Growing up in Northern California, Chelsea Wolfe was always fascinated by Mother Nature. Whether it was themes of decay and growth, or motifs like the cyclical nature of the physical world, the push and pull of these forces shows up in her work again and again. Perhaps they’ve never been more prevalent than in her latest, sixth studio album, a magnificent seether called Hiss Spun that she describes as “the white noise of the universe.” That’s “hiss” at least, for her definition of “spun,” you’ll have to read on below. 

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Even if Wolfe is a veteran artist, she brings the ferocity of an emerging musician to everything she releases, so in some ways, it feels like she’s just getting started. Though she’s been legendary in noise and metal circles for a while now, the mainstream is just get wind of the gothic-folk musician, who deftly blends gossamer, medieval folk elements with raging walls of noise and doom metal. For just about a decade she has been combining the lightness of her gorgeous soprano voice and softer melodies with a darker, terrifying metal sound, slowly but surely carving out her own unique space in the music world — and making room for more women in the historically male-dominated bent of heavier music. 

Hiss Spun is out this Friday, 9/22 via Sargent House, and it’s Wolfe’s third record for the label; she signed with them in 2013 for Pain Is Beauty, an album that helped her breakout to a wider audience back then. Based off what I’ve heard, I’d argue that Hiss Spun will be another breakout for Wolfe. Tracks like the angsty folk-metal of “The Culling,” or the sweetly gothic tumult of “Offering” are even more accessible for new listeners without losing any of their edge. In fact, the entire ethos for this album was about opening up, and taking inspiration from Henry Miller, Wolfe has done just that on Hiss Spun, digging through the mess for the marvel, and translating the whole process into distillations of that, like on “16 Psyche.” 

In advance of the Friday release, Wolfe and I corresponded over email about her new record, which includes a cameo from one of her musical heroes turned friends, roy Van Leeuwen of Queens Of The Stone Age, and some important collaborations on drums from her old friend Jess Gowrie. We also talked about inclusion, nature, and the song off the record that served as her own personal exorcism. Read our convo below for all of that, plus the final word from WOlfe on her album’s definition of “spun.”  

Hiss Spun is the latest in a long line of albums for you, how does it feel to be creating when you already have such an extensive discography? Is there an urge to hone your sound down or expand it outward, try new things etc? Or do you feel more equipped to be more direct and bold in the sound you want to achieve? 

For me, this is LP 6. There was an intention on this record to be a little more in your face sonically, and more unashamed and open about my own life. In that sense, the music and my voice reflect that aggressive nature at times, but I also tend to withdraw, and that’s reflected as well. 

Working at the intersection of beauty and darkness is a really rich place to draw from, are there more specific guiding principles you use between those two massive portals to define your own path between the two? 

I seek to understand the balance in all things, and the stark contrasts that exist in life is a good place to start. 

I read your interview with Cosmopolitan, you referenced reconnecting with a friend (drummer Jess Gowrie) to create this album, and you initially envisioned it as more of a side project. What does it take to move from feeling like “this isn’t a Chelsea Wolfe record” to feeling like it is? 

Sometimes I need to feel free from the pressure or constraints of releasing music after already putting so much out there. But really I just wanted to write songs with Jess again, after so many years apart. And the songs came easy. But once they were there, I knew they were meant to be played in more than just a side project capacity. 

The drums are such a huge force here, it was interesting to get that backstory and hear who they were coming from. They almost function as their own character here, which might have been part of what you were feeling about the side project aspect? 

Jess is an important person in my life because when we had a band together years ago, I was really shy and she helped me become a good front-person and a more fearless guitar player. And I love her drumming so I really wanted to feature it on this album to emphasize our reunion even more. 

Working with Queens of the Stone Age feels like a huge milestone/new direction for you. Can you talk about what they brought to the project or how the songs were shaped or informed through their inclusion? 

The member of Queens who is on this record — Troy Van Leeuwen — I’ve been a fan of his playing for a long time. When we met in 2014, I became a fan of him as a person as well! We remained friends over the years and when I asked him to be a part of these new songs, I knew he would understand the kind of twisted emotions they had. The parts he brought to the songs gave them an elevation into another realm.  

While I was listening to the record, I kept thinking of a couple other dark/heavy artist I love, Bat For Lashes and Marissa Nadler. I think all of you guys incorporate nature into your songwriting as this anthropomorphized figure or element and it’s really compelling. When did you first begin to see the world like that within your songwriting? 

As I grew up I started to appreciate my surroundings more and more, and appreciate the beauty of Northern California, where I’m from. I’ve always imagined certain things as characters though — Death, Nature. 

The heavier side of music has notoriously had issues with acceptance and inclusion, whether that be women or people of color. How do you deal with some of those more intense, super prevalent historical biases in that world? 

I can see it changing a lot, and I am lucky to play with the kinds of bands within that heavy world that don’t have biases against women or people of color. There are instances every now and then when I’m around some like 40+ year old white dudes backstage at a festival or something and I can tell they’re very used to not having women around and don’t care to, so that’s annoying, but I don’t want to hang out with those types anyway! 

The album title, Hiss Spun, already has so much movement in it. Both of those words are very visceral and even aggressive. How do you feel the title plays into the themes of the album? 

Hiss is the white noise of the universe, the comforting sound. Spun is the addiction and the withdrawals. 

Do you have a personal favorite track on the album, or one that has a story that speaks to you more deeply than some of the others? I always assume musicians have their own favorites, just like fans do. 

“Scrape” was an exorcism I needed. 

Hiss Spun is out 9/22 via Sargent House. Get it here.