The singer-songwriter speaks to us about the success of fifth record All Mirrors, the nerves that come with performing and her upcoming Valentine's Day gig
The days and weeks following the release of an album are vital for any artist. For someone as uniquely intertwined with her own music as Angel Olsen, it's been a hectic, unrelenting spell, one marked by radio appearances, TV performances and a string of headline shows.
New album All Mirrors is deserving of this attention, however. A dynamic, theatrical, beautifully overwhelming experience, its author remains refreshingly distant from the acclaim lavished on her creation. 'It surprises me to know how epic it is to anyone,' she admits. 'I'm still in that creative phase. It's a little weird to see it on these End Of Year lists when it's not even been out very long. It needs to be out a little bit longer before I really feel its impact.'
Right now her focus is on those live shows – painstakingly piecing together the set, she's removed some of the lush tapestries that adorn All Mirrors while inserting fresh passages to explore different dimensions within her work. 'I think performing is so much more intimate than listening to a record,' she insists. 'I'm glad people listen to the records, but it's a challenge for me to put myself out there and sing a certain way and look them in the eye. It's a really wonderful gift, and I'm really happy that I have been able to do it for so long.'
Performing live comes with its distinct challenges, though; for such an assertive creative voice, Olsen admits to a certain degree of self-consciousness onstage. 'It's always nerve-racking playing the first few shows of a tour. And I think performing solo can still be difficult for me. But I guess that people are there to see or hear my music, so they must be fans … and that helps me relax and play the song.'
Peering through her catalogue to construct the set, Olsen is able to be the true curator of her work, linking fan favourites to deep cuts with personal resonance. 'It took quite a bit of warm-up before we went out, but now we've finally become a well-oiled machine, you could say. I'm feeling really good about the material – we've been on tour for a little bit now so it feels great!'
Each show sits on top of the last, with these experiences lifting Olsen to different space. 'I feel like I'm always building,' she says. 'I made All Mirrors and a lot of that is very different sounding, but it's challenging to mix it all up and to create something with the past and the present, and see how they work together.'
In conversation, Olsen peppers her answers with subtle asides, gentle jokes, and a side order of self-deprecating humour. She's intensely serious about her work, but often flippant about herself, and that easy-going vibe exudes from the musicians around her. 'I'm surrounded by a lot of good people, and we all joke around together. It's not a stiff environment in any way – even though the songs on this record are more theatrical and darker, we still tend to have a good time together and loosen up once we're in the middle of the set. I never take anything so seriously that you can't have a good time with people, and I think that's important.'
credit: Cameron McCool
Hitting Glasgow's fabled Barrowland Ballroom for a February 14 show, Olsen laughs recalling past Valentine's misadventures. 'I think I got into a fight on Valentine's Day once!' she gasps. 'I don't remember what it was about. Then my dress ripped and I got upset … but it actually ended up being a really good night. It turned itself around!'
While relishing the opportunity of spending Valentine's Day with her fans, Olsen is never certain what to expect from one of her shows. 'I feel like it's a separate realm,' she admits. 'I have to come ready to expect a small audience or a big audience, for people to care or not to care. Each show is it's own experience in that way.'
One thing is certain, however, and it's that she won't be looking back. All Mirrors is still fresh on the shelves, but this songwriter is already looking to the next challenge, to the next project. 'I did write quite a bit in the summer,' she reveals, 'before I had to start touring, so I've been taking a break recently. I never know how things are going to take shape until I'm in the studio. So we'll see.'
Ending our conversation with an ellipsis, that's how we leave Angel Olsen – on the cusp of possibility, embracing creativity, and wondering aloud about the future. All in all, it's a good place to be.
Angel Olsen plays Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow, Fri 14 Feb.