"This record is about balancing the soft and the strong, the warrior and the goddess..." - Chelsea Wolfe talks new stripped back LP Birth Of Violence
Chelsea Wolfe has built her sound and reputation on intensity. Intense clanging percussion, heavy guitars and pounding electronics, all acting as a contrast with the Northern California native's ethereal vocal tones.
But, for new album Birth Of Violence, she has stripped things right back.
The album, which is the singer's sixth, was recorded at her home in Northern California with long-time collaborator Ben Chisholm, sees her embracing acoustic guitars and folk.
We spoke to Wolfe about her decision to change direction and why she's ready to get back to playing heavy music once again...
When did you start work on the songs for this record?
"Probably sometime in 2018 or 2019 while being on a bus on tour. I always bring an acoustic guitar and it’s a moment of quiet amongst the chaos for me to find a place where nobody else is and play and write a bit."
Did you have a goal of how you wanted this album to move on from Hiss Spun? You’ve talked up a bigger folk influence…
"There was just something nagging in me last year to take a break from the road before I burned out, because I was feeling really exhausted mentally, physically, spiritually. I think the more intimate folk songs sprang from this desire to step away from touring and find a place called home."
You worked with Ben Chisholm again on the record, what does he give you as a collaborator?
"Initially, when I knew I wanted to record this album at my home in Northern California, I imagined doing it alone, but after a while of working on it, that felt very lonely! So I brought in Ben to help me engineer and produce it, and Jess Gowrie and Ezra Buchla to add some instrumentation. It also gave the songs a place to live. They could have existed as just acoustic guitar and vocals, but now they flourish in these landscapes that Ben, Jess, and Ezra provided for them."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"There are always themes to my record. One mainline running through Birth of Violence is balance: being a woman navigating this f***ed-up world, balancing the soft and the strong, the warrior and the goddess. But also there is a lot of influence from being on the road, watching that scenery go by, overthinking everything, and paralleling it with the road of life, the mental trip. It’s a reflection of being an American artist on the road, from the perspective of a woman."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
"I’m not sure I ever got the vocals right for 'Be All Things'. I never felt like they were strong enough, but maybe that just tells me that they needed to be delicate and vulnerable. Sometimes the song tells you, intuitively, what the vocals need to be like to serve the lyrics and concepts."
And which came together most quickly?
"'Highway' was one of the final songs I wrote, and it was like that song had been waiting to be written for ages. I wrote it and recorded it in the space of a couple of days, which felt really freeing."
When did you decide on Birth Of Violence for the album title? Were any other titles in contention?
"I wrote the lyric 'Birth of Violence' in a state of channelling from something higher. I knew it was the album title, but I tried to fight it, as I thought it might be misunderstood in a variety of ways. But it felt strong to me in a personal way and a poetic way. It’s like a field of bright flowers in violent bloom, a woman learning to stand up and use her voice, and it also felt like a book title you’d see on an old book in the used bookstore I worked in as a kid, like Grapes of Wrath, or Wuthering Heights."
What are your plans to take the album out live?
"I plan to do a couple of tours that are very stripped-down and intimate, like a personal ritual I’m inviting you into. It won’t be easy, but I think it will be special."
You’ve been playing acoustically, are you enjoying the change in tempo and set-up?
"I’ve enjoyed making this acoustic record, but I am already ready to play heavy music with my full band. The timing of making and releasing a record - all the waiting - is pretty annoying, because I’m always ready to move on to the next record; I’m always writing and working."
You’ve got six records now, how will you decide what makes it into your live set?
"It’s honestly tough to figure out which songs to play. I hear certain songs requested at shows often so I’m trying to honour those past requests, but also playing the songs I feel fit in this setting, you know?"
When will we see you back in the UK?
"I'll be over in Spring 2020!"
Chelsea Wolfe's new album Birth Of Violence is out now in hmv stores.