Artist to Artist: Vanessa Carlton x Angel Olsen

Artist to Artist: Vanessa Carlton x Angel Olsen

Artist to Artist: Vanessa Carlton x Angel Olsen

To celebrate our music issue, we're pairing up some of our favorite artists and letting them play interviewer for a change.

To celebrate our music issue, we're pairing up some of our favorite artists and letting them play interviewer for a change.


Today on our 'Artist to Artist' series, we're pairing up singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton with her friend and confidant, Angel Olsen. At first glance, their lives might not look strikingly similar; Carlton rejiggered her solo career from one entangled with major labels to something independent years ago, while Olsen toured as a backup singer before making it on her own. But the points at which their two paths overlap are telling. In some cases, these intersections have to do with shared difficulties as not just musicians, but humans. In others, they're just high and talking about their pets. Read about it below, and make sure to check out Carlton's recents covers, here, here and here.

Vanessa Carlton: I was going back and trying to think about how we met, and I think it’s…it’s interesting because, in this age of social media and particularly Instagram, I’ve met some really wonderful people and artists there. But if I think about it, I realize that we really kind of met because of pot and Sharon Van Etten.

[They both laugh]

VC: Right?

Angel Olsen: Yeah, definitely. I think that I was really impressed with video footage of you maybe having a blunt or something. I don’t remember. It was 4/20 maybe a year ago. I remember now because there were some dogs and I had just gotten my cat and you recommended that I get a little kitty shirt for my cat and I thought that was so cool. And I was so high when I got the message, ‘cause I showed everyone. I was like, “Well, Vanessa Carlton is sending me images of kitty shirts for my kitten.”

VC: [laughs] I mean, it’s what I do. It’s what I do. The thing with social media and particularly Instagram…I just love being able to see—it’s like the voyeur in all of us. What are the other, you know, musicians, writers, whoever…what are they doing?

AO: A sense of humor reveals so much about a person in those 30 seconds. You know what I mean? Like if you have a sense of humor in your social media, or just in life, it’s like this way of capturing who you are through it. I’ve made a few connections with other artists myself and I feel weird about it, but not that different than when I first met people in real life from like the internet in 2007. You know what I mean?

VC: Exactly.

AO: But yeah, I’ve been trying to have a conversation with you for a while, and we’ve both been super busy so I’m glad that someone else is taping it. I needed proof that it’s happening.

VC: Me, too. Well, you’ve been busier than me. Where are you?

AO: I’m in Barcelona right now. We have like a six-hour drive today, and I got some tacos when we got here and I watched that video by Donald Glover.

VC: Oh my god. Incredible.

AO: Yeah, incredible.

VC: So fucking good.

AO: Every time I go on tour, I just kind of zone into being present where I am, like Barcelona, Madrid, or some place like that. And I want to be present as much as possible. I’ll be on Instagram a percentage of the day. But for the most part, I’m trying to just be there, and so I don’t really keep track of the news or watch other artists. So at first when people were freaking out about it, I was like, “Oh, cool—another thing people are freaking out about.” But, no one said it’s political. You know? And if they had said something like, “It’s really intellectual and political,” I would probably have watched it right away actually without thinking about it.

VC: Yeah, and it’s how he fits it in satire, how he performs it, how they framed it all was…it’s so… it just penetrates in this way that I just stood there with both of my hands on my face. I also thought of you because I don’t know if a lot of people know that you direct a lot of your videos, and I remember this was long before I met you and I watched a couple of like…especially the longer, more epic videos that you did. And I just thought that it was so irreverent in terms of not following any of the rules. It was totally vulnerable, and then once we met and started talking you were actually like, “No, I actually do like to direct.” Is [directing] something that you would have wanted to do if you weren’t a musician?

AO: Okay, so independent labels just have less funding for videos. They just don’t spend their money on videos. Right?

VC: Yeah.

AO: But, they want them to look like a high budget video. So they gave me a list of people they know will be okay to work with, with our budget and everything, and other people who want the experience and will do it for the experience of just doing videos or whatever. I just started looking down the list and being like, “None of these people will create anything that has anything to do with my music.” And maybe some artists don’t give a shit about that, but because I write all my songs, too, it just feels cheap to then have someone create an image for me. If I didn’t write the songs, I’d probably feel less attached to it, you know, but I just feel like if I’m inspired and I have ideas, and I’m giving them to the director anyway, and they’re slapping their name on it, why is it any different than a producer doing the same thing to my record?

