I have to say, I find it very fitting that it’s been sunny in Chicago all week and as soon as I…

1015282 10152930503980527 246633133 o 585x585 Interview: Chelsea Wolfe on Pain Is Beauty

I have to say, I find it very fitting that it’s been sunny in Chicago all week and as soon as I stepped outside to call you, a thunderstorm broke and the sky went grey.
Oh really? That’s cool, that happened in New York as well. As soon as we sat down for this rooftop interview the thunder started and the clouds came in. I don’t mind it; I love it. I’m pretty sick of the sun.

Is Chelsea Wolfe your real name?
Yeah, it’s my name. It started out as a solo project and when I formed it into a band, for awhile I thought about changing the name but I still do solo stuff sometimes and I wanted to be flexible so I left it as my name.

It seems so ironic, there’s a clear dichotomy that reflects the music with ‘Chelsea’ being so feminine and ‘Wolfe’ being so dark and ferocious.
Yeah that’s true, I never really thought about it that way actually. That’s a good way to put it.

Everything I know about Chelsea Wolfe is very unique, to me so it’s difficult to pinpoint your niche or influences. You’re a standout artist on your current label, ‘Sargent House,’ and your last two albums have differed extremely. How did you form your vision?
Yeah, my influences are really broad… it’s a pretty wide range, I guess so maybe that’s why. I’ve never really been drawn to just one particular genre of music myself, so I never wanted to make only one particular genre. I think the first things that influenced me when I was a kid was country music; old country like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash… and then bands like Fleetwood Mac. That’s kinda what my Dad was listening to, and what he showed me. He got me into Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, and then eventually when I got older I got into black metal for awhile. Then some minimal classical stuff. My influences are pretty all over the place. I just draw from all of them in different ways and bring them into my own world.

So, you weren’t really trying to make a sound? It sounds like it was a very organic thing for you.
Yeah, I mean, I don’t even know if it’s so much that. [But] even when I was learning to play guitar I never learned anyone else’s songs. You know, I didn’t buy a tab book of some band or something; I just kind of started writing songs initially, as soon as I picked up a guitar. So the only songs I’ve ever really known how to play, other than a few covers I’ve done over the years, are my own. So that might be part of it, as well. I never really focused on one style. If anything, I just did what felt right, what came out naturally.

And what’s come out naturally, at least over your last two albums, hasn’t really compared stylistically. Do you think ‘what feels right’ for your next album will be a huge departure from ‘Pain Is Beauty’?
I don’t know because music kind of happens out of order for me, honestly. Some of the songs on ‘Pain Is Beauty’ were written before the acoustic album even came out. I’ve never been the type of person to go into the studio and write an album, I just kind of write constantly. And when it feels like I need to put an album together, I gather them. It’s more like a reaping of all the songs I’ve written. And if some of them are old, I’ll re-approach them or something. The acoustic album was definitely a project like that, and I think I made that clear to the world, I think, by calling it a collection of acoustic songs. Some were songs I’d written five years before, or one month before. It usually comes together in a pretty natural way, where everything relates to each other -not perfectly in sound, but more so the ideas that I’m exploring.

Do you have any idea what ideas you’ll be exploring on the follow-up to ‘Pain Is Beauty’?
I’m not sure yet; I’m definitely writing and I wrote a few acoustic songs, but that doesn’t mean my next album will be acoustic. Like I said, I’m just always working on stuff and then I find the right time for any given song or any given group of songs. Like, I wrote some simple love songs recently that are kind of soft, and then might come out six years from now. I have no idea.

I’ve read that earlier on in your career that you had issues with stage fright. And I also found a quote from you in another interview that while shooting the cover for ‘Pain Is Beauty’ you wanted to be ‘covered,’ or veiled. Are those two things linked? Are you not really interested in being highly visible?
It’s something that I struggle with; I probably always will. When I was first starting out and first playing shows and stuff I had a really hard time being on stage. I’ve always loved recording and writing music and when it came time to actually be in front of people performing it just felt really weird, really unnatural for me. So it took a long time to become even remotely comfortable with it; but I’m getting a little bit better at being comfortable on stage. I do still have rough nights, or even rough moments during a set where I just want to run. I started wearing the veil as sort of like this nod to a funeral march or something; I decided to start dressing up and try wearing this ‘costume’ and I found that it actually helped me to get over this stage fright a bit. It’s very childlike, I guess, but I felt kind of invisible. So I did that for a couple of years after my first album came out, but I knew eventually I needed to just get over it and stop wearing it. But it definitely sprung an interest in dressing up and in fashion for me. Even though I’m not wearing the veil I find that dressing up for the job helps me focus and feel strong and things like that. I usually tend to dress up still for shows, but I don’t wear the veil anymore.

