Whole New Mess

Whole New Mess

“I just wanted people to see me broken down and to know that I’m not afraid to be broken down,” Angel Olsen tells Apple Music. “In fact, my whole life had broken down.” The singer is discussing why she chose to release Whole New Mess—a collection of raw, unvarnished tracks largely made up of demo-like recordings of the songs that would later become souped up and string-laden on 2019’s stunningly ambitious All Mirrors. “Originally, I wanted both to come out at the same time,” she explains. “But I wanted to make an honest account—untampered with by anybody. This was just me, the way that I would make demos.” Recorded at a church-turned-studio in Anacortes, Washington (“I couldn’t do it at home; I was still sitting in a lot of the feelings from the songs and I wanted to have a place to cook them”), Whole New Mess is a world away from the drama of All Mirrors, those galloping melodies and theatrical strings stripped away to leave a lone guitar, the occasional organ, and Olsen’s unmistakable vocals. Whole New Mess is, as the singer put it, “ragged," at times crackling as though it were an old vinyl LP. “It’s purposefully a mess,” she says, “because that’s how things are. A lot of the time, cleaning it up is the process. And I like to show where things start and how messy they are before they get to a point where they’re digestible for people when they come out.” Still, the record is as haunting as you’d expect, Olsen’s voice taking on an almost celestial quality on songs like “(Summer Song),” “Too Easy (Bigger Than Us),” or “Chance (Forever Love)” as it carries the full weight of the experiences and emotions that fueled these tracks. The dissolution of a relationship may have hit before they were written, but Olsen bristles at the idea that any of them document that alone. “I find it really infantilizing the way people just look at my work as heartbreak,” she says. “All I’m asking is for people to look a little further. That’s all.” Instead, this is an album “inspired by what I’ve been doing, by traveling constantly, by writing constantly for the last seven years and the things that I’ve learned,” she says. “It’s about the hardship that I’ve had to confront with people—not just romantically but just by accidentally [building] a business from the ground up and having to learn a lot of things along the way, the hard way.” By drawing the walls of her music in, she hopes people will see another side to her. “When I go out into the music world and I build my platform, I’m putting on wigs and glam dresses and putting on tons of makeup. Normally, when I get home, it’s a different story. It’s a different person. It’s a different life. I wanted to do something that was a little bit closer to who I actually am.” Whole New Mess is the first time the singer has delivered an album without a band since 2012’s Half Way Home. Doing it this way was, in part, a way of going back to her early songs and rediscovering how to, as she says, “feel strong in myself again outside of relying on so many band members or collaborators.” But it was also a necessary step to emancipate herself from these tracks, in order to let those same people back in to help her create the majesty of All Mirrors. And sitting in—and then letting go of—darker times to pave the way for something more beautiful chimes well with Olsen’s world view. “There’s a lot of hatred and anger and frustration happening in the world right now, and there’s a lot of destruction,” she says. “But all of that needs to happen before there can be progress. We really need to reexamine the way that we live, because we want to continue to live in this world and continue to be able to share the things that we enjoy. I really stand by ‘whole new mess’ as a phrase. I want to inspire people to think about what that means, whether it has to do with me personally and what I intended, or whether it inspires them to want to reexamine or look at those things in their own reality. I think there's a huge reckoning going on, and I've been really inspired.”

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