Album cover artwork for ANgel Olsen with black vinyl record popping outNew love and new grief wrap like a cadeuceus around Chicago alt-rock-folk artist Angel Olsen’s new album, written during an era of massive personal change. Her parents passed away within weeks of one another, just after Olsen had come out to them; less than a month later, she was recording the phenomenally moving collection of songs which comprise sixth album Big Time.

We put some questions to the revered singer-songwriter on how she pulled its threads together.

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The timeline of your personal experiences surrounding this album’s creation is overwhelming to read, yet the album has deliberate time for each theme and feeling – it never rushes or overstuffs a moment. Did you feel like time expanded or contracted for you over this stage of your life in ways that propelled or hindered the album’s creation?

I think that the expansion of time during the last few years for me has certainly led to me letting go of overthinking, and allowing this record to just be relaxed, and focused on the words and the songs’ simple melodies.

In Big Time you sing about getting ‘here on time’, and in This is How it Works you sing ‘It took a lot to get me here.’ Getting somewhere in space and time, ‘on time’, has links to destiny – do you think fate or fateful journeys are a real thing in life?

I do think that while we have control over how we act and what we do, there are emotional and physical events that feel… sometimes meant to happen. At least for me, I’m learning to take what’s happened and sort of see the good things that have come through. It’s not always easy, and being a writer I do often ask myself if the events in my life have meaning to me, have some kind of symbolism, or if it’s just my psyche, the way I see how thing happen.

There is a very beaut harpsichord sound you use across the album. It gives this spiky prestige. What drew you to its sound?

When we were recording All the Flowers, the guitar was doing this sort of whimsical classical tempo and I think it was Jonathan Wilson’s idea – or might have been – to add harpsichord. I liked how it gave the song a little sense of humor, almost like entering a period piece at the end.

The castanets in Dream Thing are so gentle we can (almost) count the clacks. Which other percussion instruments do you like hearing or using?

Jonathan Wilson is a writer-singer-drummer-producer, and I think his influence really came in with stuff like the percussion and unorthodox textures, haha. I really loved how he added a kind of wild forest moment to some lyrics, like in Go Home, and Through the Fires.

The lapsteel has so much character that it’s difficult not to personify it. Do you think of instruments as having particular personalities you can call on to colour an arrangement?

I think strings always make songs feel like a moment in a film, pedal steel takes you into a saloon… Yes, I think that’s the beauty of making music – sound can create visuals and movement in all directions.

The album’s price includes a carbon offset charge, purchased through a body which oversees the Medford Spring Grassland project, which aims to halt the conversion of prairie grasslands to cropland. Why is this project important to you?

It’s important to try to do things differently and be more aware of our output in the world, in all ways. This is just another small way to show people how. I guess we hoped more artists would try this out too.

This album is going to sound extra beautiful on vinyl. Do you have a vinyl collection, and if so, how did it start?

I do. It started in Chicago, with Jackie de Shannon and Skeeter Davis.

Big Time by Angel Olsen is out June 3 via Jagjaguwar/Inertia.

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