I can see how that would help you separate the personas, so you have Chelsea Wolfe the person and Chelsea Wolfe the performer.
Yeah, I never really thought about it like that actually but it makes sense.

So is that a separate issue from why you wanted to be obscured on the cover of the record?
Yeah, what I think I was saying in the other interview is that in the first three album covers I definitely covered myself up, whether it was a veil… or in the second album I had someone paint on a photo of me so my eyes are whited-out. And then the third one, I have my hand over my face. But for ‘Pain Is Beauty’ I wanted to actually show myself on there, but still portray the feeling of that intensity in stage fright. So the lighting is spotlight, and to me it’s obvious by the way that I’m standing that there’s an uncomfortable feeling.

You’re about to go to Europe, correct? With Russian Circles?
Yeah, we’re going to do a co-headline tour which is going to be really fun. We’re going at the beginning of October into mid-November. And it’s just gonna be the two bands, no openers or anything. So it’ll just be two full headline sets, I think we’ll be playing first each night. I love Russian Circles and I sang on a track on their new album.

SEE ALL CHELSEA WOLFE TOUR DATE DETAILS HERE

CHELSEA WOLFE & RUSSIAN CIRCLES EU 2013
Oct 12, 2013 – Prague, CZ @ Meet Factory
Oct 13, 2013 – Linz, AT @ Posthof
Oct 14, 2013 – Bologna, IT @ Locomotiv Club
Oct 15, 2013 – Zurich, CH @ Rote Fabrik
Oct 16, 2013 – Fribourg, CH @ Fri-son
Oct 18, 2013 – Barcelona, ES @ Apolo
Oct 19, 2013 – Madrid, ES @ Shoko Live
Oct 20, 2013 – Porto, PT @ Amplifest
Oct 21, 2013 – Bilbao, ES @ Kafe Antzokia
Oct 23, 2013 – Paris, FR @ Divan Du Monde
Oct 24, 2013 – Brighton, UK @ The Haunt
Oct 25, 2013 – Manchester, UK @ Gorilla
Oct 26, 2013 – Glasgow, UK @ SWG3
Oct 27, 2013 – Dublin, IRE @ Button Factory
Oct 29, 2013 – London, UK @ Electric Ballroom
Oct 30, 2013 – Gent, BE @ Vooruit
Oct 31, 2013 – Karlsruhe, DE @ Jubez
Nov 1, 2013 – Utrecht, NI @ Tivoli de Helling
Nov 2, 2013 – Koln, DE @ Stollwerck
Nov 3, 2013 – Hamburg, DE @ Club Logo
Nov 5, 2013 – Stockholm, SE @ Debaser Strand
Nov 6, 2013 – Helsinki, FIN @ Tavastia
Nov 7, 2013 – Oslo, NO @ Bla
Nov 8, 2013 – Gothenburg, SE @ Truckstop Alaska
Nov 9, 2013 – Copenhagen, DK @ KB18
Nov 10, 2013 – Berlin, DE @ C- C club

Chelsea Wolfe has been a long time coming. Over the past four years, the Sacramento songstress has…

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Chelsea Wolfe has been a long time coming. Over the past four years, the Sacramento songstress has been staggeringly prolific, but it was with last year’s Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs that she first left her indelible mark. Now, with the release of her fourth LP, Pain Is Beauty, Wolfe has further refined her sound, stripping it of its most abrasive qualities and further exposing the bruised, gnarled heart at its centre.

Wolfe’s progress from shy ingenue distorting her work to a songwriter with a cryptic depth of feeling and emotional command has been gradual but concurrent with her own battle with public introversion. The Pain Is Beauty sleeve, for instance, “represents an intense discomfort with being in the spotlight but also fighting to overcome that,” according to Wolfe.

Playing live is a struggle in this regard. “Some nights are really magical and everything comes together in a good way and some nights are tough and I’m fighting the urge to just throw it all down and run off stage. I love writing music and I love playing music but sometimes I wish I could just be invisible when I’m up there.”

It would be a shame if that urge got the better of Wolfe because Pain Is Beauty deserves a spotlight: from the dark, gothic pulse of ‘Feral Love’ to the haunting coo that ushers ‘Lone’ to its end, it is an album of towering strength and remarkable beauty. It’s her best to date, and while it retains some of the dirging, repetitive elements of her lesser early albums there are pained detours into melody throughout. Exploring more traditional musical alleys instead of relying on rabid textures and obfuscating noise is most definitely a welcome development and further proof of Wolfe’s commitment to open herself to a larger audience and the world at large.

