THINK:EXP: “Think Kenny Olson” by Eileen Shapiro

A musician with soul, an artist with heart and the coolest guitarist on the planet, Kenny Olson is widely recognized as being the founder of Kid Rock’s “Twisted Brown Trucker Band”.  He was also a touring member of the “Experience Hendrix: Jimi Hendrix”.

Still more praise and still more future ahead: having been called by Keith Richards, “one of the best guitarists on the scene right now,” and having a massive number of platinum records under his belt, Kenny is now a member of a cutting edge music project to hit the universe. It’s known as THINK:EXP Music/Technology. Along with Kenny  are other historically revered musicians:

– Scott Page,  saxophonist Pink Floyd, Supertramp, and Toto
– Stephen Perkins, drummer Jane’s Addiction
– Norwood Fisher, bassist and founder of the LA band, Fishbone

THINK:EXP is revolutionizing the music industry and is a model for the imminent future. It offers the public an adventurous, mystical kaleidoscope of color and sound all in the context of advanced technology, virtual reality, remarkable music and a live, immersive explosion of experience that is already beginning to alter the destiny of rock n’ roll. 

How does this concept work? It is revolutionizing the entertainment industry by bridging the gap between the human spirit and technological innovation with one-of-a-kind live, immersive concert experiences. This phenomenal blending of music, sound, light and movement goes well beyond a 360º Dome. The immersive dome allows a happy crowd of diverse fans to feel what the musicians are feeling on stage, even interacting with the performers who become involved as one of the fans, too.

Already this dynamic supergroup has had 13 sold out shows thus far where they are currently performing music from Pink Floyd known as Think:EXP Beyond The Wall.  Also envisioned are Think:EXP Hendrix, Think:EXP Bowie and more.  Given the proficiency of these musicians and the decades of history to draw from, the concept could go on forever.

As an original member of the core group of THINK:EXP, Kenny Olson sheds some light on this intriguing new project and shares his personal focus on music, musicians and developing his own personal artistry. He confesses that although he loves music, he did not choose this career.

Music chose him ….

When did you begin your journey with THINK:EXP?

We started doing this a little over a year ago. Norwood and I have been friends for a long, long, long time. He’s been a true brother to me. We started working together years ago, finally deciding to assemble a little All-Star group. Meanwhile, Norwood and Scott got together.  Norwood then brought Stephen and me into the equation with him and Scott. It all just naturally led into all this wonderful craziness.  It’s all awesome! 

So you all kind of knew each other?

I’ve known Norwood and Stephen before. I grew up in Detroit and moved to LA in the late 80s, early 90s. Then the big Northridge earthquake hit in ‘94. That left me without a place to live in LA, so I moved back to Detroit.  Kid Rock and I started working together, wrote a few songs and ended up getting a deal from Atlantic records. I stayed back home in Detroit for 11 or 12 years doing that.

When I decided it was time for a change, I moved to Nashville. Norwood and Stephen go back quite a few years, themselves, and somehow stayed in touch.  Eventually, the three of us started working together and then Scott developed the whole THINK:EXP thing. It all came together as one beautiful synergy. 

Scott had some great ideas about connecting with the world of technology and he became like a brother. We hit it off really well.  He’s an amazing musician too!  With the four of us, the sky’s the limit for what we can do together in writing our own music. We each bring our own experiences and backgrounds in creating THINK:EXP and with Pink Floyd core inspiration. Each of us has been part of groundbreaking groups and have done our own music, so it’s not like we’re a tribute band. We create our own musical spin-offs. I did that for many, many years with the Hendrix family too.

Yes, I know.

It was kind of cool because I’d have certain band players like Chaka Khan, Paul Rogers playing with Jimi’s old band, Mitch Mitchell, Bootsy Collins, Billy Cox, Buddy Miles – so many amazing artists together. There were so many amazing people to work with, that we all would get together and each just create our own variation.

Technically, you’re probably the best guitarist in the world.

I don’t know about technically……. be it technical or not, we are who we are. Growing up in the scene of Detroit I was very blessed. I was raised in a household that had access to good music. My parents were young and hip enough to have a lot of good albums around. Growing up with Motown and Detroit Rock City combinations, I was in the right place.And for me, as a guitar player, there were so many great people to be influenced by and not just other guitar players. I remember hearing people like Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin. When they began to sing, I’d have this whole out of body experience. That old gospel music! I knew that I would never be able to physically sing out of my mouth. I did do a bit of singing but I’m more of a crooner. So I made the GUITAR become my voice!  I used the guitar to personally and directly connect that same out of body experience I discovered just by listening to Gladys Knight and others … the journey such talent takes you on. I was just as influenced by those vocals as I was guitar playing. 

