LA-based Chelsea Wolfe peddles a peculiar brand of moody, fragile midnight rock. Her newest album, Apokalypsis, explores themes of revelation, discovery and nature-v-nature duality with a newly-formed ensemble. The Wolfe sound benefits from the contributions in broadening the textural palette and granting Wolfe’s spectral bewailing space to evolve. Its obvious ancestors – Bristolian trip-hop, doom metal and US contemporaries Glasser, White Hinterland and Zola Jesus – are referenced throughout, but Apokalypsis stands apart in painting scenes of rebirth against dynamic instrumentation. We approached the disarmingly talented chanteuse ahead of the band’s West Coast tour, which begins on the 2nd December.
What was the process like compiling the band for Apokalypsis – do they share your influences and vision? Obviously they toured with you before it…
After I made my first album [last year’s The Grime and the Glow], which was kind of a solo effort with collaborations from various people, I’d put together a band for the live shows, yeah. And there were songs I was writing at the time that we’d hash-out as a group. Eventually I decided I wanted to record the songs with the full band, which was a new thing for me because I’d never recorded an album with other people before. So we all went into the studio for a week or two and made the songs happen.
How were the songs written?
Typically, I‘ll write alone at first and then bring an idea or a song or structure to the band and we’ll hash it out. Every once in a while I’ll have a completed song to bring to the band – which parts and everything – but most of the time we end up writing them together.
How has the band built upon the Chelsea Wolfe aesthetic? Did they introduce the sound’s metal elements, or were you looking to explore that yourself?
Yeah, I wanted to explore it. There were certain parts that I wanted to hear two or three guitars playing at once – make it really heavy or just get some atmospheres going. But yeah, I think it was a purposeful decision to introduce a doom-y quality to it, especially the live sound. I don’t usually describe sounds by genre or by using any point of reference other than a feeling. Music is very visual for me, so I’ll simply describe things in a visual way [to the band] and then kind of see what happens – feeling out ideas and working together instinctually.
Apokalypsis is a Greek word, meaning “lifting of the veil”. Is the use of abstract imagery throughout the record your way of expressing inward thoughts?
Well, it depends. This album ended up being pretty conceptual – sometimes a title begins to define an album’s themes. The album as you said refers to lifting off the veil: revolutions; realisations and epiphanies. The songs came together really naturally.
So you came up with the title first, and found that it began to steer the album’s themes?
Well actually, I’ve been thinking about themes of apocalypse or a sort of culmination of things for a while. I decided to use the Greek word because it has multiple meanings and allowed me to explore a broader spectrum of ideas.
And what inspired you to explore these themes?
Well, a combination of things. But sometimes I get obsessed with a subject or an idea or an image and kind of let things grow off of that – the end and the culmination of things, accepting and realising the truth – I just kind of started researching that, as well as certain scientific ‘end times’ theories that people had, which intrigued me in a visual way. I started thinking about the different visual interpretations of apocalypse. Then I began looking into spirituality – I got into the Book of Revelations, the wild imagery in there. I was reading the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, too, which really helped these ideas along. It gave me a grand vision that I wanted to start exploring for the album. I’ve always been interested in combining dream states with reality; merging the spiritual with the physical and creating a contrast and a parallel between these two things.
CHELSEA WOLFE // MER from Panorama Programming on Vimeo.
The video for Mer has an Ingmar Bergman feel to it – specifically his classic, The Seventh Seal – and you’ve cited him as an influence before. What are your thoughts on this? Is the video emblematic of the album’s themes?
The director came to me with the idea for it. I new I wanted it to explore the wonder of the sea – he kind of built up the imagery from there. He knew that The Seventh Seal is one of my favourite films and the ideas for the video developed from there very naturally. The dancing girls was a visual representation of the end scene in The Seventh Seal, where the characters are holding hands and dancing together on the hill. Now you’ve mentioned it, perhaps I played the ‘death’ character, too – the somber, silent one.
The vocal sound is fairly lo-fi throughout, yet the instrumental side of things is tighter, high in the mix and more sculpted than before…
I’ve always tried to use my voice as an instrument – using a loop station, different delays and reverbs and things like that. I definitely wasn’t trying to hide behind these things, but use my voice to portray an atmosphere in the music.
How do you see the full-band set up developing the Chelsea Wolfe sound in the future?
Well, I’m always trying new things, and have been experimenting a lot with electronic music. Hopefully this will come out in the next album. It’ll certainly be an interesting thing to explore with the band, trying to incorporate totally new sounds – mixing electronic textures with live instruments.
You said you tend to work better under pressure, and recorded the album in just five days. Was this a financially-inclined decision or an experiment?
Well, with the first album, everything was kind of drawn-out. I didn’t really have a deadline, so I could take my time. It was nice to see what I could do if I only had a week or two in the studio to create something.
The front cover is particularly striking – who composed it?
It was a self-portrait I’d taken. I wanted my eyes to be blanked or white-ed out to represent a moment of epiphany and realisation. So I asked my friend Christopher to come up with something for me. People tend to interpret it as something eerie or scary, but for me, it’s a positive image.
Words: Jack Mills