chelsea wolfe

Chelsea Wolfe’s eerie yet el­e­men­tal music has en­rap­tured fans across the mu­si­cal land­scape. Her lat­est al­bum sees her reach­ing new lev­els of uni­ver­sal cathar­sis

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: CHRISTINA WENIG • PICS: MUTED FAWN

Ev­ery once in a while a mu­si­cian comes along who has the rare abil­ity to unite peo­ple from the most dif­fer­ent fields of in­ter­ests and walks of life, ad­dress­ing pri­mal feel­ings and ideas – of­ten dark ones – that lie hid­den in us all. One of those mu­si­cians is Chelsea Wolfe from Cal­i­for­nia. It’s hard to put into words what ex­actly cre­ated the spark that made neo-folk, metal and elec­tron­ica fans alike catch fire, the rea­son for that prob­a­bly be­ing that her music res­onates on a level far be­yond the con­scious mind and ra­tio­nal thought. Chelsea’s eerie and at­mo­spheric songs come from a more vis­ceral, ar­chaic and el­e­men­tal place that you’ll in­stinc­tively feel con­nected to. They have the abil­ity to sound com­fort­ably fa­mil­iar and dis­turbingly strange at the same time. It’s not least this pas­sion for con­trast and op­po­sites that makes Chelsea Wolfe fas­ci­nat­ing, and it cour­ses through the cur­rent re­lease, Hiss Spun, her sixth al­bum in only seven years.

On the record Chelsea quotes Dy­lan Thomas as well as Walt Whit­man, two char­ac­ters that could hardly be any more dif­fer­ent from each other. Asked about the back­ground of this choice, she sim­ply an­swers: “I’m not sure I have a fas­ci­na­tion with them as much as with just those pas­sages and how they were con­nect­ing with my life at the time.”

Look­ing at works of art for what they are rather than at the peo­ple who cre­ated them is some­how in­grained in the singer’s DNA. It’s the same un­con­cerned men­tal­ity that made her record a Rudi­men­tary Peni cover al­bum just be­cause she liked the lyrics of the an­ar­cho-punks, with­out even hav­ing heard all of the orig­i­nals. And it is just the same un­bi­ased men­tal­ity that al­lowed her to cover Burzum songs and then ap­pear gen­uinely sur­prised that Varg Vik­ernes’s twisted world­view made that a taboo for many peo­ple, re­duc­ing the art to po­lit­i­cal agen­das and some­thing triv­ial. For Chelsea, music should be above that, so she picks up the bits and pieces that appeal to her along the way, a lot of times wil­fully ig­nor­ing the greater pic­ture, to take them out of their pre­con­ceived con­text and into her one of her own.

This kind of open-mind­ed­ness also ap­plies to the 33-year-old’s per­cep­tion of music and stylis­tic bound­aries, bring­ing her unique and hard-to-grasp sound into be­ing. Hav­ing grown up in a coun­try and folk house­hold, Chelsea swam in the muddy waters be­yond in­dus­trial, singer/song­writer, am­bi­ent and metal for the last cou­ple of years. Her sonic ap­proach for Hiss Spun wasn’t based on cer­tain gen­res or styles but on at­mos­pheres and feel­ings, sound­scapes that em­bed­ded and mir­rored her thoughts.

“I wanted it to feel al­most sick­en­ing at times,” she ex­plains with re­gard to the sound of the new record. “I wanted to trans­late that feel­ing of the word ‘spun’, when you get too fucked up and you are spin­ning around. I wanted to trans­late some pos­i­tiv­ity like life­force, the in­stinct to sur­vive and push for­ward. And I also wanted to cap­ture the fucked-up at­mos­phere of things in the world, things in my own life, things around me.”

As a re­sult, it be­came one of her goals to make the gui­tars on Hiss Spun sound cold and metal­lic like mo­tor­cy­cle en­gines, while for ex­am­ple the song 16 Psy­che, named af­ter an as­ter­oid (fit­tingly, a metal­lic one), was sup­posed to sound like an

as­ter­oid hurtling through space.

When the singer moved on from her in­ti­mate and neatly pro­duced de­but al­bum, Mis­take In Part­ing, that she had dis­liked since its re­lease in 2006, she de­cided to put up some walls around her, dis­tanc­ing her­self from lyrics that hit too close to home and in­stead chan­nelling her feel­ings through other peo­ple’s sto­ries she tells in her songs. Hiss Spun is her at­tempt to let those guards down and face some things she ran away from for a big part of her adult life. Part of the rea­son for this shift of per­spec­tive was her re­lo­ca­tion from LA back to a more ru­ral area of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, closer to where she grew up. Spend­ing more time in her home­town with her old friends brought back a lot of mem­o­ries and old tur­moils be­gan mix­ing with cur­rent ones as the singer tried to move past a rather self-de­struc­tive life­style on the road.

