“I am definitely starting to open up more, to be more comfortable in my own skin and be a good example to younger women, to be yourself and embrace who you are even if it’s messy.”
I am lead into the guts of Nottingham Rock City. As I enter Chelsea Wolfe’s dressing room the scent of incense instantly fills my senses and I feel as though I am walking into an alternate state. We are introduced. She seems nervous, distant and distracted, and rightly so, for her sacred space is being invaded. But once the room has cleared and we are sat facing each other a natural ease soon descends over our conversation. At 34 years old, a Gene Wilder fan and a “fellow tall” like myself, she is a striking figure to behold, and a woman I’d want my daughter to look up to, of the ilk of PJ Harvey and Bjork. Her Norwegian descent is almost palpable when she speaks of other worlds, runes and spirituality, along with her profound sexual tension we as listeners are introduced to on her latest record. Speaking to a 20 something year old woman like myself, I get the distinct feeling her songs like Vex and 16 Psyche, with choice lyrics such as “I feel it crawl// up my legs// let me wrap you up in these thighs// it gets me out of// my head again” are songs that people like me needed to hear, which have a deep resonance with and an affinity to sexually liberated youth.
Chelsea Wolfe live is an earth shatteringly profound experience. Crawling on stage like spectres to the mantra of “Flux Hiss Whirl Groan”, drowned in shadows, her maudlin vocals filter through the venue like mist on the sea, her barely visible silhouette clasping her guitar to her breast like an extra limb suddenly cuts like a knife against the blood red light drenching them all onstage like a scene out of Stephen King’s Carrie.
She’s a goddamn force of fucking nature. And that’s the embodiment, I feel, of this hope for a more female future, of feline prowess and feral lovers. Bolstered by her incredible band, from Ben and his dirty fuzzy bass, to Bryan and his intense and precise guitaring. But it’s the primal, heated throbbing of Jess’ drumming that really strikes the balance, acting like a hammer of the Gods to Chelsea’s ethereal vocals, creating this wonderful paradox of strength meets soft, of light and dark, a twinning of energies that mix and undulate amidst a backdrop of barely contained hysteria. I stood with my hand over my heart for the most part, as Chelsea writhed and prowled the stage for the final song, for it’s something I’d never quite seen before. Unreal.
She, like so many before her, wants it to be about the music rather than her elocution, as her peculiar enunciation of words are often misunderstood. But I think that is part of the make up of Chelsea, part of the allure. She is whispering unknown incantations and having a full understanding can take away some of that mystic, as when Samaris released their latest album entirely in English, succumbing to the peer pressure of being more accessible because of the insidious nature of the English language, rather than retaining an element of secrecy by singing in their native Icelandic.
Chelsea Wolfe is relatable, and finally seems to have shattered some sort of silence. Her past records have remained ambiguous and androgynous, and it would appear she has broken some kind of agreement with herself to finally speak out. Her songs sing of a desperate search, of a longing for someone on the other side, but with her latest record Hiss Spun she has begun to drop hints on “the secrets of her family”, while still retaining an air of a strange, intangible distance, which begs the question, who is beyond this mortal coil that Chelsea calls for? The album acts like a Ouija board, and we as listeners are drawn to this séance, to bear witness, to tear the veil from our eyes. Chelsea Wolfe invites you to step through to the other side and to be not afraid.
Is there an intentional occult vibe to your music?
Chelsea Wolfe: I do think that there is some kind of connection or the feeling of seeking out another world. Since I was a kid I was always aware that there wasn’t just this, but that there’s a world beyond you, the universe beyond you, the spirit realm that you can feel it but can’t see. My grandmother did Reiki on me when I was younger and I think that has helped opened me up to practice aromatherapy and made me more interested in the senses that perhaps other people are not. I am very receptive, I’m definitely an empath whether I like it or not, I pick up on other people’s energies and sometimes I don’t even know where they come from
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your emotions in this regard?
Chelsea Wolfe: People often assume that I’m into horror films, but I can’t watch them. I’m so sensitive, especially if it’s a rape or murder scene I can’t watch it because they are real things that are actually happening and I can’t watch it as entertainment. It makes me feel sick. I don’t want that horror in my brain because I’m already hyper aware of the shit in the world.
Trent Reznor recently spoke about how mystery surrounding an artist has usually kept him interested and excited musically and by retaining that element of mystic fans hold more intrigue, which he believes correlates to the lasting success of artists. Until recently you have been an intensely private person, keeping your cards close to your chest, but on Hiss Spun you seem to be teetering on the edge of revealing something, with lyrics such as “secrets of my family”. How do you feel about this statement? Do you think secrecy contributes to the success of musicians?
