Chelsea Wolfe: "I Like Harsh Phrasing"
Angel Ceballos Chelsea Wolfe's Bill Hicks tribute
Los Angeles musician Chelsea Wolfe came to my attention via the track "Wasteland" from her 2011 album Apokalypsis. There was something so desolate and graphic in the song's absence of melody or form. Wolfe's voice sounded far away, underwater, maybe. Or perhaps she's the exterminating angel with death from above. It frightened me, which is always the mark of a good song. The video for "Mer" furthers her use of dark materials.
When I caught her at SXSW this year, the sound was heavier, more metal in its groove, which might point to the sound of her next full-length. Wolfe is part of this weekend's Chaos in Tejas festival in Austin, which features the Clean, Big Freedia, Cockney Rejects, Iceage and more. She hits Dallas on Saturday, June 2 at LaGrange with Laura Stevenson & the Cans and The Cush. I asked her a bit about religion, repetition and end times.
The song "Wasteland" has this uneasy, hypnotic tension to it, and same with the video for "Mer." Was Apokalypsis your apocalyptic vision?
I was reading a lot of what I consider apocalyptic literature and books at the time I was writing and recording that album: Atlas Shrugged, The Road, the Book of Revelation. So there was this mix of the wild end-times imagery and the reality side of how it really is or how it really would be if an apocalyptic event occurred. I leaned toward the literal more often than not on Apokalypsis.
Have you always found end times intriguing?
End times have always intrigued me. The ends of things in general. End of an era, and something new starting from there.
Did you grow up with religion in your home?
I grew up with no religion, but around age 13-18, I found myself heavy into religion and tried out a few, from a more cult-like setting to a non-denominational church. The thing that affected me most was the Biblical language, that old English King James style of phrasing and characterizing things. Although I don't consider myself a religious person now, I'm still interested in the aesthetics of harsher religions and in the spiritual realm and its connection to the physical.
You got to choose religion, which is interesting. Not very many folks get to do that. What was it about the Bible's text that drew you in? What about the cult?
I didn't realize it was a cult, and I didn't understand why everyone was so nice. I wanted to be blessed, I wanted to understand what I thought they understood. [As for] Biblical language, that harsh King James Old English intrigues me. I like harsh phrasing.
Do you approach music in terms of theatrics? Is writing exorcism? Therapy?
Some of the more personal songs have a sense of overcoming to them, working through something, you know? But more than anything I try to capture an idea, concept or emotion in a certain concise way, whether that song has anything to do with my own personal life or not.
I've seen in a few past interviews you mention Melancholia. I'm not a huge Von Trier fan, but something about that movie is just so beautiful. And the soundtrack, which is just sort of on loop, propels the whole thing. Did that pull you in?
Yes, the use of that Wagner piece paired with the incredible visuals and emotion of everyone in the film, and the repetition really pulls at me. Lars Von Trier has a real gift. Another film that had perfectly paired music and sounds with imagery is Hanna, by Joe Wright. The soundtrack was done by the Chemical Brothers.
Right. I just re-watched Drive and it has that really subtle electronic soundtrack throughout the whole movie, which works to convey both menace and sadness. Is that something you keep in mind with your music?
I think the repetition and chant-like quality I end up with often is not something I consciously do. I like to get lost in music, writing and listening. And I like trains; I grew up across from the train tracks. I like that constant forward motion, building and building.
I'm sure "goth" is a term that is applied to your look/music often. Is that culture still valid?
Goth is something that many of us were force-fed over the past couple years. I joked about it at first, but then it just became this overused term. But many things that are "applied" to a musician from the outside are not true. One genre term or comparison to another artist in the press and the rest of the writers just copy and paste. It can be really annoying but you can't let it get to you. It's a waste of time.