Unknown Rooms showcased a vulnerability that is further exposed on Pain Is Beauty. The former album’s limited acoustic palette laid both Wolfe the person and Wolfe the songwriter bare, but such a stripped approach was less challenging than you might think. “I’ve gone back and forth between sounds and styles my whole life so it wasn’t strange for me… it was more of a gathering of songs that fit under the “acoustic” label somehow and finding the right ones to live on that album. Some of them were five-years-old and some were new.”

Indeed, Pain Is Beauty initially runs far away from Unknown Room's can't-look-away intimacy. The two tracks released over the summer, 'We Hit a Wall' and 'The Warden', are loud and proud, the former a stark, stabbing chronicle of a relationship at the breaking point while the latter flutters menacingly as Wolfe wails into the ether.

Though it may not be as elemental as its predecessor, it is still quite restrained at points. Sometimes in service of some galloping climax, other times to emphasise Wolfe’s veiled lyricism, but it’s clear she is still taking steps to extend herself. In this regard, she says she has only benefitted from her relationship with her label, the LA-based Sargent House, home to acts such as And So I Watch Your From Afar, Bosnian Rainbows, Tera Melos and Mylets.

"It’s a very supportive place, a place where artists can be themselves and develop. I’m grateful to have a musical home at Sargent House. They gave me the time and support I needed to get my shit together."

Aside from a nascent yet fruitful partnership with producer and bandmate Ben Chisholm, however, very little has changed when it comes to recording for Wolfe. Chisholm has been in Wolfe’s backing band for over three years, but he has only become Wolfe’s producing partner on the last couple of LPs. Wolfe typically writes alone but trusts Chisholm to assist her in bringing her compositions to life. Like many artists, however, Wolfe has matured with experience and has learned how to bring out the best in herself irrespective of the influence of others such as Chisholm and engineer Lars Stalfors. “I’ve learned to edit myself rather than releasing the first take,” she says. “But I also still go back to original version on certain sounds or vocals every once in a while because I feel that sometimes some special energy can be captured and just can’t be re-done.”

A woman of few words, Chelsea Wolfe was never going to be an overnight sensation, but she has developed into a beguiling artist that moves between tone and genre with ease and grace. Pain Is Beauty is quite a literal title rendering moments of shocking elegance from utter darkness both emotional and musical; we can only hope it makes Wolfe’s into more than a cult concern and inches her into that dreaded spotlight slightly more. And if not, she will remain vibrant in the shadows.

Story by George Morahan

Pain is Beauty is out now on Sargent House. Listen to it in full HERE

Photo above by Darla Teagarden with clothes & jewelry by Black Swan Theory and Bloodmilk

When Chelsea Wolfe is giving it all that she’s got, as on big, string-laden anthems like “House of…

When Chelsea Wolfe is giving it all that she’s got, as on big, string-laden anthems like “House of Metal” and “The Waves Have Come,” it’s like her voice also contains something of a whisper within it, a tinge of breathy spaciousness that feels somehow kinesthetically continuous with the wide open, natural vistas that she’s singing about. Her voice is less the human focal point of her new album, Pain Is Beauty, though, than the LP’s instrumental center, the defining atmospheric element in a churning pool of moods and melodies that seems to always be on the verge of drowning in its own romantic oblivion—until it suddenly throws you for a new turn, that is. I spoke to Wolfe about her departure from the acoustic arrangements of her last full-length effort, Unknown Rooms, and why pain can be beautiful sometimes. The album is out now via Sargent House.

You’re returning to a more electronic palette this time around. What led to that decision? They’re actually songs that [synth and bass player] Ben [Chisholm]and I have been working on for 2 or 3 years now. We started doing electronic songs in the mindset that we would do a side project with them, and we didn’t really have time to do that. We just started playing them live in the Chelsea Wolfe project and decided that we wanted them to be Chelsea Wolfe songs, and we sort of re-approached them and added new life to them. And it’s really fun playing the electronic songs live as well, so that was part of the motivation.

What’s fun about it? It’s just a totally different energy. I’m so used to guitar-driven music. It still has guitar and drums driving it; it’s still a full band feel in my opinion. But having my hands free a lot and just being able to focus on singing and using my voice as an instrument is really new and interesting for me.

What aspects of vocal technique do you think about now that you didn’t think necessarily think about before? I don’t know. I think it’s just taking a song and kind of naturally going with what voice comes to me, like whether it’s something that’s more whispery and intimate or something that’s really loud and me singing with all my strength. I think there’s a few different kinds of voices on this album, and it’s kind of me exploring what my voice can do and what each song needs. I definitely like to try new things and experiment with new sounds, and I have always thought of the human voice as an instrument; that’s why I like to sing through pedals a lot.

