American singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Chelsea Wolfe is one of the most intriguing and interesting artists I’ve came across in sometime. Her haunting, brooding and at times beautifully challenging songs are a breath of fresh air. November sees Wolfe touring on Australian shores for the very first time! (thanks to Heathen Skulls). She is also set to release her emotive, captivating album, Unknown Rooms: A Collection Of Acoustic Songs on October 16. Here Chelsea gives insight into the release, song writing, her experience with hyperosmia and her adoration of the natural world.
When did you first become aware of music?
CHELSEA WOLFE: I was very young…my father was in a country band while I was growing up. My parents were divorced and I mostly stayed with my mom or grandmother but the influence of my dad’s musical life and home studio had an impact on me.
Who or what inspired you to start making music yourself?
CW: I started experimenting with recording around age nine. I don’t really know how I discovered that I could do it because it wasn’t pushed on me at all, but I just started writing songs and never really stopped.
Why is music important to you?
CW: It’s something that’s instinctual for me—it’s the only thing that makes me feel like a normal human being.
You’ve recently released Unknown Rooms as a collection of songs rather than an actual next album; what process did you go through when choosing songs to include on the release?
CW: The idea came up when I started working with Sargent House. Cathy Pellow suggested I put together an album of all the old orphan acoustic songs of mine that were just floating around the internet. In the process of collecting those recordings together I ended up writing new songs along with new recordings of the older songs. The timeline of the songs spans a good four or five years so that’s why I decided to release it as a collection rather than a conceptual album. It comes out October 16th.
What’s one of your favourite things about the collection?
CW: How it developed. I showed a few of the songs to my friend Daniel Denton, he’s a great bass player, and the bass lines he ended up adding to those songs gave them a totally different, timeless feel. It wasn’t something I was expecting but I love it. My bandmate Ben Chisholm also played on the album – drums, some analog synths – and he recorded the album as well. I also worked with violin player Andrea Calderon and viola player Ezra Buchla. I love when the right people come together for an album and I truly feel like these were the right people for these songs.
In a previous interview you’ve mentioned that: “ I’m most excited about my next full-length.” Are there any particular aspects of the forthcoming record your most excited about?
CW: I probably said that before I started recording the acoustic album! I love both albums even though they’re very different. I just finished recording my next full-band album but we have a lot of work to do still in mixing! These songs also span over some years…a lot of electronic songs Ben and I have been working on for a couple years and waiting for the right time to release them, as well as some newer guitar-based songs. The themes of the album are very elemental; reconciling the ancient and the modern, nature and love.
Were there any challenges for you making the album?
CW: As I mentioned the challenge is to come – for me mixing is most important because of course it’s the final stop before you can call an album “finished.” I have to be very involved in this process or just do it myself because I’m very particular about the way the recordings sound but it’s not something I can explain in words usually, like, “just turn that part up” or something, it’s more like shapes and motions that I can see in my mind that I have to physically manifest into the music.
What’s one of your greatest challenges as a songwriter?
CW: Believing in myself and being open enough to share something I’ve written. When I first started playing shows in 2005-2006 I let a group of producers convince me to make an album before i was ready. It was just some bad singer-songwriter stuff I was messing around with and when the album was done and started circulating around I realized how much I hated it. What I didn’t realize was how permanent the internet is! So now I am always hesitant to release something and really take my time to make sure I’m happy with it. I still make mistakes sometimes but I am at a much better place as an artist/songwriter and feel more comfortable with my own work.
I know that you have a great love and adoration of the natural world; where is one of your favourite natural places to visit?
CW: Driving through the giant rocks in Utah is amazing, and the salt flats. The Mediterranean Sea was incredibly beautiful. My mom lived on Oahu for a while and when I visited I was always overwhelmed by how intensely green everything is. Really I just love to go home to Northern California and spend time in the trees.
What are some of your favourite scents? What significance do they have to you? I ask as previously in interviews you’ve commented “Scents rule me; they’re my second love next to music” and that one of the themes explored on the coming record is your experience with hyperosmia.
CW: I know things could be worse, but I get migraines related to over stimulation of sounds, lights, smells…sometimes it’s inspiring though; the way it all relates and the sort of light-vision-shapes that enter your vision before a migraine comes on, it keeps me grounded in this weird way. Scents are memories and connections and it’s almost spiritual sometimes the way scents affect me. It’s very primal and simple but beautiful. I love earthy scents the most, like patchouli, sandalwood, jasmine, and also coconut in the summer because it works with the heat so well. My favorite proper perfume is Margiela Untitled. I can’t wear it often because it’s pretty strong, but if I am careful just to wear a little bit it’s just perfect.
Do you create every day?
CW: I don’t know. Probably. I take being a musician as my job, so I’m pretty much always doing something that has to do with moving forward as an artist.
People have described you as a ‘doom folk artist’; what are your feelings on that description?
CW: I have folk roots and am always going back to folk and acoustic music in one way or another. The “doom” part isn’t so literal, I guess it’s just a comment on the content of most of my songs which leans more towards the harsh reality of the world than the easy, fun-loving parts. But I am interested in revealing the beauty in the darkness of things so I don’t mind the description so much since it holds two parts.
What’s your greatest vision for yourself as an artist?
CW: As far as the visual aspect of being a musician, I don’t feel I have achieved what I want yet, so I am working towards bringing that to life in video and photo form in the next couple of years. For a smaller artist it’s sometimes hard to bring together a budget and the right team of people to help you carry out a vision for a song in a different medium, but it’s my goal to make that happen because it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time and it’s important to me.
Chelsea Wolfe Australian tour with special guests HEIRS
Monday, 12th November
Melbourne @ Northcote Social Club
For more Chelsea Wolfe.