A musician's love for Olympia inspires a 40-song album
There are many things that inspire people to write songs, and for musician Tom Dyer it was his hometown of Olympia, Washington. He was so inspired that he wrote not just one song about the state capital, but 40. They make up his latest album, "Olympia - A True Story." Dyer shared an account of the album’s genesis and creation with KUOW’s “Soundside.”
Below is a transcript of Tom Dyer's account. Listen to this story to hear excerpts of the songs discussed.
I grew up in Olympia. After graduating from Olympia High School in 1971, I left Olympia for a long time, and I finally moved back in 2006. "Olympia - A True Story" was an album I was destined to write from the day I was born. It just took me a long time to realize it. I had no idea until I wrote "Olympia - My Home" in 2018. Only then did it begin to reveal itself; the muse came home. By 2019 in the fall, we were recording the album.
One of the inspirations for the album was the Olympia Public Library. I'm a guy that loves libraries. And they have on the walls near the ceiling all the way around there these drawings, they're probably 2 feet by 4 feet or so and they are essentially taking his vantage point from where the decrepit Greyhound bus depot is now looking north and say, "What would you see?" looking north, starting before white people show up, and then advancing it 20 to 40 years per drawing, so it gets up to about 2010 or something like that. It's always the same viewpoint, but you see, they put in the bridge to the west side, and these buildings grow up and I thought that was pretty cool. It got me thinking about history a little bit, so I started doing basic research, and I started running into things that I said, "Here's a topic that might be worthwhile."
Early on I knew I wanted to write a song about Olympia being the capital because it’s so much the central part of Olympia’s identity. I mean, these are serious songs, but I don't take them too seriously. So, in the first verse of "It’s The Capitol," it's a travel brochure. I had other band members ask the questions and then I answered them.
I wrote that song really fast once I had the idea, "It ain’t" somewhere else. Because the first few that are listed are places that tried to become the capital, "Ain't Vancouver, ain't in Seattle." The song was done, and I asked a local historian, Emmett O'Connell, to tell me if there was anything wrong. He said, "Well, there's nothing wrong about ‘It’s The Capital,’ but one of the interesting stories is about the attempts to take the capital." And I thought about that, and I said, "That's interesting, that's better than the second verse I have right now."
In the course of making this record, there was a point I was trying to reach out to different members of the community, just have it be more of a community record. There are 108 Olympian musicians on this record. And the biggest chunk, of course, is the Olympia High School choir, because that's 52 of them. That was just a thrill. I went to Olympia High School, I was in the choir, all that stuff, and going and recording the Olympia High School choir and having them on my record. Oh my God, that's so awesome. I mean, I can't believe I got 100 Olympian musicians to play on this. It's pretty rewarding to be told yes that many times.
So you might ask me, what is it that makes you proud to be from Olympia, and I don't know if I would use that word. I wouldn’t say I'm proud to be from Olympia, I would say that I love to be from Olympia. And that is a different thing. And, you know, even now, I'm choking up a little when I think about it, because it's not an intellectual thing. It's how you feel about that place. It's the people, it's the land… You know, my wife thinks I'm crazy. She's a Seattle girl. I said, "The skies here are just so fantastic." But she goes, "They're not that different from Seattle." And I go, "But they are. I don't know why but they are."
Ultimately, that feeling drives everything on the album. That is what this album is about, it's about my love for my hometown.
Tom Dyer and The True Olympians will be playing a show Dec. 9 at the Olympia Ballroom and Dec. 30 at the Royal Room in Seattle.
Correction: The audio version of this story mentions a show at the Olympia Timberland Library that is outdated.