Before meeting Angel Olsen, you’re sent a fact sheet. Adopted at age three, born and raised in St. Louis she left for Chicago aged 20 where she worked briefly with Bonny Prince Billy, she’s never listened to Joni Mitchell and her interests include roller skating, going to softball games and writing letters to friends. Despite this information Olsen remains a mystery – shaking off any lazy labels and moving out of reach. She is an enigma.
Propelled into the public’s eyes and ears with her third album, My Woman, Olsen delivers a collection of near perfect country/folk songs concerned with processing, relationships and love. There are hints of grunge and 60s guitar pop come with some added pop sheen including her first synth foray with Intern, a song touched with the influence of producer Justin Raisen, who’s also known for his work with Charli XCX, Sky Ferreira and Haim.
Do you feel like people project narratives onto you as a result of your album title?
They’re all statements I’m making, that I didn’t know I was making. It’s interesting to me that a title can do so much and I’m more and more surprised by that and how linear people are. That’s the art, that’s the sacrifice you make when you put anything into the world and you project something, it’s often misunderstood and people just pick up on one aspect of it and go with it. People get caught up on the visualisation, they get caught up on one statement and they just go with it. It becomes about the metaphorical. I don’t think a lot of people are sound nerds, I think it has something to do with the image and the statement people think is being made.
Has singing about love and relationships, be they romantic or platonic, made being in love and having relationships and friendships more complicated?
Anything I write about is exaggerated. If it’s based on something in my own life it’s sort of exaggerated to a point where it’s honest but I’m not reliving some experience over and over again. It’s less about that and more about exaggerating something to get a point across and to have fun with it. I don’t feel that I write songs and then those songs make my relationships with people harder. If I ever wrote a song about someone and told them, even if it was a shitty song, the fact that I’ve spent energy on it would maybe be complimentary.
Is songwriting cathartic for you?
I think a lot of people believe that if you’re a writer and you write something that seems to be cathartic for everyone else, that it’s cathartic for you too. Maybe in some ways there’s a catharsis when I first write the song, but I don’t find that there’s a catharsis for me performing.
Having to be present forces you to have a good day in some way
You’re 29, what does that feel like for you?
I don’t really feel anything different. I went through something when I was touring the last record, but I feel really relaxed right now. I had all these expectations in my early twenties, like I’d live a normal life and I’m going to have a family and a house and all these things.
What does being on a protracted tour for so many years do to you?
Being on tour for seven or eight years – after a while you start to realise that maybe life isn’t going to be the same for me, it’ll be a little bit different and that’s OK. I started to feel a little alienated from touring, I was around the same people all the time and then coming home to none of those people and being in a totally different place where people are living normally, it’s an isolating thing to do. I’m getting better at figuring out how to balance it and come home and go on errands and then I just have all this free time. I never have any free time or alone time [on tour], as soon as I’m home, a lot of people say ‘you should take a vacation’. To me a vacation would be not going anywhere, not seeing anyone, not being at an airport and not going through security checks. I moved from Chicago where I lived for seven years to a small town and I never thought I’d be someone who’d want to live in a small town, but I really like it, at least for now. There are things and expectations I set for myself that I won’t say I’ve lowered but I view myself as a different kind of self than I did in my early twenties and I’m OK with being a kid forever and being on tour.
What is life in Asheville, North Carolina like?
It’s a different life there. Slower. If I want to go for a hike when I’m having a weird day, then I can. It’s nice to be in an environment like that, especially because I’m always processing what just happened. When I’m on tour I can’t really process everything that’s happening, I have to be present for every day, I have to be present for this interview, I have to be present for the show tonight, I have to be present to wake up tomorrow and do it all over again. I can’t really think about if something upset me or dwell on or process too many things. When I get home then it all hits me and I can think about all the things that happened.
What are the positive and negatives of having to stay so “present”?
Having to be present forces you to have a good day in some way, you have to get through it, you have to keep your shit together and value what’s in front of you. The downside to that is that when you’re home, people think you have all this free time and want to hang and you’re like I actually don’t really want to be around anyone [laughs].
What’s something you learnt in 2016?
I’ve just taken on an attitude of doing things myself and that’s something that’s new to me. Obviously there are consequences to that, you’re not always right and you don’t always do everything well. You’re experimenting and doing things yourself and for yourself. You’re humbled in some ways.
What have you been dreaming about lately?
We’re in the tour bus right now and the bus is getting in my dreams. Last night I had a dream that the bus was trying to park, but a highway cut off over some water and the bus driver had to speed to get to the other side of the highway and we all were holding on to the bus to make it to the other side. In the dream part of our trailer and some of our instruments fell into the water but it was fine, we got them out. That was my dream, that’s how long I’ve been on tour. I also have dreams where I’m standing in line at the airport and it’s really a bummer when that happens, it’s like come on brain, come up with something else, this is too real!