Whether you consider it a dream come true or an exercise in pure emotional masochism or both, there’s no denying that the Wild Hearts Tour is one of the hottest shows this summer.
A terrific triple bill featuring three of America’s most accomplished and ruinous singer-songwriters — New Jersey-raised Sharon Van Etten, Midwestern siren Angel Olsen, and teardrop Tennessee Julien Baker — the 23-date Wild Hearts road show crosses the border for a pair of rare indoor dates at Toronto’s Massey Hall on Friday and Saturday en route to Vienna, Va., in late July for two triumphant closing performances in New York’s Central Park on 20 and August 21.
If the past experience with the three co-headliners holds up, there won’t be a dry eye in the house by the time this thing ends. Van Etten, Olsen and Baker collectively represent the vanguard of a current charge into the mainstream by post-PJ Harvey/Cat Power indie-rock “sad girls” like Mitski, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers – the latter two with which Baker joined forces as the “supergroup” Boygenius while embarking on a similar project, women– touring bill in 2018 – and their combined selling power across the country with Wild Hearts is proof that there is more than enough marketable space between Harry Styles mania and Rage Against reunion gigs the Machine for thoughtful female voices and queer-positive spaces in the concert calendar. Yes, you are entitled to a good evening and a good cry too, outside of a national broadcast.
The star managed to snag the busy Van Etten and Olsen, whose respective new records “We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong” and “Big Time” rank among the best of the year, for a brief double Q&A by email before Massey Hall Dates weekend. Baker begged, but trust this writer when he says you should show up early for his sets for Full Sad Girl Immersion. You will not leave unchanged.
Q: Please tell me when and how this musical superhero(ine) alliance was forged and where the idea of hitting the road together as Wild Hearts ultimately came about. Someone had to talk about it first, after all…
Olsen: It’s hard to say exactly who came up with the idea. I think Sharon and I were talking about taking time off to write and we both had records coming out and we just wanted to get back on tour in a positive way, with people who would also bring fans and share the stage and do all the more fun and worthwhile experience for our audience and for ourselves.
Van Etten: Well, after Angel and I collaborated on a few songs during the pandemic — “Femme Fatale” and “Like I Used To” — we kept reaching out and talking about the new music we were working on and what what it was going to look like. My partner is also my manager and we talked a lot, if and when I would return on tour, what my ideal situation would be. He and Christian (Stavros), Angel’s manager, also built a friendship between Angel and my connection and one thing led to another. I knew Angel’s record was being made around the time I was making mine. Our managers, like Angel and I, thought that instead of competing in similar markets, why not join forces and pave the way for other bands trying to do the same? Showing love for each other while showing respect to other artists trying to tour around the same time. “Share the road…”
Q: Now that you’ve been on the tour for a few weeks, how would you sum up the general mood? Feel free to use just one word. But feel free to elaborate using After more than one word.
Olsen: “Hot and humid American summer.”
Van Etten: Camp. Summer camp atmosphere certainly during this tour. Backstage is like a camp or a dorm, depending on the space. In Berkeley, there was a room full of screamers watching “Steel Magnolias” for the first time. In Seattle, comrades from all the groups passed on bicycles that had been lent to us by the promoter. Julien and I went running that day. And in Boise, we all roller skated at Treasure Valley Rink. It’s a loss of trust when you bring a group of people together. And right now we’re over 40 people and we’re all getting along so well and checking in on each other and really enjoying hanging out. This is the best tour I have ever done.
Q: Say something nice about each of your fellow travelers.
Van Etten: Julien Baker’s ability to be able to pull out a silent line from a song like “Ziptie” and his and Mariah Schneider’s guitars slowly intertwine and integrate with the drums and bass like a song by Bedhead in a totally epic ending. It seems effortless. Angel Olsen’s overall mastery of a play and his prowess in candor are both heartwarming and shocking. His love songs and his grieving process have always inspired me, but specifically on his song “Dream Thing,” I tear up every time — alongside everyone else passing out on stage. “I was watching you old, I was watching who you became.” The atmosphere created by the group, the feeling and the cadence of their voice coupled with the weight of mortality in such a beautiful space touches me every time.
Q: I know this whole “sad girl” thing is getting a little over the top, but I haven’t been able to figure out anything of you Wild Hearts since “Sprained Ankle” or “Tramp” or the back half of “My Wife” without bursting into tears at one point — and I’m a fucking middle-aged dad — and I know I’m not alone. You have to be aware of the emotional effect your music has on your fans, so is it rewarding to see so many people come together every night because they connect with such raw, open, human writing? It’s kind of the opposite of the traditional pyrology-laden “big rock show.” And just out of curiosity, have any of your tour mates’ songs ever made you cry?
Olsen: I really cried the first time I heard Sharon Van Etten’s song “Come Back”. This tour is definitely a crying fest for the fans and a laughing fest for the bands.
Van Etten: I think we are all very good at talking about our emotions. Writing songs is a way of dealing with them that maybe men don’t do naturally? But these are big statements from both sides. I think we find touchpoints and then drill down to get to the heart of the matter. People who listen to our music are in touch with their feelings and emotions and among the fans I talk to some of them don’t always know how to express themselves in words and our songs help them do that. It means the world needs to look to an audience that deeply connects with each artist in a different way. Lots of emotions in all directions during these shows: pain, grief, loss, anger, tears, laughter and peace. “Dream Thing” is definitely one of the many songs I openly ripped into.
Q: Is there the possibility of future collaboration on the recording front to the “Like I Used To” or the often invoked Boygenius that comes out of this tour?
Olsen: It’s very possible, but I naturally like getting to know the artists and working with them because things feel human, organic and creative. There’s nothing more boring and calculated than other people trying to get me to do something for them the way they want to see it. I’d rather just hang out with my friends and if it happens and it’s real, it will happen.
Van Etten: I would love to sit in a room and write songs with Angel. I know she has a lot of tours coming up, but if we can find a window, we’ll make it happen. I don’t have a schedule other than we had such a great time working together and I love singing with her so we’ll see what happens. It won’t be like Boygenius, I can tell you the same.
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