Forget what you’ve heard before, Chelsea Wolfe’s latest, Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, has stripped away the layers, closed all the doors and delivered a set of intimate and delicately devastating music. We caught up with Chelsea to find out how the album came about.
Bowlegs: A Collection of Acoustic Songs sounds like a record of outtakes, demos, songs without a home? Is that the case? Why the need for the ‘acoustic’ clarification in the title?
Chelsea: It’s a group of songs that includes ones I wrote years ago, performed live but never recorded for a release, as well as new acoustic songs. All the recordings are new though; I felt it was important to approach the older songs in the way that is relevant to my style as an artist today. I typically don’t stick to one genre or style of music on an album, but this one is predominantly acoustic instrumentation, analog or a cappella so I wanted to classify it as such.
Bowlegs: We’re a world away from tracks like Demons from Apokalypsis. Was it a more personal experience – these songs obviously feel more intimate. Did you ever have to stop yourself piling on additional instrumentation?
Chelsea: I’ve always written minimal songs and I’ve always written songs that have lots of layers and atmosphere, so it was more about choosing the right songs for this album. I do think that the tone of these songs is more personal though, yes. I haven’t always been open to sharing my more personal songs but felt I was ready to start doing so.
Bowlegs: It all starts with the gorgeous Flatlands – those violins sound awesome. What is that song about? Where did you find the musicians that play on this record?
Chelsea: It’s about a connection to a place and the darkness that comes from being displaced and away from what is intrinsic and meaningful to you. It’s about desiring simplicity and realness in a world that is ruled by chaos and that is constantly pressuring us to focus on superficiality.
My bandmate Ben Chisholm is my main collaborator and has been for a couple years now. He is the producer of this album and really has a magical way of bringing people and sounds together in the right way. The two of us approached violinist Andrea Calderon, viola player Ezra Buchla and bass player Daniel Denton to play on this album and it was so special to work with them.
Bowlegs: There are some great harmonies on this record – they seem to provide a cloak of ghostly, or almost gothic, atmosphere that your music has always revelled in. Would you agree? Were there particular moments that were tricky to nail?
Chelsea: Thank you. It’s not something I over-think to be honest. I’ve just always had harmonies in my head.
Bowlegs: Was this record influenced by any particular artists – did you reference your favourite records to try and convey the feeling/vibe you wanted to create?
Chelsea: Over the years artists like Neil Young, Townes van Zandt, Fleetwood Mac, Hank Williams, they’ve infiltrated my musical tastes. I wasn’t specifically referencing their records but I know they’ve influenced the kind of feeling I look for in music and I’m grateful to them for that.
Bowlegs: I mentioned earlier the gothic element in your music (and maybe even your appearance) Do you feel that your songs come from a dark place?
Chelsea: I am inspired by reality, and that is not always pretty. The world can be a dreadful place and it’s important to me for my own work to paint a picture of both sides – the dark and the light.
Bowlegs: How did you get into music – have you always been a solo artist? Was it always going to be a career in music for you? I understand you father was in a band – how does your music go down with him?
Chelsea: My dad has always been supportive and has passed down some great instruments to me over the years, including my favorite Guild acoustic guitar. My mother’s always been very supportive too. But when I was young, even though I was always writing and recording songs, being a musician didn’t seem like a viable option for me.. I guess I didn’t have enough confidence to pursue it; I wanted to have a voice in the world but I was always so shy and never wanted to be the center of attention. That hasn’t changed, but over the years I have grown more comfortable with the visual aspect that is required of me.
Bowlegs: I understand there is another album in the works – will this be return to what came before? Do you have any idea how it might sound? Do the songs you write almost suggest the arrangement or can they go any way?
Chelsea: The album is already recorded, we’re working on mixing it now. A lot of it is very different from what’s come before actually. I’ve been working on some electronic songs with Ben over the past couple years and some of those songs are making it onto the album, but there are also rock n roll and folk songs on there. The album is really brought together in theme – elemental, ancient-meets-modern, intensity in nature, love.
Bowlegs: Finally what records have you been listening to this year? Anything that has particularly inspired you – or has made you feel particularly nauseous?
Chelsea: I am a big fan of my friend TJ who plays as King Dude. His new album comes out October 16th, the same day as Unknown Rooms, and it is full of fantastic songs. We are releasing a split 7″ pretty soon too actually. I also discovered the band S U R V I V E when we played together in Austin earlier this year and I really enjoy their music, it’s strange and triumphant. Other than that I listen Selda Bagcan or Wardruna for energy and Werner Herzog soundtracks to be calm.