There was a time, not so long ago, when Angel Olsen bid goodbye to her old self—and to the old songs her old self had written.
She’s over that now.
“I was like, ‘You go away. You’re Americana. Now I must go and make a big-band sound with jazz and R&B and things. You go away,’ ” she says of the process that led to her 2016 breakthrough effort, My Woman. It was a necessary development, she adds on the line from Los Angeles, given that she had formed a gifted band full of long-time friends. But after compiling Phases, last year’s collection of B-sides, demos, and rarities, Olsen discovered that her earlier incarnation as a solo artist had something to offer too.
“You know, it’s funny: I wrote a lot of those songs when I was in my early 20s, and listening to them and singing them now, I’m thinking, ‘How did I have the capacity to write these things?’ ” the 31-year-old songwriter reports. “I hadn’t had half the experiences I have now. So I don’t know… It’s interesting to be a writer and look back and think that sometimes it has nothing to do with how much you’ve experienced or how much grief has been in your life—it’s more just about the way you see it when it’s happening to you at all. Looking back to that and playing these songs again is like revisiting this other part of myself that I’d kind of put away.
“With the record [My Woman], I made the sound much bigger, and that was really fun and really exciting,” she continues, “but after that I didn’t really get to perform my older material, which was more lyric-based. My band and my sound just kept getting bigger and bigger—and I enjoy performing that way. I like the theatrics of it, and I like the hype, and the feeling of playing at a festival and knowing that, even if you’re travelling all over the world and you’re exhausted, you’re wanted—that for whatever reason you’re just hitting the tide the right way. That’s a good feeling, but I also miss more intimate settings, with audiences where I can actually share things that are a little more personal, and talk with people more.”
That’s the ethos behind Olsen’s first solo tour in six years, which will touch down in Vancouver next weekend as part of the Westward Music Festival. “With these solo performances,” she says, “I end up talking with people way more, and talking about the songs, playing old songs and new material that’s never been released. I feel more connected to people, and it’s helping me like what I do more, in a different way.”
Angel Olsen plays the Vogue Theatre on September 15, as part of the Westward Music Festival. Events run from September 13 to 16; for more information, visit its website.