“With­out get­ting into too much de­tail, there were some stress­ful times”, she ex­plains. “The record was my way of fi­nally processing those things or com­ing to terms with them. Ev­ery­one has things in their past that are dark or shame­ful or what­ever it is. Some­times you just want to re­press that but I’m al­ways try­ing to ap­proach things head-on when I write songs, even things that are dif­fi­cult to face within my­self or about the world. I still don’t think I’m ready to talk about spe­cific sto­ries out­side of the con­text of the al­bum. But I def­i­nitely put a lot of my­self in there.”

The change of scenery was not only an im­por­tant part of the con­fronta­tional process of writ­ing her new record; it also helped Chelsea heal and re­cover from years of re­sid­ing in the city, con­stantly sur­rounded by en­er­gies that gave her no rest. Liv­ing in the woods now gives her the abil­ity to take time for her­self when she’s not on tour, as she says, re­gain­ing con­trol over sleep prob­lems like in­som­nia, sleep paral­y­sis and epic night­mares that she dealt with all her life and that only got am­pli­fied by the con­stant buzz of LA.

Ex­plor­ing more of her­self and the world sur­round­ing her, Chelsea got in­volved with the work of fa­mous as­tro­physi­cist Carl Sa­gan and the idea that all be­ings are made of the same mat­ter as the world and the whole uni­verse sur­round­ing us, that all in­ner and

“MAGIC AND SCI­ENCE ARE SOME­TIMES THE SAME THING” CHELSEA WOLFE DIS­CUSSES THE FU­SION OF MIND AND MAT­TER

outer ills are linked to each other. Hence it comes as no sur­prise that Hiss Spun is full of ab­stract metaphors of phys­i­cal phe­nom­ena il­lus­trat­ing the forces at work in our cos­mos.

“Some­times I feel like I’m kind of an alien who’s ex­plor­ing this world”, Chelsea says. “I’m ob­sessed with white noise and I find it re­ally com­fort­ing. I was read­ing about how 1% of it, like TV static per se, is relics of the Big Bang. Ev­ery­thing is con­nected to this uni­ver­sal the­ory and I thought this was re­ally beau­ti­ful, so I ex­plored it in dif­fer­ent ways. The static, the hum of the oceans and the mag­i­cal sounds through­out the earth. I think magic and sci­ence are the same thing some­times.”

This oc­ca­sional in­abil­ity to sep­a­rate re­al­ity from fic­tion and dreams from wake­ful­ness traces back to Chelsea’s sleep paral­y­sis, be­ing stuck in an in-be­tween realm with shadow crea­tures, not be­ing able to tell if she’s asleep or not. Whereas 2015’s Abyss stared down the bot­tom­less pits opened up by this con­di­tion, Hiss Spun seems to fo­cus on four words that de­velop their own mag­i­cal dy­namic: ‘flux’, ‘hiss’, ‘welt’ and ‘groan’, in­con­spic­u­ously and yet con­stantly re­peated through­out the record.

“At first it just started hap­pen­ing. When I no­ticed that there were a few words that I was re­peat­ing in the songs, I started to think of them as a key or a spell,” Chelsea states. “‘Flux’ is rep­re­sent­ing move­ment and flow, ‘hiss’ is this white noise and life­force, ‘welt’ is the bru­tal­ity of life and ‘groan’ rep­re­sents sen­su­al­ity and, also, death.”

For her lis­ten­ers, this repet­i­tive phrase can not only work as a spell but as a mantra-like re­minder of the cycli­cal na­ture of life and a source of in­spi­ra­tion that has the power to help peo­ple cope with it.

“For me, the re­al­i­sa­tion that the world was, is and will al­ways be fucked up is pretty over­whelm­ing. Think­ing about try­ing to make things change... we should all be try­ing to make things change for the bet­ter, al­ways, but some­times it feels like a los­ing bat­tle be­cause as hu­man­ity starts to move for­ward, there’s just al­ways so many things that are try­ing to pull it back­wards”, she says about her own strug­gles. “But I’ve al­ways just em­braced the shit be­cause there’s no sense in fight­ing it. I have this out­let, I’m able to write songs and play gui­tar and sing about it. It helps me come to some sort of un­der­stand­ing about things.”

HISS SPUN IS OUT VIA SARGENT HOUSE ON SEPTEM­BER 22

“THE RE­AL­I­SA­TION THAT THE WORLD WILL AL­WAYS BE FUCKED IS OVER­WHELM­ING” CHELSEA WOLFE SEES NO NEED FOR A POS­I­TIVE SPIN

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