What would you say that you took away from making the acoustic album? I suppose it was an exercise in keeping things minimal. I really love recording, so I love adding tons of harmonies and layers. The acoustic album was definitely my more folky, minimal songs, and it was an exercise in holding back and trying to keep them where they need to be and not making every song feel really epic. It was a lesson in simplicity.

How’d you come up with the album title, Pain Is Beauty? A lot of the songs on the album are about the intensity of nature: the way that nature affects humanity and the way that humanity affects nature. There’s this sense that there’s so many things we have to overcome, and so many processes that have to go through. It almost could have been titled “Pain Becomes Beauty,” because when you think about forest fires and things like that, it seems like such a terrible thing and it’s so harsh, but it really makes new room for growth to happen. It can be the same in our own lives—there’s always gonna be situations that we go through that are really hard and we just have to kind of be strong, and if we get through to the other side, then we become wiser people and our lives become more beautiful. There’s definitely a beauty on the other side of that transformation.

Are you someone who spends a lot of time in nature personally? I try to. It’s hard, living in LA and being really busy. I’m from Northern California. I really love it up there. I spent a lot of time when I was a kid in the giant redwoods and going to the river and the ocean and things like that, so I definitely try as many chances as I get to go back up to Northern California and free my mind—quiet my mind a little bit.

The press release for the album also mentions an exploration of ancestry. Is that referring to something in the deep past or something in the more recent, American past? I think a lot of it for me was this idea that maybe there’s so many unhappy people in America because we’re living on a land that is basically stolen from people who already lived here. There’s this sort of unrest that maybe still lives in the ground or the air; it’s kind of about energies. Also, most everyone that lives here comes from somewhere else. My own personal family is mostly Norwegian and Germanic. It’s kind of interesting to think about the mythology of our ancestors and wondering if it still kind of lingers in us somewhere—something that exists through the bloodline of a family. There’s one song that’s more specifically about it: the one that’s called “Ancestors, the Ancients.” It’s just something that’s been on my mind.

You’ve said that the songs on this album are some of the most honest songs you’ve written. What sort of soul-searching, beyond this ancestry idea, went into the making of this album? I don’t know if I think about it as “soul-searching,” but I think often times I write about things that are outside of myself. I write stories about other people’s lives, and I try and think about things from other people’s perspectives, but on this one I think there’s more songs that are more from my perspective, more from experience. There’s an honesty to this album that comes from somewhere inside of me that I wasn’t ready to expose in the past. I guess I just didn’t want to write a bunch of break-up albums, where I was talking about my personal life and things like that. I still don’t talk about my personal life very much. Even photo-wise, for the cover, I definitely covered myself up in different ways. This is the first album where you can fully see me, and I tried to be brave in that respect.

How do you usually write the lyrics? Do you come up with melodies first? It usually happens at the same time. I guess I’m always writing things down if I have some sort of idea in mind. A lot of times, it starts with a concept or a subject that I’m interested in—like I said, ancestry or the intensity of nature. One of the songs on the album is very directly inspired by the earthquake and tsunami that happened in Japan that there was so much footage of on TV; it was just so insane to watch that happen. And then I watched a documentary and a lot of it was first-hand footage; as soon as I watch something like that, it really just sticks in my head, and I ended up sitting down and writing a couple songs about that. I usually just write when information comes, and a lot of times the whole song comes at once, melody and words and everything. It’s not a conceptual album. There’s a lot of different things it’s about: it’s about ancestry, it’s about nature, it’s about tormented love and sort of overcoming the odds. There’s a lot of different themes on this album.

I want to hear more about the tormented love aspect. I think often sometimes people forget how much hardship can go into love and making love and a relationship work. I think it’s presented to us from the time we’re children as something that should be so easy and perfect and beautiful, but it actually takes a lot of patience and a lot of sweat and tears. So I guess I was trying to think of things from a more realistic side. Beyond that, it can be confusing, and you fall in and out of love, so there’s torment there.

Do you think it’s in expressing that torment that you can overcome it in some way? I suppose so. One of the songs was loosely inspired by the end of the book 1984. I read that book a long time ago, and I always hated that he gave his true love up— he named her or whatever. He was being tortured, and he was like, No, torture her. Put her in my place. I always hated that, and I wrote my own ending to it. There’s an idealism in me that you should be strong enough to fight for the one that you love and take pain for the one that you love. That’s my way of being romantic, I suppose. How love is so—just the way it’s presented in the media. It’s so gross these days. I don’t know if I want to get into it because I don’t like to comment on other people’s work or lives. But I think generally people might know what I mean when I say that.

Generally speaking, is there anything you want people to take away from this album? A few people who have heard it have commented that it feels very healing to listen to, and that was one of the highest compliments that I could receive, really. If someone can take that away from listening to the album—like a sense of healing and the sense that you’ve been able to overcome something—that’s really special to me.

