By Thalia Stopa
VANCOUVER — “[There’s] so much longing, passion, and tension wrapped up in just a few lines. You can really feel her aching.” Musician Chelsea Wolfe could easily be describing her own lyricism and music, but the woman to whom she is actually referring is the historically notorious risqué Japanese poet, Ono no Komachi, she continues, “She really impacted me.” Wolfe does possess a similarly unique talent to condense the feeling of intense, often restrained pain and suffering into her voice, which alternates between ethereal almost classical-sounding highs, and deeply melancholic lows. On her latest album, Abyss, this combines with an at-times winding orchestra and, at others, a sludgy and industrial atmospheric quality, to create a listening experience that is as enveloping and wrought with tension as a vivid nightmare.
By now it’s common knowledge that Wolfe has struggled with the sleep disorder known as sleep paralysis and that Abyss draws from her aptly disturbed and painful influences living with this issue. But don’t jump to conclusions about this summer’s LP on Sargent House Records, the album isn’t a literal documentation of her dreams. “I’m not really interested in dream interpretation… I’ve just had so many weird experiences with sleep that over time it started to affect my waking life.” It’s no surprise then that the literature buff has also been reading a lot of Japanese surrealist writer Murakami’s books in the last few years. “I have a big imagination and am pretty idealistic, so I’m drawn to books that wrap me up in their world.” Indeed it makes sense that many of the artist’s influences come from the Asian island country: Wolfe’s penchant for the twisted and darkly fantastical is something that is shared with Japanese folklore and storytelling.
Although Wolfe inarguably owns and defines her sound and look now, there was a long time when she was unsure what to do with herself. One part of her self discovery came from the realization that, although she loved the female musical influences introduced to her by her mother – like Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell – “the voice I really connected with was Lindsey Buckingham’s, from Fleetwood Mac. I discovered that I could sing in his range better and was kind of more attracted to male voices from then on.” Still, it took a lot of searching and encouraging from her friends and family to translate what initially was a passionate hobby into her career. “Honestly I was really lost. I wanted to work with people and travel and write but I didn’t know what path to take, even though I was writing and recording music almost every day at home… I just went to different colleges, traveled alone, stumbled along for a while… I lived in South Africa for a year when I was 19 and that was a very inspiring time.”
Having shed some light on her journey to Abyss, there is still one burning question: what brightens the mood of an artist whose music and image are literally enshrouded in darkness and despair? “If I’m feeling down I’ll watch a Hayao Miyazaki movie. And I love comedy… I’ve been watching Broad City – always makes me laugh so much.” It comes as a bit of a relief that Wolfe the woman enjoys some good gross-out-slash-stoner humour as much as the next person, proving she isn’t all doom and gloom all the time.
Chelsea Wolfe performs at the Rickshaw Theatre on September 30.BC, British Columbia, Chelsea Wolfe, Fortune Sound Club