Angel Olsen staked her claim with 2014’s fuzzy and sharp-tongued Burn Your Fire for No Witness and has since become one of the most vital American songwriters, with songs that bounce between folk, psych, and retro rock but are unified by Olsen’s distinctive voice and reflective, ruminative lyrics. On her latest album, All Mirrors, she experiments with strings and synths, abandoning her acoustic roots, while creating one of 2019’s most urgent releases. We caught up with her in July, as she was driving from her home in Asheville, North Carolina.
How was making the album?
It crushed me. I went through a breakup. Shit hit the fan. I took a year hiatus and made the record after a solo tour. Afterward, I wanted to try to record a full-band version of a song and a solo version of the same song. But, as things got underway, I ended up only asking my drummer [Joshua Jaeger] to record with me, because it quickly turned into a string and synths record. I didn’t know it was going to happen that way.
Who suggested using strings in the first place?
I knew that some of the songs would sound good with strings, but I just thought they’d just be light in the background, like synth pads. Then I sent my friend Ben [Babbitt] some of the demos and asked if he’d play piano on the record. He said, Yeah, then he sent me a version of “Tonight” [from All Mirrors] with, like, 50 strings tracks that he had added. I was like, “What the fuck is this? I didn’t ask you to do this.” He said, “But do you like it?” And I said, “It’s fucking amazing.” Later I went to see him in L.A., and we worked in the studio together one-on-one on maybe seven songs.
On the song “All Mirrors,” you seem to be trying to let go of the past.
It has multiple meanings, but that’s part of it. I’m obsessed with the way that we see ourselves and how that differs from who we actually are. I’ve been working through that in my life. For me, as a performer and just as a person, it’s been difficult at times to navigate whether I’m projecting a version of myself that’s a fantasy, based on what I think is reality but isn’t. Other people have the same issue, I’m sure. To see yourself for who you really are takes listening and trusting other people, and that can be hard. These themes of navigating what is real and what isn’t within me run through the record.
Do you ever feel misrepresented because of the version of yourself that you project?
Well, there’s the inverse issue of people projecting things on me. Like, because I sometimes write songs about heavy subjects, people think I’m a certain way. But my songs don’t completely capture me; they don’t tell the whole story. I can’t wait to see in person how people misread and misinterpret my songs. It’s going to be fucking hilarious.
Does life still feel heavy after having made the record?
No. I’m having the best time. I bought a house. I mow my own lawn. I fix things. I call people instead of texting. Things are good. I’m realizing more and more that I don’t need anyone. I’m just living very much in the moment, at the moment. I don’t exactly know how I got to this point. Every time I see someone who tries to take the moment away from me, I fire them. “Yeah, you’re fired,” I say. [Laughs] “You’re fired from my life and from this room. Go away! Be gone!”
This interview was edited for clarity and concision.
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!