One of the most unique performers at 2016’s Brutal Assault festival was the queen of the night Chelsea Wolfe. Her main input was in giving this event melancholic enhancement, compared to general death metal menu. On the other hand, it was not her first time in Czech Republic. Her audience definitely grew when her song Feral Love was used in a trailer for Game of Thrones but she performed in Prague three times including a support for post metal masters Russian Circles. Festival grounds gave her performance absolutely shape though, especially when electronic elements were included. I was honored to meet Chelsea Wolfe shortly before her performance on the first rainy day of Brutal Assault festival. Another chance to see her live in Prague would be on 26th of April in Futurum Music Bar. This interview was used as a front cover article in March 2017 issue of Czech magazine Muzikus.
How do you like the weather?
Normally I love this sort of weather, but it’s a little frustrating for gear. Getting it wet, it’s really not the best thing, but it will be fine. I am always happier when the sky is grey in the mornings. Sun is kind of harsh!
Do you prefer endless rainy days or changing weather? Personally, I love apocalyptic Balkan storms, as I spent many summers in Croatia and Serbia. It’s sunny there for days and suddenly the sky turns black.
I thing sudden thunderstorms are always exciting. It gets your mind going.
If we now look at your guitars, there are multiple models. Not only from Taylor guitars as there are also some family treasures…
Yeah, let’s start with the acoustics. I found my mom’s old classical guitar in the garage at some point and I just said: “May I have this?” (Laugh) That was one of the first things I started writing on.
Everything comes down to what I want! Musically…
What was the condition of that guitar?
It had a broken tuning pick. On the other hand, it still has the same strings, from the seventies. They still work, so I went with that. But the crucial part was broken, so I kind of tuned down to that string and that became the way I wrote. So now I always tune down to D standard, because that’s where I became comfortable writing and signing. After few years, my dad gave me his Guild acoustic guitar, also from the seventies. It is a beautiful writing tool. It’s got a life in it. He played it a lot for many years, so that’s kind of a special one. Then, I established a relation with Taylor Guitars, when I was working on my acoustic album and they gave me a 716ce which is really lovely. It feels really good to play as it always sounds great. I usually plug it into electric guitar amp anyway, so I kind of f*ck up a sound a little bit. I like it better that way. I am not really a fan of plugging acoustic guitar straight into a PA system. It’s little too teeny for me. I love to have some grit. Do you want to talk about electric guitars?
Sure, but as I am listening to you, I can imagine you had to find your sound with number of guitars. I doubt you accepted the first thing they gave to you.
Yeah, I tried some stuff out like baritone, twelve string and then it was 716ce. That was it. For me it’s all about how it feels on my left and a right hand. I like thinner necks. I have big hands but I like to feel like I have a lot of space to move around. That’s why I love my Gibson ES-335 which I have for band’s performances. It has really nice thin neck and it’s a hollow body, so it has that acoustic feel and great feedback for a hollow body. But it’s obviously an electric guitar. Like I said, playing Taylor through amp is usually the balance for me. Sometimes I will use couple of pedals. Earthquaker is this great brand that I use a lot. My favorite one to use with an acoustic guitar is a Speaker Cranker, which is a simple distortion. I just can’t play an acoustic guitar without a little bit of a grit.
Did you consult effects with some of your friends within a music business? I know you are a big Neurosis fan, but I was also thinking about one of my most favorite bands Kylesa, which are also big effects enthusiasts.
Not really. I haven’t heard Kylesa’s music yet. I need to though. Obviously I love Neurosis, as they are one of my favorite bands, but I didn’t really consult anyone outside of my own band. I mean, my bandmates are all really into gear, so we went on it together. A lot of tries and errors, just trying shit up. I have been singing through guitar pedals for years as well, so before I started really using a lot of effects on my guitar, I was using a ton of guitar effects on my voice, so I kind of had a lot to play with.
Partners and friends
When you mentioned you rely mainly on your colleagues, I believe it’s mainly Ben and Andrea. Are they here tonight with you?
