Photography: Vince Aung
When Angel Olsen sings, people can’t help but listen. Her newest release, My Woman is a piercing mix of pop, folk and Americana that showcases her ability to step outside her own range. More chorus-heavy than any previous release, the record combines Olsen’s newfound pop sensibility with her penchant for heavy emotion, delivering 5-minute hits that cut deep, before getting stuck in your head. Part Stevie Nicks, but always herself, Olsen crafts poetic and intellectual tracks, as catchy as they are unapologetic.
After a breakout debut and 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness, the singer has seamlessly transitioned from Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy backup to certified indie darling. But the difference between Olsen and her contemporaries lies not only in her songwriting skill but also in the way she’s able to remain wide-eyed while still not giving a fuck. Though she’s evolved from the sweet melancholy of Strange Cacti to the subtle confidence of My Woman, she’s still the same girl with the same lovelorn voice, and she doesn’t care what anyone thinks.
On its own, My Woman is a thoughtful treatise on love and loss, a powerful look at the nuance embedded within the human experience. As a reflection of Olsen’s previous work, it’s both grown up and groundbreaking. Bubblegum tracks like “Shut Up Kiss Me” and “Never Be Mine” highlight the way Olsen moves effortlessly between pop and something deeper, perfect for an easy listen yet bursting with emotion. Album opener “Intern” fuses breathy vocals with sci-fi synths, while “Sister” takes the singer back to her country roots. The album’s namesake, “Woman” embodies everything that is Angel Olsen, transcending genre in a heartfelt ballad that’s neither overdone nor referential, only comparable to itself. With My Woman, the singer reasserts her independence through a sound that proves Angel Olsen is completely her own.
On My Woman:
With this record, I felt for the very first time, that I actually had final say in a way that I hadn’t felt before—it was such a good experience to do what I actually wanted, but it was hard and took a long time. It’s one thing to say, ‘Oh well that might be fun, let me try that myself,’ and another to realize, ‘Oh, this is really hard and I actually want people to care.’
On writing the record:
I didn’t set a plan or think about what I was going to write—I just tried to convey what was on my mind. My songs are just feelings, multiplied.
On being in charge:
Even though it’s my name, everybody contributes so much of their energy to what I’m doing in this band, that I feel like they’re part of it. So it feels really, really weird to be the one who takes out a part of theirs, or lowers their instrument, or whatever. That’s the hardest, because I have to get over my own mistakes and let them be what they are. But also, knowing that somebody in the band might’ve preferred it to be a different way, and they just have to do it anyway because I’m saying so—I’ll never get used to that.
Every record, looking back, there’s so many things I would’ve wanted to do differently, and change, and work on. With this record, I just really wanted to sing more and use more of my voice, instead of worrying so much about everything else. Of course, my lyrics are really important to me, and I really care about them—they’re the center of what I do and I never want to lose that. But I also wanted to be able to loosen up and have fun.
On the album title:
Whenever I hear the words ‘My Woman’ said out loud, I think it’s both super degrading and endearing, at the same time. But this record really isn’t about that statement, and I don’t necessarily think it’s a feminist record. Though I’m not afraid to say I am a feminist, it’s just not the whole point. And it wasn’t a thing where I sat down and thought, ‘This is going to be a feminist record’—my beliefs, and the way I think, just always seem to find their way in.
To call myself an extreme feminist would be a lie, because there are certain things that don’t bother me, and maybe they should, but I really don’t have time to be offended by everything.
The basis of feminism to me is equal rights, and I want my album to appeal to all people—not just women. I know it came out during a time when Hillary Clinton didn’t become president, and I know that it’s super hip right now to say you have a cause. But I honestly just wrote these songs and decided on the title of the record because that was my favorite song on it—it’s really as simple as that.
A lot of people don’t really listen to music—they only listen to it because they don’t have anything else to do, and I’m not worried about those people.
On the media:
That’s their job—to give you a backhanded compliment so you get upset and say something you don’t mean that can be taken out of context and used as clickbait. When I realized that, I started to feel bad, because it sucks for all the people who just want to have an honest conversation and create a true document. But the thing is, I talk a lot, and I’m going to keep talking a lot. If I say something I don’t mean, I’m not afraid to correct myself, and I’m definitely not afraid to correct everyone else.
To me, My Woman is a live record, and if a live record can be pop, then I guess I am. Does pop have to do with the production value? Or does it have to do with the amount of people who like it, or buy the record? I don’t really know, but I’m still on an independent label and I’m definitely not playing in Starbucks or Urban Outfitters.
On her sound:
There’s a mix of stuff that could be read as surface level in some way, like ‘Never Be Mine’ or ‘Shut Up Kiss Me,’ that are chunky and in your face. But then there’s the stuff that’s really fucking long and wordy, that really takes a minute to think about, which is fine with me.
On learning to ignore everyone else’s opinion:
People are going to look at and listen to my records, no matter how many I put out, and always see Half Way Home or Strange Cacti, even though I’ve emerged with this band and a totally different sound. You can’t escape your past—you can’t escape the songs you’ve written because you have to keep singing them. So, you have to learn to accept it or get over it.
On moving on:
When I’m performing songs that I don’t really care to perform anymore, because they feel so old, I still give it my all, because I want to make it sound good—I want to get into it for the people that feel strongly about that music. It’s a weird thing, because sometimes you’ve moved passed a style, or there’s a song you’d never be inclined to sing anymore, but you have to because that’s a hit that people know. If you don’t do it, you’re an asshole. Eventually, so many people decide they just can’t anymore. But I always want to try.
I was doing all this for the first time, figuring it out and teaching myself as I went, while still trying to make sure it was actually good—that people would get it and like it. I don’t know if I’ll ever go into directing, but I knew what I wanted and I had to try to make my vision come to life.
On the future:
I always want to be evolving—I want to become better at what I do and I want to push myself to write music that’s a little different each time. But I’m definitely never trying to become something I’m not, and I’m also not going to ignore the style that’s innate to me—whatever that is.