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.
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