“Basically, I’ll be playing like I’m playing Madison Square Garden. I put all of myself into it,” says folk singer/songwriter Al Olender of her upcoming tour dates, with a bit of a chuckle. We first met Olender last May when she headlined MilkBoy, with support and accompaniment coming from James Felice of The Felice Brothers, who also produced her debut album, Easy Crier, which dropped that month. “I feel like time flew since the last time I was in Philly,” she tells me during a recent phone chat, explaining what she’s been up to since then: “I got to go on a whole tour last May, and I got to open for the Gipsy Kings on tour and play for the largest audiences I’ve ever played for.” Fortunately for the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, we won’t need to go to an arena to see Olender just yet. She will be returning to MilkBoy this Friday, February 17th, when she’s supporting Eliza Edens. And while Olender and Edens don’t currently know each other, she tells me, “I’m excited to make a new friend.”
In addition to her tour dates, this Valentine’s Day Al Olender will drop single “Almost Famous,” her first new music since Easy Crier, but something that those who have seen her on the road may have heard at some point: “I play it live, but hadn’t recorded it.” And while the songs of her debut were inspired by the sudden death of her brother, along with all of the accompanying emotional turmoil, she tells me that her latest music is something a bit different: “I think I’m moving in a direction less about heartbreak, less about loss. I’m a growing person, and growing sexual being, and I think my new music reflects that.” Although when I ask about her current favorite song from her last record, she admits that it is, indeed, a breakup song that seemed to strike a surprising chord with fans: “I didn’t expect ‘Liar, Liar’ would be the most played song from the record. I’m like, ‘Who’s gonna listen to a five-minute song?’” However, she goes on to acknowledge that breakup songs that can reflect the experience of a listener do classically seem to have the biggest impact: “Isn’t that all we want?”
Al Olender has played two successful shows in the 215 since the pandemic, including a date supporting The Felice Brothers at World Café Live in Fall of 2021, but she tells me that that’s not the only reason she’s such a fan of the city: “I’m from Baltimore, so Philly’s a close stop… I’m glad to have it be a sister city. Philly’s like the next cool city from Baltimore.” In fact, her last MilkBoy stop was filled with a number of friends and family members, including her opening act: “Abigail Dempsey –my BFF, who I played with last time in Philly – just moved there.” However, she also tells me that there are a few less obvious stops on her current tour that she’s quite excited about: “I’m so stoked to be back in Omaha, Nebraska, which is a sentence I never thought I’d say [laughs], and also Denver. We always have good shows in Denver… And I’m really looking forward to the West Coast, which I haven’t really gotten a chance to explore, and touring as a folk singer/songwriter, if five people come to a city you’ve never played, it’s really amazing [laughs].”
Joining Al Olender on the road will be two of the musician’s best friends: “Amanda Brooklyn – which is her real name – is a really cool accompanying singer, who’ll be joining me. And, other than the show with Eliza Edens, I’ll have Ahna Ell, who’s a dear family friend, and she’s gonna open every show. It’s important to feel comfortable in a car with people, so I’m so excited to be with those two girls!” She also tells me that the three of them are excited for some good tour playlists to pass the time on long drives, which will likely include John Moreland, Deep Sea Diver, Tom Petty, Gregory Alan Isakov, Mitski, Shania Twain, and Linda Ronstadt, her all-time favorite singer, who she suspects is about to have a major resurgence: “She actually has a song right now and it’s about to blow up, like Kate Bush had happen with that show, because she has a song that was in The Last Of Us.” She also tells me that I shouldn’t ignore everything I’ve been reading about the show on Twitter: “You need to see it because it’s actually fucking great! It deserves the hype!”
Post tour Al Olender tells me that she plans to focus on writing new music, which she hopes will turn into the follow-up to Easy Crier: “I gotta write a new record! I need to just focus on writing a new record!” However, she’s also very optimistic that 2023 will provide some more touring opportunities to play to even more huge audiences: “Let’s just put this out there to the universe: I will open for a band that I love!” When asked who might be her ideal tourmates, she mentions Bonny Light Horseman, Shovels & Rope, Gregory Alan Isakov, Big Thief, Sharon Van Etten, and finally tells me, “If we’re dreaming big, let’s just say boygenius… or any other bands that wanna take this gal on the road!”
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