I can neither confirm nor deny that I peed myself in fear listening to the beautifully haunting drone-folk vocals of Chelsea Wolfe at midnight alone in my bedroom, comforted by the calming embrace of my lick-happy chihuahua. Her howl as frightening as the animal whose name she bears, I didn’t know what to expect when I phoned Chelsea Wolfe, I met a warm yet shy lady whose words were so softly uttered that my recording device was hardly awoken.
Often compared to Zola Jesus, Wolfe’s gothic/black metal/folk musical style is soundly reflected in her understanding of reality, with her music simultaneously so arrestingly divine yet so droningly devilish.
“One of the things that really inspires me is the contrast between the light in humanity and nature, the beautiful side and the intense side. When I think about something and it can be so dark, and it can be so beautiful, and at any moment, something wonderful and amazing is happening,” says Wolfe.
On the topic of light versus dark, I bring up an interview with Prince where he contemplates the idea that the dark side is more interesting than the light side. I suggest that perhaps the light side is more fun, but the dark side is more interesting.
“I agree with that, yeah,” she laughs. “Definitely. I mean, it’s something that comes naturally over the years, even when I was a kid. It’s not that the dark side is more interesting, but just that I’m interested in knowing what’s really going on, and the stuff that’s hidden tends to be darker.”
Her notion that the veiled aspects of life tend to be darker is reflected in the nomenclature of her second record, Ἀποκάλυψις (aka Apokalypsis), which is Greek for uncovering/revelation. Just as I found Ἀποκάλυψις quite chilling, I wondered if she felt a similar reaction to the album, and if there was no hint of fear, what was it that made her scared?
“I can’t really think about it in terms of being scared. A lot of people consider my music scary, but I don’t think about it that way; it’s about facing reality. I suppose the scariest thing is loss of someone that you love,” she says.
Wolfe’s approach to music was partly influenced by her travels in Europe with a nomadic group of artists, performing at bizarre venues such as cathedrals and old nuclear plants.
“Well I had kind of taken a break from music, in 2008 or 2009 I wasn’t happy with what I was doing and just felt sort of tired of it. A friend of mine invited me to come along with a group of other artists to tour with in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia and I was sort of the resident musician in this group of performance artists. At the end of each night I would play…it was a really inspiring time. Part of it was hearing my voice in different places and experiment with different sounds in the spaces, and having an audience that was really open to our music. It was really good to gage what I felt comfortable with and what was the right path for my music. It was a really good time for me and I came back and recorded my first album I released after that.
“I think I finally learnt how to become comfortable with my own voice. It was special to play in all these different places and hearing my voice in a different way and opening up to that.
Following the release of Ἀποκάλυψις, Wolfe was discovered by the (brilliant) Los Angeles-based label group Sargent House (who also look after Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Russian Circles). This past week, Sargent House have released an album of Wolfe’s acoustic material that she had been developing sporadically throughout the past few years.
“They’re incredibly supporting. For someone who has a background in being incredibly shy and not always believing in myself, it’s great to be in a place where you’re encouraged to do whatever…I really appreciate that”.
Next year, Wolfe will follow up the acoustic album with her third official studio album (as yet untitled), also to be released on Sargent House. Melburnians will have the chance to experience her dark lyrical beauty when she visits in early November, where she’s excited by the “newness of it all”.
“I’m interested in a genuine experience. I really like to meet people that come to the shows and then have a real connection with these people…most people don’t come to my show to be cool or to go to a show, they come because they want to experience it, and that’s important me.”