Reflections of the Constantly Changing
ANGEL OLSEN

A breathtakingly direct, dynamic, and dramatic person, Angel Olsen has been known as a vulnerable musician who unflinchingly writes with deep emotion and meaning. Her latest album, All Mirrors, still has those striking qualities while moving beyond that, incorporating new moods and beauty that captivates listeners while celebrating her monumental changes in music-writing and personal happiness.

           —By Rebecca Kahn

Angel Olsen

When I tell her that her music has clearly evolved while still being instantly recognizable as Angel Olsen, she responds, “Well, who else would it be?” – both joking and serious – just like our conversation. Speaking on this change, she tells me, “I think I have changed, and my sound has changed – and I like it. I don’t expect people to want to continue on the path with me or understand the change.” But, she goes on to say, “I hope that my fans are changing and growing up, too. I think that they are. ”

These changes have made a positive impact on her life: “I’m just in a really happy place in my life – I’ve never been so happy in my life while also releasing a record. Right now, I’m on this vision quest with my best friend in Lisbon and everything’s fucking beautiful – heartbreaking and beautiful at once.” 

She concedes that a part of this happiness comes from being really grounded in who she is as a person – knowing what she wants, having gone through various heartbreaks, and being in control of who she is in all aspects of her life. “I know myself in my private life that I’m not a person who allows someone to control me, so it’s really funny when people think others change my sound.”

Olsen explains how this album is more direct and (fitting with the title of the album) a reflection of who she has become. “I don’t feel like being polite in a clever over-the-top way all the time. Sometimes I just want to be simple and straight-forward.” This album in particular, she says, “I feel like it was the first time I could go back to myself and make something without other people telling me what they heard or what I should do.” 

In the press release for the album, she beautifully summarizes, “[All Mirrors] is about walking away from the noise and realizing that you can have solitude and peace in your own thoughts, alone, without anyone to know it or validate it… As I see it, in order for an artist to survive, some kind of change needs to be a constant. For myself that constant change means having some kind of epiphany or clarity expressed in song.” 

This album is a bit of a divergence from her previous music, holding onto some of her artistic control, while letting go of other parts to create an album that includes a full-band string instrument experience. Altering from her original plan to release All Mirrors accompanied with a separate solo album, in the end, this orchestral version stands powerfully as its own artwork. 

Angel Olsen affirms that, in terms of her constant growth and variety in her music… “continuing to surprise myself is my biggest accomplishment for myself.”

Surprising me, she divulges that fans “don’t know that I’m really funny. I’m a funny person. We’re just joking around all the time… I look at fan photos that people draw of my face and then I send them to friends in the middle of conversations to be like, ‘I’m almost there!’ And then, if I’m late to dinner, I’ll send them a meme of my face – like a shitty drawn portrait of my face because I’m making fun of it. It’s a weird thing to wake up and remember that I put my music into the world to try to make it important, and, as a consequence of that, I’m important in a way that sometimes I don’t want to be. It’s also really funny to be living my life with people who see me and know me in a different context and then be like, ‘Look, this person got a tattoo of my face on their arm.’”

These friendships and her hometown are what grounds Angel Olsen through all the changes and hectic life of a musician. “People don’t try to climb the ladder to success in the same way… My friendships are not based on the context of my career or who I am to the world or the context of a musician, so it’s coming from a really different place… You don’t have to be a musician or an artist to be important to someone.”

Angel Olsen

She goes on to say, “You’re so much more than that – your life is so much more than just what you put out into the universe. For me, my secret life is my secret. And people think they know so much about me because I write so intimately, but they don’t really know me, and it’s an incredible thing to me that people think that they do. It means my heart is coming across and there’s nothing more interesting or powerful than that.” 

Even more than that, “At a certain point, it’s not mine anymore. It’s someone else’s, and I’m so happy that people think good things about it, but it doesn’t necessarily make me a more realized human.”

Angel tells me that beyond her music reflecting her inner state and her carefully-crafted characters and dramatics, that… “I think my music is political, if you want to look at it that way. I think the world does inspire me and does seep into my writing. I am trying to write about the human condition.”

On this inevitable topic of politics, she shares a few insights. “I think people really need to pay attention to their personal community and work on that [first]. I feel like also people are quick to say that young people now don’t care, don’t listen, don’t know what’s going on in the world, but what I’m seeing is quite the opposite. I’m seeing young people taking social media and using it for getting things across. It’s actually been a really inspiring thing for me… Supposedly [artists] have the platform to say something [political], but you know what, everyone has that platform if they choose to. Everyone has the opportunity to do something about it if they want to.”

Angel Olsen also shares with me some thoughts on her personal future: “I feel like [there] has been a really big shift because my goal isn’t to become a musician – I’ve already done that. I’m doing that. I want to keep doing that. I want to maybe do something else with my time now…. to take it slow and try to revisit some of the other things I’ve wanted to do… to write about my life at some point in a more specific way. It would be nice to open a small label, and have a music magazine and interview people the way you’re interviewing me right now. It would be nice to work with friends and do something collaborative with the platform I have and shed light on some other issues, political and not political – just other people and other things.”

The new album ends on a sweet, romantic-sounding ballad, “Chance,” with the perfect lyric to sum up this lasting change in Angel Olsen – “I’m leaving once again, making my own plans / I’m not looking for the answer / or anything that lasts / I just want to see some beauty, try and understand.”

Angel Olsen

ALL IMAGES BY CAMERON McCOOL

 

Written on: May 17, 2020