Ben and Andrea are more for the acoustic sets. When I do a full band, it’s a four piece including drums. I am on a guitar, I have a lead guitarist and Ben plays bass & keyboards. Ben is my main collaborator and we write songs together. We play both acoustic and electric sets together. But for this line-up I have Bryan Tulao on guitar and Jessica Gowrie on drums. Jess has been a friend of mine and we played music together for a very long time. She taught me a lot about guitars and gear in general. She was into that stuff a way before I was.
On the list of long term partner have to be Russian Circles. I love their music for ages but I always love to speak to them, because they always start their European Tour in Prague, because they cooperate with…
We do the same with Nomads!
We are really proud, Czech team is as highly sought out. But in our case, how did Nomads of Prague deserve your loyalty?
It’s really cool to work with them. We have the same tour manager since 2012 and Nomads’s gear is always in good shape. I always get the Hiwatt amp from them and it always sounds good, because it’s in a good condition. What more can you ask for? (Laugh) They are great to work with.
Into the Abyss
I must say I really love your latest album Abyss and it naturally motivated me to go deeper in your discography. I invested about a same about of time into a discography of a Hungarian avant-garde metal project Thy Catafalque, where the mastermind of this project told me: “Don’t listen to my first two albums!” I was surprised to read something similar from you in one interview, as you were not happy with the first recordings you did. Tell us about the tough beginnings of yours, where you were really not happy about the team and the production.
I don’t know if it was tough, as much as I knew how the songs should sound, as I heard them in my head. I ended up working with producers, who wanted it to be really clean and over produced. It wasn’t the right match. At the same time, I also didn’t know how to edit myself. I was young and it was the first thing, I have really done in a professional studio. Before that, I just kind of recorded myself and fucked around. I think it was a learning process that I had to go through. It was too many words. Too much information. Just too much! I wanted something else, so after that I thrashed that album and went back to my roots and recorded it myself on an eight-track. Kind of started over again rebuilding things. I am much happier with that process, than jumping right into a professional studio.
…to control the whole process?
Yeah, I am very heavy-handed with everything. I think a lot of people don’t believe that maybe, because I am a woman or something. But, it’s like…
Yeah, screw that! It’s my project and it’s always been my project. I have bandmates that come in and out of project, but it’s me. I am always the dictator. It’s not a democracy, you know?! (Laugh) Everything comes down to what I want! Musically…
I knew how the songs should sound, as I heard them in my head
When somebody asked me, to describe your music and to find something similar, it was really hard. As you were always close to a black metal scene, have your ever heard about a Danish singer called Myrkur?
Yeah, I know her. Actually, we are meeting tomorrow at Way Out West festival in Göteborg. Like, meeting for the first time in person.
Tour management challenge, right?
(Laugh) There was little bit of that. Small mix up, but we will manage. I am meeting Myrkur, as I think her voice is really beautiful and I like what she is doing.
Both with her and your music I love the atmospherical aspect. I love to call it “tasty melancholy”. On the other hand, Abyss is the heaviest album, you released so far.
I went into that album, knowing I want it to be heavy. And a lot of was the influence from the bands I have been touring with: Russian Circles, Queens of the Stone Age, True Widow… A lot really heavy bands within stoner rock and doom rock/metal scene. Touring with them and hearing that music every night, made me go more into that direction. I think this was the influence.
It’s never easy to start this sort of the topic, but I would like to talk now about the challenge of standing on stage. I know it was giving you a hard time in the early phase of your career. But to be honest, I couldn’t even spell my own name, when I was doing a first lesson of Serbian language for a room filled with managers and really freaking out during first presentations in college. Therefore I would like to ask you, if you could give us a tip, how to fight that first “block” phase?
I think it’s all about practice and forcing yourself to do something over and over again. When I first started playing shows, obviously I was tormented and I could barely get through it. I found a different ways to get through it, whether it was wearing a veil or drinking a lot! (Laugh) As I keep going, I realized I want to be a better performer, so I kept pushing myself to try to do that. But part of that it’s just also getting older. I’m thirty-three years old now and I am more comfortable now with my skin and my own mind. So, I still have a long way to go as a performer, but I’m much more comfortable just getting out there and being myself and free.
