Angel Olsen is the voice behind the incredible 2012 album Half Way Home and on February 17th she will release her much-anticipated follow-up Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Her latest offering features a variety of sounds, from tracks with soft, melancholy vocals and acoustic backing to loud drum beats and aggressive grungy vocals (as showcased on the first single from the new record, 'Forgotten/Forgiven').

She's currently focusing her musical energies on preparing for her tour, which includes dates in London and Manchester. During a rare break from rehearsals, the singer spoke to us about the progression from her first album, sharing a record label with the likes Bon Iver and her interest in the lyrical mastermind that is Kendrick Lamar.

Congratulations on finishing the album. How does it feel? I'm guessing it must be a relief, a weight off your shoulders knowing it's finished?

Yeah, I'm excited that we did it so quickly. You know, I've been ready since June to promote it and to go on tour so I'm really excited to be going out and playing it. I just added a new member; my friend Emily will be playing bass so that my friend Stuart, who did a lot of guitar work on the album, will actually be able to play that, play the guitar and embellish what I'm doing, so I'm excited to hear a full band behind the songs.

That's cool. It must be nice to be able to work with friends?

Yeah! I mean, Josh I worked with at a cafe and he was a playwright and I didn't even know that he played drums in a band with Stuart and he introduced himself to me again a year after not working at the cafe. We met up and started performing and practicing together and then he introduced me to Stuart. We weren't super close in the beginning but then we became friends after we worked together. And Emily, we lived together seven years ago... actually I remember getting in a fight with her once, actually my friend reminded me of this, but I had stolen her brush out of her room, because I needed a brush and I couldn't find a brush so I just combed my hair and I put it back and I remember her getting mad at me, yelling, "Why did you come into my room?!" And now we're working together. She's a few years older than me, she's 30 or 31, so she's a bit older but she just moved out of Chicago and we will be working together on the tour, so...

I guess you never expected this to happen when you lived together so many years ago!

No! We went through many phases as friends so I feel like this is just another step.

Well, a world away from all those seven years ago!

Yeah, now she can steal my stuff.

In terms of the second album, how do you feel it has progressed from the first album? I've been lucky enough to hear the new album and at times it feels like you're moving in a new direction, especially on songs like 'Lights Out' and 'Forgiven/Forgotten'. Are you ready to be a bit more experimental or are you happy with where you're at?

I think I am definitely ready to be more experimental but I wouldn't say I'm really going in any particular direction. The song 'Sweet Dreams' is very grungy, and it's a lot like 'Forgiven/Forgotten', which I wrote before I even released Half Way Home. Someone could even say that having released the album after that it would be really upbeat and fast and grungy but it wasn't. I think that as far as the progression is concerned, there is a balance on the new record in both a continuation of reflective, quiet songs and upbeat kind of stuff. If I am going in any direction it's just a combination of the two because, I don't know, I just feel like maybe I'm more inspired by a spectrum of different kinds of music. I think that whether or not I control it, it'll make its way into whatever I do. I've been listening to a lot of the Nerves and a lot of stuff like that and even David Bowie, but I mean, I don't know, I think there's just a lot of things happening in my brain.

I'm just wondering — from the balance of angry and melancholy tracks on the album, maybe music, for you, is the best form of expression.

There's a phase of letting go and writing that's similar to going through grief. [At] first you just think I don't give a fuck. I'm writing this, and then you're angry and then you write something angry, and then you write something kind of subdued or reflective and quiet. I feel like there are all these different moods that I go through and moods that I would daresay other people experience. I think that once people go and buy a record they want the same thing, they want the same moods throughout the entire record, but I'm not going to start writing my music so that people will enjoy it more. I'm not writing my music for people to, you know, like, I don't really care. I want to write music that I would have fun playing, and you know, sometimes I feel like it would be more fun to play the louder, grungier stuff.

I think that's definitely inspired me to write a little differently and to express myself a little bit more aggressively, because that's more fun for me. I've discovered that, [while] working with other people and covering other people's songs and being a vocalist for other bands, I tend to use my voice in louder and stronger ways than I do on my reflective, quieter stuff. So for me, I'm trying to write so I can experience that kind of attitude, so that I can experience the opposite of those feelings, and I think it's a good balance. If I'm in a bad mood I have to go out there and sing all these loud songs. When you're on tour you're not going to be in a great mood every day and you're not going to feel like singing your music every day, but you have to because that's the commitment you make. But you know, you get out there and you get into certain songs more than others on a particular night. I think that that's the positive of having a group of different kinds of material on my record—it's that I can experience the different highs and lows of each song.

Yeah, I had never really thought about it like that. I guess when you see a band that you like and you watch them live you never really appreciate the fact that they've probably been on the road for a long time and the way that they feel about songs will be different on every night, so that's really interesting.

Yeah, I mean you try and go out there as if it's the first time you've ever performed every night, but it's not always like that.