When I was 10 years old, I was told to get the Miles Davis album. I bought one from this DJ that had a garage sale and had all these amazing albums. I couldn’t figure out the guitar parts, so I listened to the horn line because I was only 10 years old. It was like looking at a Salvador Dali painting. You would see and appreciate all the surrealism but through music.  I like to paint with music and enjoy the collage that emerges. A little bit of me and my soul becomes a part of that.

That’s what’s so great about working with Norwood, Stephen and Scott. I think we play as if each of us were another instrument in close concert with the others.  We go where we want to go together – individually and collectively.

Well, it sounds like you’ve got a lot to laugh about … and it sounds like you’re having a lot of fun?

I’m having a blast! I’ve been very fortunate because – obviously, besides the heyday years with Kid Rock and so many other amazing artists I’ve worked with, I’ve been able to create so much music myself. Writing and making music is one of the most rewarding and most important aspects of my life. 

I’ve done so much stuff that’s not even out there because, obviously, the music industry totally turned itself upside down about 10 years ago. It changed things for artists like me who’ve devoted their whole lives to creating music, through the good times and bad times.  I’m used to thinking of music as a craft and I’ve been used to being able to put it out into the universe. You know you’re giving back; it’s not like you’re trying to take. You endure so much to be a real artist. 

There are so many fake artists out there now, especially in Nashville where I watch all this music being shoved out like a factory. There aren’t any more of those live, beautiful mistakes that are allowed to happen when human beings play music.  People overthink things. But It’s so much fun to take a really cool riff and just let it go where it wants to go. Obviously with this band, I’m having so much fun because of the core guys and everybody else who has joined along with us. They are so much fun to play with, and I look forward to everything that’s going to come out of it. I know in my heart, without a doubt, that we’re only just getting started.

You’ve had lots of experience, as did all of you involved with this project?

In the past I was one of the core people in Jimi’s old band, Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell, Buddy Miles, and other great people that came along. I worked with Les Paul a lot too.

You are the best “Feel” guitarist in the world.

Not technically. You know the highs have been high, the lows have been low, and the in-betweens are far between. I choose to be a “feel” player. It’s awesome that these things come out of you that you didn’t realize you had in you.  That’s what happens when you let yourself play music with a free, creative spirit. Amazing things result!

But at the same time, I love knowing where we’re going with this project.  As I said, the sky’s the limit! Obviously, we’ll be writing a lot of new stuff too. We’re now often in the studio working on that. Every day at some point, some kind of new song comes to mind. 

It’s frustrating because of today’s music Industry. It’s like that song Jimi Hendrix wrote — “Manic Depression”.  “I wish I could caress and kiss.”  But there are so many artists out there these days with such amazing music that has not had a chance to get heard, because the world is too busy shoving crappy stuff down people’s throats. They are people in the business for all the wrong reasons. They just want to make money and control it, not express music with joy, spontaneity and love.

At the THINK:EXP Beyond The Wall show, it’s just astonishing, the art work, the paintings and all the sensory stuff going on. The technical side is mind blowing, too.  Everybody that goes — including myself and all the other band members — are just like, “Wow!”  We go on this crazy journey with the audience which is so diverse. Which I love. I love all kinds of music and I love just art itself. There is so much art living within everything. To me to see different people translate their passions and talents into that art, and to be around it all, is so cool. As I said the audience is so diverse.

Seems overwhelmingly mind blowing in the best possible way, and so are you.

I’m still here and I’m ready to go. In fact, I think I’m playing and writing better than ever!  I have no choice but to keep on going. There are musicians who are very simple with what they know but what comes out of them — because they are playing from the heart – contains so much depth and soul. That’s what they do. 

That’s what I look for and when I hear it, it’s emotional … with an actual physical response. Whether it’s seeing or hearing or feeling or touching, it’s just what our bodies do and how we can react to music if we let ourselves and are in the right environment. 

When someone is playing and it’s real — and if they’re playing from the heart — they can be a half-assed musician or a great one, as long as they are tapping into their own inner truth. That’s what turns me on.

With this Think:EXP Beyond the Wall thing, obviously David Gilmour “sings” with the guitar. Even when we do the Floyd thing, we go with the influence that he had but we’re doing our own thing, too, because that’s naturally what musicians do. They want to have their own sound. We just do what we do within it and that’s how some of the best musicians do whatever kind of music they are doing. No matter what they are doing — punk, rock, funk — when you know it’s them playing that’s beyond anything. That’s the world I try to live in, I just do my thing with respect to everything else that I’ve been influenced by.

THINK:Exp Beyond The Wall supergroup is continuing to hold gigs in a 360º dome. THINK:EXP can be seen June 7/8 at the Wisdome in LA. Get your tickets today:

Pictures by Billy Hess

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