Very few musicians can claim to have been described as pop, drone metal, and folk all from one musical project. For Calfornian Chelsea Wolfe it's just natural. After releasing four albums in four years, her work has ranged from haunting acoustic ballads to darkly pulsing electronic pieces. Wolfe's urge to create regardless of genre has drawn in diverse fans ranging from the metal to the singer-songwriter crowd.
Just this year, she'll be supporting Queens of the Age and performing acoustic sets with Eels. Here, she describes songwriting, touring with a diverse range of bands, and her new film Lone, which takes inspiration from the most recent album Pain is Beauty.
Check below for upcoming tour dates.
You've said before that when you started learning guitar, you started by creating your own songs and not other musicians', which I find interesting. Do you feel like finding your own process and sound with guitar came quickly, or was it something you had to really experiment with?
I mean, I guess it's not like I'm a very technical player in any sense, but I guess I enjoy kind of like, playing whatever came to mind, you know what I mean, and I think it came easily because I just wanted to accompany myself mostly, 'cause I was always singing, and just playing something on the keyboard and then sing along or something, but I wanted to be able to accompany myself with guitar, so that kind of came to play with whatever came naturally with the melody and singing.
So is it more about complimenting the vocals?
Actually yeah, sometimes now I'll actually write guitar parts before, you know. Obviously over the years I've changed and grown and tried something different, but yeah, at first it was just kind of about being able to complete the melodies.
Since your work is quite diverse, does your inspiration for ideas stylistically differ within the same session? For example, coming up with an acoustic song and then maybe more of an electronic, ambient track immediately after that?
Yeah, I mean, I definitely kind of just always in the style of like… on my computer, and [I] start working on acoustic music, and then "I miss rock 'n roll, and loud guitars and drums," and songs with the band. Yeah, I'm constantly kind of going back and forth. I think it matches my two personalities- it's reflected in the music for sure.
And you've discussed stage fright being an issue in the past. Has playing acoustic sets really helped you or hindered the process of overcoming it?
I actually think it helps, because I was extremely nervous at my first acoustic show, and then I think it was last January or something like that, like over a year ago, and I hadn't done anything like that in a long time. I think it helps because it's such a different feeling. It's very intimate, even if there's a lot of people there- you can hear a pin drop… it was good training for me to really just, I don't know, let loose in a way, and try not to just over think things, you know what I mean? Just lose myself in the song and lose myself in what I'm playing, and it was good. It was very intimate but it was really beneficial and I wanted to almost enjoy it at times- the intimacy of people.
And if given a choice, would you prefer to record and write without having to tour extensively?
I mean, I don't know, I kind of learn to get.. I definitely enjoy meeting people on the road and other musicians, and people that come to the shows and tell you their stories and what the songs mean to them. I think that's really interesting for the musical process and to future inspirations. It's good to know that by meeting people in person that your music is affecting people in a good way, and that means a lot, so, I think in that sense, you know, it's really good for me to tour even though, you know, recording and writing are still my favorite parts of the process. I've learned to enjoy the touring and playing live. It's a totally different energy, and I think it's really special and I feel really lucky to do it actually.
Does that touring cycle… does that help influence the next songwriting that you have going on with your next records?
You know, I think those long van rides are some of the most influential things. People do a lot of reading, some days I'll just do all the singing, and end up writing pages and pages of lyrics and ideas for the new albums' songs. So yeah, definitely coming from live and trying new things influences what's being around at the time. Each day when you're driving to the next city there's time to think and come up with some new ideas.. it's probably most inspirational for me.
And how do you think about the visual aspect aspect when you're preparing to release an album? Is it something you're thinking about even during the songwriting process, or does that come later down the line?
It depends. Sometimes when the songs are coming together and I really get to have a theme, it can come together right away like patterns, and things that stick out, as that happens I realize visuals come to me kind of naturally usually. Sometimes more than others on different albums, you know? If things are kind of visual and physical, then it's probably easier to try to translate that, like with the last album. You know, there's a lot of themes of natural disasters, and I definitely wanted to reflect that with like volcanic ash, people watching volcanoes erupt, harvesting their interaction with nature, and yeah, I think it kind of comes naturally, as for an album coming together. There's no real rhyme or reason behind it.
You recently had a screening in L.A. for your film Lone, which takes inspiration from Pain is Beauty, and you already released it on USB. Are you planning on more screenings or a DVD release for that?
I don't think so. I really want to keep the film different, and kind of minimal. I don't believe we are going to do a DVD release, but it will definitely be on more channels or whatever you want to call it. I think probably different places online that you can view it, and different formats, but I think the USB will be the main release.
Your music often feels very cinematic, especially the newest album. Is composing a soundtrack for a film something that would interest you in the future?