Did you feel healing in making it? Yeah, I definitely think there was a process of healing for myself as well— just learning about the process of overcoming, as I’m writing about it. A lot of times I’ll write about things that I want to learn more about.

The FLY Interview with Chelsea Wolfe


Los Angeles musician Chelsea Wolfe has been steadily accruing dedicated fans across the globe since the release of her debut album ‘The Grime And The Glow’ in 2010, her goth-tinged coalescence of doomy sludge and delicate acoustics providing the perfect platform for her eerie vocals. At nearly six feet tall and with alabaster skin, Wolfe is often draped in abstract black attire; her early concerts and photographs showing the camera-shy musician obscured by veils, hoods and tendrils of black hair. Recently returned from a gruelling European and Russian tour with her band, Wolfe spoke with us about her new album Pain Is Beauty, a surprising affair incorporating hard electronic beats and synth-y flourishes that nonetheless retains its author’s spooky atmosphere and haunting vocals. It’s a bold step in some respects – she’s a cult figure amongst her fans, so how will they feel about this new, glossy direction?

Hello Chelsea! You’ve only been back from your huge European and Russian tour for a few weeks. You must be exhausted.

It was good, it was more tiring than usual because of the routing. A lot of long drives and not enough sleep, but it was great to be there and exciting to play in Russia for the first time. Scotland as well, and Ireland. We are home for most of the summer though, getting the new songs ready for the next tour.

I saw that you were in a different country each night sometimes! Do you ever get the chance to have a look around?

Every so often there is someone kind enough to show us around or maybe we’ll have an hour to ourselves to wander. Red Square was a treat to see, but we only got there after midnight, after the show was done. I’ve always wanted to see more of London too, but it hasn’t happened yet.

So, the new album, ‘Pain Is Beauty’. It’s got a mature sound, but it’s still foggy and haunting as with [debut album] ‘The Grime And The Glow’ and follow-up ‘Apokalypsis’, but there are new sounds on there.

Yes, I like to experiment with new sounds, new ways to use my voice and instruments. I was excited to finally have these electronic songs on an album, like ‘Feral Love’ and ‘The Warden’.

Yeah, the electronic songs! They really fit in to the whole atmosphere of the record, though. How did you develop ideas for the album?

Well, the electronic songs were songs that my bandmate Ben Chisholm and I had started writing a couple years ago, originally with the intent of having a side project with them, but eventually we incorporated some of them into the Chelsea Wolfe set and I wrote some new ones as well. When we started thinking of a new album, the electronic songs felt right. And of course, I can never stick to one genre of music, so there are piano songs, rock songs and folk songs on there as well. For me, things come together thematically. Sometimes it’s a colour or an image. Red became a really strong colour in the vision for this album because the intensity of nature really inspired me as I was writing, and volcanoes – the bright red lava, the grey of the ash – stuck in my mind…

I’m quite jealous of the red dress you wear on the album cover.

Oh yes, that dress! I went to a great vintage collector in LA.

So you don’t sit down and think ‘I have to write 12 songs for this new album’?

No. I prefer for music and art to happen in its own time. My life moves in slow-motion really. There is no timeline and things are out of order, but it’s what I’m used to.

I always think you have black metal sensibilities, in the sense that nature – in both a volatile and peaceful sense – is a main theme running through your work, and you manipulate sounds that in isolation would sound hellish but in the context of the song it’s beautiful.

Black metal is one of the types of music that inspires me. There’s some sense of white noise in black metal that I’ve always loved, it’s peaceful, and I sometimes inject that into my own music as well.

The production on ‘Pain Is Beauty’ sounds different from your previous work, too. Have you worked with a different recording team?

Well I have had the same bandmates for almost three years now. Ben Chisholm, who is my co-producer and plays bass and synth live, Dylan Fujioka, drummer and Kevin Dockter who plays lead guitar. Typically I write alone and then bring ideas or songs to Ben or to the band as a whole. We used to record ourselves a lot but wanted to try to make this album a bit more clear so we recorded with a great engineer, Lars Stalfors, who also co-produced a few songs on the album, but mostly when I go into the studio I already have the songs organised in my head how they should be, and a list of instrumentation, or they’re already demoed out and we go in to reapproach it and get a more dynamic version.

OK, clear is a good word for the sound, actually.

Yes and I wanted it to be heavier too, with heavy bass and beats so I needed to do that in a nice studio with good monitors and speakers to really work it out.

