A coldhearted piece of technology did something downright warmblooded: It brought the British techno-pop trio Olive together.
Tim Kellett and Robin Taylor-Firth eyed a collaboration after leaving their respective bands a few years ago. Kellett was a nine-year veteran of Simply Red and Taylor-Firth was part of the Sheffield, England, beat group Nightmares On Wax. They created a few songs and, in the mold of Soul II Soul, considered hiring a series of singers to augment their keyboard-driven sound.
Then they discovered “the voice.”
Kellett first heard Ruth-Ann Boyle while triggering tape loops of her vocals while playing keyboards for the Manchester trip-pop group Durutti Column for a show in Portugal. It didn’t take long to track her down: She was working at a bar not far from Kellett’s home in rural England.
He found her just in time: Boyle had nearly abandoned her musical dreams.
“I was singing on an album for Durutti Column, and just gave them some samples, basically,” Boyle said recently. “Then they went on tour after that, but rather than send me out with them as the singer, they brought the samples on the keyboards and then triggered them. That’s how Tim heard my voice.
“Right after working with the Durutti Column, I knew that I wasn’t going to do anything with them again, because they don’t use a great deal of vocals. At that point, I was ready to open a nursery.”
Durutti Column’s loss was Olive’s gain.
After auditioning Boyle, Kellett and Taylor-Firth liked her so much, they invited her to become a permanent member. She was the piece that had been missing from their puzzle.
A three-song demo led to a bidding war among U.K. labels, with RCA coming out on top. After their first single, “You’re Not Alone,” reached No. 1 last spring, their full-length debut album, “Extra Virgin,” did just as well, selling more than 500,000 copies in the U.K. alone.
The soulful, Everything But the Girl-like “You’re Not Alone” is finally making strides in the United States, where it’s at No. 69 and rising on Billboard’s pop chart.
“It’s nice to be out front and making some creative decisions and writing,” Kellett said of his post-Simply Red experience, “and that’s an opportunity I didn’t get in the past. Thanks to Portishead and Everything But the Girl, this style of music is finally being accepted, but it remains to be seen how far it’s going to go. I hope the American public doesn’t shy away from it.”
There’s more to “Extra Virgin” than just “You’re Not Alone.” Other tracks, notably “Outlaw” and “Miracle,” further display the band’s keen sense of pop melodicism. One cut in particular, “Safer Hands,” hits close to home for Boyle.
“That was one where we had finished four songs and Tim wanted to know a few things that were personal to me and I told him about the death of my father,” Boyle said, “and he basically wrote a song about me growing up and how I was really resentful of the fact that I didn’t have a father and, as I got older, I got over it and got on with my life and am happy that he’s in a safer place.”
Boyle is enjoying her new place in the pop world.
“I haven’t changed much,” she said. “I think I’m pretty much the same girl but with a bit more experience within the music industry than when I first started. I was very shy and frightened to say things in the beginning, but now I’m holding my own really well and I tell people what I think. I’ve just gotten stronger; I’m not turning into some scary diva or anything.”
Her goal? “We want to stay together and prove to everyone that we’re not some one-hit wonder,” Boyle said. “There’s a lot more in us.”
BWF (before we forget): Get a taste of Olive on the Web @ www.bugjuice.com/olive.