Local roots artist Tom Olsen mines his emotional wreckage for latest album

“It is not Happy by Pharrell,” says Tom Olsen.

No. Despite the yellow circle smiling (sarcastically?) at you that you’ll encounter once inside, it’s certainly not that. 

It’s Love and Misery. Sometimes both at the same time.

And it’s what forms the emotional pulp of the local roots artist’s sophomore album titled, obviously, Love and Misery.

It’s the perfect soundtrack for those who’ve been “broken down and lived the life,” experienced all that it has to offer, woken up with some regrets, but still kept getting up, ready to regret again.

Olsen’s been there, done that, and isn’t afraid to tap into it for his tasty take on the tonk.

“I’ve had some experiences,” he says, sipping a water, sitting in the Ship & Anchor before he and his backup band The Wreckage were to take the stage for the Saturday jam. 

“I’ve never had a hard time tapping into that level of angst that’s there to write.

“I’ve always written songs as how some people journal — that’s what I do with songs. I never was comfortable writing a journal, I never wanted someone to access them, but somehow songs are different and I can just put it all out there.”

That he does. But he does it in a way that’s less confessional or maudlin than it is relatable and universal. Again, if you’ve lived a life and scarred your heart doing so, you’ll find a great deal to commiserate in with the music of Olsen.

“The thing that has always made it palatable for me to do it is I’m sincere,” says the former journalist and politico. “And I know when I write something that’s not sincere. The next day I go, ‘My god, that’s awful.’ 

“It’s stuff that actually comes from here,” he says pointing at his chest. “Sometimes I have to remind myself to not think, but to feel it. And then the words come and the rhymes work and whatever.

“But it is about, it’s about life.”

For the most part it’s about the one aspect of life that can bring the joy and the pain — the love that can beget the misery.

That, too, the long divorced father understands well and writes from a deeply personal place, noting that songs such as Heartbroken, I’ll Take Despair, album highlight Blight and the closing time duet Roz, We Scare So Many People, are mined from his not-so romantic past.

He admits that a great deal of that came about because of his own “self-sabotaging behaviours,” which included everything from substance over-use to merely picking the wrong partner to dance with when the lights went down.

“I was always getting in and getting out of relationships, is what I was doing. And typically they were the wrong kinds of relationships. And that’s where the songs came out of,” he says, admitting that in his more mature years, he’s grown somewhat “tired of the heartache”

“I think people are meant to be together,” he says. “And I was going out of my way to not be a part of a unit.

“In fact, I just figured I would just be the guy that was having Easter dinner alone at the North Hill Diner. And I kidded myself that I was OK with that, but I’m not.

“And things are better now, so it’s good.”

Personal relationships aside, that also includes The Wreckage, which features Jonathan Lagore on guitar, Ben Jackson on drums, and bassist Derek Pulliam, who also produced Love and Misery.

Over the past couple of years, they have become a substantial, somewhat formidable band, a unit that give Olsen’s musical vision and voice a steady and warm welcome into the world.

“I always say, ‘If I didn’t write the songs I wouldn’t be in the band,’ ” he says.

“And the guys’ counter is, ‘Yeah, but you write the songs.’ ”

And it’s something that he’s getting much more confident in doing. While his debut Subtle As a Hurricane was a fine roots rock record, it was perhaps a little more tentative and self-aware than its followup.

That’s partially due to the fact that they woodshedded the material before hitting Pulliam’s studio and spending a far greater amount of time when in there, but it’s also a great deal about the fact that Olsen is a little more in control of that voice and vision, a little more assured in his role as songwriter and frontman.

That, he says, was something that came when he saw the positive reception to his debut, its modest success — radio play on CKUA, interviews with the Herald and Beatroute — and his subsequent acceptance into the Alberta roots scene, which should only be bolstered with Love and Misery’s release.

“I think one of the upsides of starting at the age I did is that I didn’t have huge expectations,” says Olsen.

“I wanted to put music out there and prove to myself that it could stand up, that it wasn’t the best, it wasn’t the worst, but that we could go play the Ironwood or the Ship or wherever and people would be like, ‘Yeah, that’s good. That’s some good stuff.’ 

“I felt like I could be part of that scene and hold my own and I felt like we achieved that,” he continues.

“And the second record … I’m proud of it, I’m proud of how it came together.”

Tom Olsen and The Wreckage release their new album Love and Misery Saturday night at the Ironwood. For tickets and reservations call call 403-269-5581.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at He likes beer. Buy him one.