Yes, those beats need that crystalline sound. Does it worry you that fans – or internet dullards, perhaps – might not know what to make of the electronic songs? I’ve spoken to many a person who’s scared of a drum machine, and often fans don’t like their favourite musicians to drastically change…

I feel lucky that I have an audience who seems to be pretty accepting of the different styles I try, like when I released an acoustic album last year I was surprised to see how many people were so kind about it and came to the shows and experienced it with me, so I don’t feel scared about presenting them with more new sounds. Also we have been playing two to three of the new, more beat-heavy songs live for the past year and no one has thrown tomatoes at us yet!

I suppose your fans are more sophisticated than the average car park metal head!

Our audience is so diverse. It’s one of the things that makes me most happy, to see so many different types of people at the shows and get to meet them and hear their stories too.

The artwork is the most clear you’ve done, too. No hiding behind your hood or your hair!

Yes. I’ve had to become more brave over the years and overcome my tendency to hide. It’s been a progression that changes with each album as well, I think. I started by wearing a veil and hoods a lot, and when I released ‘Apokalypsis’, the meaning of that word is “lifting of the veil” so it was symbolic for me to show my face finally at shows, and for the acoustic album I was stripping things a little more bare and revealing a more personal side of myself. I still struggle with feeling uncomfortable onstage but it’s important for me to give my all. That is partly what this new album cover is about for me. That sense of feeling uncomfortable in the spotlight but trying to be brave.

But I think that vulnerability is part of your charm, it’s kind of a rawness.

I suppose raw is a good word for it. That’s how I feel up there most of the time, but like I said, it’s important to me to really be present and to let go and fall into the songs. I want to have a real experience and I want the audience to have a real experience.

Jessica Crowe

Interview and live review of Chelsea Wolfe – Antwerp May 6, 2013

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On May 6th, Chelsea Wolfe played a fantastic concert at the Trix in Antwerp. Before the concert, Phil Blackmarquis had the opportunity to meet Chelsea for an exclusive interview, done together with Michael Thiel, aka Weyrd Son, founder of Weyrd Son Records and a huge fan of the American singer/songwriter.
(Check the review of the concert here.)

PhB: Thank you very much for this interview. You are in the middle of your European Tour right now. How is it?
It’s been cool. It’s been different than usual because we’re doing a half acoustic, half electric set, so it’s been a little wierd sometimes to balance the energies of the two different sets. But it works out well.

PhB: Why did you decide to split the concerts in two sets?
We had the new(ish) acoustic album that had come out in October, so we incorporated a fair amount of it in the set but without doing an entire acoustic show, just to challenge the ‘old’ songs with something new… And we split the show in two sets…

PhB: In the US, I think it was only acoustic?
Yes, it was a suggestion from some of the venues that we’d do an acoustic and an electric set and it kind of worked out, so…

WS: Is your acoustic album, “Unknown Rooms" a sort of bridge for you between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Chelsea Wolfe, especially since you changed label?
I think so. My label had asked me if I wanted to do an acoustic album because I had so many old acoustic songs. People were asking me when I was going to release songs like ‘Flatlands’, which I had done years ago but hadn’t released yet. So, when the idea came up and I started compiling these old recordings, I decided to do some new ones as well. At the same time, I wanted to get away from the imagery of my former label, Pendu.

WS: Is there any reason why you hadn’t released these old songs before? Because, to me, they have as much strength as songs from ‘The Grime And The Glow’, for instance.
There’s no real reason. Music often happens without order or time, you know. The album that come out this fall has songs which I composed two years ago. It’s all about finding the right time and context for a song rather than writing it and putting it on a record immediately. Sometimes, it’s an older song that seems to fit or something you’ve just written that helps putting the puzzle together.

PhB: I heard that ‘Unknown Rooms’ has entered the charts in the US?
I have no idea. I don’t know.

WS: It’s something we saw on your Wikipedia page. It says that this album is your first album to enter the Billboard charts in the US. (Note: No. 25 in the folk chart and No. 35 in the Heatseekers chart)

WS: On the next album, there will be several electronic songs. Is it something to do with the ‘Wild Eyes’ project you have with Ben Chisholm?
Yes, we’ve had that project for several years but it just didn’t do right to have it separated from the Chelsea Wolfe project because it’s the same people, Ben and I. Same vibe, just a different sound and different instruments so we decide to combine both in one project.

PhB: Like the new song, ‘Kings’, for instance, which you play, would you say it is an example of a new song in the style of Wild Eyes?
Yes, it’s one of the songs that come from it.

WS: So, Wild Eyes is totally behind you now?
As a project, yes. A lot of the songs end up on the new album…

PhB: And are you going to release the cover of ‘Dark Rooms’? I really love it.
‘Dark Rooms’? You mean that civer we did a long time ago? I don’t remember why we did that. No, I don’t think we will release it.

PhB: So the next album is planned for September/October? I understand it will be more electronic, but also folk and rock?
Yes, with a wide range. It’s gonna be on Sargent House as well.

