Folk artist Al Olender on the stories in her debut album—and the thrill of releasing it

“I was like, what the fuck am I doing with my days,” says Olender. “I wrote the ['All I Do is Watch TV'] during the deep Tiger King stage of the pandemic. I was like will I ever play music again?"

Legend has it that bad things are supposed to happen on Friday the 13th. Don’t tell Hudson Valley based folk artist Al Olender, who, on May 13, released her debut record, Easy Crier.

“Record release day was the best day of my life,” says Olender on the phone from Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We played a record release show and all my community came out and it was sold out. I have never played a sold out solo show before, and my mom from Maryland showed up.”

Olender is soaking in the experience of her album being released and touring for it. She comes to Jersey on May 22 with a show at the Saint in Asbury Park, and on June 29 with a free show at the McLaughlin Norcross Memorial Dell in Haddon Heights.

The recording process for Easy Crier was unique, as it was recorded at a church turned into a recording studio run by James Felice (of the Felice Brothers) in Upstate New York.

“It was a fun experience.” says Olender. “It was very fun and enjoyable to record these songs. In order to create good art as a musician we have to feel a level of safety and comfort. I felt that safety in the church and I didn’t take anything for granted. I felt so grateful that I was allowed to be in a safe space with these musicians recording these songs.”

The safe spaces of the church allowed Olender to explore darker topics like the death of her brother, Keith, which she sings about in the song named after him. 

“It’s surreal that I get to talk about my brother, which is an interesting topic because he’s dead,” says Olender. “Which is so wild and surreal to say out loud. It’s so stark to say stuff like, ‘They aren’t alive anymore,’ but it’s important for me to say these words out loud, which is why I wrote the song. He has been dead for 10 years this month, and that song came to me by thinking of all the stories I have with him. It’s really amazing that people we care about the most, when they pass, we want to keep their stories completely hidden, but there are days where I think my brother was so cool, interesting, funny and did such stupid things and I love him so much. He was the most important person to me for 20 years of my life.”

One of Olender’s most vivid memories of Keith is mentioned in the song with a line that goes, “She crashed into the car and we just ran, So I called you first and you said you’d take the blame.”

“I was fifteen, and in my best friend’s car we weren’t supposed to be and we went to a party,” remembers Olender. “She was driving her mom’s car and we got into a fender bender. I called my brother Keith and I was crying and I was like, ‘Mom is gonna kill me,’ and he said, ‘If you can run to my friend’s house nearby I’ll take care of everything including the car, and I will make sure mom doesn’t find out about this.’ I was crying and running to this dude’s house. That’s the type of guy my brother was, and he stood up for me and my friend. It was a special moment that had this big brother energy of ‘I got it.’”

Olender also sings about the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in “All I Do is Watch TV.” Olender sings about the stage of the pandemic where everyone watched Tiger King and got stimulus checks. Despite being amused by Joe Exotic, it was also a time when Olender questioned whether she would ever play music again.

“I was like, what the fuck am I doing with my days,” says Olender. “I wrote the song during the deep Tiger King stage of the pandemic. I was like will I ever play music again? I watched so much TV from my big comfy couch. It was such a sad time with so much grief and loss, but also I’m watching a lot of TV. So let’s make a song that is sort of lighthearted and sort of sad.”

Easy Crier, a song that shares a name with the album, is about Olender’s love of the Big Apple. 

“NYC is the love of my life,” says Olender. “I know it’s a trope and cliché to say ‘New York City is the greatest city in the world,’ but it really is the best city. Every time I meet someone from New York I get so starstruck. The song was written when I was in my favorite city with my best friend for my birthday. We stayed in this fancy ass hotel, and we don’t normally do that or have the money for that, but we wanted to have an evening and we did. I couldn’t believe I had this night with my best friend.”

Olender will sing about her life stories on May 22 at the Saint in Asbury Park, and June 29 in Camden County. So far, she’s been really happy about the tour and getting to share her album. 

“Tour has been amazing so far, the shows don’t feel perfect but that’s fine,” says Olender. “I’m a human being that sings and plays guitar by myself. So there’s gonna be nights where I ate too many french fries and ate too much salmon and feel bloated on stage. But that’s who I am and I am a human being. When I get on the stage I am so happy, and I’m grateful that James Felice is on this tour with me.”

Even though the ocean might be a little too cold for Olender to go in before her Asbury show, she’s still looking forward to coming to the Garden State. 

“I love Jersey, and everyone from Jersey is super nice,” says Olender. “I love the authenticity of Jersey, and I love Asbury Park. Being by the beach is really nourishing for me, and it reminds me of Ocean City, Maryland, where I would go on vacations growing up. Jersey feels very close to home for me.”

Al Olender will be playing at the Saint on May 22 along with James Felice. Ticket information can be found here.

On June 29, she will be playing at the McLaughlin Norcross Memorial Dell in Haddon Heights along with Graduation Speech. More information can be found here.