Angel Olsen has dealt with her share of hecklers. They used to bother her a lot more, but these days she’s prepared for a comeback, particularly since she’s on her first solo tour in four years.
“My favorite one lately is to say, ‘My uncle used to love me, but she died,’ which is just a Roger Miller song,” she says. "Then you just move forward. People don’t know what to do with that.”
She says most of the hardest experiences have been fans who ride the line between obsessive and mocking.
“Where they’re up close, and they’re at the center of the stage right in front of you, and they’re singing every single line, and they're headbanging even to the slow ones,” Olsen says. “And you have to wonder at some point, ‘Are you on drugs? How do you know all the words and hate me this much? What do you do with the rest of your time?’
“Especially in a band scenario – there’s one guy who’s just banging his head to, I don’t know, maybe it was ‘Tiniest Seed’ or something, it was so quiet. It was a quiet song for quiet people. And he was banging his head and singing at the top of his lungs for all of ‘Tiniest Seed.' During the guitar break I just looked over and I was like, ‘I already have a backup singer. You have to wait in line.' Because at some point it’s not a compliment anymore. It’s like, ‘Why are you trying to be louder than me? Get your own stage. Go do that somewhere else.’ It took me a long time to get here. It might not last forever.”
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Olsen started recording and touring with Bonnie Prince Billy about seven years ago, dropped her debut, Strange Cacti, in 2011, followed by 2012's Half Way Home and 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness. But 2016’s My Woman, which found her moving from lo-fi and folk into more indie rock, grew her a whole new crop of fans, thanks in part to the success of the single “Shut Up Kiss Me.” Last year, Olsen released Phases, a compilation of demos and outtakes, as a way of showing fans who were only familiar with her last two albums her earlier work and the different styles of songs that she’s been writing.
Olsen says she also wanted to revisit some of the earlier material in a solo setting as well, since she’d only play a few of those songs with her tours with her band.
“It’s nice to do these [solo] tours,” she says. “I mean, it’s kind of like it’s for the fans that have been there since the beginning. It’s fun for me. It kind of keeps me on my toes because I like doing both. I like playing with the band, but I don’t get to sing those songs, but I also don’t really talk as much with the audience and get to talk with them and be more personable with them, it gives me a chance to reach people in a different way, if they’re willing.”
She says that playing solo is easier because she doesn’t worry as much about messing up.
“I can actually sing out in a more relaxed way because I’m not trying to make sure that the rhythm is staying on,” Olsen says. “Stuff like that took forever to be able to do, like keep a rhythm with drums and the bass and check in with the guitars while also singing harmonies while also trying to sing at my best. It was a lot to do. Sometimes I think I was really excited I was able to do that. I’m like, 'I can do that with those people.' It’s different. It can be way more relaxed and open when I’m playing solo.”
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On her solo tour — which stops at the Paramount Theatre on Monday, September 17 — through a partnership with PLUS 1, one dollar from each ticket goes to Direct Relief, a global anti-poverty organization. Each stop on the tour will have representatives from NextGen America, a nonprofit that helps register young voters.
“I think having a platform is important to realize, but I think when you over-use your platform to be political sometimes it can get annoying and the message isn’t as clear anymore because you’re just spreading yourself thin on so many issues,” Olsen says. "And I really feel like joining with an organization like PLUS 1 is really...it’s a way of being like I’m giving back while I’m also focusing on my music. I can talk a little bit about this, but it’s not why I make music. But it’s something that I’m trying to do from my perspective and where I stand. I think there’s a fine line... . A lot of artists are afraid to be political anymore considering the state we’re in right now, but if everybody did something like this in my position, it would be so good for the state of things.
“I’m not writing my next record about what’s politically happened, but I will say people do need to be inspired right now by music and art, and need a place to go to listen and reflect and think about what’s happening in the world," she says. "And though it feels so self-involved to say it, I feel like it’s every artist’s job to kind of, at least right now, to kind of share their music in a way, but also share what they believe in about it.”