PhB: Do you already have a name for the album?
I have one, pretty positive but I’m not sure I can tell already, but we will announce it pretty quickly. So I have to make up my mind.

PhB: You also played another new song, ‘Feral Love’ yesterday?
Yes, this one has been there for a while as well but we re-recorded it for the new album.

WS: I read in an interview that you wanted to do something with a choir of singers?
It’s always been like a desire to do that. You know: I have a lot of idea’s I want to try out but I hope I have enough time to keep experimenting with things like that.

WS: Every album is quite different, that’s the great strength of your music!
PhB: You also introduced a violin on the last album, with the very talented Andrea Calderon?

Yes, she played on the acoustic album and also on the new album, so…

WS: Will she become part of the band?
I don’t think it’s permanent but probably for a number of shows and tours.. In every tour, we try to make things a little bit different so,;.. But she’s definitely a great addition to the project. I love to be able to have the vocal harmonies. It’s always hard to find someone who is good at harmonies and she is really good.

PhB: And her instrumental bridge on the violin between the two sets is really nice!
Yes: I asked if she could write something and she came up with that really fast…

PhB: Let’s talk about your sources of inspiration and your lyrics. Why this fascination for death, car accidents and all these things?
All of my songs have to do with death because I’ve never really had to deal with it. No one close to me has ever died yet. And I think that singing and writing about it is my way to try to understand it. I’m also interested in materialities of the world, natural disasters, the way that life is shaken up so quickly and unexpectedly. You think about life as a routine and one day, an earthquake or a tsunami can change it all in a second. That’s the kind of things that I find interesting to write songs…

WS: What about this song, ‘Boyfriend’: I knew it was a cover but I didn’t know that Ben (Chisholm) co-composed it.
Yes, it was composed by Karlos Rene Ayala, a friend from my hometown, which we both knew before we started playing music together. I really loved this song when I heard it and I didn’t realize that he had played on it, so we ended up redoing that song on the acoustic album.

WS: How was the tribute to Rudimentary Peni received? Because it didn’t really get lot of coverage in the press.
I think some people were confused. I called it a Tribute album because it’s not just covers, I just took the lyrics. But I haven’t heard anything negative about it, apart from people being mad about the way the songs were covered but I like it a lot!

WS: Are you still in touch with the guys from the band?
They heard the album and seemed to like it. C. Orr did the artwork for it.

PhB: What happened in Aachen? You had to change the venue a few days before the concert?
It’s because of a cover I did years ago and the guys of the venue thought that we were a fascist group. So, we were kicked out of the festival where we were supposed to play, so we ended up playing at the Musikbunker, which is ok. It was a nice show; I liked the place. It’s too bad that people associate us with things like that. I don’t want to be insensitive; I’m not from Germany so I understand that feeling, with history, you know… But I don’t want to be associated with fascism…

PhB: Thank you very much, Chelsea!

www.chelseawolfe.net

VICE Noisey Interview: Coffee, Pie and Death with Chelsea Wolfe

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Does the queen of darkness take her coffee black? How does it feel being the dream woman of metalheads and goths alike? These are the questions I ask myself regularly about Chelsea Wolfe, the Northern California singer whose ghoulish melodies are as uncanny and dread-inducing as the veil she occasionally wears while performing.

Wolfe’s dusky melodies inevitably resonate with a sense of apocalyptic doom, but are still rooted in the strums of country ballads that win over our blackened hearts time and time again. Currently she’s touring to support the release of her latest, a collection of sparse acoustic tracks entitled Unknown Rooms.

Over ‘50s surf rock tunes on the radio and a delightful slice of quiche at DC’s most darling pie shop, Dangerously Delicious, I had a delightful conversation with Chelsea about tour tats, haunted houses, the mystique of death and driving an ex-prison van around the country.

Thanks for trekking out here on your day off from tour to eat pie with me.
No problem. I got to sleep in late, then I think we’re going to try and find somewhere to go and spend the day. I was actually looking for a tattoo parlor.

Haha, thanks. One thing I’ve read in interviews you’ve done in the past is that you’re very concerned with exposing the beauty within darkness. What is so appealing about the darkness?
I’ve always been interested in truth and honesty in music. That was the first thing I was drawn to about art and music when I was younger—brutal honesty and taking something really stark and finding something beautiful about that. I’ve always been interested in contrasts. Like someone laughing and crying simultaneously, it’s this macro view of the world. That’s definitely what drew me to it, that whole view.

What sort of art forms brought that out? Did you grow up watching horror films?
I didn’t really like horror films when I was a kid, actually. I had really bad nightmares and after a while my parents stopped letting me watch them. My sisters would always watch them and I’d be up for four days. People expect me to be really into art that’s really gory or dark or scary or whatever. But I’m interested more in directors like Ingmar Bergman and Werner Herzog, the ones who have a psychological approach to things where it’s very realistic.

