Interview: David & Olivia Find Their Place 'On The Sea'

by Laura B. Whitmore
Posted Mar 30, 2014 at 11:59pm

Think beautiful harmonies, well written lyrics, easy breezy feeling arrangements, and you’ve got David & Olivia pegged.

David Rosales and Olivia May met up with each other by chance in 2011 and their musical chemistry has been sparking every since.

With a lovely blend of melancholy blues and country sweetness, their debut EP, On the Sea fits perfectly with a summer night, a glass of wine in hand. You get the picture.

David shares this about On the Sea, "The sound is fairly simplistic really, it comes down to our two contrasting voices that blend and intertwine with an acoustic guitar. We had the fortunate opportunity to dig deep and flesh out the songs with the help of our friends from Donavon Frankenreiter's band. What came out was a collection of songs that gather in a place where the calmness of the vineyard meets the unrest of the Pacific ocean."

Sigh. Sounds dreamy.

I met up with the duo a couple of weeks ago to talk about their musical pairing and what’s next…

I really like your current album, On The Sea. I understand you’be been working on some new material too.

David: Yes, we’re writing for a new album. We came out with an album last May 14th. It’s called On the Sea. We toured our butts off playing that. We did 60+ shows last year and we hit the ground running this year. We’ve just been writing, writing, writing. We’ll have something out this winter.

How do you guys record? Do you complete that side of things pretty quickly? .

D: Yes, we work pretty quickly. When we go to the studio, we’re not there for an exorbitant amount of time. It’s pretty easy because there’s only two of us as opposed to a large band, where everyone’s butting heads or has different opinions about it. It’s just us two. We usually hire guys to come in and play with us, you know, friends.

Are you going to play any of your new songs live and try them out before you go into the studio?

D: Yeah, of course, we’ve been playing them now.

Olivia: Yeah, whenever we start to work on a new song or a new sound, we tend to throw it in to a lot of the gigs so we can just see how it works. It almost builds itself from those kinds of experiences.

Yeah, it develops its own personality.

D: Yeah, it has to because you have to ask yourself, “Why are bands’ first albums so good?” They usually are. Because they put everything they had into those songs live. They played the hell out of them and they’re just sussed out. That’s why bands’ first albums are always so great.

So we always take the approach of playing stuff to death live, because you can quickly see when something doesn’t work. The way our band works, is if you can’t play it live, then what’s the point of putting it on an album, because we really want to communicate with the audience.

O: Live performance, I think, is key. That’s what we do the most right now as David & Olivia. And I think that’s one of the things we just both agree on... is performing, performing, performing just gets you that much more fine-tuned.

View David & Olivia's "Finally Fine"

Right, right. So when you guys tour, it’s just the two of you?

D: It’s usually just the two of us. When we do larger shows, we have a band with a pedal steel, and a lead guitar player, a drummer, and an upright bass player.

O: That way we get more of that record feel.

D: More production value, sort of thing. It’s just a lot of fun to mix it up. We get a really full sound out of just us two, and it’s a lot of fun.

It’s kind of nice to be nimble, too, to have those options.

D: It’s easier, logistically, too. Just take a guitar and get on the road.

O: It’s cheaper and you tend to make a little bit more money for yourself.

So, talk a little bit about your songwriting process. Do you have a method?

O: We have a variety of ways. He’ll come up with an idea and he’ll kind of record it and we’ll play around with it. Or I’ll come up with a vocal melody and send it his way and we’ll play around with it. Sometimes it just starts with a lyric.

Right now, I know, I play around a lot with vocal melody. When it’s just me and David, sometimes I’ll just vibe around and do a lot of vocalizations. To me, I really love vocal melody, and he’s really good at lyric as well as guitar stuff. I’m trying to work more to get my lyrics going. That’s where it stands right now, but it’s been different and will probably be different and continue to change.

