[photo by Eliot Lee Hazel]
By Matt Sullivan
I'm not usually one for apocalypse theories, but there was a time-- very recently, in fact-- where I felt totally surrounded by signs of our impending doom. Not just metaphorical ones, but literal signs: "The end is coming!" "Are you ready for Jesus' return?". More than anything, the veritable deluge of death knells left me wondering, "What is is the apocalypse going to sound like?"
The opening snarls of Chelsea Wolfe's second LP for Pendu Sound Recordings, Ἀποκάλυψις (Apokalypsis), come pretty close to an answer. It's a ghoulish wall of animalistic noise, a twisted mash-up of a beautiful voice gone crazy just moments before the slithering guitar tones of "Mer" kick in. It's the sort of the thing you'd expect to hear when the Four Horsemen open their mouths, and then it gives way to Wolfe's latest vision, which draws sensuality, fright, and fragility into one dreamy meeting ground.
If there's one thing that I learned from my gchat with the LA singer/songwriter, it's that the concept of apocalypse, like most things in real and mystical life, has many faces. While pain and darkness constitute the conceptual bulk, there is a lighter side to it as well: an opportunity for change, creation, or relief. One could forgive me for being intimidated by a presence like Wolfe's before our chat, but I soon found out that despite tasking herself with uncovering the mystical, she was extremely down to earth.
AZ: How are you?
Chelsea: Oh, I'm fine, just looking at apartments on craigslist. How are you?
AZ: Pretty good, doing the same actually. Where's the cool place to be in LA?
Chelsea: I'm going for more affordable (laughs). We almost moved to Silverlake, but I think there are too many people around there at all times.
AZ: You prefer peace and quiet?
Chelsea: A bit of isolation, yes. I guess I'm hermetic in nature. Sometimes the best ideas can come from silence, or clear energies. You see, I get really affected by the energies of people around me; it's something I need to get better at. I think when I'm trying to write or be productive, it's best for me to be alone at first, to have that clarity. But then, I come together with others to build on it, to flesh out my ideas.
AZ: What do you think makes someone give off a particular type of energy?
Chelsea: I think it's a mix between the actual science of things within a person, and their general vibe, their spirit, or their mood. But it's not something that destroys me-- I just typically choose places to live that are a bit on the outskirts to have some distance. My grandma used to practice Reiki on me when I was little, and I think it's what got me thinking about human energies.
AZ: What kind of relationship did you have with your Grandma?
Chelsea: Well, my parents divorced when I was young, so I spent a lot of my childhood at different houses, and the most memories come from my grandmother's house. She had a big, old, overgrown house across from the train tracks in the old part of town. She moved there after spending two years up in the hills at a sort of homeopathic/naturalistic camp/college thing. She would read my energies, tell me which essential oils I needed, and practice her Reiki on me while she studied it. She was channeling universal energies into me without physical touch, but I felt it was a more human energy. I studied massage therapy later in life.
AZ: Really? What got you into massage therapy?
Chelsea: Possibly influence from my grandmother, coupled with a sort of instinct to heal. Eventually, I found my own voice to be a more healing thing than physical touch, although I still really appreciate massage and find anatomy and the connections between all things very interesting and inspiring.
AZ: What made you feel your voice was a more powerful healer?
Chelsea: I've always made songs, from very a young age, and sometimes there was something in my own voice that felt distant from myself, almost like hearing a mother's voice. I know that sounds crazy, but it was comforting to me to sing, and once I started sharing my music, there were certain songs I hoped would bring a sense of peace to others as well. I don't mean to call myself a healer though. I've never really brought up any of that before to be honest:
AZ: It's funny how peaceful you seem compared to the opening screams and moans of Apokalypsis.
Chelsea: Oh [laughs]. I go back and forth. I'm not bipolar but sometimes it seems that way; it's just a moodiness I have, I suppose.
AZ: Do you ever feel a divide between your stage persona and your day-to-day self?
Chelsea: Actually, not really. I am the same on stage as during the average day: moody, sometimes very shy, and sometimes very bold. But playing more shows helps me become comfortable on stage, so I can lose myself more.
AZ: I feel like that's something very exciting about your music: those opposing forces blending. Not so much that you are shy and then bold, but simultaneously shy and bold. Do you play off of that?
Chelsea: Maybe unconsciously. I like contrasts and parallels-- I often use them in my songs. The dark and the light. On Apokalypsis, it was important that it could refer to apocalypse and revelation. I wanted to focus on the idea that an apocalypse didn't necessarily have to be defined as a bad thing. It could be a new beginning or an awakening of truths-- an epiphany.
AZ: A lot of the influences I've heard you mention are timeless in nature, like mythologies and ancient writings. Do you you feel like this is an important message for people right now? For instance: our economy sucks, people are angry, and there's this general feeling that something needs to change.
Chelsea: Yes, of course. I started thinking about the concept of the album after reading the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It felt very apocalyptic to me, but as things were coming to an end and disintegrating, a new world was being built. Then I started researching different scientific end-times theories as well as the Book of Revelation, letting the images and concepts come together in my head.
AZ: How do you feel about the "2012" theory?
Chelsea: I think the "end of the world" will be a long, slow death, but I look forward to that date in December 2012. I wonder if some change will come, a shift in the universe, an earthquake, or nothing at all. I like landmark dates like this, but I don't give it very much weight to be honest.
AZ: I think a lot of people imagine everything that we know just evaporating: a really clean, convenient ending.
Chelsea: Like Melancholia. I like that idea too, but I don't feel that that's the way it would actually go.
AZ: What's Melancholia?
Chelsea: A Lars Von Trier film, you should see it. Charlotte Gainsbourg's in it, really ripped my heart out. So good.
AZ: Are you a film buff?
Chelsea: No, but I really love films. Certain directors really inspire me more than anything: Ingmar Bergman, John Waters, Lars Von Trier, Cory McAbee, and David Lynch, of course.
AZ: Favorite David Lynch film?
Chelsea: Eraserhead is very inspiring. I really like the dream-state, the lady in the radiator, knowing how hard he had to work to make that film happen, the visuals… I think it's unclear in a lot of David Lynch's movies whether it's a reality or a dream/nightmare and I went through a period of that. Sometimes my memory is just like that-- even short-term, kind of foggy and unclear. Visually, it's strange, kind of industrial and confusing-- all in good ways. I love art that is tasteful and creative on low budgets.
AZ: Are you drawn to music that is the same way?
Chelsea: Oh, I don't know. I don't think so. The first album I released-- The Grime and The Glow-- was that way. I wanted to capture certain spaces, moods, and times-- like concrete walls or the echoes of a small, empty room. I just used my analog 8-track to record it all. I loved that project and I still record in that way sometimes, but I don't prefer "hi-fi" or "lo-fi" over each other at all. It's all about how it's utilized; it's about using what you have in any given situation to the best of your ability and creativity.
Ἀποκάλυψις (Apokalypsis) is out now via Pendu Sound Recordings