Giving Up The Ghost: Who Is Chelsea Wolfe?

If you haven’t heard of Chelsea Wolfe, you haven’t been following along very closely, but do yourself a favor and don’t miss out on her opening set for How To Dress Well at Cafe du Nord this Saturday night.  I have described Chelsea’s work as doomscape or blackwave…a folk singer heavily influenced by doom and black metal.  When I first discovered her unique talent, I realized there was a surprisingly small amount of information about her to be found.  The more I searched, the more I realized that Chelsea Wolfe might really be a ghost.  But then I found an e-mail address and decided to go directly to the source for answers.

It turns out Chelsea Wolfe is not a ghost, but an artist that does shy away from ‘personal’ exposure.  She was happy to talk about her work, her influences, black metal and even what it was like to grow up in Sacramento, but she also holds back from giving up too much of herself, because the Internet really is forever and you have to be careful what you put out there.

What follows is the information she was willing to put out there via e-mail.  Take a little time, get to know Chelsea Wolfe, come out and support her and her band at Noise Pop this weekend and check back next week for a continuation of our conversation, a show review and photography by Danielle Hubbard.


kmartini: I noticed that your art has quite an internet presence, but that you yourself do not.  In fact, there are quite a few articles that seem to suggest you are from Los Angeles instead of Sacramento, and your page describes you as ‘a ghost’.  Is this a conscious decision to stay somewhat anonymous and let your music speak for itself or are you open to talking about who Chelsea Wolfe is?

CW: I do like to let my music speak for itself. I can get pretty monotone when I’m just talking about things that interest me or that I find important, but singing about it helps me get more expressive. Also, I started playing music right before everyone realized how permanent the internet is. I gave away too much information back then and put too much shitty music out there. Now I am more careful about it.

kmartini: I grew up in Auburn, CA and even though I now appreciate the beauty of that particular town and Northern California as a whole, as a kid I couldn’t wait to grow up and see the world.  Did you grow up in Sacramento?  And if so, how did growing up there influence your art?

CW: Someone here in LA recently brought up the idea to me that it’s good to grow up in a weird, small town – that it helps you focus and create your own sound.. I can definitely say that for Sacramento. It’s kind of known as a black hole.. I was there for a long time. I finally got my sound together and moved away.

kmartini: The first time I heard your music was when Stereogum posted your cover of Burzum’s Black Spell of Destruction from his Aske EP…an EP that features a black and white photo of the charred Fantoft Stave Church on the cover.  This is pretty dark material and not something the majority of Stereogum readers would be familiar with.  What inspired you to cover this track?  Is Burzum a major influence on your music?   And if so, what other black metal artists have influenced you?  Do you see black metal gaining popularity within non-metal circles (i.e. Marissa Nadler appearing on Xathur’s album, Tom Krell listing Deathspell Omega’s latest on his Best of 2010 list, Thurston Moore being spotted at a Krallice show, etc)?

CW: Burzum isn’t a major influence, but I love a lot of his music. His aesthetic and vision interests me.. The concept of Black Metal to me is something unconventional, something “anti-” in structure and atmosphere..
I’m also into some Gorgoroth and Darkthrone. And I love Wardruna – one of the only albums I listen to over and over.
My great-great grandparents came from Norway so I have this affinity for Nordic mythology and landscape..

kmartini: I’m sure you are already getting sick of the Zola Jesus and PJ Harvey comparisons, but are you familiar with Nika Roza, Liz Harris or Cameron Mesirow and do you welcome or discourage comparisons with these artists?  Who are your most prominent influences?

CW: My most prominent influences are singers that have a really unique and passionate way about their performance, or when something in their voice makes my insides twist around – Vladimir Vysotsky, Selda Bagcan, Nick Cave, Hank Williams, Sr. But, my inspiration is all over the place.. I’ve never been a person to listen to a lot of music, so I think a lot of my influence comes from movie soundtracks, my favorite films, books, paintings, photographs. Ingmar Bergman, Cory McAbee, Nan Goldin, Ayn Rand..
Sure, I’m familiar with those artists.. I don’t hear the similarity other than the fact that we’re all women and have some lo-fi feel to our recordings, but I understand how people group artists together and I don’t mind being grouped with other talented artists, as long as people understand that I am not influenced by them.

kmartini: You have mentioned that The Grime and The Glow is not your sophomore release.  I take that to mean you don’t consider Ἀποκάλυψις a proper album.  I understand that it was not released by a label, but I have spent more time with that album than The Grime and The Glow so far and it sounds like a fully baked album to me.  What are your thoughts on Ἀποκάλυψις and how does it differ from The Grime and The Glow from your perspective?

