Interview Angel Olsen: ‘I Never Feel Embarrassed’

After releasing ‘Halfway Home’ in 2012, Angel Olsen firmly established herself as a perfect solo star. Now she’s back with the follow up.

Intimate but awe-inspiring, affecting but unfaltering, Angel Olsen’s second album garnered much critical acclaim and attention. Mostly acoustic, it was her voice that led the charge in captivating listeners. Now, in 2014, she’s set to return with a different affair. Having used her last two albums to establish her delicate, folk-inflected sounds, she’s changing things up with her newest cut, ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’, to create a more full-bodied, band-orientated affair.

“It was more fun and it just made sense,” Angel begins, from her new home in Asheville, North Carolina, explaining how it was to begin writing songs as a band. “It felt like, after looking back on ‘Strange Cacti’ and parts of ‘Halfway Home’, ‘Wow, this makes so much more sense to play with a band’. I just didn’t know how to do it at the time that I was making those records. It was cool to finally meet the right people to work with, who understood when to be minimal and when to just bring it on; who weren’t just difficult to speak with. They’ve been very patient with me and very open. I think it was just up to meeting the right people.”

Having written the bare bones of the album’s lead single ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ ahead of even meeting her future bandmates, things fell into place very naturally thereafter. Despite the, at times, extraordinarily personal nature of her lyrics – at least, through interpretation – she felt at ease with presenting her work to other people. “For the most part, if I write something and I get to the point where I want to share it, I like it. I never feel embarrassed because I always try to write something that I would want to listen to. Then, a lot of the time, material might seem really personal but by the time I’ve shared it, I don’t even remember what began as the inspiration for the song in the first place.”

With this record, Olsen, her band and producer John Congleton have worked to create the perfect balance between her previous two records. Where before she was melancholy, you can now hear visceral bitterness, enhanced more so than ever by their musical decisions. Her vocals soar and the instruments match her wonderfully. There’s a control and knowledge of when to amp things up, and when to play things down.

“Each song was its own vignette. The way that John and I communicated, [we knew] there was a need to apply dryness in certain parts, and space in others. Instead of adding tons of reverb on the guitar, so that you expect the voice to be verbed out too, it’s actually really dry. We went back and forth with that idea, and in the end, I look back on it and think about how this is kinda a mix of the last two records. ‘Strange Cacti’ is very lo-fi and kinda dreamy, reverby music, whilst ‘Half Way Home’ is quite dry and to the point. I think there are areas within the landscape of the album that reflect both of those previous situations.

“We recorded in this place called Echo Mountain, and it’s this old, de-sanctified chapel space that they use as a recording studio, and they have a dancehall next door. There was this open room as the live room that still had a lot of the original windows and carvings. We recorded a lot of the stuff as a live take, and then added my vocals later. That was the ideal space to do that. It was a really cool place and working with John was really cool.

“At first we started out really nervous because you never know what to expect when you go into a professional studio. Every producer is different, but we had always heard really good things about his work.”

His reputation wasn’t enough to have Olsen trust him entirely though, she laughs. “Even though we’d only heard good things, I tried to be as overbearing as possible. I gave him notes for every single song, sounds that I heard, what kind of sounds I wanted, what kind of parts I wanted to add after. He never really said, ‘No, you can’t do this’; he accepted what we had brought to the table. I really feel like he left it up to us in some ways.

“When we finished it, to me it was like, it’s cool if nobody ever hears it, because I’m satisfied as I really like it. I don’t really have any high hopes for anyone else, I just hope that we can have a good time and we can all make something together again.”

Angel Olsen’s new album ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ is out now via Jagjaguwar.

Taken from the new, free DIY Weekly, available to read online or to download on iPad now.

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