The Weekly interview: Singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe

Intense atmosphere: Chelsea Wolfe opens for Queens of the Stone Age on February 13.
Photo: Zohn Mandel

Known for her haunting, ambient and sometimes folk-tinged songs, Chelsea Wolfe was first noticed for her cover of “Black Spell of Destruction,” a song by Norwegian black metal artist (and convicted murderer and arsonist) Burzum, in 2010. Wolfe’s fourth studio album, last year’s Pain Is Beauty, has been called morbid, magical and, despite her dislike of the term, gothic.

You’ve said in interviews that you used to suffer from stage fright. Has that been an issue while touring with Queens of the Stone Age? Sometimes. We’re playing a lot of seated theaters, so sometimes it’s a little strange to play a rock ’n’ roll set to people who are sitting down. There’s something about that that feels a little vulnerable. Sometimes I feel fine; some nights I have this weird sense of claustrophobia and stage fright that I can’t really describe. It kind of just depends on how I’m doing that day, or the venue or whatever. But I definitely would have to say playing to bigger audiences is easier, in a way, because there’s a lack of intimacy that makes it a little bit easier just to kinda forget about everything. But sometimes playing intimate spaces is really amazing and special as well, so it could go either way, I guess. So basically, the answer is very inconclusive.

Is your live show more rock-intense than the recordings? The sound is pretty atmospheric and tranquil on the [new] record [Pain Is Beauty]. Well, we definitely still keep a lot of the atmospheric sensibilities in there for the live set. I have a band with a keyboard, synthesizer, bass, two guitars, drums and everything, so there’s definitely a lot of layers. I guess in that way it kind of makes sense for people to be sitting down, ’cause it’s something that’s kind of cinematic, where they just sort of close their eyes and listen. I don’t mind it; it just takes some getting used to, looking out at the audience who’s kinda just chillin’ in their chairs.

Your music is influenced by a number of genres. What got you into black metal and Nordic folk? I don’t know. I mean, my taste in music has always been pretty diverse. I grew up on country and heavy metal, and when I got older I got introduced to black metal and rock bands like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. Then I went back to listening to folk music for a while. My taste is all over the place. I can’t really explain why I like what I like; I don’t think anyone can. But I think all these different sounds definitely influence my own way of approaching music.

You were featured on the latest Russian Circles album, for the title-track “Memorial.” Are there any other artists that you’re looking to collaborate with in the future? I guess I’ll just see where the musical road leads me. There’s been some opportunities that I just was not able to do, [but] hopefully I’ll get to do some more collaborations, because there’s a lot of artists that I really like out there.

Anyone specific? I mean, there’s a bunch of artists that I like that I’d love to collaborate with, but I don’t want to jinx it by saying it out loud.

In 2010, you did a cover of Burzum’s “Black Spell of Destruction.” Why cover someone who has such a dark past? Well, I did that cover a long time ago, and I have a way of just falling in love with a book or a song or an album or movie or whatever and not really finding anything out about the actual artist. I have a tendency to separate the art from the artist most of the time. With Burzum, I had kinda been recently introduced to his music, and I really dug that song. And one day I just woke up and spent the day covering it, put it up and YouTube and didn’t really think much about it. That song was actually one of [my] first things that got out there in the world, just ’cause a cool music writer, Brandon Stosuy, wrote about it on a blog and it was kind of the first attention that my music or singing got. So it’s kind of a blessing and a curse, because that happened and it was really cool to get some exposure, but it also haunts me because people ask me why I covered this guy and ask me all the time if I believe in his ideals. And it’s like, no way man. When I cover an artist or when I read a book, it’s not because I’m into the person’s ideals. I also really like Ayn Rand’s books, but I don’t believe in all her ideals and her way of thinking.

“Gothic” style is really popular right now, both in fashion and music. Has that helped or hurt you as a musician? I think the term goth is probably a little overused or just has too general of a definition these days, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff. When I was first starting out and getting out there, I think it bothered me more to get grouped in, because I’m kind of a loner and I didn’t want to be grouped in with some sort of scene or have people think I was in some sort of scene I wasn’t actually associated with or whatever. And I didn’t actually listen to things that would be labeled goth when I was growing up or anything like that. I was more into Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. I think there’s some pretty legendary musicians like Nina Hagen, who have maintained this punk or rock ’n’ roll or goth or whatever you want to call it way of dressing and presenting themselves, even into being an older musician, that’s really cool. So for me it’s not some sort of passing fad, where I’m like, “Oh I’m goth right now.” I just dress a certain way, and I definitely don’t think of it as goth. There’s a lot of designers that make a lot of amazing black clothing, like Ann Demeulemeester and Rick Owens and things like that that I really love, but I don’t think of it as goth. I just really like black.

Your Vegas show is the last on your Queens of the Stone Age tour. Does that mean you’ll be able to check out some stuff while you’re here? Well I think my friend, Kristen Cofer, who’s a photographer that I work with a lot, is gonna come out there and film a little bit, probably for a music video or something. We’re not really sure for what yet, but we just like to document stuff and make things with it. But we’re gonna head back to LA pretty quick and work on some stuff there. But I’m really excited to come to Las Vegas, I’ve never actually been there for more than just, like, a layover.

What else will you be working on during 2014? I have a lot of stuff that’s kind of up in the air that I can’t announce yet, but I know this summer I’m going to be going back over to Europe, and in the fall I’ll do some more U.S. touring, basically working on these songs, working on video projects. Nothing’s too defined, I suppose. It’s not like I’m going back into the studio any time soon—just kinda working and seeing where it leads me.

Chelsea Wolfe opening for Queens of the Stone Age February 13, 8 p.m., $35. The Joint, 693-5222.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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