Yeah, I guess that's easier said than done. In terms of the label Jagjaguwar, obviously there are some pretty interesting names on the roster (like Bon Iver and Dinosaur Jr). Do you sort of feel that you want to share the same success that they've experienced, or are you content with the fan base that you've got now?

Well, I don't really think about it. I know that they have been very successful and that they are, you know, definitely making a living and they've been doing it for a lot longer than me. I also think that it's so unpredictable—you never know with art, with music, what people will appreciate and what you can really appreciate [about] the record that you made. Maybe nobody will get into it, you know, and I think it's difficult for me to say how I want to compare myself to them because I have no idea. I think the way that we live our lives are probably very different. I am much younger... there are just so many aspects to the idea of comparing myself. I have this mindset that's like, "yeah, it would be nice to make a livelihood off my music and to live well and to make a lot of albums and work with a record label." Of course you want to—I mean, you're making an agreement to help them carry on their good name so you make an agreement to write, but I don't think that it should be forced. I never think that's a good idea.

For me, it's more about putting out something that isn't forced, no matter what kind of weight is upon me. That's the eternal fight, no matter how much press is surrounding me or how much touring I do or how many people are involved, I can be the one to say I'm not going out there until I write something I believe in. I think that that's really important for an artist. I think that it's also equally difficult for others around an artist to deal with someone like that, because what if they don't feel like writing something for a long time? And if I think about it like that, then it's difficult to compare myself to someone who is releasing something every year or every year and a half or something, because maybe I'm just not as inspired in that period of time, you know. I think that it would be nice to live my life and do other things too. I don't just want to be on tour. I think to appreciate being on tour, you have to take a break, you have to live your life and go through experiences and then come back to it. So yeah, I think you asked me a question and I gave you a long answer!

No, It's fine! It's really interesting! So, what are your plans for future projects? I mean, I know you're touring, you're doing Soup Kitchen over here (which is a really cool venue, by the way), but what other plans do you have? Have you started writing any new material? Are you going to take a break?

I'm not sure actually, I've been writing a lot! It's kind of frustrating because I went to Nashville to practice with everyone (because we added Emily the bassist so we've got a full band now), and we had to actually start paying attention to each other for part of the songs, a lot of work re-learning songs that we had already gone through and then doing the new material and deciding that it would change live. Some things would have to change live. But also during that time, I was not in the mood to play the new material because I had been writing a lot of other material that I was excited about. So I introduced a few songs to them just kind of casually, things that didn't have lyrics yet, so we just played them and it was really fun. So I think that there will be new material, I'm just not sure how soon it will be.

Awesome. Okay, really quickly, I'm interested in this because you're quite an alternative singer, you're a very private person, but I have been really intrigued as to who your favourite mainstream artists are. Who are you into?

[She giggled lots during this question] I really like Kendrick Lamar!

That really shocks me, actually. That is honestly the last person I expected you to say!

Stuart actually played his album in the car on tour and I was like, "Who is this, Stuart?! He's got some nice lyrics."

Anybody else?

In mainstream music? I'm not a huge fan of Beyoncé and I don't really care for the whole sexual liberation thing. I think that happened, like, a long time ago but I also think that it's cool that an artist released an album without ever doing, like, a sprinkle of promotion for it, she just released all of it at once, and I thought that was really interesting but she has the power to do that. I don't know if I would, but she does! I thought that was kind of cool. I've listened to some of the tracks from the album and I thought that Beyoncé is really becoming experimental. And it's not necessarily stuff that I would get into, but it's cool that an artist like that goes "fuck it, I'm going to do some really experimental shit". I think that that's really punk rock! But you know, I have mixed feelings because I don't really care about the whole sexual thing, it doesn't have to be sexual. I don't see why all of that is such a big deal.

Do you not appreciate the feminist side of it, though?

I mean, I think that she's definitely making a huge statement about a lot of things, but I think that could be misunderstood and I think anything like that will be misunderstood. I don't really want to go too far into feminist ideas, but it's unfortunate that it's not as accepted as dudes talking about girls, you know, but I also think that it's all ridiculous, all together it's ridiculous. It's like fighting evil with evil, like there's just no point, but I think it would be more interesting if it was experimental with something that doesn't have to be about sexuality. It's cool that you're confident about your sexuality and that you're telling people to be confident about their sexuality, to be proud that they are who they are and not be afraid of speaking their mind because of their sexuality. To say that and then put yourself completely naked on a billboard for everyone to see... I just don't know.

Yeah. Well, I think we are about to get cut off so I just want to say thanks for speaking to me, it's been really insightful, and good luck with the album, I bet you're really excited about everyone hearing it.

Yeah, maybe I'll meet Kendrick some day!

Maybe! Oh my God, imagine a collaboration between you and Kendrick! It would be incredible, and so weird, but incredible!

It would be so sick but yes, thanks for having me!


Burn Your Fire For No Witness will be released via Jagjaguwar on 17 February 2014.