From my own experience and also based on interviews with numerous musicians, I know a meditation helps within self-awareness process? Have you tried it yourself?
You know, I haven’t really. A lot of people suggested it to me because of the extremes in my moods. I am either really anxious or really calm. I have tried it a little bit, but I think I like more physical things. I do yoga to sort of calm down, so maybe it’s not as mental, but the slow movements are really helpful.
I’m thirty-three years old now and I am more comfortable now with my skin and my own mind
Few weeks ago I went to an outdoor class of yoga in one of the Prague’s parks and the last fifteen minutes of that class was a meditation. So, your yoga class doesn’t include this last phase?
I haven’t done classes like that yet, but maybe I will try.
Sorry for opening another sensitive issue, but I am on this festival with some of my best friends and one of them is having sometimes hard times during sleep. Any tip for him and others who are dealing with sleep paralysis?
I think for me, moving out of the city really helped. Before, I was living in Los Angeles for about five years and that’s really crazy area. A lot of people, a lot of housemates. And I just decided to write the album Abyss in an environment, where I will be away from all of that noise. So I found a house to rent out in the mountains. Instantly I was sleeping better, as it was so quiet. Only thing I could hear were some coyotes. At first it freaked me out a little bit, how quiet it was. But then I realized it was really good for me. I was able to work so much more and I was able to sleep better. For me solitude is really important. Nature is my religion!
Now I understand, why the black metal scene is so important to you. However, there are two names which surprised within your list of favorite bands: Gorgoroth and Burzum. Both bands went through some serious controversies and also sound changes. Let say Burzum presents itself now as an atmospherical ambient project.
I don’t really listen to Burzum anymore because I am a little put off by who he is as a person. I used to be able to kind of separate it and not really think about that, but as I’m getting older, I don’t really want to associate with someone who is racist. That’s fucked up to me. I don’t listen to Burzum but talking about Gorgoroth, I’m a fan of the Gaahl’s era, I have to say. More precisely, I’m a fan of his voice and the way he uses it. I loved his newer project Wardruna. I don’t think he is in it anymore but I really loved it. Just watching him live and the way he is using his voice. So guttural! I wish I could sing like that. I can I think, but I’m little afraid to sometimes.
I’m really envious of singers who can scream every night
That’s why you were always heavily using guitar effects for your voice to get that feeling?
Yeah, I have always wanted to have that gritty kind of voice. Mine is sort of naturally smooth, so I make up for it by playing gritty guitar tones, using distortion but I have experimented also with screaming. Especially in the live setting. I like to scream into a guitar pickups to bring out my voice like that. But honestly, it’s really hard on my voice and the next day I can’t sing. So I have to sacrifice one or the other. I can’t really do both. I’m really envious of singers who can scream every night. I don’t know how the fuck they do that.
You know what’s worst? When you go for a show of one your favorite bands and the singer skips the high notes. I hate when Dan Tompkins from Tesseract does that let say. But I understand it. Tony Martin who used to sing in Black Sabbath for many years, once told me: “Dude, I have to work tomorrow! If I scream my ass tonight for you, I have to cancel the whole week.”
Exactly! That’s why I tend not to go for the screams, so I can continue singing all the other notes. (Laugh)
Plus, this weather is really not good for your voice: 11pm, rainy, cold, windy. Did you let say attend some vocal coaching classes and having some ginger/garlic tricks to protect your voice?
Well, not any of that, but I just drink a lot of tea with honey and I definitely do vocal warm ups at this stage of my life, cause I want to be able to sing consistently. I didn’t think about that so much in the past. I tend to cough a lot and it drives me crazy, so I am always trying to avoid that and really take care of my voice. It’s frustrating because I don’t really want to think about that I just want to do whatever I want, smoke cigarettes and stuff. But I just can’t! (Laugh)