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

The slightest decision can haunt an artist. This much is true of Chelsea Wolfe, an L.A….

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The slightest decision can haunt an artist. This much is true of Chelsea Wolfe, an L.A. singer-songwriter whose records have synthesized doom folk, wasteland noise, and noirish experimentation. Wolfe’s 2010 cover of “Black Spell of Destruction” by black metal outfit Burzum may follow her forever. Her own music, though difficult to categorize, shares something essential with that genre. It’s austere and atmospheric, expressed with the reverb through which Wolfe often pushes her voice; she’s opened for extreme bands like Sunn O))), Boris, and Swans and has cited Gorgoroth’s “Of Ice and Movement” as a treasured song. Shortly after the Burzum cover came another one that’s gained less traction on the web: a surreal, pitch-shifted take on the 1997 Notorious B.I.G. classic “Hypnotize”, found on a collection of rap covers from Ben Chisholm’s ghostly White Horse project. Chisholm also happens to be Wolfe’s bassist and co-producer on Pain Is Beauty, her best and most emotionally direct work yet.

There are no nods to hip-hop on Pain, but their exercise in booming, electronic, populist territory is telling. While 2011’s Apokalypsis and 2012’s stark Unknown Rooms inched Wolfe closer to her melodic potential, they could only suggest the towering quality of this superseding new LP. At times Apokalypsis felt disguised in a permanent Halloween costume, a gothic nature fashioned so carefully as to induce skepticism. Her material had strong, original moments, but its overly witchy aura could distract; the veiled, candelabra-lit “Mer” video, though beautiful, edged toward self-parody. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Wolfe kept bats for pets or grew up with a cemetery in her backyard (the latter is actually true). Now, on Pain Is Beauty, we get a better sense of her talent and spirit.

Wolfe’s songs of Pain emphasize massive builds with engulfing power in the vein of Swans. It’s emotionally exhausting in equally mad and enjoyable ways, lasting nearly an hour across 12 twilight tracks of aggressive crescendos, poised reprieves, and suspended drama. The slower her metamorphosis, the heavier and more cavernous. As the record approaches its midway point, the ominous drones opening “Sick” signal the beginning of a wicked, cinematic patch. Wolfe has expressed interest in film soundtracks, and these songs, including “Kings” and “Rein”, realize that ambition, building and swarming, creaking and pounding. They arrive at grim, seasick neo-folk balladry on “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone”, which features some of Wolfe’s most trudging and startling lyricism: “Someone opened me up while I was sleeping/ Filled my body right up with sand,” she sings. “I carry a heaviness like a mountain.” The clarity of her songs can be terrifying.

These songs require more patience than Pain's preceding, hook-driven opening, but the flood-tide dynamics remain— the poppier songs are bleakly romantic, cheerlessly danceable, and equally all-consuming. The elegiac “We Hit a Wall” moves with a fierce march both funereal and inviting. The slyly anthemic “House of Metal” conjures the cool, emotional slink of dark Tri-Angle Records-style R&B, while “The Warden” has a metallic, soft-sung coldwave feel that could appear on a Wierd Records compilation. “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter” has a warped, ominous 60s girl group sound— upbeat Spector pop paired with thoroughly deranged lyrics, a could-be Blue Velvet soundtrack extra. 

Wolfe’s indecipherable vocals tend to forego a lyrical message for the sake of mood, but the sublimely intoxicating strength of her melodies carries weight. At times her voice recalls Marissa Nadler, a kindred spirit who similarly has connections to both folk and metal along with a shared pop touchstone in Joni Mitchell. Wolfe sings with conviction, grounded in themes of nature, ancestry, and tormented love. “The Waves Have Come”, an epic, skin-crawling, eight-minute ballad with pierced high strings, is a journey of terror and sorrow and the record’s most intense moment— sung from the lovelorn perspective of a natural disaster survivor, inspired by the hugely fatal Japanese earthquake and tsunami two years ago.

