"Music and nature are my religion."
Here is a truly personal talk with Chelsea Wolfe.
Hello Chelsea. Where are you now?
Hi. I’m at home, in the woods of Northern California in a small town.
Your last album was very good. There is a feeling that you made a big step forward, in order to attract a wider audience.
Thank you. That is strange to hear because I just really wanted to make a heavy album and was following a path to go deep into myself to confront some darkness there. I’m not sure if I succeeded in gaining a wider audience!
When did you start playing music? At which age and under which circumstances?
When I was a kid, age 9, I recorded my first song. Over the years my dad taught me a few things on guitar and showed me how to record on an old 8-track. But I didn’t start playing shows or finding the confidence to really pursue music until my 20’s.
What kind of music did you prefer when you were younger?
My parents had great taste so I was listening to Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac.. I was always listening to the local R&B station as well - Aaliyah, The Fugees.
Which bands/artists from the past did influence you?
Sibylle Baier, Tricky, Black Sabbath, Vladimir Vysotsky, Johnny Cash and more.
When did you decide to explore heavier music and move from pop/alternative to noisier genres?
Ι don’t feel like I was ever pop. I mean, I made shitty singer-songwriter music when I was in my early 20’s because I knew I wanted to make music, but wasn’t sure of my own voice yet. I recorded some stuff I didn’t like, stepped back from music, and then approached it again when an artist friend Steve Vanoni invited me on a European tour of performance artists to be the resident musician. I’d play a short set with borrowed gear at the end of each night, in different spaces and galleries. That helped me to figure out where I wanted to go with music, which was a more raw direction, so I started over, writing instinctually and not over-polishing the recordings. When I put a live band together I realized how much I loved being surrounded by sound and being able to create atmospheres, so I’ve been exploring that a lot ever since.
Is it your habit to write music in the studio?
No, I write at home in my home studio, which is just an extra bedroom. I’ve converted into a creative space, with a small recording setup. I need to be in my own space, working at my own pace, whether that’s an early morning or really late at night. When I feel like an album is coming together, I’ll figure out where it’s meant to be recorded and book some actual studio time. But by the time I get there my band and I will have all the songs worked out and recorded in demo form.
How often do you tour, and how much does touring affect your day to day life?
My day to day life is more about writing, working on new things and creative projects - inward feelings and just me being a hermit. Then I’ll get asked to play a festival or I’ll book a tour and my energy starts to shift outward, and I start to think about how to make the upcoming shows special, and then the band and I start practicing more and putting together set lists. We tour pretty often, since 2012. It’s been something I had to learn to love because it’s not always easy to put yourself out there in such a way, but it’s so important to have that experience with the audience in a live setting. It takes the music to a new level.
Are Dylan, Ben and Mike standard members of your band now, or were they with you just for the latest album?
Ben Chisholm is my main musical collaborator and he’s been playing in my band consistently since 2011 I think. This project has gone from solo project to full band, and then there have been various versions of the band - it’s always morphing and shifting and sometimes I go back to just writing and playing alone. Dylan was the second drummer I worked with. He brought such a cool, sparse, experimental sensibility to the music, and him and I always had a lot of fun on the road. I invited Mike Sullivan to play on the Abyss album after he had played on one of the demos while we were hanging out. I figured, if he’s on one song, he should be on more of them! He’s such a great player and he added a sense of uncomfortable triumph to the songs, which I loved. We’re great friends.
Which is the main inspiration of yours?
Reality, humanity, nature, history, love and death.
Which is your favorite book?
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Do you believe in God or any religions?
Music and nature are my religion.
Did you direct the video of your track "Hypnos"? How did that come about?
I had worked with a snake rescue organization for my “Mer” video with director Zev Deans back in 2011, and these sweet pythons stayed in my mind over the years. I wanted to create a dreamy video for "Hypnos" so I gathered some friends and some pythons and we holed up in a cheap studio for a day and just experimented and created the dreamscape. For me, the way I interacted with the snakes is meant to represent a mother or a lover.
Are there any plans for the future? Is there a new album in process?
Yes, there is a new album in the works. I hope to release it this year.
Thank you very much.