The slow, but unsettling output of this Los Angeles native is not quite as disturbing as it is enjoyable, but it sure is a close call. It’s out of the ordinary and so is the person behind the music. We asked Chelsea about safe havens, comfort zones and stage fright.
‘There have been shows in the past where I played three songs and had to leave the stage… it was bad!’
Questions sent by email by Sander van Dalsum. Photos shot by Logan White on a Los Angeles beach.
Your bio states that it took you a while to get comfortable on stage – can you tell us more about that?
It took me a long time to be comfortable with being a musician, a singer, in general. I’ve been writing songs since I was really young, but I wasn’t ready yet, even at age 20, 21, and I made some embarrassingly bad music before taking a break, regrouping and writing my first real album, The Grime and the Glow. I have a lot of issues about being around people, especially large groups of people… I am a loner at heart. But as I’ve grown to know and understand my fans more, I really adore them and want to give them my all. It’s why I’ve started to play more shows and gradually expand my set. There have been shows in the past where I played three songs and had to leave the stage… it was bad!
Have you got rid of that hesitation completely or is it that you now find some sort of comfort in discomfort?
I just think that every year I get older I care a little less about how I’m perceived and really just want to settle into being myself. It has proved to be the right way to go. I still have a lot to learn. My favourite shows are when I find myself letting go and allowing something new to happen.
Which description of your work has made you a little uneasy?
Since the theme here is ‘uncomfortable,’ I’ll approach something that artists aren’t supposed to talk about: I strongly dislike comparisons to other contemporary artists, because in my experience those comparisons are always unfounded. And because they create unnecessary, artificial rivalries that for me have nothing to do with music. Music – art – is not a competition, it’s not a contest.
What do you find the most awkward aspect of people?
I don’t know how to describe it correctly, but when you meet someone whose energies don’t react well with your own, you know? Sometimes being around a certain person or group of people can really suck the life out of you, not to say there is anything wrong with that person… some people just don’t belong around one another.
Is the teddy bear on the photo one of your comfort tools? Do you bring it with you while touring?
No, it belongs to the photographer, actually! But I did suggest an oversized stuffed bear for the shoot because I knew she wanted to shoot in the ocean, and the idea of a giant teddy bear weighed down with water, heavy in your arms, seemed uncomfortable and out of place.
Where is your comfort zone and what do you miss most about that particular place when you’re on the road?
There is a small town in Northern California, not far from my hometown and near the giant Redwood trees. It’s really a haven for me, and I plan to build a home there one day. I dream of this place — the solitude, the green surroundings and snow in the winter.
Are there also things in that cosy little zone that you don’t mind not having around for a while?
At this point in my life I know I have a lot of work to do at any given moment, so sometimes I can get restless when I’m there, unfortunately, but I always miss it as soon as I drive away.
When was the last time you did something that nobody had expected you to do?
I’m not sure anyone expected me to do a tribute EP to Rudimentary Peni, but I just fell in love with Nick Blinko’s voice and Grant Matthews’ lyrics and felt almost possessed by them one night. I made five songs using only Rudimentary Peni lyrics… They’re not proper covers, because honestly I haven’t heard some of the songs I’ve used lyrics from yet, but it was my way of thanking them for being a brilliant and brave band.
Chelsea Wolfe plays on 13 April in Magasin4 in Brussels during the Cheap Satanism Records Night. The show is free for Subbacultcha! members. Other live dates: 14/04 4AD, Diksmuide.