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The LairMistress's Musician's Bio

Karen I. Olsen: Mistress of the Lair

106 Bell Street Apt. 315 Seattle, WA 98121 Email:


I write songs that tell stories, on topics that are less-discussed than they should be-whether on the thinking that allows religious wars and environmental exploitation, or a protest against the untimely death of a musical role model. I learned to write songs in the 1970's and 80's, in the topical tradition of contemporary folk songwriting, and I have continued in this vein since folk songwriting became more mainstream. My songwriting models have been many and varied, from Judy Small and Holly Near to Tommy Makem and Mari Boine. Strings and hand percussion are my instrumental orientations; I have a guitar, violin, bodhrán, tablas and an avocado-shaped rattle filling my living space at home. However, I am also broadening my experience with the voice as an instrument and as a vehicle for deeper self-expression. Thus I have been experimenting with Sami joik vocalizing, Irish sean-nos motifs and other singing styles from various parts of the world. I am still desperately seeking a classical Indian vocal teacher.

I operate from the belief that we all have an unlimited supply of songs and dances incubating inside us, with more always arriving from some deeper source. However, in addition to writing and performing original music, I also try to preserve songs and compositions by other songwriters, especially those by folk songwriters who are less well-known in mainstream music-those whose albums are out of print, who are given less airplay now than they had 10-20 years ago, and those who have retired from a full-time musical profession. Many of these people are musical heroes and role models of mine, and I play their songs as tributes to those from whom I learned the craft of songwriting and performance, either through the medium of recordings or through live performance, workshops and personal acquaintance.

My own performing experience began as a teenager, singing and playing in high school instrumental performances and church programs, along with lunchtime gigs in nursing homes, local Broadway productions and ethnic festivals, and the Deer Creek Fiddlers' Convention. I have played in coffeehouses and open mikes wherever I have traveled as a student and contract archaeological technician, in Virginia, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Washington, and two college semesters in Ireland. I have performed at the Pike Place Market and at Songwriter Showcases and other performance opportunities at the Northwest Folklife Festival and Seattle Rhythm Festival/Days of Percussion. I am always seeking to learn new styles of traditional and contemporary music, and to find other musicians to work with and learn from. I am also in continuous search of recording and performance opportunities, in order to fulfill a never-ending desire for new creative outlets.



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