Photos: Kristin Colfer
From hauntingly sparse and delicate arrangements to sonorous, heady swathes of droning rock, Chelsea Wolfe purveys an inimitable artistry. “I think a lot of it is really just instinctual,” she articulates. “I start writing really naturally, and suddenly I realise I’m writing a lot of songs and I’ll consider grouping them together and making the next record. After I released Pain is Beauty, I imagined I’d do more acoustic stuff, but then I did a lot of tours with rock bands like True Widow and Russian Circles, and we toured with Queens of the Stone Age. I think watching them play every night, and then feeling like I really wanted to write my own heavy songs that would be fun to play live, definitely started pushing me in the direction that I ultimately went with for Abyss and Hiss Spun.”
Speaking about sonic balance, Wolfe expresses, “I like to contrast heaviness with softness sometimes, and darkness with something hopeful,” adding “I’m constantly pulling together all of my various influences,” encompassing everything from stoner metal to trip-hop to old country, “so there’s a lot that goes into our sound, but then I think that my voice kind of makes everything consistent, in a way, because no matter what is surrounding it it’s always my voice”.
Crafting immersive soundscapes, there’s a certain physical quality evoked. Surroundings have influenced her: “I didn’t really realise that until I moved to L.A. and I wrote Pain is Beauty there. There’re these direct reflections of how noisy and exciting and crazy the city is all the time, cause I was living right outside of downtown, so there was always a lot of commotion, a lot of helicopters and people and stuff. Even in the song ‘Feral Love’, I basically wrote that beat to emulate the helicopters that would be overhead every night.
“There’ve definitely been moments where I realise that I’m really embracing myself as a woman, embracing my feral and wild side and realising how much power there is in embracing the mess of yourself.”
Then after that I moved a couple of hours out of Los Angeles into the high desert, into this very desolate quiet area and it was such a big change.” On writing Abyss in this starkly different environment, she says, “I think I was just really kind of filling this big empty space with sound without realising it, ‘cause the songs just got heavier and heavier and louder and louder because I was trying to fill this void of sound that I was so used to”.
Discussing the solace to be found in abrasive noise, Wolfe considers, “That’s another thing I learnt from bands I was touring with. I played some shows with Swans and Sunn O))) and felt that comfort in complete, devouring, heavy white noise. That’s definitely another theme on Hiss Spun, finding that comfort in the chaos.” Wolfe elaborates: “Carl Sagan said that some small percentage of white noise and radio static and TV static is actually remnants from the Big Bang. So there’s this cool connection with hearing white noise on the radio or something, and an understanding that comes from creation.”
Incorporating field recordings within her music, Wolfe believes that “using sounds that are surrounding you, whether it’s at home or on tour, or in the natural world, is definitely another way to make it more personal and to almost create a journal through these songs that you can look back on and remember where these sounds came from and the moment when we recorded them. My bandmate, Ben Chisholm, and I have been collaborating on this project for a really long time. We just sent found sounds back and forth to each other and we ended up using a lot of them as beats or layers to the songs. So many things in life are musical without meaning to be.”
“I played some shows with Swans and Sunn O))) and felt that comfort in complete, devouring, heavy white noise. That’s definitely another theme on Hiss Spun, finding that comfort in the chaos.”
Her most recent album, Hiss Spun conveys more personal elements than on previous releases; “I’ve definitely been getting more personal,” Wolfe affirms. “On Hiss Spun, a lot of that did come from my own life and looking back. When I was starting to write this album, I moved back close to my hometown in northern California and was spending a lot of time with old friends and family again. That naturally brought up a lot of memories and relationships and friendships and situations that I maybe hadn’t dealt with before in my songs. I did finally confront a lot of my own life and put a lot of that into the songs.”
Alongside this, Wolfe emanates self-assurance and acceptance: “On my past couple of records, I’m in my early-to-mid thirties while writing this stuff, getting more comfortable in my own skin,” she divulges. “I’m becoming more confident as an artist, as a musician, and in my own skillset. I think there’ve definitely been moments where I realise that I’m really embracing myself as a woman, embracing my feral and wild side and realising how much power there is in embracing the mess of yourself.”
Chelsea Wolfe plays SWX on 25th July. Her 2017 album, Hiss Spun ought to be etched into your subconscious.