Climbing to Olympus

BY ALEC GLUESING | JULY 16, 2015 5:00 AM

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9 p.m.
Blue Moose, 211 Iowa
$6, 19-plus

Bands come and go in Iowa City, as in any music scene. Dependable as the tides, the town has a steady inward and outward flow of young artistic talent, both university-nurtured and otherwise.

Not every group or artist leaves a lasting impression on the community, but many do — and tracking local musicians as they take wing from Hawkeye territory is often its own reward. 

It’s even better to catch them on a return trip. 

Iowa City indie rocker the Olympics has made waves around the state since it formed in the summer of 2010. The band is on tour, swinging back to Iowa City from several shows in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri. 

With time, lead singer and guitarist Jeff Roalson has come to understand the free-flowing, continually shifting behavior of Iowa City’s music scene.

“In the past few years, a lot of the bands we’ve played with in Iowa City either broke up or moved to other places,” he said. “With its being such a college town, there are a lot of people who are there for a few years and kind of move along. That’s just kind of the nature of this particular scene. We’ve tried to branch out and play around more of the whole Midwest.”

Last weekend, the Olympics played on the Iowa Public Radio stage at the annual 80/35 festival in Des Moines — no small honor for a small-town band in a lineup loaded with huge rock, pop, and rap names, including Weezer, Wilco, Run the Jewels, and Jenny Lewis. 

“It’s something we were really excited to do,” Roalson said. “They recognized us as a band worth adding to the lineup and we were really honored and happy to play it.”  

The Olympics can write and carry a tune to fit right in with the heavy hitters of 80/35. The band’s older body of work, 2012’s Barefoot Blondes, is classic 2000s-style indie rock: clean, upbeat beats and melodies, clever turns of phrase, and the occasional ripping guitar solo thrown in to offset the jangly rhythm chord progressions. Atmospheric keyboard parts lay a druggy haze over many tracks, with slinky ’70s funky bass lines thrumming beneath the surface. 

“We started writing that album [Barefoot Blondes] right when we picked up our other guitarist, Lucas,” Roalson said. “There were a lot of songs I had written a backbone to, but Lucas and our keyboard player, Trevor, both came in and helped add a lot more variety to them. We kind of erred more on the poppier side — especially compared with the newer music we have now, which is a bit darker. It’s a bit more mysterious than Barefoot Blondes.”

The Olympics has been hard at work recording its upcoming album, Halfloves, due this fall, for slightly more than two years. 

“We started in May of 2013, and it’s been a way different process than anything we’ve ever done,” Roalson said. “Our last album — I think we recorded that in maybe five days at the studio or something. I’m not exactly sure, but I think for this one, we’ve probably put in more than 50 days, actual 12 hour days spent in the studio.”

The jump to a larger-scale studio effort can be daunting for many young bands but also creatively rewarding in unexpected ways.

“The primary producer is Brandon Darner,” Roalson said. “He has kind of a team he works with — they’re all in the band the Envy Corps. They’re super-smart musical guys who just make great music. We liked them before we even had the chance to work with them on this album, so we really trust them in a stylistic sense as well as a professional sense.”

The first single on Halfloves, “Who Are You?,” has a notably murkier tone than the band’s previous efforts, reminiscent of the Arctic Monkeys’ midnight-moody 2013 effort AM.

Fans both old and new will be able to catch a few rays of the Olympics’ shimmering, summery indie rock at the Blue Moose  at 9 p.m.Saturday. They can check out the group’s 2012 album, Barefoot Blondes, on Bandcamp and “Who Are You?” on YouTube.

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