ABQ Free Press caught up with Chelsea Wolfe by email to discuss her current tour, the darkness of her personal “Abyss” and sleep paralysis.
Iron Moon in the ‘Abyss’: An Interview with Chelsea Wolfe
BY M. BRIANNA STALLINGS
We all must hit the road to Dreamland. If we’re lucky, it’s a pleasant enough voyage – a muddled confabulation of the day’s thoughts, convo and concerns. Aye, there’s the rub though.
For some of us, what dreams may come seem less an intriguing amalgamation and more like we’re trapped on Willy Wonka’s Wondrous Boat Ride replete with attendant horrors.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates 40 million Americans suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders. These range from insomnia to horrifically vivid nightmares to sleep paralysis.
Imagine not knowing whether you’re awake or asleep. Imagine hallucinating a stranger in your bedroom. Then, imagine you can’t move … because your own body won’t let you. That’s sleep paralysis. Perchance to dream, indeed.
Sleep problems have plagued dark Scorpio singer Chelsea Wolfe since childhood, with no traceable origin save an overactive imagination. That eerie roiling dissonance also plays out in her music, which combines elements of goth rock, folk horror, black metal and electronica.
Wolfe recorded a tribute to British anarcho-punk band Rudimentary Peni, lent her vocals to an album from post-metal band Russian Circles and cites an eclectic assortment of sonic influences, including late R&B singer Aaliyah, Russian singer-songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky, dark-folk lord Nick Cave and country legend Hank Williams.
With such a hodgepodge of styles at work, Wolfe’s sound could be distinctively divisive, but her music connects rather than separates. Her most recent album, 2015’s “Abyss,” delves deeply into Wolfe’s own nighttime underworld to brilliant effect. Wolfe performs at Sister (407 Central NW) on Tuesday, April 26. Doors are at 8 p.m., and the show starts at 9. New Zealand brother duo A Dead Forest Index open. Admission is $16, and tickets to this 21-plus recital are available at holdmyticket.com.
ABQ Free Press caught up with Wolfe by email to discuss her current tour, the darkness of her personal “Abyss” and sleep paralysis.
ABQ Free Press: You’ve toured with everyone from Queens of the Stone Age to Russian Circles and Wovenhand. How is it touring with A Dead Forest Index?
Chelsea Wolfe: I’ve definitely gotten to tour with a lot of rad bands. A Dead Forest Index toured with us before on our last European tour, and it was great to hear them play every night. It’s intimate, beautiful music [that’s] well-served in a live setting.
Tell us about your latest album “Abyss.” What challenges did you face in creating this record?
I knew going into it that “Abyss” was going to be a difficult album to write, because I wanted to approach some things deep in me that I’d been avoiding for a while. I knew it was gonna get dark.
“Abyss” examines your lifelong struggles with sleep disorders, including night terrors and sleep paralysis. What are your thoughts on broaching such personal, tenuous territory in your songwriting?
I’ve had strange sleep and dream issues since I was a kid. At one point, my parents took me to a sleep research center to figure out what was going on – because I’d lash out violently in my sleep and they couldn’t get me to wake up or I’d have insomnia for days because I didn’t want to go to sleep and deal with the nightmares.
I asked them about this recently to make sure it wasn’t some made-up memory and they said it was true, but that the doctors couldn’t find anything particularly wrong with me. As I got older, I started having sleep paralysis but I didn’t know it was called that, and I never talked about it. It was just normal for me.
Almost every night I’d wake up, and the figures from my dreams were still there in the room with me – moving towards me. It got worse when I moved to Los Angeles and was living in a loud, chaotic part of town in a house full of roommates. I made the decision to move out into the mountains while I was recording “Abyss.” That helped a lot.
Producer John Congleton has been at the helm of a lot of fantastic recent albums, “Abyss” included. I’ve interviewed quite a few artists who have called upon his skills. Can you tell me more about your experience of working with Congleton?
If I’m honest, there was a lot of tension between John and I. We approach music and recording differently, but I think that’s one of the reasons it worked so well. I was in Dallas for about a month, staying at a shitty hotel off the highway, and during the day, we’d hole up in John’s studio and work out the sounds for the album.
One of my favorite things he’d do sound-wise was take a part I’d written on guitar and have us try it on a different instrument or a synth. There’s a lot of Moog bass synth on the album that gave it a depth that made sense with the lyrics.
You’ve cited a number of artists working in visual mediums as influences including filmmaker Werner Herzog. How important is imagery to your songwriting process?
Images don’t necessarily influence my songwriting process, but I’ve always been a fan of soundtrack music and film score, and I think cinematically when I’m writing.
I like to close my eyes and see the movement of the music there. Sometimes it’s chaotic shapes, sometimes colors. Herzog has a way of approaching a seemingly simple subject and presenting it as magic. That’s something I also strive for in my music.
M. Brianna Stallings makes words work.
Featured photo credit: Jeff Elstone
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