CultureMap spoke with Nigel Olsson ahead of Sunday’s gig. Most of the interview is below. . . .
NO: I rest a lot. I eat well. The party days are over! I like to keep up with motor racing, which is my other passion in life. When we’re home and off tour, I’ll go out to the racetrack and blast around in my Fiat Abarth. It’s easy now to keep up with your friends and family while traveling, so I’m a big believer in that. And I just have positive thoughts! That’s how you get through.
CM: How did you get involved in motor racing as a passion?
NO: When I was 7, I saw [Sir] Stirling Moss roaring around the track in a Formula 1 race on television. The cars looked like rocket ships, and they had very skinny wheels and no seat belts. I thought, “Wow! That’s something I might be interested in.” In England, we’re all crazy for Formula 1. I took about 10 years when I was away from the band to go motor racing myself. I did the Ferrari Challenge here in the U.S. for a couple of seasons and did some endurance racing as well. It’s my other passion. It keeps me focused and keeps me off the streets, basically.
CM: Does that make the Austin show at COTA a highlight of your calendar this year?
NO: In the early days, Buddy Rich. When I first heard and saw him play the drums, I thought, “That’s what I want to do!” Ringo Starr is another, and he’s still one of my favourites — I love that guy. I’d also count Keith Moon (The Who), Ginger Baker (Cream), and Bev Bevan (ELO) as prime influences. It’s been many years since I started, though — there are now too many to mention!
CM: There is the impression that in the 1970s, musicians were given more time and freedom to develop their audience and sound as compared to now. The internet and technology has changed that a lot. How do you feel about all the change?
NO: Things have changed so much. The technology available has made it so much more challenging for up-and-coming drummers. Personally, I don’t like this “programming” situation. It takes away from the heart of playing music. Drummers can add light and shade. The way I play is a bit behind the beat, which wouldn’t sound like programmed stuff. It just feels weird to me — even when we recorded, I never wanted to listen to a click track. You play to the song. When I play with Elton, I play to the low end of his piano and to the lyrics. I’d class myself as a descriptive drummer, not a technical one. I can’t do a drumroll, so God forbid that I’ll ever have to play “God Save the Queen.” I’d be sent off by the Queen to the Tower of London!