Angel Olsen can trace her music career all the way back to a childhood fear of the dark.
Growing up, the singer/songwriter used to sing out loud to herself after her parents tucked her in at night. It was, she said, the only way she knew to fend off the monsters lurking both in her closet and beneath her bed. Fittingly, her music serves a similar role these days, with Olsen pouring all her grief, confusion and angst into her songs so she can move through her life unburdened by emotional turmoil.
“I think figuring out a challenge or being able to deal with something I haven’t dealt with, even if it’s something really heavy, has given me more of an inspiration to write versus having a good day in the park with a friend,” said Olsen, 26, who performs at Double Happiness on Sunday, Sept. 22. “I guess I’m still using [music] to ward off the monsters.”
Olsen’s latest album, Half Way Home, pairs the singer’s mournful, ethereal voice with lyrics that tread comparatively heavy ground. Songs touch on life, death and the meaning of the word home — topics that all appear to stem in some way from her adoption at the age of 3.
“If I had to psychoanalyze myself as a child, I thought about death a lot. My [adopted] parents were way older than my other friends’ parents, so I was always preparing for them to get sick or whatever,” Olsen said. “It hasn’t been a negative, but it’s changed the way I think about life and death and becoming an adult. It’s affected me greatly, and it affects my music.”
Of course this, like everything in the musician’s life, is beginning to change. Earlier this month she moved from Chicago to North Carolina because she wanted a more relaxing home base where she could “walk around or go hiking for a few days and get [her] bearings back,” and recently she even started writing songs that could actually be described as (gulp) happy. OK, so maybe that’s not the precise language she used — she actually said, “I’m beginning to write songs that are less like, ‘Life sucks’” — but either way it’s clear Olsen is starting to chart a different course in both her music and her life.
“As my voice is changing and as I am changing, things are changing in the world and in my writing,” she said. “I think it would be boring if things always stayed the same.”
Photo credit: Sabrina Rush