Angel Olsen discusses her bittersweet new album, 'Big Time' The singer-songwriter had a tough couple of years, losing both parents while balancing new love. The experience fueled the country-leaning balance of her new album, Big Time.

Angel Olsen discusses her bittersweet new album, 'Big Time'

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ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Angel Olsen has not always mined her life for her music, but recently, her life has provided enough material for several albums. It started a couple years ago.

ANGEL OLSEN: I had gone through a breakup. I was still, like, kind of, like, not telling people that I was queer. I felt really alone and, like, yeah, I don't know. It just felt like the end of the world.

SHAPIRO: Then she fell in love. She came out. Her father died and, soon after, her mother. All of that joy, discovery and loss provides a backdrop to her new record, "Big Time."


OLSEN: (Singing) I'll be long gone. Thanks for the songs, guess it's time to wake up from this trip we've been on. So long, farewell, this is the end. And I'll always remember you just like a friend.

SHAPIRO: The album touches different points along that journey, like the song "Go Home" about pulling herself out of the funk of heartbreak.


OLSEN: (Singing) The world is changing. You can't reverse it.

"Go Home" is a a track that for me is about, like, realizing that I wanted to change the way I thought about my life. I wanted to spend time with people who matter to me, you know. I want to be seen by people. I want to be known. I want to feel at home with myself. I want to practice the truths that I feel instead of just talking about it. And I think that song is really - you know, it's sort of like a song to myself.


OLSEN: (Singing) How can I go on with all those old dreams? I am the ghost now living those old scenes.

SHAPIRO: It's interesting. The image of a ghost and being a ghost keeps coming up.

OLSEN: Yeah, I think - well, I've always been a kind of, like, you know, an emo person, an emo kid, and I've always kind of, like, obsessed over, like, dark and light and, like, things that pass. And sometimes, you can change so much. It's - if you were to face yourself from, like, five years ago, you know, would you recognize yourself or would that person be a ghost to you?

SHAPIRO: To contrast that darkness, you also have this lightness. The title track on the album, "Big Time," which you wrote with your partner, is, like, just this sort of unqualified love song it feels like.


OLSEN: (Singing) Good morning kisses giving you all mine, pull back the curtains, show me the sunshine.

It was an exercise at first. I tend to want to go into the studio with, like, 16 or 17 tracks and I had, like, 13 or something. So I was stressing out. And they were just like, well, what if we wrote a song? And I was like, no (laughter).

SHAPIRO: They, your partner Beau (ph).

OLSEN: Yeah. And I was like, absolutely not. This is mine.


OLSEN: No, I don't need you to help me.

SHAPIRO: And you made it the title track. And so now do they just lord that over you all the time? Like, you didn't think this would work and now it's the title track on the album.

OLSEN: Well, they were just kind of like, I can't believe you're recording this song. I was like, well, it's a song. I think it's a pretty good song. I think we did a good job.

SHAPIRO: I think it's a pretty good song, too.


OLSEN: (Singing) And I'm losin', I'm losin', I've left it behind, guess I had to be losin' to get here on time and I'm living...

SHAPIRO: If you don't mind my asking, am I correct that your partner met your mother for the first time at your father's funeral?

OLSEN: That is true.

SHAPIRO: And then within a couple of weeks, your mother herself was in hospice.

OLSEN: It was maybe a month later she was in the hospital, and then she was in hospice after that. And she survived hospice. And then she went into a nursing home for 10 days, I think, and then she passed away. So she was hanging on. She was, like, you know, talking to God and just, like - she was like, you know, I told your dad, I'm not ready. I'm not going up there. And I would just be like, oh, my God (laughter).


SHAPIRO: I know that part of the joy of coming out can be that it allows people around you to see you as your full self. And so what has it meant for you that you didn't really have that opportunity with your parents?

OLSEN: You know, my parents are from a very different generation, and...

SHAPIRO: They adopted you when they were much later in life, right?

OLSEN: Yeah. My parents were also from the Bible Belt. And, like, as I got older, I had to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn't be able to tell them or explain to them my feelings or the way I felt about politics or the way that I felt about religion or a lot of things. I think I learned very early on that we were so - from such a different time that I just needed to learn how to love them and see them for the things that they were able to give to me. And I'm so blessed that I could have done that because I feel like a lot of friends of mine are still working on that with their folks. But...

SHAPIRO: And so you're thankful for what you got rather than...

OLSEN: Yeah. I wasn't looking for them to, like, really see or understand my personal life. Like, that's not what I'm looking for from my parents. I don't think that it's, like, possible, you know? Because they'll always see you as, like - as a child. So it's just a very different kind of love with them. And I think that's part of why I didn't tell my mom, you know, when I had these experiences, not that - I just didn't feel like, oh, well - you know, what's the point of, like, upsetting her more? She's sick, you know? And I think that was kind of hard, just, like, I don't want to make her more sick.


OLSEN: (Singing) Higher.

SHAPIRO: I read somewhere that you said you wish your mother was here to listen to this album. Is there a specific song that you think you would have enjoyed playing for her?

OLSEN: I think she would have liked "Big Time." I think she would have loved "Dream Thing." She just likes, like, country music, you know? So when - and I told Sharon...

SHAPIRO: Sharon Van Etten, who you recorded a duet with last year.

OLSEN: Yeah, Sharon and I, we recorded for "Fallon," and my mother was in hospice when that aired.


JIMMY FALLON: Here with the TV debut of their new collaboration, "Like I Used To," please welcome Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen.


OLSEN: And she got all the nurses together and was like, that's my daughter and her friend, Sharon Van Etten (laughter). And that was, like, the last thing that she saw.


SHARON VAN ETTEN AND ANGEL OLSEN: (Singing) Change address and draw a line, show my friends the silver line, call my family just to know they're there.

OLSEN: But I do wish that my mom could have heard the record because I think she would have really liked it.

SHAPIRO: Well, Angel Olsen, thank you so much for talking with us today.

OLSEN: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Her new album, "Big Time," is out now.


SHARON VAN ETTEN AND ANGEL OLSEN: (Singing) Waiting inside like I used to, avoiding big crows like I used to...

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