Q&A: Angel Olsen Talks Go-To Albums, Haikus And Taking “Half Way Home” Across The West Coast
By Cynthia Orgel; Photos courtesy of Angel Olsen on April 5, 2013
Last fall, Chicago-based singer/songwriter, Angel Olsen, released Half Way Home: one of the most unassuming-yet-riveting records I've heard in the last few years. HWH won't overwhelm you with noise. The instrumentals are on the minimal side, with Olsen's hypnotizing, pain-stricken voice in the foreground—a voice that is unpolished perfection; a voice that seems too seasoned to be true—has she persevered, or is she still suffering? That's something I still wonder.
Beginning tomorrow in San Francisco, Olsen—who signed to Jagjaguwar this week—headlines her first West Coast tour, accompanied by bandmates Danah Olivetree (cello), Stewart Bronaugh (bass) and Joshua Jaeger (drums).
Before she hit the road, FILTER recently caught up with Olsen to chat about her Chicago lifestyle, how she spends her spare time and influential female singers. Check it all out below!
In what ways do your surroundings in Chicago influence your music? Does your hometown of St. Louis seep its way into your sound as well?
I think living in the city definitely changes the way I write. I am surrounded by and constantly interacting with many types of people; many of them are artists as well. I'm sure there's a part of my music that reflects St. Louis...or perhaps my leaving St. Louis.
What are some of your staple albums that you turn to? Whether it's because they comfort you in moments of weakness, relaxation, or when you're feeling your absolute best.
The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground, It's a Wonderful Life by Sparklehorse, Bee Thousand by Guided by Voices, For the Sake of the Song by Townes Van Zandt, The Best of the Troggs (The Troggs), Then Play On (Fleetwood Mac), Anthology (The Clean)...many more, but there's a fraction.
You have such a distinctive and moving voice. Are there any particular vocalists that you admire, or that have influenced you to some degree?
Sure. Judy Dyble, Barbara Dane, Françoise Hardy, Chavela Vargas, Amália Rodrigues, Jackie DeShannon...
Are you big on poetry? Because I could spend all day reading your lyrics. There's a lot of colorful imagery that when paired with your voice, really takes your words to a wonderful, unworldly dimension.
I should read more poems. My life would be improved if I read more poems. However, I do love haikus…sending them to people, receiving them from people, making them on the spot and waiting for someone to realize that I'm actually speaking in haiku. I'm into it!
One of the most powerful lines you sing, in my opinion, comes from "Miranda": "How I have wanted to scream out / all of the things that enter my mind." Has being a professional musician given you the agency to do just that: voice any concern or desire through song? Or do you ever feel like you're holding back?
I think I've always been one to sing things out in song. Maybe I should hold back…but I don't. I'm not afraid to bare myself. Sometimes that's what we need—someone to let their guard down, to open up, to throw down walls for the sake of communicating—for being alive and uninhibited.
What's a typical day like for you?
Hmm…my day can be pretty boring! I wake up sometimes early, sometimes late…make some coffee, check my mail and respond for a few hours. Maybe I'll have a bowl of granola or some arugula with an egg or two for breakfast. Sometimes I don't eat breakfast. If I smell bad, I'll shower usually.
Then if it's past noon I'll practice guitar for a little bit, maybe work on a part or something while everyone's out of the house. I'll take a walk to my mailbox. I'll write a list, and then bike around the city running errands based on the list. Maybe I'll go to the grocery and get some things to make dinner. I've been into baking fish lately. You know, some tilapia, some rice, maybe some spicy greens: basic things. Then I'll get home…maybe take a nap or take a look at projects I have to finish.
Sometimes I have several projects I'm working on at once and I have to force myself not to go out in order to finish them.
After I work for a little bit, I'll go for a run—just a short one to work up an appetite. I'm not an aspiring athlete or anything—maybe come home, shower, make dinner, listen to music, call a friend and if I'm really feeling good, I'll go out and see some people.
But for the most part, I spend a lot of time alone: biking around, or in my house. I feel very grateful that I can live like this: having some control over when I work…at least for now. Maybe ask me what my day is like in five years?
Your first West Coast headlining tour begins on April 6, in San Francisco, which I think is pretty fitting considering you recently released your "California" single [off the Sleepwalker 7”]. What message do you have for all of your West Coast fans who are looking forward to seeing you perform? Why are you look forward to seeing them?
I can't wait to be in the sun. It's gonna be so sick! I'm really looking forward to introducing people to my friends and my band that will be performing with me on this trip. I'm real psyched about it.
I adore this line in "Acrobat": "Who cares? I'm not a moralist / I'm just a lady with some time." What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
In my spare time, I like to make dinner with friends and watch movies. In the summer here, there's a place to get Italian ice. I love to go there on a hot day with a group of my lady friends. It's the best.
I heard that you have been working on another album and all songs have been written and that first drafts have been recorded via cassette. Will you perhaps be showcasing any of this material on tour?
It's possible that we will play some of the new material, but who knows when?! It's a surprise! F