Categories: Arts Music Pop

Sublime sounds from folk singer Olivia Chaney

A relatively unknown English folksinger, Olivia Chaney was surprised to be attending the Grammy Awards ceremony in New York this year. But as a nominee, she was obligated to be there: Decemberists bandleader Colin Meloy had called her, out of the blue, proposing a vintage-covers collaboration, and the results — “The Queen of Hearts,” billed under Offa Rex — got an unexpected nod for best folk album. “It was a really crazy experience,” says the singer, whose second minstrel-gorgeous disc for Nonesuch, *Shelter,” hit shelves in June. “Lady Gaga and Rihanna were great, but I found the pre-cast ceremony, which doesn’t get broadcast, the most moving, with loads of old blues singers, country musicians and rappers. I mean Ice-T played and it didn’t get talked about.”

You didn’t release your Nonesuch debut “The Longest River” until you were 33. Why wait so long?

I was just busy collaborating and working as a musician in London and just getting on with it. And putting out records didn’t seem to be part of the journey at that time. But then I was lucky enough to be brought to the attention of a label like Nonesuch, and they were really encouraging, like, “Why haven’t you got loads of records out? We’ll make some records with you!” So then I go on with that, and now I’m catching up with all of it, which is great.

How did Nonesuch find you?

I think it was just good timing. I was working with this producer, Joe Boyd, and he’d done projects with them like the McGarrigle Sisters tribute and Natalie Merchant. So he put in a good word. And I was working with a promoter in London who booked some good shows for me, and he put a good word. Plus, Ray Davies had been coming down to these shows.

What? The legendary Ray Davies?

Yeah. I know him fairly well. He’s come to a lot of my shows. And that song on the record “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”? He kind of put me up to write that. He’d been really supportive, and then he was doing a songwriting course wherw I somehow managed to hang out, and he wanted me to write a song from the perspective of the little girl in that book.

You didn’t dig the glossy side of the Grammys. Iggy Pop once said that at every glitzy dinner party, he’d invariably find himself in the kitchen, talking with the hired help.

I’m definitely one of those people, At the Grammys, Mick Fleetwood was just walking around, hanging with the hoi polloi. He seems like one of those people, as well.


Olivia Chaney, Laura Gibson
Where: Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 16
Tickets: $15 to $17
Contact: (415) 471-2969,

Tom Lanham

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