D: Songwriting for me is something I’ve done since the moment I picked up the guitar. When I was in high school, I wanted to be Slash. I wanted to play everything, all the leads and everything. And then you kind of get older and a bit more comfortable with who you are. I’m not the Slash guy, I’m not ever gonna be that. It’s not my thing, it’s not what I gravitated towards. From the beginning, I was a songwriter. So that’s something that I molded and crafted. It’s something that is just very me, and I’ve grown comfortable in my own skin.

O: It’s nice when you know what you’re good at and is just authentically coming from you.

It’s a really great kind of collaboration that you guys have where you know what your strengths are and can work from those.

D: It’s a beautiful thing that she and I have, because we have a really good understanding of that. When we’re writing or touring or anything, we have a really good understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. We don’t take offense. It’s like any working relationship, but we’re best friends so it’s just a very fun relationship.

O: Most things are delegated, they found their spot and we just can kind of work. We don’t have to figure out who needs to do what.

D: We’re both kind of just flex and flowy so we understand.

View David & Olivia's "Every Now N' Then (I Could Use a Friend)"

Can you tell me about your guitar?

D: I’m an endorsed artist for Godin, which is a Canadian company. I found Godin by chance, actually. I was in a guitar shop and I had some money to spend on an acoustic. And I was a big Les Paul... I was in a rock band and so I just played Les Pauls and stuff like that.

I needed an acoustic and I went in and I played it. It has a cedar top, it’s an Artist Mosaic. I still have it to this day. I’ve had it for like 15 years. I found it and I started playing it and the wood was just opened up. We were at the NAMM show and I spoke with a representative. I kind of told him, “Hey, I really like your product.” I gave him some music and he really liked it and said, “Hey look, we’d love to have you onboard with us as an artist.” And it’s been really amazing.

It’s the only, I believe, North American guitar company that goes from tree to stage. It’s all done there at their factories in the eastern part of Canada, in Montreal. And they’ve just been really, really nice and helped me to find my sound.

I’ve got an archtop, their Kingpin, which I have as well, which has a P90 in it, and it’s a really cool sound. Just to switch it up with what we’re doing. I’m also really looking at their Simon and Patrick line, which is under their Godin umbrella. It’s an all mahogany, just a smaller kind of guitar and has a really soft tone that I really like for folk, what we’re doing.

Do you experiment at all with other tunings or do you pretty much play the standard tunings?

D: I do experiment with open tunings. I have a bit of the Keith Richards, Rolling Stones in me, too. I like to experiment with open A and different tunings for slide. I don’t go too outside. I tune a half-step down so it tends to throw some people off, but I’ve always liked the bluesier side of that. I think that’s one thing that I took from Slash.

It seems to work with our voices. The thing about this guitar is it’s kind of got that medium tonal range and then I hit kind of the deeper tonal range with my voice, then she hits the higher. So it’s a really good blend in the sonic spectrum of sound.

Also, I use LR Baggs as my acoustic pickup. I really like them. They’re a little company in Nipomo in southern California.

So you’ll be continuing touring more, and recording. What else?

O: Yes. We’re just excited to see what’s coming up. It’s been a really good for us so far, we’ve seen so many fun little step ups. There are things happening that are better than they were last year. And we got to open for the Los Lonely Boys earlier in the year. We were nominated for three OC Music Awards. We got to perform at the actual award show and that was just amazing. It feels like such a buzz, it’s kind of like a high of really cool things that are starting to come from our hard work.

Find out more about David & Olivia at www.davidandolivia.com

Laura B. Whitmore is the editor of Guitar World's Acoustic Nation. A singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area, she's also a veteran music industry marketer, and has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents Dean Markley, Peavey Electronics, SIR Entertainment Services, Music First, Guitar World and many more. Laura is the founder of the Women's International Music Network at thewimn.com, producer of the She Rocks Awards and the Women's Music Summit and co-hosts regular songwriter nights for the West Coast Songwriters Association. More at mad-sun.com.