7 questions with singer-songwriter Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen (Zia Anger)

In a remarkable leap forward, Angel Olsen‘s new record Burn Your Fire For No Witness improves upon the disarming simplicity of her debut Half Way Home, while adding unexpected new dimensions to her sound and delivery.

Who: Angel Olsen / Cian Nugent / SW/MM/NG
When: 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014
Where: Lightbulb Club, 19 N. Block Ave.
More: $5 / Facebook event

The record, produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Mountain Goats, etc), features a full band contributing shimmering textures and brazen rock and roll echoes and melancholy. Songs reminiscent of Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash, but songs that are purely Angel Olsen. The electric new singles “Hi-Five” and “Forgiven/Forgotten” are poppy and infectious. On songs “Unfucktheworld”, and the frighteningly beautiful “White Fire”, Olsen sounds refreshed and secure, giving us another round of intense and relatable songs.

Burn Your Fire For No Witness is her best album so far, now just go ahead and listen.

I talked to Angel before the start of her tour, here goes…

You started out self-releasing your music, and are now on Jagjaguwar Records – on the verge of a worldwide tour. How did the new label happen?

I started out releasing my first record Strange Cacti on tape, and I didn’t tour a lot in the beginning. I didn’t expect to get on a label at all. I was working with Will Oldham and working on Half Way Home and it was very organic. But I wanted to tour, and get a band and needed a label. There was a lot of interest from my friends in giving me PR help, and label help. I feel lucky to have so much help. I met my manager, who is a good friend, and had worked with Bonnie Prince Billy, giving me a lot of help. Jagjaguwar Records was actually interested in releasing Half Way Home, but I said no and went with another label. They are very selective with what they release and were very persistent. They really believe in my music.

John Congleton is a very versatile producer. What was his role in helping you make Burn Your Fire For No Witness?

Well, I’m very guarded about the whole process. I felt unprepared and there was a lot of pressure about the recording. He worked with me to get the sound I wanted, and was very honest in helping me pick the songs, even telling me that a song should not be on the record. He’s very suggestive and we had a cool interaction. He’s never dismissive about different ideas and trying new things.

The first singles “Forgiven/Forgotten” and “Hi-Five” are a bit different from Half Way Home. Was that a deliberate choice to release those first?

The new songs were shifting a lot from acoustic to electric. And the new album is designed to be electric. I was ready for a change. I’m proud of the new songs. But it was the label’s choice to release those singles first. It’s an alienating process to pick singles because they’re such a small piece of who you are.

“Olsen’s voice is enchanting; it sounds like the result of a spell that called for Leonard Cohen’s blood, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s larynx, and a still-operational old-timey microphone emblazoned with radio call letters.” – Pitchfork 2/17/14

Are you touring alone or with a band?

I’m touring with a full band – my friends Emily (bass), Stewart (guitar), and Josh (drums). We hope to play every song on the new record live, and I’ll play some older songs alone too.

Are there songs you won’t play live?

I don’t play “You are Song” from Half Way Home. It seems like it belongs on record.

What non-musical influences helped your new songs?

I was reading a lot of Paul Auster, and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I really liked the film Vagabond, and the Peter Watkins film Privilege. It’s a great mockumentary with great music – Onward Christian Soldiers by a rock and roll band. Also, I was living in Chicago, so I would just walk around Logan Square and write while walking.

What are you listening to lately? Include any guilty pleasures.

I listen to Daniel Higgs (of Lungfish) a lot. And I’ve recently been listening to Stephin Merritt and Brian Eno. I also have been listening to Ivor Cutler, who is a comedic Irish storyteller who plays the harmonium. As far as guilty pleasures I listen to Lauryn Hill and Mariah Carey. But really I listen to everything.