Chelsea Wolfe: Music from your nightmares

by Jared Curtis

One of the scariest parts of having a nightmare is not being able to wake up from it, but eventually, once you open your eyes, the nightmare is over. Except if you’re a person who suffers from Sleep Paralysis — a transitional state between being awake and sleeping where the person temporarily experiences the inability to move, speak or react — much like musician Chelsea Wolfe, who uses her inability to wake up to create a new, unique sound filled with pounding beats and droning keyboards that has been described as “industrial doom-folk.”

“Sleep paralysis manifests different ways for different people. For me, my body isn’t paralyzed but I can still see the figures from my dreams when I open my eyes, like shadows. At times it’s felt so real that I’ve lashed out. It really just creates a state of mind,” Wolfe said during our interview. “It’s a strange way to wake up, there’s a lot of anxiety and paranoia, seeing things that aren’t there. It definitely creeps into the rest of the day.”

Wolfe has fought back against the shadowy figures she sees when she wakes, by using her feelings to create unique, scary sounding industrial folk tunes – unlike anything you’re hearing today – making a horrific score to your nightmares on her newest album Abyss. Adding to the scary music is Wolfe’s haunting visuals, so do yourself a favor and don’t watch her videos alone in the dark.

“We did want it to have a dreamy quality, but it goes from peaceful dreams to really torrential ones so there are a lot of ups and downs,” she said. “We used a lot of samples from real life — sounds of electricity, thunder, planes taking off — and they kind of come in and out, like when you’re sleeping and a sound from the outside is incorporating into your dream, like a phone ringing or someone saying your name. There are also some repeated lines throughout the album, a nod to recurring dreams.”

Wolfe, who had recently resided in L.A., decided she needed to get away from all the hustle and bustle to record Abyss. So she moved out of the city to the “middle of nowhere” and began working on her new album.

“Where I was living in LA was a noisy, hectic neighborhood in a big, old, decrepit house with a million roommates. Although that house gave me two albums (Pain is Beauty and Unknown Rooms), it was time to leave and find some new sounds and energy,” she said. “I found a lot of freedom in living in the middle of nowhere. I set up a home studio and felt really free to just dive in.”

After working on demos for the album, Wolfe headed south to Dallas, TX, to record Abyss.

“I worked with my bandmate/co-producer Ben Chisholm and drummer Dylan Fujioka on the demos before we went out to Dallas, but once we were there, there were so many new ingredients in the studio that the songs took on new life,” she said. “We worked with John Congleton at his spot (he produced it), Mike Sullivan from Russian Circles came down and added a lot of rad parts, and Ezra Buchla played amazing viola on a lot of the songs. The mixing process was much faster than I’m used to, but we still went back and forth a lot with mixes even after leaving the studio because I’m a perfectionist in my own weird way.”

Originally starting as a solo act, Wolfe has grown her stage show and presence over the years, allowing the more rocking songs on Abyss to come alive on stage with Wolfe and her band.

“My shows have been a natural evolution, and it’s gone a bit back and forth between acoustic folk music, rock ‘n’ roll and electronic,” she said. “Honestly, I imagined that my next album after Pain is Beauty would be an acoustic one, as I was writing a lot of songs in that realm, but we were also touring so much and with a lot of great rock bands. I thought more about the live show and decided to make sure the album had some heavy songs that would be good to play live, and things naturally went in a heavier direction overall because of that I think.”

Along with the critic and fan praise Wolfe is receiving for Abyss, her music is beloved by executives as well. Wolfe has had songs featured on some prominent TV shows including Game of Thrones and most recently AMC’s newest zombie show Fear the Walking Dead.

“I know with Game of Thrones someone at my record label sent them one of my songs in demo form, and then a year later when it came out on an album, they asked to use it for the trailer,” she said. “I had attempted to write a song for a scene of The Walking Dead last year, and even though it wasn’t used, it was cool that Fear the Walking Dead ended up using another song of mine. It’s been great and hopefully someday I’ll have a song in American Horror Story, that would be really cool!”

Wolfe is looking forward to playing Bellingham again, but she’s more excited for fans to see her on the  tour’s final date when she plays The Shakedown on Friday, Oct. 2.

“I’m excited for my fans to hear the music in a live setting, plus, this is the last stop on this tour, so I imagine we’ll be in a pretty good place with all these new songs we’re playing,” she said.

LIVE SHOW: See Chelsea Wolfe at The Shakedown on Friday, Oct. 2. For more information about her see www.chelseawolfe.net. 

Published in the September 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine