Interview: Chelsea Wolfe
Chelsea Wolfe is a musician that lives in a constant state of inbetweens. You wouldn’t call her chameleonic, because Wolfe’s color pallet has remained all black all the time, but she has been remarkably adept at finding new angles at which to stare at the void. Wolfe’s music walks the line between the worlds of folk, metal, and goth rock, but has never strayed far enough into any one territory to sound like anything other than itself. Perhaps it's only fitting that her lyrics would be equally as concerned with a state of being between states, particularly the waking life and the world of dreams.
When I met with Chelsea Wolfe at Roadburn we talked about how she’s kept her creative focus throughout her career, as well as the inspirations behind her new music video, "Hypnos," and the experience of working with Converge for their Blood Moon performance.
How did you get involved in the Blood Moon performance with Converge?
When we were on our last US tour and we stopped in Boston, my bandmate Ben and I met up with Kurt and checked out God City studio and got along really well. A couple months later Kurt reached out to Ben and asked him to be a part of this project, to be what he calls "the brain" doing the backing vocals and keys, and adding all the little undertones and layers to the set. And I was like "damn that's really cool." Then a couple days later I got an email asking if I wanted to sing on a couple of songs. I said "Of course" and we went back and forth, I learned a few songs. I'm singing on five songs and playing guitar on four of them. Ben and I practiced the songs on our own and then went to Salem to practice them for three days with the band. Then we flew to Europe and went on tour.
How familiar with the material were you before hand?
Some of it was pretty fresh. I've listened to Converge before, but I wasn't familiar with all of the songs that they were doing. I familiarized myself and found that I love their music more than I realized. It's really heavy, metal, and hardcore, but it's also got this really melodic, beautiful element to it, and a lot of really beautiful layers. And I love the lyrics. it's been a real pleasure getting to know the music more and getting to know them more. I love these guys.
It's interesting watching you perform as part of an ensemble. How is it different from being a band leader with your own music?
It's definitely a different approach. At first I was treading lightly, I didn't want to overstep or do too much. At the same time I wanted to bring my own ideas and my own element to it. They were really open to it being a collaboration, obviously it's their songs but they've been allowing me to sing how I want to sing it. Obviously very different from being the main singer, but it's really refreshing and I'm learning a lot from them.
Anything you can apply to your own music?
I think being open to doing something that's special and a little more off the cuff. I approach my own live shows very seriously, maybe a little overly so sometimes. I try to stay focused and I want everything to be perfect and I want to know exactly what we're doing. Working with a totally new group of musicians and doing something that's kind of a one-off is very eye opening to me that I could do that with my own project or another project in the future. I think I've learned to let go and be a part of something that's unique.
You've done music in a lot of different styles, what keeps it consistent for you?
I approach everything on a very instinctual level. I don't really overthink things. When I'm writing, or recording, or working on a collaboration I go with what feels right and not what anyone else thinks it should be.
You've even branched into directing, as you self-directed your new video for "Hypnos"
I don't really consider myself a director. It's more like, when you don't have a budget for a music video you kind of just have to make it happen if you want to make it happen if you want a visual.
I knew I was going to release this 7-inch, and around that time my photographer friends Kristin Cofer and Mia Vaughn asked me to do a photo shoot with them. I had the idea to bring these snakes and reptiles that I had used in a past video ("Mer"). Once we had that and a studio booked we were kind of like "we should get some video footage for 'Hypnos'" whether that's a full video or just a little clip. So I asked Ben to come and shoot some video, and there were a bunch of us just gathered in the studio. My vision for it was to have it look like a dark dream and have me holding these snakes like a child or a lover or something like that. The song's really about being willing to die for your child or your lover, just that really strong love and wanting to protect them. Once we were there my hair stylist Erica and her husband Ricky Verrett had brought along all these old VHS cameras and toy TVs and visual synthesizers to go along with the music. And it looked really cool so we went with it. It became a big collaboration.
I was going to ask about the TV static, did that have any metaphorical significance.
Like I said, that element was kind of last minute. I work like that a lot with my friends, especially Kristin and I and Ben and I. We just go in an instinctual direction and go with the vibe of what's happening. We just wanted it to feel like a dark dream, and the TV static just added layers to it. I don't think it meant anything specifically, it just added to the vibe of the video.