Chelsea Wolfe: I don’t think about it that way, Trent Reznor is pretty brilliant so I’m sure that statement holds true, and I’ve encountered people who say they appreciate that I keep my personal life to myself. For me, I feel uncomfortable to share my other life outside of music in my art, it’s kind of a survival tactic to not give so much of myself away, because I am so sensitive and if I open too much I automatically feel the judgement of other people and shut down right away, but I am definitely starting to open up more, to be more comfortable in my own skin, and be a good example to younger women, to be yourself and embrace who you are even if it’s messy, and that is the whole theme of Hiss Spun, to embrace the mess of yourself. So I will sprinkle in some moments but as soon as I do that do I immediately wanna hide again.
Is it a fear of humiliation or of being misunderstood?
Chelsea Wolfe: It’s not a fear it’s just not in my nature to be very extroverted or opinionated in a public realm. I have a close group of friends who I share a lot with but I’m not open to having it in an open space.
You recently did a collaboration with Myrkur, how did that come about?
Chelsea Wolfe: We were both mutually interested in each other’s music, and whilst she was on tour with Behemoth she reached out wondering if I wanted to collaborate, so we met up in LA for a few days and recorded the songs. We actually wrote a few together and might release some unreleased songs on an album in the future.
An exciting prospect, considering your collaborations with King Dude were so wonderful. Myrkur has mentioned in the past the backlash of being female in the black metal industry, have you yourself experienced any gender disparities in the music industry?
Chelsea Wolfe: My music was never super feminine or that I was coming out as a female musician, rather I was making this androgynous music, and I used to hide my face with a veil, and wear black fabric entirely covering my skin as I was always so uncomfortable being the in spotlight, I just wanted it to be about the music, so that might have helped. Over time, I’ve embraced the fact that I am a woman and want to put my powerful feminine energy into the music so it is changing a little but, but my music has always been androgynous up to this point. For some reason I’ve mostly been able to avoid dealing with anger from metal dudes. It’s just jealousy really.
I personally feel your music is very feral, soaked in wild female energy. Which is a song you’re most proud of writing?
Chelsea Wolfe: Scrape from the latest album, which is a really good release, like a personal exorcism. You said feral, and Feral Love is also one of my favourites, where I wrote the electronics myself and learned how to use Ableton, and by channelling the sounds of the chaotic space surrounding me while living in downtown LA, the helicopters around that I channeled into the music, I wrote that beat to emulate the helicopter, and it seems many people connect to it.
Describe a sense of achievement for yourself this year so far.
Chelsea Wolfe: Most days on tour I feel uncomfortable putting myself out there night after night, but I still do it, I give it my all, doing the work even though it’s hard, being on tour is not glamorous its lots of hard work and bullshit, and being on stage is your one hour of bliss. You don’t sleep.
If you could direct a film about someone living or dead who would it be?
Chelsea Wolfe: Werner Herzog. He’s my favourite director and I have this book where he’s being interviewed and his answers are just so great. So to be able to make a documentary on him and to score the music for it would be awesome. His films mean so much to me and always come with such magical scores.
Pick a concept album that best describes your life.
Chelsea Wolfe: There’s this band called Wardruna, they have three albums that are the Runaljod trilogy based on runes and there’s so much power in their songs. I listen to them when I’m anxious or stressed or doing yoga to achieve that sense of empowerment. They also take traditional folk instruments and melodies and are bringing them into the new world which I really appreciate as I am interested in that sort of thing also.
What are the effects you use on your voice to give it that ghostly tone?
Chelsea Wolfe: I use guitar pedals predominantly. I used to use one called The Holy Grail a lot, I use the Afterneath from EarthQuaker which is really fun for catching the voice and allowing it to swell back in. I just got this one called Eventide who make amazing effects and I’m probably gonna use it to write loads of songs with.
What is your affinity with Sylvia Plath?
Chelsea Wolfe: Definitely as a younger woman I felt her influence me a lot, and I read The Bell Jar. I was given a book of poetry by a friend and Widow is my favourite poem of hers. I actually have a line tattooed from it and it’s “Death is a dress she wears” and I thought it was so beautiful and I just related so much to it, you know, because a lot of my music is about death and the afterlife, and trying to connect with someone on the other side, to communicate with the dead you know?
After I switch off the recorder and am saying my frankly reluctant goodbye, as I felt I could have talked to her for hours, Chelsea stops and looks at me.
“Have we met before?” she asks.
“No” I say.
“Hmm, maybe in another life”.
Suddenly, this overwhelming urge to hug her envelops me and I tell her so.
“Yeah I wanna hug you too” she says.
Were we sisters of a coven in a past life? Maybe.
I don’t have heroes, but if young people especially in this sort of scene want to look up to and be inspired by anyone, it’s the likes of Chelsea and Myrkur to whom they should gaze.
Chelsea Wolfe is currently on tour with Ministry.
Hiss Spun out now on Sargent House.