September 2013 marked the release of Sacramento native Chelsea Wolfe's fourth studio album, Pain Is Beauty. The album, widely considered her best to date, lives up to its name: Gorgeously introspective and alluringly moody, the gothic rocker’s heady distortions and droning production emote as effectively as her astute lyricism. Wolfe has compared the album’s narrative to that of a forest fire. Despite the destruction of trying times, such tribulations ultimately allow for personal growth.
Such emotionally complex work allows for a slew of interpretations, which is where Wolfe has shone brightest in 2014. Lone, an experimental short film by filmmaker Mark Pellington, acts as a surreal adaptation of Pain Is Beauty and was just released in full last month. The singer is also mid-tour with Eels; she’s playing an exclusively acoustic set. The tour comes through New York this Sunday at the historic Apollo Theater. Wolfe had a lot to say about translating her work to such diverse mediums, working with Pellington, and prepping for summer excursions through Europe.
BENJAMIN LINDSAY: So tell me a bit about your upcoming show at the Apollo with Eels. Have you done an acoustic tour of this magnitude before?
CHELSEA WOLFE: Yeah, I mean, I don’t really know how many people the Apollo holds, so I don’t know. But I read it’s a really nice theater, so that’s good. We did an acoustic tour last January, and I haven’t really done anything like that since, so it’s something new. It’s a weird challenge to be in touch with such an intimate space, you know, you can hear every note. It’s a new challenge, but it’s fun, too.
LINDSAY: Yeah, of course. As you said, it’s a challenge—it’s a major change of pace from your general sound. Why do you think Pain Is Beauty is especially conducive to this acoustic translation?
WOLFE: Well, I don’t know that it’s conducive naturally, but we definitely wanted to try it. We’re also playing a couple songs from Unknown Rooms.
LINDSAY: What’s the reception of the whole thing been thus far? I know you’re in the middle of the tour right now.
WOLFE: Well, this particular tour has kind of been a strange match, in my opinion. I think I realized that the first night. I’m not sure that their fans, the Eels fans, are into what we’re doing. But, you know, that’s okay. I also feel a little weird about having our fans spend so much on a ticket; it’s something weird opening for other bands, you know? Especially when it is just such a strange match musically and mood-wise.
LINDSAY: Do you find that your acoustic set is winning over some Eels fans? You say that it feels like a weird match, but are people still being receptive to it all?
WOLFE: Yeah, for sure. I mean, we definitely get some people coming up to us after the show each night saying they’d never heard us and they appreciated the music, but, I don’t know, maybe it’s just all in my head. But there’s just a general vibe in my head that it’s not really going over that well with most of their fans. I think they like to be entertained, and sometimes my music is more about stillness and about remembering the heavier parts of life. So maybe they’re not so entertained with that.
LINDSAY: That honestly didn’t really cross my mind, but that is a pretty odd match—they are probably going there for a little different vibes for a live setting, but as long as you’re happy with it.
WOLFE: Exactly. Especially because it’s fun playing these songs still and I’m just, as you said, doing my thing.
LINDSAY: As far as your relationship with Mark Pellington—I had the opportunity to watch Lone, and I was curious just how all of that came about.
WOLFE: Well, Mark and my manager, Cathy Pellow, are old friends. [Mark] wanted to listen to the whole album together, and he was eventually inspired to do this whole film based on five of the songs from the album, and it became something bigger than a music video, and then, yeah, it’s kind of this surreal emotional journey that Mark takes you on. And the sounds—we also did some original sound tracking to go between the songs.
LINDSAY: Yeah, it clocks in at just under an hour. It really goes above and beyond the standard music video, to say the least. Why did you want to take on such an endeavor? Is that what you were setting out to do with Mark, or did that just kind of happen organically?
WOLFE: Yeah, we were originally just gonna do one music video for one song, and it was kind of his vision to do more. And it was good for me, too. I was into it, and we did a lot of back and forth with what we felt comfortable with and not, but once we were on set and filming, it was definitely his vision; you could tell he was in charge once he’s on set. He’s a very intense director, but it was really, really great experience for me, and I learned a lot.
LINDSAY: Would you consider doing it again for future LPs?
WOLFE: I don’t know, I mean, I think for the future I’d like to try something different and do different views for each song instead of something that ties everything together.
LINDSAY: At this point, Pain Is Beauty has been out for a little while. Since its debut, it’s been really acclaimed as sort of a career best for you. Is it at all daunting to have to outdo yourself with each record? Do you even read the reviews?
WOLFE: I read the reviews sometimes, but I don’t let it really affect the next album because, for me, when I approach an album, it’s usually coming to me pretty naturally. It’s not like I set out, like, “Okay, I’m going to write an album this month.” It’s more like I’m just always writing songs and eventually I start to realize that a group of songs sort of fits together, and I go from there in putting together the album and themes and artwork and things like that. So, yeah, I don’t feel like I have to outdo myself; I just want to make an album that I really like and that I feel proud of. And I’m always excited to make the next album because I definitely get sick of my work the second it gets out there.
LINDSAY: I mean, you’ve been working on it for such a long time that by the time it’s finally out…
WOLFE: Yeah, exactly.
LINDSAY: And it also must freshen it up a bit with the acoustic tour and different interpretations of your music.
WOLFE: Yeah, for sure.
LINDSAY: Now you’ve obviously done shows in New York before, but you live in California, right? Do you prefer the East Coast or West Coast?
WOLFE: Well, I’ve always loved California; I’ll probably always live here on the West Coast, at least long-term. But I do love coming to New York. The energy is totally different, and I always have a lot of fun there. I always end up staying up all night! I look at my friends, like, “How do you guys do this every day?” But, yeah, I love California. I used to live in northern California but now I live about an hour north of Los Angeles in the mountains and it’s really beautiful down there, too.
LINDSAY: Yeah! I actually lived in Los Angeles for bit, but really all of Southern California is just gorgeous. You say that you’re out an about each time you’re in New York. Do you have anything in particular that’s your favorite thing to do in the city?
WOLFE: I don’t know, I always like it when people take me to bars or clubs or something.
LINDSAY: Now just looking to the future—obviously you’re a bit busy right now—do you have anything exciting in the works? Any plans for the summer?
WOLFE: Well, I’m kind of excited to get home from the tour because I have a lot of new stuff that I’m working on. Basically, we’ll just do editing for a month and then we’re going on tour in Europe, doing some festivals. But just going home and then going on tour pretty quickly after this. We’ve got some beautiful spots, I’m looking forward to it.