Folksy and poetic in the studio, Chicago’s Angel Olsen turns up the volume on her current tour
Angel Olsen’s name isn’t enormously familiar—yet—but once you hear her voice, you’ll recognize her immediately the next time around.
Olsen is on tour promoting her sophomore album Half Way Home, released by Bathetic Records and will be in Sacramento April 24, 2013 at Bows and Arrows. This is her first West Coast tour for a solo project.
The 25-year-old St. Louis native, now a Chicago resident, has been so successful that Bathetic insisted Olsen find a bigger label. They couldn’t produce copies fast enough.
Earlier this month, she signed with indie rock label Jagjaguwar, whose roster includes Bon Iver.
Olsen’s sound is distinct and raw, even more so on her first Garageband album Strange Cacti that she recorded lo-fi in her echo chamber of a kitchen. She describes her music style and dreams as “nostalgic.”
“It has a lot to do with what you’re comfortable with,” she says of why she chose this particular style. “Some people are comfortable in a certain zone. It makes sense to me in my mind. That’s real music.”
She indeed sounds like she’s from another time, invoking comparisons to icons from Joni Mitchell to Patsy Cline.
More contemporary comparisons could be made because of her folksy poet approach on some tracks—she would have fit well on the Juno soundtrack with “You Know Song”—or because of her Spanish and Middle Eastern influences, like on the track “The Sky Opened Up.”
She can quiver, yodel and deepen her voice in ways that lend her lyrics another dimension.
Her words are haunting even before the manipulation: “Deep in the nest of an endless dream, when a stranger thought becomes of me, it can slowly turn my blood,” she sings on “Safe in the Womb.”
Strangely enough, Olsen doesn’t give away any deep, dark secrets of her past in her music or in chatter. For now, she is a self-taught, down-to-earth young woman looking to make good music, and has already gained some life-changing experiences along her journey.
Look up Olsen on YouTube, and you’ll find her alongside indie artists Will Oldham, also known as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and Emmett Kelly of the Cairo Gang. Kelly produced Half Way Home and plays keyboard and drums on the album next to Olsen’s guitar strumming.
“We tried to keep it as simple as possible and not sound overproduced,” she says of Half Way Home.
You might also find video of her in camouflage pajamas as a shrieking reincarnate of German singer Dagmar Kraus, part of an Oldham side project called The Babblers.
The experience benefited her music and musician connections, more so perhaps than when she first entered the scene as a teenager.
“For a hot minute, yeah, I was in a ska punk band and into reggae, in the late ‘90s early ’00s,” she says. “It was a weird moment in my life. We had a good time, but at that point I was just singing in the band and writing lyrics. I still listen to reggae.”
Olsen has yet to achieve her dream of a future steeped in nostalgia. She wants to be part of an old school rock ‘n’ roll band, the kind where everyone is a part of the process—everyone sings and writes honestly and is critical of each other, she says.
“I’ve thought about it a lot, and it’s a dream. And once it occurs I’m sure there are weird dynamics and other stuff that would have to be worked out,” she says. “Now, people have to be everything on their own—they have to be sexy and dance—but all you really need is to just be able to play music well.”
This earnestness has paid off in the form of fans and raving reviews, and Olsen is a little closer to her dream with her current setup. Though she performs solo for parts of her shows, she also brings a full band: cellist Danah Olivetree, drummer Joshua Jaeger and bassist Stewart Bronaugh.
“We don’t play the same way the album was recorded,” Olsen says about the tour, which started at the beginning of April. “We practiced together for only four days and now we’re on our fifth show and it’s going great. I get to change the songs a little bit, and they’re adding different things.”
Olsen says to expect a louder band than what might be expected if you’ve heard her recorded music.
“It’s been really fun to work with a group of people who have been patient with me and let me direct them,” she adds. “I’m learning a lot.”
Catch her if you can at Bows and Arrows, 1815 19th Street, before she heads overseas to the Land of Guinness.
Angel Olsen will play Bows and Arrows in Sacramento on April 24, 2013. It is her last U.S. date before heading overseas, so be sure to give her a proper send off. Villages and Olla will also perform. Tickets are $10 at the door and $8 in advance, which can be purchased through Bowscollective.com. Learn more about Olsen at Angelolsen.com.