A peculiar thing about Chelsea Wolfe and her cultural presence is how her cultish following is so disjointed— she’s popular among fans of extreme music, but also the fashion and art worlds, having repped designers like Alexander McQueen and Iris van Herpen, and soundtracked New York painter Richard Phillips’ 2011 art film with Sasha Grey. And while there’s something fascinating in how Wolfe attracts these crowds, she seems to exist alone in her own world on Pain Is Beauty, crystallizing and strengthening her musical language without compromising her original, principled vision. There’s a propulsive quality to much of the beat-oriented Pain, but there remains a relative sense of privacy. It’s hard to imagine Wolfe dancing to Pain Is Beauty, save for inside her own head.

Prefix Mag Album Review: Chelsea Wolfe “Pain Is Beauty”

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The void is a place you might shy away from.  But Chelsea Wolfe lives there, digging for all the melodies in the abyss. After an album she doesn’t want you to remember about was released, Wolfe took years off and redefined her musical career. Releasing The Grime and The Glow in 2010 welcomed a much darker and moodier vibe to a rewarding listen - one of the better and more underappreciated debuts of the past few years. Apokalypsis was an album more people paid attention to, matching more sinister vibes than her previous and reaching further into the heavier melodies. But last year’s Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs showed Wolfe taking a reserved approach to her content, making tracks like “The Way We Used To” and “Flatlands” shining brightly instead of dimly.

 

But Pain Is Beauty towers over all of these. Her fourth album is the summation of all efforts and an impressive one at that. It’s emotionally draining and it’s cinematically shocking, at the very least. Conceptually binding an album isn’t such a new thing, but Wolfe does it with justice and with success, and Pain Is Beauty is one of those listens no one can forget. Throughout this album, there are moments of immense, breathtaking intensity worth delving into and revisiting for years to come. Not only is this a particularly great album, Pain Is Beauty is one of the more unique albums you’ll listen to this year.

 

One characteristic of her earlier albums is the sheer amount of layers of music. Everything is delicately placed on a platter to showcase the right amount of emotion. In many ways, this is a main characteristic of Pain Is Beauty - the tiniest noises bring you further into the mix, noticing its every detail. All of this sits beautifully in the background, with Chelsea Wolfe’s voice - wounded, heartbreaking, and sharp as a knife - leading the song, with her own voice as an instrument. She deliberately affects her voice with pedals - obscuring her own voice in the darkness - and hits high notes with unyielding intensity that pierces your soul.

 

Wolfe, along with multi-instrumentalist Ben Chisholm, utilized darker synthetic sounds on many tracks, including lead single “The Warden,” which reimagines the ending to George Orwell’s 1984 and touches on one of the larger themes on the album - love. These evocative and urgent sounds are executed much more prominently and successfully than previous efforts, but do not rule the album’s soundscape. Tracks like “We Hit A Wall” and “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone” are sinister doom in music form, with earth-shattering, heavy, thick, and deep guitars that rumble your mind.

 

Pain Is Beauty is a complex behemoth. It is filled with primal screams, topical journeys, and romantic statements. Rich in musical variety, “Destruction Makes The World Burn Brighter” has a serpentine-like structure, channeling Joy Division to a certain extent. It’s also one of the better song titles in recent memory. Ambient tracks like “Sick” and “Reins” apply repetition to the max, bringing an utmost haunting tone to these two. The last four tracks are truly various. “Ancestors, The Ancients” is a darkly, synthy, and subtle cut, while “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone” pulls out the guitar for a jangly, acoustic tale. This one has Wolfe singing, “When can I die? / When can I go? // When will I be free? / When will I know?” Beyond the stark depressive nature, Wolfe mystically pleads for answers through dazzling chants.

