Angel Olsen keeps getting asked about a silver wig. The glistening bob she wore in the music video for Intern, the first single from Olsen’s third album, My Woman, gained as much attention as the song’s synth-heavy sound.
Both were a notable departure from what fans knew of the 29-year-old folk artist. She’s keen to get the silver elephant out of the way. So I ask her: why the wig?
“I didn’t realise you’d all think I was trying to be a robot,” says Olsen. “To me, the wig was an afterthought. It was more about consistency with my hair [between takes] and less about, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a character on a stage now’.”
Released several months before My Woman came out, Intern proved to be a red herring; save for this song, Olsen's third album is no dark, hazy, David Lynch-y synth-fest.
Instead, My Woman is split between the radio-friendly folk songs of side A, and the sprawling tracks on side B. The livelier moments – hinted at in Olsen’s last album Burn Your Fire For No Witness – are given space to unfurl. And a live band.
Olsen says she’s enjoying “finally” touring and stretching out the album’s legs on stage. We chat about how people say she’s Laura Palmer reincarnate (“I never really thought we looked that alike”), and how she’s enjoying the ’80s vibes of Seekae singer Alex Cameron’s “really great” debut solo album, Jumping The Shark. We also discuss the reception to My Woman; it has been positive, if a little disorientating at times.
It’s tempting to interpret My Woman as being about an assortment of melancholic characters – the silver-haired vixen of Intern; the desperation-driven singer of Shut Up Kiss Me; the decimated person behind album-closing ballad Pops. But Olsen doesn’t see it like that.
“I think people expect me to be this Leonard Cohen-esque sad girl,” she says. “While I think I’ll always have something to complain about in my life – so I’ll probably always have something to write about that’s sad – at the same time a sense of levity is really important.[The album] doesn’t seem like a bummer to me.”
That levity might not come through on first listen. Lyrics such as I just want to be alive/make something real from Intern have a literary-level of earnestness, sung in a quivering voice. But Olsen matches existential dilemmas with self-aware snark and wit – there’s no passive sad girl present on My Woman, or its three music videos, which Olsen directed herself.
“The thing that always bugged me [with videos] was that I wasn’t in the editor’s chair and [the videos are] the part that determines my image,” she says. “Nobody else should be in the editor’s chair [or] people will think something’s my idea when it was someone else’s.”
This theme of being in control, and being in control as a woman, comes through after repeat listens, especially on the longer songs such as the eight-minute centerpiece, Sister. Olsen steers away from any definitive answers on what songs mean or say. It’s not her job to analyse her own lyrics for feminist theories, though she admits “it’s all in there”.
“People are going to pick up on what they want to pick up on,” she says. “And if a silver wig stirs up something for a person, then so be it.”
It sounds like a challenge – to see if we can keep up, an echo of a line she sings on the album: I dare you to understand what makes me a woman. Not a robot, not Laura Palmer, not a sad girl. Her own woman.
Angel Olsen is touring nationally in November and December. Tickets are available here.
Tue November 29 – The Croxton
Thu December 1 – Lismore City Hall
Fri December 2 – The Brightside
Sat December 3 – The Fairground Festival
Mon December 5 – Sydney Opera House Studio (sold out)
Tue December 6 – Factory Theatre
Wed December 7 – The Gov
Thu December 8 – Badlands