Have you ever wondered what it's like to pursue a career in music full-time? Today we're chatting with Karla and Olivia of musical duo The OK Factor on what a day in the life of a musician, recording their debut album, "Water Street," and maintaining a work-life balance is like.
Q: What are both of your backgrounds in music? At what age did you realize that you wanted to pursue a music career full-time?
Olivia: I began playing the cello when I was 4, studying the Suzuki method. While I have been classically trained my entire life, I grew up in a household that constantly played music of all genres; jazz, classical, folk, classic rock, and thanks to my older sisters, top 40’s pop. The expansive CD/record library in my home broadened my musical interest and trained my ear to listen for all sorts of unique sounds, flares, and qualities. I saw Yo-Yo Ma perform at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City, Iowa when I was about eight, and this solidified my love for my instrument, as well as sparked in me an interest to pursue music more thoroughly. This pursuit has looked different throughout the many stages of my life, including today with The OK Factor. I have gone from wanting to play in the New York Phil, to being interested in session playing, to wanting to tour with a singer-songwriter, to, now, wanting to write my own music and gig full-time. It’s not that any of those dreams have fully dissipated, but instead that music evolves very organically in me, and sort of unconsciously guides me to my next endeavor.
Karla: My sister and I started piano around the same time, when I was 4 and she was 7. I ended up practicing her music by ear, which obviously made her really mad, so my parents bought me a violin when I was 5. Both of my parents have been a pivotal part of my music training, driving both me and my sister to lessons every week and adding to our CD collections each Christmas, but my dad especially introduced me to new genres and was the first one to ask me to consider playing something other than classical music. He encouraged me to join my church’s praise band where I learned how songs used chord progressions, which ended up being my first introduction to improvisation. I studied jazz violin during my senior year of high school and played with the Jazz Orchestra in college, but didn’t have a huge interest in folk music until early college. Honestly, I had always thought that violinists were supposed to play classical music and go to grad school. That’s just what violinists did. My passion to have a career in music didn’t happen until recently, in the last few years even. I knew I wanted to be a musician, but I was bored with it. Working with Olivia changed all of that, though. And though grad school hasn’t happened yet, you can bet that I won’t be getting a masters of classical performance!
Q: What is it like touring and maintaining your relationships with friends, family, etc? What are your best tips for successfully attaining a work-life balance?
A: Being right out of college, we haven’t really “toured” per se! But we have consistently gigged throughout the Midwest and South for certain periods of time. This summer, for instance, we moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul directly following commencement, and spent the summer gigging, recording, playing festivals, and exploring what it was we were capable of as a duo. This was a huge transition period for us both, and certainly taught us a lot about ourselves individually, our relationships with others, as well our relationship with each other. Communication has been at the top of our list of priorities since day one. It has actually become a sort of catch-phrase between the two of us! We communicate differently, and have had to learn each other’s mannerisms and quirks, but also talk it out when something is not being communicated effectively. We are friends, but also co-workers, working each and every day with a subject that we are both very passionate about. There are bound to be creative differences, but communicating and working through those is our top priority. Along with this communication comes honesty. Our honesty with each other is what I think preserves our work-life balance, and our relationships with those close to us. If one of us just needs a Saturday to spend with our boyfriend, or a week to spend with family back home for the holidays, then we are honest about that, and we respect each other’s interests and obligations. Instead of going AWOL and ignoring each other and the work that needs to be done, we are honest about our needs and obligations to the other people in our lives. We understand that at the end of the day, the duo is not the end-all be-all for us, as important as it is, and that other things and other people take priority sometimes. Successfully attaining a work-life balance and in turn, maintaining non-work relationships, seems to be the big secret of life, but we try our best to achieve that goal through communication, honesty, and mutual respect. We should also mention that we have both been blessed with extremely understanding and supportive families, friends, and significant others. They all help us keep things in perspective and balance our music and our daily lives.
Q: Tell us a little about your upcoming album – what are the influences, and what was the recording process like?
A: Our upcoming album is called Water Street. It’s really a culmination of our first year as a duo, and represents the supportive communities and individuals who helped us gain the courage to pursue our music seriously. Water Street is home to downtown Decorah, Iowa, where we met at Luther College. We gained inspiration, support, and motivation in this place, and this is truly where our music began. The recording process for this album was unconventional, to say the least! We were working with limited amounts of time due to our three-month window of time in Minnesota. We recorded part of the album in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and another portion in Rochester, Minnesota. Our technicians were great, and because we worked with people we knew, we were not under as much pressure to get in and get out. This made for a much more relaxing environment. Recording was an extremely fun, exciting, and stressful project, as it is for every artist or band. We learned a lot throughout the process: always have food in your stomach and/or on hand, nothing will ever sound perfect (even if it sounds “perfect” to somebody else), a positive attitude is the best way to get things done, and leaving something and coming back to it – letting it breathe – allows your creativity to flow, instead of belaboring something to the point of death!
Q: Where do you hope to see The OK Factor a year from now?
A: A year from now, the main goal for The OK Factor will be being in the same zip code! We have maintained a long-distance work relationship for what will be about ten months, and are more than ready to be in the same place. Really though, we try not to plan our career as a duo too rigidly, since plans rarely stay the same for a long period of time. But I think it’s safe to say we hope to continue writing and gigging, record another album, conduct workshops/clinics in all areas of the country, and just continue to share our music.
Q: What is your single best piece of advice for other Working Girls pursuing a performing arts career path?
A: Take chances. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. And in our experience, if you ask humbly, confidently, and honestly, you just might be pleasantly surprised with the response. So contact that venue you’re sure won’t book you, reach out to the artists you’ve idolized since you were four years old...you never know what will happen until you try. Also, don’t be afraid to take risks with your style and try something different – break barriers and defy stigmas. As cliche as it sounds, as long as you stay true to who you are as a person and as a musician, put yourself out there and take those risks. You might surprise yourself, too.