ANGEL OLSEN: IMMEDIATELY HAVE FUN
illustration by dave van patten
It’s the end of February and Angel Olsen will be home in Asheville, North Carolina, for two whole months. It’s been a while. One year ago her second album came out, Burn Your Fire For No Witness—all electrified and with a full band, fulfilling expectations built up after her 2012 solo album Half Way Home. From Bonnie Prince Billy back-up singer to indie folk phenomenon, she started meeting fans when she shopped for toilet paper. As wonderful as that is, it sounds like it doesn’t get easier when people actually like what you do. Olsen gets reflective in this interview by Daiana Feuer. She performs at Coachella this weekend and at the El Rey with Swans on Tue., Apr. 14.
Has touring a lot made your relationship to time and days become more loose?
All year it’s been, ‘What day is it? Where are we? Whose time are we on anyway?’ (Laughs) I did this Australia trip recently. I get back home and I’m hyper until 6 am. I can’t sleep! So, that’s cool. I finally get almost two months off now which is really great. In the meantime I want to find an isolated studio. That’s my project, so I don’t go crazy from the contrast of doing a lot at once and then doing nothing.
You don’t like doing nothing?
I don’t. Especially when I’ve just been doing a lot. I would take a vacation somewhere, but now I travel so much as work that I’m like, ‘Well, if I’m going to be in this weird part of Mexico, why don’t I book a show?’ Maybe that’s just how it goes when that’s what you do for work. It’s also like, ‘Why would I want to get on another plane?’ I want to stay in one place for an extended period of time. But I do like to have stuff do when I’m back home. The contrast is too intense. From working all day, being on call all day. There’s a tour manager but I make the decisions in a lot of cases. If something is wrong, I’m the default person. Whether or not anyone sees it or knows, I’m there making sure everything is going well.
This month marks a year since Burn Your Fire For No Witness—are you celebrating or reflecting on its first year of life?
Actually a few months ago, I sort of did something commemorative. The artist who drew the cover, her name is Kreh Mellick. She does stuff for The New Yorker. She’s great. I wanted to buy something from her site but she insisted on making something special. So I had this rolled up piece of art in my closet all year and my mom’s like, ‘What are you doing? You need to hang that up!’ But it was kind of weird because I see this thing everywhere I go. It’s on t-shirts, on merch, posters, on everything. But I went to the frame shop and got it framed and we hung it over the fireplace. In that way I have celebrated. It’s there in my living space and it’s something I face and see and know that this is part of my life now. This is something that I’ve done and it’s part of people’s lives in ways I won’t understand and not in any way I can control. The thing that makes it interesting and also frustrating is that even if I have made something I am proud of, there’s this personal pressure that I want to outdo that in some weird way. I want to do something totally different. Then there’s also the fear of ‘What if no one understands the direction I go is better?’ You have to accept that. Right now I just want to get away from watching any press of myself or any footage or knowing anything related to my music so that I can just fully forget about it, and listen to other people’s music and listen to old music and watch movies and just do stuff that has nothing to do with me—so I can remember what it’s like to be in my crappy kitchen in Chicago and not have any money and not have any idea of who is who in the music industry. When I had nothing to really lose or gain, it was just there. That’s what I want to focus on because it’s just all around me in every corner. I want to make sure I’m not trying to recreate the past and it doesn’t continue on someone else’s plan.
Once you put a part of you into an object, and the world takes it, it seems like you have to stay connected to yourself as a normal person that isn’t just a walking stage show.
Yeah. This last trip we played the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Australia and New Zealand and I got to know all these different artists. I’d never met St. Vincent but we had a couple run-ins with them because our promoter was the same guy. We started talking about the industry with people who have been doing it fifteen to twenty years. It’s interesting to get perspective from others who have been doing it longer or differently, even people who make completely different types of music. ‘So what about your daughter, how do you see her in nine weeks?’ ‘How do you see your wife?’ ‘Are you on any medications?’ ‘Do you see a therapist?’ ‘Is your PR agent with you all the time?’ ‘Did you make those decisions?’ It’s one thing to come out with a great album and tour and party. When people have been through that a couple times, do they still have really awesome moments with people? And they aren’t completely bitter and jaded about it? I had that opportunity to exchange information with people similar to me and different from me, and to talk about how to stay connected even to each other in all this. After a while it gets to be like you miss these people and don’t know when you’ll see them. You never know how long any of it is going to last.