Late in 2016 while on tour supporting her third studio album My Woman, Angel Olsen played a club with a distinct quirk. While most places announce acts via a marquee, or gig posters, or even flyers, this one had a sketch artist draw caricatures of acts that came through on a chalkboard inside. Angel was immortalized, or as immortalized as one can be on a chalkboard. But there was only one problem after she saw it for the first time. She was drawn with a giant frown on her face.
“It’s funny how the things you create will always be with you in some way that you cannot control,” Olsen said in the courtyard of Miami’s Blind Pig a few hours before her Red Bull Sound Select 3 Days In Miami set at 1306 this past February. “You become, then, some character that you’ve accidentally created that follows you around everywhere. It’s true, and then you’re like ‘Oh, this is me. This is this projected thing that is just following me everywhere I go.’”
Olsen asked if it was possible to have the frown changed to a smile, or erased completely, or better yet, with the face erased and only her hair remaining. Clearly the artist responded to something in Angel’s music, a piece of her in her lyrics, and the interpretation was a harsh frown. But like most caricature art, it was a distortion. It wasn’t the real Angel, just like last year’s stunning My Woman isn’t her either. It’s a part of her, sure, but it’s not her.
“You look, and you see yourself in the form of the ghost,” Olsen said. “Or the thing that you once were, or in some moment where someone caught you being a human, is now this thing that’s everywhere. I don’t know. It’s a weird life. It’s a weird thing to do with your life. I don’t know. I can’t stop doing it.”
There’s always been a bit of a disconnect between Angel Olsen the person, and “Angel Olsen” the artist. The Angel Olsen who can stand in front of a packed bar and mumble deadpan one liners. The Angel Olsen who donned a shiny wig in her videos without explanation. The Angel Olsen who carried her almost-possessed apparition of a voice across the main stage at the Pitchfork Music Festival this month like fog in a graveyard, sprawling and creeping and tumbling, leaving you disoriented and haunted. But, remember, that voice is not Angel Olsen herself.
One can’t exist without the other, and there wouldn’t be an Angel Olsen on stage, conducting her band unstuck in time as if it’s 1957, and 1977, and 2017 all at once, if there wasn’t Angel Olsen the living, breathing person filled with pain, and regret, and the frenetic untamed energy that’s inside anyone who is compelled to create.
The problem, of course, is in asking fans who engage with one — the performer, the recorded act — but don’t get exposed to the other. Much like an actor being bombarded with quotes from a cult classic he or she was in, people respond to the craft and the tangible thing that exists as an expression of that individual.
“Fans or people will come up to you,” Olsen told me, “And they’re talking about their lives with you, and it’s almost like you are a therapist or a medium for them in that way, and then you realize ‘Oh, you’re talking to my record right now. You’re talking to my record. I didn’t realize. Holy sh*t. I thought you were talking to me, but you’re talking to all of the things that I just put in a forty-five minute record that might have something to do with me, definitely have something to do with me, but are not 100 percent all of me, but you think that that’s me.’”