For this record, My Woman, I wanted to make everything something I put my name on and something that I approved of and that I was 100 percent a part of. I’ll do that with every single thing I create. I’ve been in music videos for other artists and I watch directors do a great job. I love some of them, but I always look back and wonder what they have to do with the music. And even in mine that I’ve made, I’m sure people are like, “I don’t see how this has anything to do with it,” but because I made it, it does. You know?

VC: Yeah.

AO: And it changed a lot for me. So, yeah I didn’t realize that [Glover] directed it and my friend Tim was telling me right after that like… ‘cause I don’t really pay attention to A$AP Rocky or any of these people either. Right now I’m listening to '80s dark disco. I’m not listening to pop music right now, but, Tim was like…he’s referencing like Migos and A$AP and all of these people—probably people he’s friends with—but he’s talking about how everybody crazes over these people, these artists, and these musicians and then we’re killing people that are you know… we’re killing them. We’re killing people. You know? We’re doing these terrible things, and everybody’s just turning a blind eye to it while we’re also selling it at the same time. You know? And I thought it was an interesting point, ‘cause I don’t have all that information, so it made it mean a lot more for me after he had told me all of that.

VC: Yeah, I think that art really—in no matter what medium—it really has the most impact when it is authentically mirroring the one particular listener or observer or society as a whole. Like, just that video is a reflection to all of us of what’s happening. But, so, I have another question because I haven’t asked you before but we only have a few minutes.

AO: Yeah, and I want to ask you a couple questions too [laughs]. Go ahead.

VC: I got really lucky with crossing paths with Stevie Nicks early on. I was still in the major label system, but I was heading out and I got so lucky to meet her, and she became a really important mentor in my life, and is a mentor, and I just thought if I hadn’t met her…I mean perhaps even like five or six years ago I would have actively sought out looking for a mentor but I was wondering if you have somebody like that in your life, and if you feel like they’re hard to find, and if you do have a mentor how important that person is to you.

AO: Oh, man. I don’t want to cry or anything.

VC: Good, cry.

AO: So when we came to your house, I brought Maya with me. That’s my mentor’s daughter.

VC: Yup.

AO: She started off as a mentor because she’s much older than me, and I was like 25 or 26 when I met her. Now it’s like she’s a sister because time does that. But yeah, she’s like my sister and she’s also my mentor at the same time, and we were both adopted. I don’t know; that was kind of the connection that we had, and we both just kind of felt like we were a little bit different. And when I met her…you know when you meet some people and you just mention three things and they also are thinking and doing those same three things? You have endless things to talk about immediately. I was like, “Whoa, this person is going to be in my life I think. I don’t know how, but we’re going to be in each other’s lives. And, you know, I think throughout playing music, and especially for the first big record that I did, I really sought out a lot of musicians for help because I was feeling really isolated. People around me couldn’t understand how it could be isolating, or hard to be in my position because everything should be easy for us, right?

VC: [laughs] Mhm, mhm. Right.

AO: Because people just love us and we get to talk about ourselves and celebrate our music and celebrate our lives, you know, and it's just easy to do that [laughs]. So, it’s nice to talk to other musicians—especially you, and Sharon [Van Etten]. It’s been really interesting to see what everyone’s past has been. Everyone’s past has been different, but we all kind of have similar things that we understand and it was really wonderful to make those connections, you know?

VC: Absolutely. I feel like with mentors and certain friends, I find myself able to take more risks in my life. Like, you cannot be isolated. I think as an artist, it’s easy to fall into that. I’ve read articles about other artists…some of these artists are huge and they’re like, “Well, I just can’t have a normal life, like this is just my life. I cant walk down the street,” or, “My schedule is just so weird, I’m not able to…do whatever.” And most of us are night owls, I’ll give us that. But I find that actually, it is so important to connect with other artists, other people, and have a network of support. It allows us to take bigger risks. And the other thing I really admire in what you said is, you know, when you were like, “Okay, I’m feeling isolated. I need to do something about it. I’m going to reach out and I’m going to find other people to play with, and I need to figure this out.” And, you know, that’s vulnerable.

AO: Well, I’m not a person who asks for help, like I’m stubborn. I’m very…I don’t like help. Clearly, because I’m making my own videos, but, I’m just like, “No, I don’t need any help.” But I needed help, you know? And, you know, I’ve have had all kinds of help in the last few years [laughs].

