Olivia Jean: Garage Rock Revisited
From sneaking down to Detroit to see Gore Gore Girls to getting advice from Jack White, she's keeping garage rock alive
Being a teenager growing up in suburban Detroit during the garage-rock revival at the turn of the century would end up serving as on-the-scene training for Olivia Jean. It would provide inspiration for the young artist to grab a guitar and start making her own racket.
“Luckily, I had a dad who was into punk and rock music growing up, so I had a good influence from him,” the rocker recalled by phone recently. “As I grew older, I would go down to Detroit and watch shows, you know, like at 12 and 13-years-old, sneaking down there. I was immediately exposed to the garage rock scene because that’s what was hot in Detroit. Garage rock was — and still is — my first love. Seeing all those local bands in Detroit who had that style, like the Gore Gore Girls and the White Stripes. I never got to see the Gories, but they were huge. The scene in Detroit was really electric and exciting. I was so lucky to experience that.”
Talking about her transition from fan to artist, she listed some of the key albums that inspired her as a kid. “The first record I ever got was De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising. Then, it was The Cars, and then it was the B-52s, which was super influential to me,” she revealed. “That kind of transitioned me into the ‘60s and surf-rock kind of music. That was the earliest band that really influenced what I love to do. I try to school as many people as I can on the B-52s. They were part of the punk evolution.”
Now an in-demand studio and touring musician who has played behind the likes of Wanda Jackson and was a member of Jack White’s all-female band that went out on his Lazaretto tour in 2014. In 2009, it was White who suggested that she serve as the guitarist for the Black Belles, who released a self-titled debut on White’s Third Man Records in 2011. The band has been on hiatus ever since Jean struck out on a solo career. Jean had been on the road supporting her second solo album, Night Owl before COVID-19 put a hold on things. The record was self-produced at White’s insistence after he manned the boards for her first full-length, Bathtub Love Killings, which White produced.
“Ever since I started recording my own music, back to the original demo I first gave to Third Man, I would do everything on my own. I really enjoy that process of complete artistic control,” she said. “I have so much more respect for producers now because it is hard to do. Hearing your music through other people’s ears is so important, and now I know that. It’s how Jack (White) works, and I don’t know how he does it. I really missed having him there as a sounding board, and I basically begged him to tell me what to do in certain situations,” she laughed. “He’d be like, “No, you have to do this on your own and learn. This is your baby, and in the end, you’re going to be so proud of yourself for it.’ Now, I feel like a pro.”