angel olsen is ready for the limelight

The best artists have the power to make a grownup feel like a fanned-out teenager, rhapsodising about their work and wondering what they eat for breakfast. Along with a lot of moony nerds I’ve been listening to Angel Olsen’s new album Burn Your Fire...

by Adam Fletcher
20 October 2014, 5:03am

Angel Olsen by Brayden Olson

What were you like as a kid?
I was pretty bossy. I always wanted to play the games where I was the teacher, or the director of a film. I was a little brat. I'm still kind of like that but I'm learning how to bend.

Did you always sing?  
I remember being really small and writing songs on keyboards. My Mum and Dad would be like, "I heard you singing in the kitchen," and I'd be super embarrassed. It was a very private activity for me. Just like, "Stop listening! I'm working. I don't want you to listen." I was singing in the backyard one day and the woman next door told my Mum that she'd heard me and asked if I wanted to take piano lessons. But she was very frustrated with me because I wouldn't cut my nails and she wanted me to play piano very properly but I didn't want to learn classical music. I eventually quit and went back and started playing piano for myself. I had a double tape deck, I would record my voice onto the tape and then record harmonies over it, or I would play the piano and record it and then take it upstairs to the second deck and put keyboards on it and just mess around with it.

Who are some of the writers that you read as a teenager who influenced you?
I remember reading Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevsky and feeling like my mind was expanding, that I was understanding the world for the first time. And then reading Charles Bukowski really young, just getting a sense of humor. Hearing a really raunchy, and in some ways too real, sense of humour from a poet. That was really inspiring. I remember reading Edgar Allen Poe and appreciating how his cadences were designed. 

Do you have mentors?
I feel like Will [Oldham aka Bonnie 'Prince' Billy] has been kind of a mentor. But for the most part I feel like the way that I do things is probably going to be different than the way that he would do them because he's definitely more Punk Rock than I am. He's more particular about where his songs go and I really respect that.

What's your writing process like?
I have this high expectation of never forcing it and never making myself do something just because I have to. You just have to live your life and go through those experiences, you need time to pass and events to happen. You have to continually open your mind to new music and new thoughts and new ideas because it all works itself into your writing. Part of my writing is to spend time not listening to music and not performing music and to do some other things that have nothing to do with music. 

Do you think about how your music will be seen in the future?
Hopefully it'll be remembered, but I don't know, I guess it's more about the idea of capturing a moment that could be preserved for someone who finds it. It's just really insane to me that we can listen to Ella Fitzgerald and all these people and their voices are still very much in those rooms that they created them in but they're not there anymore. In that way they are still living. They're still living and breathing their life into people and affecting the world…

Music can also travel online extremely quickly now, has the internet affected your work?
The internet is so powerful. I remember my first time going to Australia, with Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and people had heard some of my Strange Cacti songs, or songs that I didn't even release and were up on Myspace or something. They were asking me about them and I thought, "This is so strange. You don't know this but I don't go anywhere. I just sit in my room and I write these songs and that's cool that you are listening to them on the other side of the world because I work at a coffee shop for minimum wage and have been struggling in a shitty city, you know? And writing these songs." Being able to share something with someone on the other side of the world, that's a really luxurious experience to have.

Do you think that your music would be different if you made in the pre-internet era?
There was definitely a period of time where I discovered the internet and maybe part of that led to me finding different kinds of music so in some ways, yes. But in other ways, I always really liked listening to older music. Also nineties Hip Hop and R&B, too, and I find myself going back to that period of time in my life more and more now.  

I saw a playlist that you made with Lauryn Hill and Mariah Carey. Are those artists that you still listen to?
Oh, yeah. I mean, we listen to Drake, we listen to Kendrick, we listen to a bunch of newer artists. Now and then I'll throw on a Mariah Carey song and everybody knows the words. Everybody in the fucking car knows the words. But I don't love every Mariah Carey record, and I'm sure if I got to know Lauryn Hill or Mariah Carey I might not know them and like them but I appreciate what they've written in that period of time.

What do you like about Mariah Carey?
The way that she projected her voice was really unique for the time. A lot of people are still trying to do what she did vocally, but she did it so naturally. It was definitely her signature and I think she changed the way people heard music. At least pop music because it wasn't ordinary. Her vocalisations were very experimental, it was layer over layer.

With Lauryn Hill it's more about her attitude. The things she says and the way that she says them with such audacity. I really love that album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. That was something I listened to growing up in middle school and feeling like I wasn't fitting in. School was a very strange experience, I just didn't like being there. Going to school was terrifying but I found this music that I was listening to and it really touched me. I'm sure a lot of kids were having trouble at puberty but it's cool to hear music that seems truthful and honest and real when you're changing as a person.

Is there anyplace you're particularly looking forward to going to on the rest of the tour?
I'm really excited to go to Switzerland and Barcelona on this trip. We haven't gone to the south of Europe for a while and it's cool to finally be able to do that. I got to go to those places with Bonnie "Prince" Billy and was like, "Wow, if I ever get a chance I'll go back to Italy and Spain." I really love going to these places that have ancient ruins and performing a show down the street. It's a nice feeling. It feels like this is a dream I'm living in.

Watch the new video for 'High & Wild' by Angel Olsen


Text Rory Satran
Photography Brayden Olson

Angel Olsen