 

“The Waves Have Come” is the album’s climax, jarringly putting together a tale about a man who’s about to be swallowed in a tsunami. Tapping at virtually two keys on a piano throughout, the track swells and swells until the ultimate crash wipes away everything you’ve heard up to this point, washing away everything you know. This eight-minute goliath is the zenith of the album, flying to all new plateaus seen thus far, with bleeding strings and Wolfe’s vocals delivering heavenly notes above the layers upon layers of instrumentation. The outro has Wolfe crying vocally, “The waves have come and taken you to sea / Never to return to me / Never to return to me / Never to return to me.” Ultimately, the bleak outro of slowly drawing out the climactic finish is a resounding and cleansing feeling. Chelsea Wolfe spoke about Pain Is Beauty, explaining that the album gave a healing impression. “The Waves Have Come” and the defining outro “Lone” wrap up the album to give it a very healing ending, after the onslaught of doom, intensity, and emotion.

Pain Is Beauty shocks. It loudly proclaims its motives from the very start and explores melodies for the duration of the album. Music doesn’t find very many visionaries anymore, and Chelsea Wolfe brands her darkly emotive music as an artistic representation of herself. Sculpting the greatest sum of tracks Wolfe has ever created, Pain Is Beauty, shines in the void that she dwells in. Bleak, distant, polarizing, and beautiful, Wolfe’s fourth album makes a gargantuan impact.


Chelsea Wolfe is currently on tour, check out ArtistData for more information.

Buy/Stream Pain is Beauty on Bandcamp.

In the wake of Chelsea Wolfe’s 2012 wave of tranquil folk known as Unknown Rooms: A Collection of…

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In the wake of Chelsea Wolfe’s 2012 wave of tranquil folk known as Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, and the noisier, doom-drenched Apokolypsis the year prior, fans were left reeling by the broody subject matter they were lured into exploring — feelings like dazed wonderment, deep depression, and fascination (or concern) with just how bummed out the pensive singer/songwriter can get. Others have been holding their breath in melodramatic anticipation, curious to see if Wolfe can transcend the limitations of her goth folk pigeonhole by doing something huge. The good news is that everyone can let out a sigh of relief, because her newest release, Pain is Beauty, takes listeners to the highest of highs, all thanks to Wolfe’s willingness to get low and descend even further into the gloom-hole.

Dense, rich musical influences inhabit Wolfe’s world this time around. There are broad and distinctive strokes of seductive goth rock, psych folk, and post-punk, while the addition of synths and sequenced beats create an expansive hybrid of her past three albums. This is instantly clear with album opener “Feral Love”, starting off at about a seven on the Scale of Impending Doom thanks to a heavily-reverbed bass line that gives way to crashing guitars and a twitchy beat (which in turn activates the ’90s Noise Rock Meter). The nuclear armageddon continues on “We Hit a Wall”, which plods along a minimalist post-punk path before introducing the strings that offer the first suggestion of orchestral rock as a destination. “House of Metal” and “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone” similarly splice strings and acoustic elements with electro-clicks and empyrean swells of reverb in a meeting of the earthly with the unearthly.

Album single “The Warden” uses its techno beat and gaited mandolin to construct a chic, internationalist, city-beat sound — the ultimate melange of Venice, Miami Vice, and ’90s Japanese video game scores. Wolfe’s Final Fantasy is only just beginning though, because the eerie synths and sinister, subterranean vocal effects of “Sick” and “Kings” call forth post-apocalyptic undertones of ’70s horror movies and their affiliated music lords: Tangerine Dream’s Sorcerer soundtrack, or John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 — hell, even Giorgio Moroder’s Midnight Express and Goblin’s daggy Euro-rock come to mind, but minus the tubular bells. (Note to self: begin stirring up rumors of a Goblin reunion with Wolfe as an additional member.) Those tracks bring a cinematic quality to the mix, while reserved touches of folk on “Reins” and “Lone” reaffirm that Pain is Beauty doesn’t really linger inside or outside of this world. There actually isn’t much lingering with “Lone” in general, as it clocks in under two minutes and 40 seconds — a real contrast from the rest of the tracks, which average about 5 minutes. The occasional lengthiness could be an issue for some listeners, but in the time that Wolfe takes to get to her point, a lot of transforming and renewal takes place that can be appreciated with patience.

