Last fall, I had the extreme pleasure of chatting with the enchanting Chelsea Wolfe while she was on the road in support of Pain is Beauty. Though her music – not unpleasantly – sounds like the sonic equivalent to turning blind corners (running the spectrum from hushed and ethereal to full on black metal), there’s a fragile, dreamlike quality underlining each album. It’s just enough to make you listen closer and wonder about the person beneath.
Finally, Chelsea is coming around on tour again. Since early May she’s been on a month-long acoustic tour, complete with strings, opening for EELS. This marks the first time Chelsea has done an acoustic tour since 2013’s Pain Is Beauty and should reveal a side of her we didn’t get to see when she was last in Seattle over at Barboza.
Most recently, Chelsea and director Mark Pellington have collaborated on a long-format film called Lone. The film, much like Pain Is Beauty, is awash in themes of “nature, sexuality, memory, mortality, forgiveness, love, innocence, fragility, violence and beauty,” according to Pellington (the “Feral Love” video is excerpted from the film). Lone is available for purchase on a quite handsome custom-designed USB key; it’s also available on iTunes and other streaming formats. Trailers for the film can be viewed here and here.
Catch Chelsea Wolfe opening for EELS Saturday, June 7 at The Moore. Go early…and get your tickets HERE. Until then, here’s an excerpt from my email chat with Chelsea last fall:
Jessica Price: I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with all your records over the last few weeks to get ready for your Seattle show…congrats on the new record- it’s lovely. I find Pain Is Beauty the most soothing of all your releases. It’s kind of distilled a lot of elements from your previous albums in an interesting and very focused way. Do you feel you have more freedom than some artists to follow your creative muse where it leads you, stylistically?
Chelsea Wolfe: It’s a choice that I made to not limit myself or box myself in. When I started writing electronic songs with my bandmate Ben Chisholm about 2-3 years ago, I originally felt that we should do a side project with the songs, but over time I realized that this project is a flexible organism and can be or should be whatever it needs to be at any given time.. I’ve always liked to experiment with different styles of music and different ways of using my voice. I’m glad you find the album soothing and enjoy it – thank you.
JP: As I’ve been listening to your albums in succession I’ve been thinking a lot about how artists evolve, both personally and professionally over time. When you look back on the music you’ve made so far, how do you think you’ve evolved?
CW: One of the main things I can see is that I’ve learned to edit myself. In the past I would release a song as soon as I finished recording the first demo of it, but now I prefer to step back from new songs for a bit, then add or take something away from them. Often the songs reveal what they mean only after listening a few times, so basically nowadays I like to understand the songs before I release them!
JP: There’s a playlist you created on Spotify which contained great classic country as well as tracks from legendary Russian singer-songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky and current German artist Sibylle Baier (who sounds remarkably like a female Leonard Cohen to me- I almost wish I could hear them duet, or get into a lover’s quarrel, if that were possible). In a sense, your music – although arranged much differently – shares characteristics with these classics. Many of these artists were social outlaws or left of center individuals that never quite fit with the status quo, nor did they want to. When you strip your music down (which you did beautifully on the acoustic Unknown Rooms album), your songs contain that same essence: a little bit of darkness, a little bit of the outsider, with simplicity at the core. What appeals to you most in artists that you admire?
CW: Honesty is what drew me to music and it remains the quality that stands out in artists that I admire. When I made that playlist I was just grouping together some of my favorite voices, but I think you’re right about what you said, that they’re all a bit left of center or a bit outlaw. I guess I forgot to put Nick Cave on this playlist; he’s one of the most inspiring artists in this regard. I’ve always been a bit of an outcast myself, and maybe I’m attracted to other misfits, loners and troubled souls, or just those that don’t give a fuck about taking the standard path.
JP: Being an artist- especially a female one- can be a strange balancing act it seems. It’s an extrovert-centric career often approached by introverted people. Do you feel at odds with being out there for public consumption at times?
CW: Very much, yes. I’ve loved writing and recording music since I was a little girl, but I never imagined that I would be a musician for my career because I never could see myself playing in front of people. As a slightly hermetic person it makes my skin crawl at times thinking about performing in front of an group of people. But it’s something I’ve had to accept and overcome over the years because I want to take my job seriously and to be able to share my music in that way. There are nights when everything feels right and I truly don’t mind being onstage and it’s a great thing to experience those songs and moods and emotions with the audience. A lot of it really has to the with the audience actually, and I feel really lucky to have some amazing people who come to my shows and I can really feel their energy and goodness and it helps me get through the set.
JP: You’ve performed extensively both in the US and abroad. What has been the biggest revelation to you about traveling and performing for such diverse audiences around the world?
CW: One of the simplest revelations is that we need to take more days off while on tour. When you expend that much mental and sometimes physical energy every night and then barely sleep and then drive for 7-12 hours in an uncomfortable van the following day you start to unravel pretty quickly. Having a day here and there to just rest or wander around a new city is a holy miracle when you’re on tour. It’s also important because if you don’t get enough rest you can’t be your best onstage, which is the whole reason you’re there in that new city!
JP: You have a connection to a Seattle based artist- King Dude (TJ Cowgill of Book of Black Earth), with whom you recorded an EP “Sings Songs Together”. How did that come about?
CW: TJ Cowgill is a great man, and my true brother. I was fortunate to have met him when we played together for my album release of “The Grime and the Glow” a few years back. We became friends and recorded some songs together when he was in LA. It took a long time for those first two songs to get released but in the meantime we did a tour together. We recently recorded a couple more songs in Seattle actually. He’s one of the only people outside of my own band members that I feel comfortable writing with. Also he has excellent taste so if I ever need a tie-breaking opinion on artwork or something I ask him and he blesses me with his advice.