Since her emergence in 2010, Chelsea Wolfe has fearlessly addressed the mysterious aspects of life within her music. Preeminently known for her haunting, heavy ballads and metallic-lined tangents (not to mention her ultra wicked style), the Sacramento-born artist has landed herself dead in the epicenter of the modern dark wave movement.
With the magnetic allure of a siren, Wolfe has attracted a collective of neo-folk musicians to wade neck-deep in the waters of her darkly illuminated brilliance. After putting to rest revolving-door band members, Wolfe struck gold with the perfect ensemble. Violist Ezra Buchla and guitarist Mike Sullivan of Russian Circles melded minds alongside producer John Congleton, who’s worked with acts such as St. Vincent and Swans.
Wolfe’s fifth full-length release and considerably most devoted album, Abyss, is the perfect webbing of surreal, reverb-soaked doom metal laced elegantly with slowed down, molasses covered ballads.
Poignant and true to herself as ever, Wolfe has epitomized what it means to feel lost in the bizarre. Each subtly brutal song relays the sensation of falling backward through the deepest dimensions of your dreams with chills crippling your skin–which is nothing short of expected from the intrepid artist.
The collective continues to infect the music industry with their densely grim approach and indisputably unique aesthetic. Drawing inspiration from avant-garde designers like Alexander McQueen and Yohji Yamamoto, her infatuation between the dichotomies of unlikely beauty vs. vividly harsh reality resonates in her personal style and stage presence.
Fashion has always echoed Chelsea’s inspiration. Over the span of her career, Wolfe has also dipped toes in the fashion industry, making ripples as a model in the waters of Seattle-based clothing company Actual Pain, run and operated by close friend and collaborator T.J. Cowgill (more formally known as King Dude, an American-gothic folk artist). The two worked on two of Wolfe’s 7” splits, both of which sold out almost instantly.
After moving to the mountainous outskirts of Los Angeles last year, Wolfe finds herself ready to take on the next chapter of life in California, but first: a 50 date international tour. Rogue caught up with her right before she split town to talk future collaborations, fashion inspiration, and sleep paralysis. Here’s what she had to say.
Abyss is based off of dreams & confronting the subconscious realm. What was the last dream you had that impacted you in that strange, lingering way once you awoke?
I’ve been dealing with this thing called sleep paralysis for years, but I didn’t know it had a name until recently. It takes different forms. For me, it’s the way I wake up: my body wakes up and my eyes are open, but the figures from my dreams are still in the room with me. It’s an intense way to start your day, or to try and fall back asleep after. Most of my dreams are unsettling, but every once in a while I’ll have a good dream. And sometimes, I’ll even wake up and fall back asleep into that dream, and it’s euphoria. For Abyss, I wanted to capture both of those feelings; both ends of the spectrum.
After you brought on violinist Ezra Buchla & guitarist Mike Sullivan, your sound became even more dense and evocative. What was it like to record and bring together such creative masterminds?
Ezra’s been playing with us for a few records now. I love his style, and it always adds so much dimension and emotion. My co-producer Ben Chisholm really had a big hand in this record, and having Mike come down and add guitar was wonderful and added some really triumphant moments. I really felt he understood the songs.
Pain and beauty are underlying currents within your lyrics and overall subject matter. What allure do you find between the dichotomy of the two?
I’ve always had an affinity for contrast. When I was a kid, I had this recurring dream of macro and micro, like an object would become really, really large and then really, really small, and that haunted me. I looked at everything like that. Abyss is like that – it’s thinking about the mind as a deep abyss, and also thinking about the universe as an endless abyss.
Your look and style is undeniably distinct. Where do you draw your inspiration from getting ready to go on stage versus getting dressed in casual everyday wear?
I love runway shows. Some great minds come together to create these all-encompassing or minimal but powerful little worlds for each show, and I think it’s really inspiring... from the makeup to the lighting. Like John Galliano’s debut with Margiela earlier this year, it was so great all around. Great colors. I get inspired by color too, even though I tend to wear mostly black. Rick Owens’ are always rad. And Alexander McQueen is king.
I picture you playing in an abandoned haunted mansion in Salem, MA, or maybe the Hollywood Forever Cemetery surrounded by looming fog. What would be your absolute dream venue to perform at?
I’d be ok with either of those situations! I like performing in places with history. I don’t have a dream venue. I’m enjoying being surprised as I go along on tour.
Being based out of California, how do you feel about the evolving LA music scene and where do you think your music fits in or differs?
I moved into the mountains above Los Angeles last year to write my new album and ended up loving it and staying, but I still go there often to hang out with my manager, friends or whatever. I think there’s a lot of cool bands based out of or coming from LA.
You and King Dude did a collaborative 7” split that totally sold out! Planning on any more collabs in the future?
It’s really fun making songs with King Dude because we’re really good friends and he is always inspiring and funny and great to be around. So yes, we’ll make more in the future, I’m sure!
See more of Chelsea Wolfe in Rogue's debut issue.
story by Courtney Melahn
photography by Simia Rassouli
styled by Lloyd Galbraith
makeup by Alexa Hernandez