It may seem an unlikely path for a woman who majored in economics and theology at Boston College followed by earning a J.D. from Wake Forest Law School, but there is a commonality in each step of her career trajectory: using her voice.
“I was always alive to the injustices in the world,” Olson recounted. “In college I volunteered at Rosie’s Place, a women’s shelter in Boston, and at a Jesuit migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. After college I spent a year in Albuquerque, New Mexico as an AmeriCorps Vista with ACCION New Mexico, an organization that provides microloans to small businesses without access to traditional lending institutions. Back home in New York I worked in resource development for a domestic violence shelter. After obtaining my J.D., I made pro bono work a priority, working with Legal Aid of North Carolina very early in my career, chairing the Pro Bono committee of the Mecklenburg County Bar and being named Young Lawyer of the Year because of my volunteer and pro bono work in the community.”
For Olson, who now resides in the United Kingdom, songwriting is a natural extension of the experiences she has had in her life.
“I write songs about the beauty and injustice of everyday life. I’ve found music as a means to make sense of life changes I never saw coming. I write songs of advocacy and connection,” she explained. “I came out of the gate hot but motherhood, life, and moving to a new country forced me to slow down. And I am so grateful, because in slowing down I’ve just begun to truly live.”
It may seem that with interests in economics, theology, and the law, Olson consequently lacked interest in the arts but this could not be further from the truth. In reality, her interests began to emerge during her time at Chatham Hall.
“I did not identify myself as particularly creative until recently, but when I look back the markers were all there. I played the flute, performed in every school play I could, sang in Sextet, learned photography, and worked on the yearbook. But at the time I had a narrow definition of what qualified as art and because I wasn’t doing that, I just didn’t see myself as creative. Thankfully, I was able to explore so many different activities, disciplines, and facets of myself at Chatham Hall, and it has given me a variety of ways to show up in the world and my life.”
Olson began writing songs at a guitar camp she attended in the mountains just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. At the time, she had two children under the age of four at home. She signed up for classes late and took whatever was still available, so in addition to a bluegrass guitar class also joined a songwriting class.
“It took a while before I completed a song. Juggling very young children, an on-again-off-again legal career, a house, a husband, and all the trimmings left me very little time for songwriting. But I didn’t want to wait until I had all the time or expertise. I knew that if I wanted to do something, I just needed to do it,” she said.
“So I did. I wrote, studied writing, worked with mentors, attended songwriting sessions, got in songwriting groups, and just kept plugging away whenever and wherever. For a long time, I wrote feverishly, in part because I had years of tangled emotions demanding expression and in part because I felt the need to prove I was a writer. I’ve slowed down a bit, thanks to realizing I will never get to the end of my emotions and the only person who needs to believe I am a writer is me. So now I find that my creativity comes in seasons: writing, recording, releasing, and resting.”
Olson enjoys writing about topics she doesn’t see fully explored in mainstream music, topics like motherhood, mature love, social justice, mental health, and the small moments in life that are easily overlooked. She credits curiosity as a factor in her songwriting success.
“Be curious. Be curious about the world, your neighbors, your friends, the people you might not consider friends, but mostly be curious about yourself, your needs, desires, passions, interests, strengths, and limitations. Curiosity is a chance to go deeper, know better, see clearer. Curiosity is kindness, love, connection, humility, and respect. A curious heart is an open heart, one open to learning, to loving, to seeing and being seen, to connecting, and to growth.”
To learn more about Erika Olson, visit www.erikaolsonmusic.com
. Her debut album This Is How I Pray
will be released in spring 2023 and will be available on all streaming platforms and through her website.
Photo by Aiste Saulyte Photography