Perhaps the best example of this gradual development and expansion is on “The Waves Have Come”, the next-to-last track that takes eight minutes to tell a story of love lost and destroyed by a natural disaster. At least that’s what the press release says it’s about, but most of Wolfe’s words are garbled, enshrouded, or submerged underwater, thanks in part to her vocal delivery, but mainly due to the album’s production. Considering that she’s a high poetess, it would be great to hear more of those plaintive lyrics, but perhaps that’s just one of the album’s paradoxes, much like the album’s title. In fact, “The Waves Have Come” symbolizes that title well, starting out with moody piano and the same two chords for four minutes (that’s the painful part) until somewhere around the five-minute mark, when Wolfe’s melodic realization causes the song to shift. Then comes a release of tension with a divine resolution that can only be described as pain and beauty finally becoming one. That epitomization of the album’s title could be a sufficient end to things right there, the two-minute surprise of “Lone” nails the coffin lid shut — the final confirmation of Wolfe’s achievement in breaking her goth folk shackles with the supernatural powers of Pain is Beauty.

Essential Tracks: “The Waves Have Come”, “The Warden”, and “Lone”

CHELSEA WOLFE“Pain Is Beauty”(Sargent House) A shudder of emotional torment, poised between a swoon…

CHELSEA WOLFE
“Pain Is Beauty”
(Sargent House)

A shudder of emotional torment, poised between a swoon and a sob, resides in the voice of Chelsea Wolfe, and the ambiguity feels custom fitted to the music. “Pain Is Beauty,” her fourth album in three years, confirms her steadiness as a singer-songwriter of gothic intention, drawn to romantic fatalism and beautiful ruin.

Ms. Wolfe, who originally hails from Sacramento, has made her name in Los Angeles, and there’s a sly connotation of noir in her whole enterprise. Her first two albums — “The Grime and the Glow” and “Apokalypsis,” on Pendu sound - put her forth as a sepulchral wraith. Her third, “Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs” (Sargent House), exuded a spare and chilling composure, more intimate but hardly less opaque.

She produced “Pain Is Beauty” with Ben Chisholm, who plays bass and synthesizer on the album, alongside the guitarist Kevin Dockter and the drummer Dylan Fujioka. (The same personnel are currently on a tour that reaches the Bowery Ballroom on Sept. 13.) There’s a slight push toward synthetic texture, though the prevailing sound still involves her voice against a twangy guitar, both bathed in cavernous reverb. Mainly the electronics furnish details like the rhythmic thrum in “Feral Love,” which calls to mind the fleet of helicopters in the opening scene of “Short Cuts,” the Robert Altman film.

You don’t have to reach to find other cinematic elements on the album, from the horror-movie organ drone of “Kings” to the washed-out retro-pop of “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter,” offered in tribute to David Lynch. Elsewhere the allusions feel more rooted in the realm of music, as when “House of Metal” coalesces around a dolorous, slow-to-unfold arpeggio, evoking Portishead.

Ms. Wolfe has often said that she draws inspiration from Scandinavian black metal, but it’s a fair question whether that claim has more to do with an image, or an idea, than it does with actual sound. On a few of these new songs, like “We Hit a Wall,” her singing is actually most reminiscent of Feist.

In any case, the attractive but suffocating atmosphere on “Pain Is Beauty” should be understood as precise aesthetic calculation. On “The Waves Have Come,” Ms. Wolfe sings slowly and heartbreakingly from the vantage of a tsunami survivor. On “Sick,” she basks in the toxic runoff of a relationship. And a doom-folkish tune called “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone” includes the line “I carry a heaviness like a mountain” — a stoical complaint that sounds as if it’s sung inside a grain silo, in abject and perfect solitude. NATE CHINEN