notebook. I had to chuckle! But it was kind of neat to read it again. It my way to process things – again, music was always kind of that thing that I could depend on,” she said.
These days, inspiration for songs comes in three primary ways.
“Sometimes, there will be a melody – I’ll record it because if I don’t, I will forget it,” she added with a laugh. “Sometimes, there is literally a line for a song. Like with Every Step of the Way – that chorus came to me really strongly one morning – not long into the pandemic,” she added. “And there are also times when a full song will come. One morning, I just sat down and started writing and the whole song basically came at once,” she explained. “That is probably the least common way for me – the melodies are usually what comes first, and then lyrics.
“And a lot of times, it’s out of experiences. I’m definitely an emotional writer, so for example with Every Step of the Way, I wanted to create something hopeful; to create something that people could send to a friend,” she said. “I just wanted it to be hopeful.”
As for the creatively-rich process of laying down tracks, it’s a process Ollee truly enjoys as well.
“There are times when I’ve written a song and thought, this is what it is going to be. Then we get into the session, and someone gets inspired to add a different flavour. It’s really cool to watch that unfold.”
In the meantime, she’s thrilled at the thought of performing again.
“For me, I love being with people in the moment – so that excites me. To take what we’ve worked on and share it – I love that energy and that connection!”
Next up in the series is country singer Travis Pickering on July 21st and Off the Rails on July 28th.
Heading into August audiences can check out the Wheatland Band on Aug. 4th, TEN02 on Aug. 11th, Tap9 on Aug. 18th and rounding out the season is Ryan Langlois on Aug. 25th.