“IT’S NOT SO MUCH who I’m playing with,” says Chelsea Wolfe, “but how I’m presenting my set. I have to get in the right mind frame for it.”
Wolfe’s explaining how she can transition from a tour with stoner-rock icons Queens of the Stone Age to hitting the road with eclectic pop project Eels in a single day. This is the same day she goes from fronting a full rock band to being at the helm of a chamber ensemble, and the same year in which she’s shared the stage with a disparate assortment of artists extending from black-metal group Deafheaven to the tongue-in-cheek fusion band Primus.
Over the years, Wolfe has gained a reputation for being an artist with an inimitable style, while crossing genre borders with ease. Although not manic, her music is home to coexisting extremes—simultaneously intense and understated, in-your-face and intimately reserved. Aspects of ’90s industrial mix with the ethereal realms of Cocteau Twins, the looming heaviness of black metal, and the often-chilling intimacy of modern folk artists like Marissa Nadler or Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Each of her albums has a dramatically different feel and sonic landscape, and her shows often reflect this diversity, which Wolfe says is just her trying to “keep things interesting for myself and for anyone who’s listening.”
On this tour, she’s giving her songs a rare, acoustic, string-laden treatment. Despite identifying as an introvert who doesn’t feel completely comfortable onstage, Wolfe has a strikingly powerful stage presence that carries over through all her performances; regardless of what genre she’s working in or what volume she’s playing at.
Meanwhile, Wolfe’s efforts to “keep things interesting” extend beyond the music itself. Her current tour comes just a month after the release of her new film Lone, an hour-long nonlinear piece with narration made up solely of lyrics from her latest album, Pain Is Beauty. Working with director Mark Pellington—best known in the music world for his controversial 1992 Pearl Jam video “Jeremy”—the film is a journey into a post-apocalyptic world awash in symbolism. Wolfe says, “For me it was a lot about the reflections of natural disaster in humanity… the loss, the overcoming, and fighting to get to the other side of things and come out with a better perspective. That’s what the title—Pain Is Beauty—is all about.”