Going Through Phases With Angel Olsen


Last year, Angel Olsen found herself on both Rolling Stone and Pitchfork’s coveted Best Albums of 2016 list.

The American singer-songwriter had only released her third album, My Woman, three months prior, but the songs were strong enough to make a huge impression in a short amount of time. Over the past year, her star has continued to rise, and this week, she’s releasing another album, Phases. The record is a collection of B-sides, rarities and unreleased tracks that up until now haven’t found a home. We spoke with Angel about the new record, Trump supporters in her audience, and her illegible handwriting.

So, the new album is a collection of work written and recorded throughout your career. How many years do the songs span?

I would say about 2011 up until now.

With some of the songs dating back that far, is it hard tapping into what you were feeling when you wrote and recorded them?

Yeah, it’s weird because they’re all different production values and different points of my life where I had different ideals for songwriting. But a lot of them are from B-sides that didn’t make it onto big records. It’s also an opportunity to play the songs that weren’t as important as record material, and I can perform them as though they were.

In terms of the production value, was it hard to not want to re-record some of the older ones, knowing what you know now?

Definitely, even with some of the songs that aren’t demos. There’s one song called ‘Sans’ that I’m going to be playing a lot of and it was written around the time of my last record, My Woman, but it just didn’t fit the material at all, and I was like, uh, I’d still like to play it with a band at some point, you know. There’s just some stuff that ends up being solo stuff because it’s way more open, you know? But I’m always curious to see how it will change with a band, or vice-versa, like how songs would change if I hadn’t had the band sound or all the effects added to it.

Speaking of ‘Sans’, I know all your songs showcase your crazy vocal range, but I feel like that song and maybe this album, more than any before, really shows it off. Do you think, like this album, your voice goes through phases too?

Definitely. I feel like different songs require different kinds of singing. And I’ve never really felt—I mean, I’m sure some people might be like, ‘Oh that’s kind of weird that you’re just changing your voice or you’re changing that affectation of your voice’ or whatever, but I’m trying to experiment with not forgetting about certain ranges of my voice.

One of the tracks, ‘Fly on Your Wall’, was part of the anti-Trump Bandcamp fundraiser. How did you come to be involved with that?

Well, everyone was pretty angry, and we’re all still very angry. I would do it with all my songs if that would do something. But it was just sort of a statement to everyone at the beginning of the year that was like, ‘Hey, this isn’t OK with me’ and also a statement in the very beginning to be like, ‘I’m tired of being like I don’t wanna be involved in politics’ and being unafraid to address what is bigger than politics, you know? Like, basic human rights?

It made me think, there are probably people in the crowd at your shows that voted for Trump. Is that weird to think about?

Definitely.

Does that change how you perform, if you think about that?

No. I dunno, it’s really hard for me to believe that they would be at my show, but um, I dunno, I think the best way to lead people away from that is to just keep posting liberal shit and they know where you stand and if it bothers them then they won’t be a fan anymore.

There’s a Springsteen cover on the new album too. With a catalogue like his, how do you pick which song to do?

 I think I chose that song because Stewart who used to be in the band really likes the live version of that song, and I had just gotten into Nebraska—this was a few years ago now—so he sent it to me and I was like, ‘Damn, I want to cover that song’ and a week later I started playing it as this solo, encore song, but I’d never recorded it. So then I recorded it at home, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. I have a bunch of songs still like that, that didn’t make it onto Phases, but I’m always doing covers and weird demos of things that have no real intention behind them, they’re just fun to learn.

Angel Olsen at Austin City Limits, 2017. Photo by Charlie Hardy

If you still have a bunch of stuff that didn’t make it onto this album, maybe throughout your career you’ll be releasing more Phases type albums, to get everything out?

Yeah, I wonder. That would be cool. I just like the exercise of learning songs, and not having everything have to be about like, high production value and stuff.

I heard you like writing letters. If you could have one pen pal who would it be?

Just one? [Laughs]. Oh! Well, I’ve been really obsessed with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, do you know her?

No?

She’s an incredible screenwriter and a playwright and, she’s married, but whatever, I really want to know her.

What’s your handwriting like?

Uh, it’s terrible. I think it’s from all the texting. It’s still easier, like when you are writing a song, to just write it by hand, but it’s just so embarrassing looking at it.

Pretty sure texting is to blame for everything.

Yeah. Before you go, I wanted to ask—you’re from a kind of skate mag, right? ‘Cause I just want to let you know I just got some new wrist guards so I can skate on tour. I roller skate a lot, but I’m gonna get a cruiser. My bandmates were like, ‘You’re not allowed to skate on tour without wrist guards’, so I’m gonna be really dorky and glam the fuck out of my wrist guards.

Sign up for the Monster Children Newsletter