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So, How Was Your 2020, Angel Olsen?

Whole New Mess singer-songwriter on watching The Sopranos, cooking risotto, and seeing the world with a new clarity

Kylie Coutts*

So, How Was Your 2020? is a series in which our favorite entertainers answer our questionnaire about the music, culture and memorable moments that shaped their year. We’ll be rolling these pieces out throughout December.

Angel Olsen stripped her music down to its barest essentials on this summer’s Whole New Mess, revisiting the grandly orchestrated songs from 2019’s All Mirrors in stark solo form. The new album, which was actually recorded first, gave her a chance to reset and recalibrate her approach to music after several years of steadily rising acclaim. It’s a dazzling glimpse into her creative process and a reminder of the simple power of her songs in their most unadorned form.

At home in Asheville, North Carolina, Olsen has spent much of this year watching The Sopranos, listening to Alice Coltrane’s cosmic jazz, and feeling inspired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In her responses to our year-end survey, the singer-songwriter also tells us about her biggest hopes for 2021 and the truths this year has made clearer.

The album I most listened to in 2020 was:
I know that it’s not from 2020, but here’s my honest answer: Lucinda Williams’ Happy Woman Blues.

My favorite TV show to stream during quarantine was:
The Sopranos. Never seen it before now. Maybe it was the amount of pasta I was gorging while experiencing many moments of mild paranoia. You know?

The song that will define 2020 for me is:
“Beware of Darkness” by George Harrison.

I’d define my current state of mind as:
Hopeful, open, [and] inspired by the things that have let me down. I had a moment of overzealous excitement and writing and reflection on myself and the world, but now I’m ready to edify, revisit, [and] reground myself in what I can and can’t emotionally be present for. In some ways the pandemic has weeded out things in my life I no longer needed, or brought dormant truths to the surface in friendships, lovers, family, [and] community. I feel ready to take a moment for myself to reflect and see to following through with some major decisions.

The viral video I kept coming back to was probably:
Ok, this is a lie, but I did revisit “End of ze world!” from funnyjunk.com. Early internet days. Remember this one? I’ve been revisiting old internet memes and YouTube sensations.

The old favorite album I came to this year for comfort was:
Probably Alice Coltrane, Journey in Satchidananda.

The old favorite movie I returned to for comfort was:
Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.

The most interesting thing I learned to cook during quarantine was:
Seaweed rice risotto. I know it’s not sourdough, but it’s something.

The best book I read in quarantine was:
Every Day Is for the Thief by Teju Cole.

A new hobby I picked up in quarantine is:
Bird watching. Yes. I am one of those people.

The biggest hero of 2020 was:
Probably many people because a lot has happened this year in America and in the world, but — politically speaking — I would have to say Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a hero of 2020!

The thing I’m least looking forward to in 2021 is:
Waiting for our country to get its shit together, hah.

The thing I’m most looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over is:
Traveling to see loved ones and performing live music again with my band. I never thought I’d miss touring so much, but I do miss playing music with the band live. It’s not the same at home!

My biggest hope for 2021 is:
For those neoliberal forward-thinking people (not unlike myself) to become more physically aware of and actively invested in their own personal communities. I believe this pandemic has served as a reminder of every human being’s mortality, which has led many to realize that it’s time to tear down systems that aren’t serving all people no matter their race, identity, status, belief, or background. My hope is that the motivation behind these reflections will continue to grow and change the nation and world we live in.

From Rolling Stone US