Stunning singer/songwriter Angel Olsen is coming into her own.
After a two-year tenure in Bonnie "Prince" Billy’s (Will Oldham's) band, the Chicago-based crooner is ready for a bona fide solo career. Her debut album, Strange Cacti, was originally released as a cassette and has been re-released. The proper follow-up, Half Way Home, is out now. Having recently signed Jagjagwar Records, she's on the road now, supporting that release with a full band.
The charming 25-year-old, who will appear at the Casbah on Tuesday, was at a friend's Oakland home when she recently spoke with SoundDiego.
Scott McDonald: How are you?
Angel Olsen: Very good. Thanks.
SM: You’re at the beginning of the tour?
AO: Yes. Last year I did the Netherlands, Belgium and the East Coast. Now it’s time for the second leg on the West Coast.
SM: Have the songs changed at all over that time?
AO: Yeah. I’m now working with a group of people, and they’ve changed, so we can make something together, and it can be fun for everyone. But whether it’s alone or with a group, when I’m traveling, they always change slightly by the end of tour.
SM: You still live in Chicago?
AO: I do.
SM: Pretty cold.
AO: Yeah, I feel really brave riding my bike in the winter there [laughs].
SM: Your songs are so intimate. Is it hard playing them in bars?
AO: I honestly haven’t had an issue with it to this point. But I feel like the opposite is true sometimes. If there’s a band up there, people automatically think they can talk or zone out. If it’s a person alone, there’s always the intimacy thing. But I don’t know. -- it can go either way.
SM: How different was it making Half Way Home vs. Strange Cacti?
AO: It was very different. Strange Cacti was lazily recorded. I decided just to put it out as a tape and see what happened. I didn’t think anyone other than a small population of people would pay attention. Then we put it out as an LP. It did so well that I decided if I did it again, I wanted it to sound good. And I had spent a lot of time with Will Oldham, playing in his band. I was always watching how the people in the group were communicating with each other about things. I never had experience working with people in that way. I was luckily thrown into it. I was asked to learn 150 songs immediately, but it was a really awesome experience. It taught me a lot about performing live, and it showed me how to make another record sound better naturally. Half Way Home was a product of that.
SM: Do you think you’ll continue to up production?
AO: I don’t know. I don’t like things to be overproduced. I don’t want it perfectly radio-friendly; I just want it clean. I want to try to keep things at the level they are now. The music I write is pretty intimate, and I don’t want it to be overdone in any way.
SM: After spending time in the background of Will’s band, how is it with the entire spotlight -- and everything that comes with it -- on you?
AO: I think things are bound to change some at this point, and there’s nothing to do about it. Even though I’m doing things like interviews and there’s a lot of media that’s involved in promoting the music and getting it out there, I don’t really pay attention to it once it’s out there. I try to stay away from what people are saying. I just try to stay focused on what I’m saying to myself. And I think that’s pretty important for an artist to remember.
SM: Do you write when you’re on tour?
AO: Once I put out the album, I was kind of like, “S---, what am I going to do now?” I didn’t know if I was going to write anything for awhile. But I did write -- so much sometimes that I didn’t have an interest in eating or sleeping. Then you stop and live your life, and that’s OK. If it takes a year or it takes five, people shouldn’t rush an album. There’s a lot of pressure to get out what’s inside of you as quickly as possible. Well, I’m a person who is living their life, and I want to write something totally honest that I believe in. So you tell the people that pressure you to f-off.
SM: You know I’m not pressuring you, right?
AO: [laughs] I know you’re not [laughs].
SM: Your music is so personal. Has it been harder as the audiences get bigger to reveal so much about yourself?
AO: I don’t know. I’ve never seen it as a problem. My songs are definitely rooted in personal situations, but maybe it’s because I’m so used to baring myself that I don’t really mind it. It doesn’t bother me to share all of those things with large groups of people. It’s better for me to think that what I’m saying will help someone and they might be able to relate it to their own situations. It just feels like I’m making friends by sharing my stories.
SM: What’s next for you?
AO: I have been writing quite a bit, and I am working with a group now. I think the next record will be different because instead of two people acting like they’re a band, it actually will be a band. I want to keep it simple, see through the bulls--- and make it real. But I don’t necessarily know if I have any plans or direction just yet. And that’s fine with me.