CW: I recorded The Grime and the Glow first.. Ἀποκάλυψις is a proper album, yes, but until it’s released somewhere other than bandcamp I don’t consider it to be “out” yet. The Grime and the Glow was self-recorded (with a little help on a few songs from my bandmates or Ian Bone of Darling Chemicalia), and really controlled to be the kind of recording that captures the space and mood it was recorded in, but Ἀποκάλυψις was done in a proper studio. Concept-wise, The Grime and the Glow explores the relationship between death and humor on a personal level, and Ἀποκάλυψις is about the end of the world, a grander vision.

kmartini: The title, The Grime and The Glow, seems to suggest a type of beauty coming from the darkness and the album (or at least the bonus tracks) end with ‘I’ve never felt so dead inside, I’ve never felt so alive’. Is there a sort of overarching concept to this album, some sort of phoenix theme of being reborn from the ashes of a dead world…the world after the Apocalypse?

CW: I’m always kind of thinking about the end of things, the end of the world, of time, of a person.. I try to inject some light and beauty into the music as well.. I don’t know that it’s as hopeful as being reborn, but I do believe in an afterlife of sorts.. The Grime and the Glow is more about expressing reality in a stark way.. The world is imbalanced, there is ugliness juxtaposed with loveliness at all times. Parallelled.

kmartini: I read somewhere that you have another band aside from your solo project, can you tell me more about that and if we can expect an album any time soon?

CW: Wild Eyes, yes, it’s with Ben Chisholm (WHITE HORSE), who also plays in my band. We write a lot of music together.. Wild Eyes is our electro-based project. We make doom pop songs but also atmospheric soundtrack-style songs. We’ve scored a small horror film and have a full length ready, but nothing I can announce about a release yet..

kmartini: Pendu Sound seems like a pretty eclectic collective of artists and also seems like a great fit for your music.  How did you get hooked up with Pendu and what has that experience been like?

CW: Pendu is great.. In late 2009 I sent Todd a music video for the magazine/blog section of the Pendu website and a few weeks later he asked if I wanted to release an LP. It was perfect because I had already started recording a group of songs I wanted to fit together for an album. The album release was delayed a long time, but in the end it’s for the best. I think the timing is right.

kmartini: This is your first time performing at Noise Pop.  Have you attended any Noise Pop shows in the past?  Have you spent much time in San Francisco?

CW: Never been to Noise Pop. I have spent a good amount of time in San Francisco and I’m fond of it. Playing at Grace Cathedral last year was one of my favorite shows so far.

kmartini: You are going to France in March.  Will this be your first time performing overseas?  How did this tour come about?

CW: I’ve been over a few times and done some really small shows and art performance, but this will be my first proper tour I guess. Humanist Records put together a tour for me based around a music festival they’re having. I’ll be solo for this tour so it will be a little strange, but I’ll try to make the songs work live.

kmartini: Do you have plans to tour the US?  And if so, who will you be touring with? If you could pick you ideal line-up of touring artists today, what would your perfect bill look like?

CW: I don’t have specific plans but I imagine I’ll do a bit this year. I’m not one to do a lot of touring.. I prefer to play a small amount of really special shows.. But if I have the chance to do a nice tour of course I will go. I would like to open for Grinderman or Queens of the Stone Age, haha. Also, maybe I could open for Black Sabbath or Pink Floyd.. Umm.. there are a lot of good bands on Southern Lord or Tee Pee records it would be rad to tour with. I don’t know.. someone like-minded.. but I think we could fit with a lot of different bands.

kmartini: And going back to who Chelsea Wolfe is, can you tell me something about yourself that your fans might not assume from your music?

CW: ……

Chelsea WolfeMoses

  5 comments for “Giving Up The Ghost: Who Is Chelsea Wolfe?

  1. genji
    February 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Great interview with Chelsea, am really looking forward to hearing some more of her music and hope to see her playing somewhere in LA when she gets back from France!

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