Angel Olsen On Recording Her New Album Live & Why Artists Should Be Given More Cred When It Comes To
Written by David James Young on 9th September, 2016
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Angel Olsen is, to put it simply, one of the most uniquely interesting interviewees you’re ever likely to encounter – above everything else, purely for the reason that she technically did not get interviewed. In the 15 minutes allocated us to talk with Olsen, not a single question is asked. It’s primarily a conversation, but even then it’s heavily weighted towards Olsen, who has the uncanny ability to speak unprompted for minutes at a time.
With all of this said, it should be stressed that none of this is intended to paint Olsen in a negative light whatsoever. Rather, she is a delight to speak to – or to hear speak, at the very least – as she discusses her third studio album, My Woman, which was released this past Friday through celebrated indie label Jagjaguwar.
“This record was recorded live, and it’s unforgiving at times,” begins Olsen as the discussion begins about My Woman‘s creation. “I put a lot of value in my live performance, and I feel like I can repair what I didn’t do the right way when I recorded the songs originally – in a weird way, it’s me getting redemption for whatever mistakes I might have made the first time around. To make an album that’s recorded live with my band, then, was a big change. We had to become a lot more accepting of our mistakes. The editing process is a lot more neat when everything is recorded separately. If one part goes too long or someone misses a cue, you can take it out easily enough by cutting one channel – but what’s the point if it still gets picked up in a different microphone? The editing actually became quite fun to navigate once the challenge presented itself of how to work around anything that might have gone wrong.
“I think that one of the most interesting aspects of the album is hearing us fucking up,” she continues. “This is what’s fun about music to me. By recording to tape and using all of this vintage gear in a room together, you can really sense the characteristics of each song. I love that part of the music, and I loved the discovery of that which came while I was doing the mixing.”
Without missing a beat, Olsen begins talking about her own role in the creation of My Woman away from being its chief songwriter, singer and guitarist. The album was produced by Justin Raisen – a pop producer by trade; having worked with artists like Charli XCX, Kylie Minogue and Santigold – at Vox Studios in Los Angeles. It’s a unique name to have attached to an indie-rock project, but Olsen is notably tired of speaking about him. Besides, she says, it’s as much her work as it was Raisen’s. “People have been talking to me a lot about this producer who I chose to work with, which I love – actually, they chose to work with me!” Olsen says.
“I don’t mean to sound like I have a chip on my shoulder, but I really feel as though the artists need to get a little bit more credit when it comes to production. The artists are editing and mixing right there alongside the producer – and I co-produced this record, too. Essentially, artists serve as the editor-in-chief on their own records – we don’t just walk in and sing and then the rest is up to someone else. I learned so much about that side of things and about the process of recording to tape – there’s honestly so much that I know now that I wish I had known when we went in to make the record, just so I was a little more useful. I’m obsessed with it now – I wanna record other people. I want to do more and more and learn more and more. I wanna fuck around and try out interesting ways to transform recordings from their original form.”
It’s put to Olsen that there is a potential chance that she is not being recognised for her work as a producer or editor is on account of her gender. Last year, Björk spoke out on the matter while promoting her album Vulcinura, saying that she has spent years not getting credit for being a producer on her albums, even when she has done nearly all of the work herself. Several articles and editorials followed, noting that many female artists play a far bigger role in their own music beyond simply singing and curating but are rarely given the kudos of their male counterparts. Olsen acknowledges this as one of the many frustrating parts of the tiresome ‘What’s it like being a woman in music?’ rhetoric, although she is less inclined to align such an issue with her own particular gripe.
“It relates to female artists, for sure, but I think artists in general just don’t get credit for being able to organise themselves when their art is so close to them,” she says. “I’ve never worked with him, but I really appreciate Steve Albini for kind of subverting the roles while he’s recording bands and artists. His deal is saying, ‘I’m an engineer. You’re the producer.’ The engineer is what connects your message to the sound that you want. They might have a little bit of input here and there, but ultimately it’s your decision as an artist in regards to what sound you want to go with. I think there’s a lot to be said about that.
“If you are someone who has become aware of the sound and the style that you like, and the equipment that creates it, maybe you’re ready to take the step of doing everything yourself. I was very close to doing that on this record, but I still value the idea of there being another opinion or a contrasting id and ego in the mix. It adds perspective. It doesn’t matter whether said ideas are taken on board or not – that’s a totally different thing. I still think having a producer to work with is important to me, and working alongside them is important to me. What bugs me is this idea that people don’t know – or even assume – that I would have any part in it.”
Olsen launches into stories of artists that she admires – such as Bruce Springsteen and J.J. Cale – before she’s informed that it’s time to wrap things up. “I’m so sorry!” she laughs when she realises she has completed what may well be the first-ever question-less interview. “I’m coming down to Australia soon – maybe we can do this again and you can ask a few more questions?”
Anytime, anyplace – it’s artists like Olsen that make this line of work worthwhile.