The last time Angel Olsen and I spoke was via email, and that was back in 2012, just a month or two after she’d released Half Way Home; another album and hundreds of sold out shows later, she’s set to play Bowery Ballroom tonight and tomorrow with Lionlimb, and I had the chance to speak with her again (this time over the phone) about Burn Your Fire For No Witness (a TOTAL heart-stopper that’s been on heavy rotation in my brain since its early 2014 release), as well as about her creative process, her dream (and nightmare) audience, the Angel Olsen “Word of the Year” and MORE. Read up on all that below, be sure to grab tickets to the gigs, AND (regardless) snag yourself a copy of Burn Your Fire For No Witness, which is out now on Jagjaguwar. HERE WE GO:
So you just released a rad new video for “Windows”…that was shot in Virginia, yeah?
Cool, I’m actually from Virginia, so that makes my heart skip a beat. Now, as I say, the video is great…I’m sure those kids had an excellent time messing up your face, too…
[Laughs] Yeah, I’d never worked with kids before, so it was interesting.
Oh man, I’m sure! And how do you generally find the experience of being filmed for a video versus the experience of performing live on stage to be?
Well, with a video people are generally telling you how to perform, so it’s definitely different to being on stage. With this video, Rick was just like, “Stare. Stare into space.” [Laughs] And he’d tell me to stare until I got tired, and there’s this shot in it that’s like…I can tell that I was really tired of having a serious look on my face; everyone is watching me, we’ve got like six people and then children watching me, and he’s just going back and forth with this camera. You kind of feel like an alien. I was kind of like his moving prop, in a way. [Laughs]
Well, and in terms of performing (when you’re NOT someone’s living prop), is it hard to get into character for songs that aren’t necessarily as relevant to you as a person anymore? Because by now you’ve definitely got some older songs under your belt.
I don’t know, I’ve always sort of been able to get into character; I think the only time I ever really struggle with it is when I’m sick or something. But I think it’s pretty easy for me to zone out and get into it, because the way that a lot of this album and previous things have worked for me (and I’m only sort of realizing it now) is that the songs are all kind of different from each other (like EXTREMELY different), so I can’t just perform them all the same way; I kind of have to go into those characters. (Maybe not always, but it keeps it interesting for me.)
Right. And I’m sure you’ve performed in front of some amazing people over the course of your career, but if you could consciously choose someone (living, dead, fictional, non-fictional) to perform your newest record for, who would that be?
Oh man, I don’t know. Maybe Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, just because I feel like he’s kind of my uncle figure; he’s an older figure in my life who’s inspired me a lot. But I don’t know, I can’t really decide…I haven’t really thought about that, it’s weird. I’ve performed the entire album in front of my parents, so that’s already happened. [Laughs] They’ve definitely taken me aside and said, “You’re selling these T-shirts that say ‘FUCK’ on them…” [Laughs] It’s weird that I’ve never thought about that question before, though.
Yeah, it’s kind of like a Rorschach test…you either have to have the first thing that pops into your head be the answer, or else it becomes a bit of a brain implosion situation trying to decide. And on THAT note, how about someone you’d NEVER want to perform the record in front of, then, whether it’s from a nerves perspective or otherwise? Any thoughts there?
Oh god, I don’t know. I feel like I’d be okay playing it in front of my worst enemy (I think that would actually make me feel more satisfied), but it is always weird to do radio shows, because the hosts are sitting in their chairs, and they sometimes don’t even acknowledge you until there is a microphone on. (That’s not how Bob Boilen is or anything, but I’ve definitely been in situations where they don’t acknowledge that you’re a person until your microphone is on.) I mean, I’m sure they’ve been doing the job for many years and they’re just tired of making it seem special, but that’s the weirdest way to perform; people are hearing your album live, but what they don’t see is that there’s a dude in a chair sitting in front of you while your band is all standing and trying to rock out. [Laughs] I think that’s the weirdest kind of setting. But I’m sure it’ll happen again! [Laughs]
Well, hopefully not anytime soon! [Laughs] Or at least they’ll be super receptive the next time. BUT, in terms of how you actually WRITE the songs (that you eventually perform), have you found that you gravitate towards any sort of routine? In other words, do you work better at certain times of the day or under certain conditions?
I think I work best while chaos is happening. I can’t work in a room that’s empty; there has to be stuff everywhere. I mean, I can write on the road in the van or whatever (I’ve always been able to write wherever I am, even when I wasn’t on tour), and if I wanted to I could definitely just go to my room and sit and record and just mess around and write stuff, but the thought of a blank notebook in an empty room with one desk and a microphone just scares me. I need stuff in there, things to play with and weird stuff everywhere. [Laughs]
I feel you, I feel you. Now, what else (apart from the tour dates that you’ve got coming up) is on the horizon for you? Any holiday plans or anything?
I’m going home for Thanksgiving for a couple of hours [laughs], but I’m sort of going over a lot of old material and some covers, because on the tour we’ll be playing a lot of stuff that I haven’t played in a while. I’m also working on a couple of projects that aren’t set in stone yet; my friend had me narrate her film a while back. But mostly I think I just need to take it easy, drink water all the time…I can’t do the same things I used to be able to do.
Isn’t that strange? I think we’re roughly the same age, and it sort of sneaks up on you.
I didn’t drink like, any water until I was twenty-four, twenty-five, and then it was like, “Okay, I need to drink water now.” And now it’s like, if I stop singing my voice gets weaker, so I need to keep singing all the time. (I don’t know if anyone else notices it, but I definitely do.) Otherwise, I’m trying to do a lot of different stuff, but it’s so weird to come off a tour and then go home and have nothing…it’s like, “Okay, I have some accounting and maybe some emails to take care of…”, but I have NOTHING. Nothing to do. My friends and I are just taking pictures of ourselves, I’m watching TV a lot and exercising, and I’m just like, kind of trying to chill. But I wanted to be working in my time off, because it’s just shocking to have nothing to work on…maybe that’s crazy, but it’s weird for me to just come back and have nothing specific to do.
I mean, I get where you’re coming from…I think it would definitely be strange to go from such a whirlwind of performances every night to just huge blocks of time off.
Well, and there are parts of tour where I’ll think, “I wasn’t happy with the sound of that show,” so I’ll have these diva moments, but then I’ll get home and I’m like, “Ugh, I wish I were playing a show right now. That’d be cool.” [Laughs] I mean, I played like a hundred and fifty shows this year, which is insane to think about.
God, well that’s much more than I did, so good on you! Now, speaking of the year in retrospect, the word of the year is allegedly “vape” as in “#VAPELIFE”; for YOU, if you could pick a word of the year for yourself to summarize 2014, what would it be?
YOU can go do YOUR part to #UNFUCKTHEWORLD over at Bowery Ballroom tonight AND tomorrow night, where Angel Olsen will be playing two MAGICAL gigs for just twenty bucks. In the meantime, be sure to grab a copy of Burn Your Fire For No Witness(out now on Jagjaguwar in case you weren’t paying attention in the intro bit) AND follow Angel on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest news.