Angel Olsen is all over the charts. That is, when her 2016 album My Woman was released, it cracked Billboard‘s Alternative, Americana/Folk, Independent, Tastemaker and Top 200 charts. Olsen adopts a wide variety of musical stylings, using her passionate vocals and lyricism to convey emotional breadth and power. She’s also been involved in the creation of a few of her own videos, confusing cultural commentators when she first donned a silver wig for two songs: “Intern” and the alternately vulnerable and vampish “Shut Up, Kiss Me” (which has been viewed over a couple million times on YouTube). The evocative videos “Sister” and “Pops” followed, featuring Olsen (sans glittery wig) basking or ruminating in natural settings. Although a popular artist who just completed a string of sold-out club dates, Olsen, 30, envisions herself possibly contributing, one day, to others’ projects behind-the-scenes, acting as a “secret ingredient” in their work.
“It slows you down and makes you calm and allows for healing. And I think that that is something you need [not just] as an artist, but as a human being, as well.”
What’s it like to have Angel for a first name?
I think that there is power in a name. And I don’t really think about it a lot of the time: I don’t wake up and think, “My name’s Angel! Isn’t that weird?!” It’s a funny thing, but I have to live up to this name that I have in some way. I don’t really romanticize it as much as some people do. But I do think it doesn’t hurt to have a good name, I will say that.
What do you find most interesting about your own artistic evolution?
For me, I never felt like I was affecting my voice very much, but if I listen back to my previous records, I think I sang in different styles. I can hear a lot of ’30s jazz influence on Half Way Home and my previous record Strange Cacti.
Can you see yourself as someone like David Bowie who constantly reinvents herself musically and stylistically for each project?
I think with every record I definitely want to make at least a slight change in what I’m doing; I don’t want to recreate the exact same thing. I think My Woman and Burn Your Fire For No Witness are very different, because I had written all of Burn Your Fire a year before it was recorded or came out and so there was this huge time gap.
“I think I had always been preoccupied with lyrics—and I still feel that’s the centerpiece to what I do. But I think you can say a lot by just playing and singing.”
On My Woman, I think [my influences were] more Fleetwood Mac and, yeah, maybe some David Bowie, and maybe some R&B going on that had never entered what I’ve done before. So, I think a lot of that just comes with playing for a long time and developing different interests in music. And then it just finds its way into your brain. I think I had always been preoccupied with lyrics— and I still feel that’s the centerpiece to what I do. But I think you can say a lot by just playing and singing.
In addition to acting within your videos, you’ve directed and edited some of them. Can you see yourself ever venturing into independent film?
If I did anything in film it would be directing and editing. I wouldn’t want to be in it.
Nobody praises the editor in music or writing or films, but that is the person who decides the first and last statement it will make. The editor goes in there and they take parts out and they rearrange stuff and that becomes the tone that’s set. And that’s the most important step.
How do cannabis and music interweave for you?
It is nice in certain states in the U.S.—instead of drinking, instead of putting that toxin in my body—to find a place to recreationally smoke weed. Because it takes a load off. And you’re really going, going, going, and it really does slow things down for me. But, at the same time, I have to honestly say that I’m not really someone who needs it or does it a lot.
I think it can really help with anxiety. And I think it can help heal: It slows you down and makes you calm and allows for healing. And I think that that is something you need [not just] as an artist, but as a human being, as well.
Where would you like to be in terms of your career?
I feel like I am where I’d like to be. I always want to grow and play the big festival shows and such – and be able to reach smaller audiences, as well.
In addition to enjoying what you’re doing, your music affects people emotionally.
Well that’s the hope: to be someone who can take my own experiences and amplify them and make them songs and turn them into something that people can find refuge in. That’s the goal.