VC: I always used to think that asking for help or support in any way, like whether I was trying to make a big decision in my career or like, for instance, when I needed to get myself out of a major label….that wasn’t working for me. Up until then it was very like, I could do everything by myself. And to ask for help was considered a weakness. Even circling back to social media, as silly as it can be…I mean it’s really all about our cats and dogs. Like let’s not pretend it’s anything beyond that.

[They both laugh]

VC: But it really is a wonderful network to link up with people, you know? I’ve gotten to talk to Ronan Farrow who is, you know, he’s a great writer, a great journalist, and he’s doing such amazing work, particularly in the #MeToo movement. And I’m wondering, actually, how that has affected you on the road.

AO: Well, just naming my record My Woman was…well, for me, the #MeToo movement came after. Like I’ve been answering feminist questions…but it’s worth it to also say, you know, I’m ready to be a part of this movement and I want to talk about it, but I’m also not going to do it every single moment of the day, you know?

VC: Yeah, definitely.

AO: And I also separate my writing from this. Maybe there will be a particular song at some point that will be directly political, but I think well-written music is already political enough and I think if you listen to my record, I am saying those things. You know? And I don’t need to spell it out for anybody in an interview when I talk about specific characters that aren’t me, you know? I don’t need symbols to talk about what I believe in. I feel like for the most part, it’s all out there, and I’m trying my best to articulate my feelings and talk about stuff in life. Like before I go out for a press run, I listen to my record and I try to be as prepared as possible about it when I’m talking to people. People are going to ask me fucking pointed, weird questions, and I have to be ready for it. So, you know, I know now to do that.

VC: [Laughs] Yeah.

AO: And now, I write essays about my work after I’m finished to try to piece together what I think I intended when I don’t even really know.

VC: You know, people can interpret it a million different ways. I was gonna say, I think you’re guiding the ship in an interview. And you know, when I discovered My Woman, it was so interesting—I know you call it My Woman – but, I found it to be sort of genderless. I was thinking about this. I was thinking that when I first heard it, I had no association with sexuality. There’s nothing overtly feminine or masculine. It’s just human.

AO: Oh, I appreciate that.

VC: I’ve seen the videos of you standing [up there on stage] and, you know, you just hold your electric guitar, and you hold your own, you know, in front of thousands of people at whatever festival you’re playing. That is also a human being up there channeling an energy, making sounds that just connects with everyone. And I know that people…I think we’re getting there, but people like to categorize who and where we are.

AO: And women do it to each other, where we have to deconstruct everything. It’s not easy because there are so many types of viewpoints to have on a subject, and in my opinion, if you were to say, “Yeah, [do you prefer] Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez,” I would choose…Joan Didion, you know what I mean? That’s where I stand with trying to be a neutral voice and trying to be at the same time unafraid of being feminine and unafraid of talking out about stuff that’s happened to me as a woman. But then trying also to be fair and realize that I’m asking for fairness, so I’m asking for fair judgment, too. And I’m asking for a fair chance, and I’m asking for fair criticism, you know? But okay, I get to ask the last question.

VC: Okay, you get the last question.

AO: I just want to know how you’re doing! [laughs]

VC: Well, I’m in the middle of writing a record. And, I don’t know about you, but once I started making independent records in 2010, I find that it’s really important for me to have a concept before I go in. I’m in the middle right now of just basically, you know, dropping off my baby at school, mowing the lawn, washing my dog, and writing songs. The whole concept of this record is based on this collaboration with this artist that I’ve been wanting to work with for two years, and I hope he doesn’t read this because I don’t know, no pressure or anything…So I’m going to meet him at his studio next month, and the plan is hopefully we have chemistry and we get on and we want to pull this off. And that he knows I’m an independent artist and can’t afford him and we can go into the studio. So, this is…you know, I’m in this mode because John, my husband, who you know, is on the road.

AO: You’re dropping the baby off at school, trying to mow the lawn, and trying to work with this hotshot

VC: Yeah, exactly. I mean, totally. And, we take turns. I relish in it. Being on the road is truly fucking hard, as you know. I get to take my dog, you don’t get to take your cat, you know.

AO: I hope someday I have a little dog I can put in a bag with me.

VC: Okay this is my last question. Have you ever tried walking your cat on a leash?

AO: Um, I’m gonna try as soon as I get home. I’ll be home for three months this summer, so I’ll expect for you to visit or for me to visit you

VC: Okay, I’ll do that.


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