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Angel Olsen: No One Sings Quite Like Candi Staton

“There’s something about her vocals,” Olsen says of the R&B/disco/roots veteran artist. “Maybe it’s just that I can relate to it”

Candi Staton

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

For this year’s annual Women Shaping the Future issue, we asked 12 of today’s top musical acts to talk about the women who have inspired them most in their lives and careers. Here, Angel Olsen shares why she’s always telling people to listen to more of R&B/disco/roots veteran Candi Staton‘s music.

I moved to Chicago from St. Louis in my early twenties. The winters were really tough, and I’d have to get up at 5 a.m. to go open the cafe where I worked. Candi’s music was something I would turn to every day on my way to work. Now, when I listen to her music, I always think about Chicago.

It was the first time in my life that I was really introduced to different kinds of music, and Candi was a big slice of that. I had moved in with this guy who became my long-term boyfriend, and he introduced me to jazz and soul. I remember being really drawn to her music. A lot of people try to get me into other singers, but there’s something about her vocals — maybe it’s just that I can relate to it. I don’t see myself sounding like her in any way, but there’s something about her voice where she doesn’t sound completely perfect. It’s not super high, or super low. It’s this middle-range voice that cracks in a really good way. It’s hard to find anyone who compares to the way she yell-sings. You can hear her background in choir singing: There’s a need to be redeemed, whether it’s from God or a partner. She sounds like she’s been in chains and she’s stuck in a trauma cycle because she loves someone so much, but they’re bad for her. There’s a certain kind of pain you can hear in those recordings.

I really love her [1970] song “Sweet Feeling,” in particular. If I’m ever DJ’ing or showing friends music, I always choose that one. It’s got an upbeat feeling, but it’s a sad song. I love songs like that. I’m obsessed with people being able to make something really short and sweet that seems upbeat and exciting, but also has something really intense and simple and profound in the middle of it. 

I did get to meet Candi once. I went to a performance of hers in New York [in 2008]. I met her and her granddaughter. It was wild. It was beautiful. I’ve never really met any other writer or singer idols, but I’m happy that I got to meet Candi. 

I don’t think I’ll ever sing like Candi does, but there are things I’ve learned [from her] about singing. You don’t have to say everything in a wordy way. You can say something really simply and use one word, and create three different [sounds], if you bend the notes. Listening to and singing along to her music, I think about how I could push my vocals and what I would be willing to risk doing in a live performance. Just really trying to reach the high notes. I hear people do it in an affected way in a lot of pop music, and I know there’s a way to do it that’s smoother and more jazzy. But I’m talking about yelling, I’m not talking about runs. I’m talking about the texture of your vocal when you’re singing. It’s not husky or smooth all the time, it just happens in certain words and in certain places. Candi Staton is a master at that.

Some people know Candi’s music, but it’s rare that people do. It’s weird to me that not that many people have heard of her, because she’s incredible. Any time I introduce her music to anyone — specifically to [1970’s I’m Just a Prisoner] — they’re like, “The whole record is amazing.” Every song on it is just perfect.

From Rolling Stone US