While she knows here way around a beautiful melody, Angel Olsen isn’t an artist whose work you approach lightly. Her voice is often calm and enticing, but as a songwriter she goes deep. Heartbreak, introspection, emotional turmoil – Olsen’s music pulls back curtains and lets us see the darker, sometimes painful sides of life as well as its unwavering beauty. She’s honest, she’s unafraid, she’s vulnerable. And because of this, her music shines.
Olsen just released her latest album Big Time. Produced by Jonathan Wilson, the music shares stylistic and emotional connections with her previous work, but this time the experience feels different. The arrangements have hints of classic country, but even more than that, the songs themselves move in new directions. Olsen has gone through a lot in recent years – not only the pandemic, but in 2021 she lost both her parents, who died just two months apart. At the same time, though, she had recently come out to them and found new love. So while the songs are reflective, they’re also life-affirming.
“I was in a really different place in life” when writing the songs. Olsen tells us. “I felt more at peace.”
Below are seven questions we asked about her new album, the accompanying Big Time film, Pride, touring, musical influences, and songwriting.
Colorado Sound: Did you set out to create a different sound or ‘feel’ on your new album Big Time vs. your work in the past? Are you no longer “hiding inside [your] head” as you said on “Lark”?
Angel Olsen: I’m always hiding inside my head haha! I think I was just in a really different place in life when I wrote these songs – a really quiet reflective space. I felt more at peace.
What led you to create the film “Big Time” alongside the album? How does the film take the music in new or different directions? Are they meant to be experienced together? How important are videos (visuals) to you when you release new music?
I was excited to meet Kim Stuckwisch after working on the video for the song I did with Sharon Van Etten, “Like I Used To.” And I just loved the people she worked with, how she connects to music, the ideas she had around visuals.
I have a very active dream life and wanted to contribute some of my dream world to the record – in part because I was having dreams about time travel! So, along with the title of the song, I thought it appropriate to make “Big Time” the title of the record because I’d been having so many dreams about different times and places as I was processing the events that took place before making the record.
Tell us about the musical influences that played a role in your new songs. Were there any artists, or particular genres of music, you were listening to while writing and arranging these songs? Any songs you could just not stop listening to?
I listened to a lot of Big Star, Lucinda Williams, Stevie Nicks, more stripped back country stuff…lots of Neil Young, lots of Dolly Parton, George Harrison. I probably listened to George and Neil the most, mainly On the Beach.
How did the tour with Sharon Van Etten and Julien Baker come about? What are you looking forward to about working with them on this tour?
With everything going on in the world and the unpredictability of the future, it’s been nice to share in this isolating experience – to make it a big piece that we can do together. We all have very different records and styles, but we share a similar vision, I think. And I look forward to being able to sing with them more – it’ll be hard work but I think also could be a little bit like a traveling camp.
Your songs feel very personal. Is personal experience an important part of songwriting for you? Do you collaborate or write solo?
I write solo most of the time, but every now and then I like to mix it up and write with someone else. I’m more open to it since I’ve done the song with Sharon. As far as personal experience – I think in order to be a good writer you do have to know what you’re talking about!
June was Pride Month. How did you celebrate?
For me, every month is Pride Month! And yes I am celebrating each and every day of gayness that I can!
If you could pick 5 songs to inspire young songwriters or artists, what would they be?
Leonard Cohen : “Night Comes On”
Neil Young: “Ambulance Blues”
Nick Drake: “Pink Moon”
The Roches: “Hammond Song”
The Hollies: “The Air That I Breathe”
Olsen’s album Big Time is available now. The Wild Hearts Tour featuring Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, and Julien Baker makes a stop in Denver on Sunday, Aug. 7.
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