Yeah, for sure. Ben and I worked on soundtracking the rest of the film [Lone], because there's five songs from the album, there's also a space to leave… kind of montages and story lines, so we had to kind of come up with a soundtrack- original soundtrack for that, and sound design as well, and we had a lot of fun during that. I've worked on sound pieces for film. I definitely want to do more of that work in the future.
I imagine film also has been a big influence on you. What kind of directors or films have really impacted your music?
I grew up loving Ingmar Bergman- the stark kind of harshness, but so beautiful , and there's always kind of an element of hope in there. I really love Werner Herzog and Lars von Trier, two of my favorite directors. I think that both of them use music really powerfully in their films.
And you've also had a lot of covers done, for example your song "Flatlands" was just on Mark Lanegan's album. What are your favorite covers that people have done of your own songs?
I mean, that's definitely a favorite. I was very flattered. I love Mark Lanegan's voice. It's cool to hear him singing one of my songs.
How did your collaboration with King Dude come about?
We've been friends for about four years now. Pretty soon after me met actually we made our first 7" together… we appreciate each other's music, and I think he's kind of someone for me that's always like a sort of guru in a way, 'cause he's so talented, his pedigree musically and visually. It's kind of always like a tie-breaker for me, but if I'm confused or not sure what album covers to use or which song needs to go with something else, he's really good at making the right choice. So, we're good friends.
It's interesting because really play with a lot of diverse bands, 'cause I just saw him open for Ghost, and you've opened for Russian Circles and now Queens of the Stone Age. What have you learned from touring with a lot of different, diverse sounds and bands?
I've learned a lot from all the bands that I've toured with. Russian Circles is definitely a huge influence on me, just from learning how to tour and how to do it well, and I think they're definitely road dogs and very good friends as well. We did some of our first tours with them, so [I] definitely learned a lot from them, and they're just really rad, cool dudes… again, we've played with bands like Boris, Queens of the Stone Age- the intensity, professionalism of their music and their live shows is so impressive... can definitely learn a lot from that.
Does living in and being from California influence the tone of your music at all? It seems to kind of be a juxtaposition to a sunny California vibe that you usually think of with California.
I mean, I'm from Northern California. For me I associate it much more with the mountains and rivers… large trees and landscapes- like that, and that's really what's influencing me and my music right now, but I live in L.A. I live near L.A. now, which is a lot more sunny, because the light hits everything in a different way, and it's inspiring and kind of strange in a dark way, actually. It's kind of a crazy, overpopulated city, so, yeah, as much as anyone could view California, L.A. particularly, a sunny paradise but it has a dark side as well.
So even though you live in LA now, can you still get an influence from nature when you're there?
Yeah, I actually recently moved about an hour away from Los Angeles in the mountains, so I feel very lucky to live so close to everything but take care of band practice and stuff, but I kind of get to retreat in to the mountains and have a nice place to have a quiet place to write.
Nice, and I've heard you have been taking vocal lessons. Have you seen a big difference in the way you present your vocals because of it?
Yes, I really need to take more honestly. I took a few last year, and I felt an immediate difference because my vocal teacher could teach me how to breathe, and hold notes longer, and really just kind of take care of yourself physically I think and not wear your voice out.. taking care of my voice as I get older, and not losing it, you know? [I] quite smoking, … [it's] important over time if you do it more and more, especially because I was hearing my voice get worn out after a week. I had to learn some tricks, but yeah, I definitely want to take some more vocal lessons to expand my range.
North American tour dates
5/14- Tulsa, OK @ Brady Theater *
5/16- Austin, TX @ The Paramount Theatre
5/17- Houston, TX @ House of Blues
5/19- Dallas, TX @ AT&T Performing Arts Center
5/21- Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre
5/23- St. Louis, MO @ The Sheldon Concert Hall
5/24- Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre
5/25- St. Paul, MN @ Fitzgerald Theatre
5/27- Toronto, ON @ Wintergarden Theater
5/28- Montreal, QC @ Corona Theater
5/29- Boston, MA @ Berklee Performance Center
5/30- Glenside, PA @ The Keswick Theatre
5/31- Washington, D.C. @ Lincoln Theatre
6/1- New York, NY @ Apollo Theater
6/3- Royal Oak, MI @ Royal Oak Music Theatre
6/4- Madison, WI @ Barrymore Theatre
6/7- Seattle, WA @ The Moore Theater
6/8- Portland, OR @ The Aladdin Theater
6/10- San Francisco, CA @ Palace of Fine Arts
6/11- Los Angeles, CA @ The Orpheum Theater
6/21- Vancouver, BC @ Electric Owl
* With Queens of the Stone Age
All other dates are acoustic sets with strings in support of Eels.
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