Orchestral music is something that’s long fascinated Angel Olsen. Growing up in St. Louis, there always seemed to be at least a time or two each year when she and her family would attend the symphony.
“I grew up going to the orchestra, going to see the symphony every year for my birthday or pretty often in the winter,” said Olsen, who will perform at The Sylvee on Wednesday. “My parents would take me there. I just always thought it had to be a pretty amazing feeling to be a composer and to watch strings being performed.”
So, when she learned that she could have strings added for her latest album, "All Mirrors," she jumped at the chance. Even better, it was a hand-picked orchestra. She was blown away with the results.
“When they were recorded, those two days in the studio, and the players showed up and performed these songs that I wrote, it was insane,” she said. “I mean, it's fun to hear it on a record, but when you hear it live and it's something that you made, it's pretty crazy to hear it back for the first time.
“Luckily, I started working with these arrangers who instead of just adding strings in the background were pretty interactive about it and they decided to dig in and make it weird and make it more of something that kind of reacted to words or parts of the song versus just sitting behind everything.”
The lush sounding songs are much different from her original plans, which consisted of a dual album release of solo and band versions of the songs. She ultimately made the decision to make the songs as full as she could for a single release.
“This is the most time I've spent with any of the material because I made this solo record first and I had to mix that, but I kind of put that aside as soon as I finished recording it,” says Olsen. “I went home for a week and right after I had to revisit the songs and reinvent them. That was a challenge at first to hear things differently. I needed space between, but I think the collaborators involved were really helpful in showing me different ways the songs could be played and expressed.”
With the help of producer John Congleton, Olsen reworked the songs, adding synths and keys and often changing the songs structure completely. It often required learning how to play parts on piano that were meant for guitar and vice versa.
“It was a lot of learning for me, but I think that it's time for that,” she says. “It was kind of interesting watching the songs change from guitar to these new sounds. Eventually I was just like instead of coming out with them both at the same time, I felt it would be more interesting to come out with this crazy big version of it and then later on show people where it started and how it sounded when it first started.”
This rich sound is contrasted by some of her most straightforward lyrics.
“The last thing I was thinking about was how I was being interpreted as a songwriter,” says Olsen. “It was more, these are thoughts that are real, and I need to put them into something… I think it's the most straightforward and the least poetic of my work."
With four albums to her name, she’s enjoyed a growing visibility in the music world. Each chance to perform is a chance to step on stage and get lost musically, wowing fans with her commanding vocals.
“I don't walk around and think about it during the day when I'm home. I just think about other things,” says Olsen. “Then when I go out into the world to perform stuff, I forget sometimes that there's an audience out there waiting.”