Especially Ingmar Bergman, I mean The Seventh Seal is probably the first movie that affected me when I was young. It’s such a simple story really, but so striking and emotional at the same time. Herzog takes something totally random—a science station, and he can reveal so many magical things about it.

I can definitely see the starkness of films of Persona come through in your aesthetic.
A lot of my aesthetic ends up being subconscious, and my impulses are very diverse. Over time, it sort of just melded into this weird thing.

Yeah, you certainly meld those sensibilities to make music for such a diverse group of listeners.
It’s very much a natural progression of things I’ve done. I first started listening to country and folk from my dad growing up, then I got into black metal and then Black Sabath, Led Zeppelin, things like that. Everything just melted together and became whatever the fuck I am.

You know something’s great when you can’t fully describe it, only experience it within its context.
Yeah. It used to bother me when people used to label me something really specific—like “goth” or “singer-songwriter.” It doesn’t anymore because my songs are all really different from one another, and depending on what you listen to first it certainly affects who you see me as an artist. As long as people enjoy it, I don’t really care.

How does the notion of space play into your recording process?
I’m really interested in capturing the vibe of a space when recording. I recorded most of Unknown Rooms at my house in L.A., which is really sort of dilapidated giant old house from the early 1900’s. It was interesting doing that at home—I didn’t really want to go to a studio and it do it “professionally.” I worked with my bassist Ben, who’s a really great producer, and we mixed it together. A whole bunch of people live there, I don’t have the house all to myself. It’s a homey space but it does have its uncomfortable aspects to it. It’s cold and there’s a lot of spiders that creep in. The landlord claims it’s haunted, but I haven’t had that many experiences to sort of back up whether it’s true or not.

Why does he claim it’s haunted?
The previous owner hung himself upstairs. His grandmother bought the house, and she died in the room I live in about ten years ago. He thinks both of their spirits still reside there. I don’t have any experience to back up one way or another.

The possibility’s out there.
Yeah, it’s out there. I mean, there have been a couple of times where plates fly off the wall or something, but it could just be an earthquake. It does have a lot of strange smells that pop up. Sometimes it’s perfumey, other times coppery. I’m really interested in smells and how they bring about memories. It never feels scary to me, though.

Your music often resounds as frigid, though. Are you drawn to colder environments or inspired by temperaments?
I’m drawn to stark landscapes. When I visited Sweden and Norway I fell in love with it, and maybe it’s because of my childhood sensibilities toward Ingmar Bergman. My family heritage is Norwegian, too. I like places that have a harsher landscape, I think it’s interesting that the sun barely comes up for a few hours at a time.

You’re currently touring with a violinist, right?
Yeah. I’ve loved viola and violin for a really long time and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet really talented players. The viola player adds such a natural and raw element to the songs. I wanted that different sound to be there. We also find out that we sing really well together, and I love playing music with her. We also have a synths player, a three-piece, no drums. It’s been really different, but a fun challenge.

What is your creative process like?
Typically starts with lyrics, but more specifically, subject matter. It’s not so much the words but the idea I want to carry out, and the song will carry itself forward from there. For this last album we changed it up a little bit. We wrote the music first, then would inject vocals in there and rearrange. That’s what’s fun about electronic music, you can do that more easily.

What’s the last nightmare you had?
Actually last night I dreamed about being on tour. We played in Amsterdam last year. It was a really busy area near bars. We pulled up to the venue. The guys went inside and I stayed outside with the van. We started unpacking and this group of six like, really drunk guys came up and started grabbing guitars and shit. I didn’t know really what to do, I was yelling and trying to fight them off. It was okay in the end, but I had a nightmare like that. It’s always really stressful on tour, especially when you can’t park right in front of the venue.

Do you ever garner material from your nightmares?
A little bit. The title Unknown Rooms refers to dream interpretation, which isn’t something I’m really into. But it’s supposed to be about how you dream about new spaces, new rooms, things you make up. I always think it’s always interesting when you make up a person in your dreams, and that’s sort of supposed to represent something about your afterlife, a hint into that. Or it can be revealing a part of yourself that you’re not really ready to approach yet. A lot of these were old songs that I wasn’t comfortable releasing until recently, so it represents that.

What’s your greatest fear?
I don’t know if it’s a fear, but I think the reason I write so much music about death—death as a character, or different ways of passing into the next realm, things like that—is because I’ve never really experienced it myself. No one close to me has ever died. I’m not really afraid of death, I’m just a little obsessed with it. It’s always in my head and I wonder about what it’s like to deal with it.