“It’s Just Music, It’s Fine” – an Interview with Cayetana Drummer Kelly Olsen
by Emily Cassel
When it comes to the most frequently held conversations friends have after downing a few beers, “We should totally start a band!” probably falls somewhere between “Let’s open a bar!” and “Where should we get pizza?” It’s a discussion few follow through on – unless, that is, you’re one of the members of Cayetana, the Philadelphia-based three-piece who decided to form a band at their friend Christine’s birthday party in the fall of 2011.
“Christine was like, ‘Hey, I know you all separately want to be in bands, and you should probably talk about it,” drummer Kelly Olsen recalls with a laugh. “We met, like, the next day in my basement.”
A lot has happened for Cayetana since those humble beginnings; the trio signed with independent label Tiny Engines last year and put out the much beloved and perfectly titled EP Hot Dad Calendar in February. Their debut full-length, Nervous Likez Me, was just released through Tiny Engines earlier this month.
But back in 2011, Olsen, bassist Allegra Anka, and vocalist/guitarist Augusta Koch had little musical experience and even less gear between them. Anka owned a drum set and a bass, while one of Koch’s friends lent her a guitar. The three also borrowed amps and – after a handful of lessons from friends on the basics – started figuring out their instruments and writing songs.
“We kind of just all fell into place – it felt like destiny,” Olsen says, recalling those initial basement practices. “It clicked super, super fast.”
Olsen didn’t emulate any one drummer or strive to develop a particular style as she settled into the drums. A childhood fondness for ska bands had cemented into a love of fun, fast songs in adulthood, and she does cite the Muffs as an early influence. Still, it was mostly her friends – both those who had studied music in college and those who learned on their own – who really inspired her to try new things on the drums.
“It’s funny, when we were first starting out a lot of my friends who had been drumming for years were like, ‘Whoa, your style is so weird!’ And I was like, ‘Well, I don’t really know what else to do!’ she laughs. “This is just the style I made, and the style that’s comfortable to me.”
Perhaps because they learned to play together, Olsen, Anka, and Koch have each developed a sound that compliments their counterparts. Self-taught but sure-footed, each plays in a tight, no-bullshit fashion without sounding studied or sacrificing fun. No time is wasted; no solo is superfluous. Koch’s wry, almost world-weary vocals tend toward the melancholic – Nervous Like Me repeatedly tackles issues of loss and longing – but are bolstered by Olsen’s relentless pacing and spirited cymbal crashes. Her drumming recalls the beating of a heart that just won’t quit, and in this way, even the band’s darker songs never sound hopeless.
“I guess it’s kind of stereotypical drummer, wanting to speed everything up,” Olsen acknowledges with a grin. “Sometimes the girls will come to me, and they’re like, ‘We love this song!’ and I’m like, ‘Man, those lyrics are great, and the guitar parts are great, but what if we just speed it up a little bit?’”
The trio embarked on their longest tour to date this past summer – a five-week, 31-date trip across the U.S. with fellow Pennsylvania natives The Menzingers. With a ten-day tour in the summer of 2013 and a five-day tour this past winter under their belts, it was only the third run the band had ever been on. They were, understandably, a little overwhelmed.
“After we said yes there was this ‘holy shit’ moment of like, can we even do this? Can we even stand each other in a van for that long?” Olsen recalls. “The answer is yes, we can, and it was great, but it was a lot… I was really self-conscious until the mid-point of that tour.”
Transitioning from the occasional regional tour to a national run in cities across the U.S. was daunting enough, but Olsen was under some added pressure: because Cayetana was slotted to play first each show, hers was the kit used by fellow openers Lemuria and PUP. But after a handful of dates, the responsibilities of tuning and sound checking for her tour companions felt like second nature.
“I think it’s just one of those things where you might not feel ready, but by the time you’re done with it you’re like, ‘Oh, that was fine. This is great, it’s just music, it’s fine,” she says sagely. “Just by throwing ourselves into situations I’ve learned a lot.”
Plenty has changed for Olsen and Cayetana over the last few years; for example, these days she doesn’t have to borrow a friend’s kit. Her current setup is a “super straightforward” Yamaha stage custom. “I have, you know, kick, snare, rack tom, floor tom. I have a hi-hat, crash, and ride, and that’s it,” she notes. The kit is fairly new to her, but its no-frills simplicity reflects Cayetana’s aesthetic perfectly. (“Sometimes I consider adding an extra cymbal, but like, what am I even gonna do with that?” she jokes. “I’m already using this one.”)
Still, there are many constants for this outfit, one of which is the unconditional love and support of their fellow Philadelphians. Cayetana recently closed out a weekend of record release dates with a September 7th show at the Golden Teahouse in Philly – three years to the day after their initial meeting. Olsen swears it was completely unplanned, which only goes to support the theory that fate brought these gals together.
“You know, you go to a show and there are your friends, there are your bandmates, there are people you toured with, there are people you just support… it’s just a big love fest here,” she says of the Philadelphia scene, before rattling of a list of incredible bands – Hop Along, Swearin’, Waxahatchee, Three Man Cannon, Amanda X – that have come out of the city in the last few years. “I feel like especially being a female musician in Philadelphia, like, talk about the right place at the right time. I could never imagine being in a different place and being nurtured as much as this city has embraced all the female bands.”
Emily Cassel is a Boston-based freelance entertainment writer.