After scoring rave reviews for 2011's Apokalypsis, goth folkie Chelsea Wolfe has changed gears for her latest LP, Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs. Wolfe's bleakness remains intact, but the loud dissonance that dominated Apokalypsis has been replaced by acoustic guitars, violin and voila on Rooms, which allow Wolfe's ethereal voice to slither in and out of the record's sparse arrangements. For the latest edition of Tell Me About That Album, the L.A.-via-Sacramento singer-songwriter answered our questions about the record via email. She plays the Triple Door on January 14th.
Was making the album an exercise in restraint? Is it more challenging to create a mood out of silence than one out of noise? I actually don't really put restraints on myself or my music, and decided to make my own definition of "acoustic" when I approached the album. I enjoyed working within a different realm though and keeping things softer than usual.
The arrangements on the album are pretty sparse. How did you settle on just including violin and viola in addition to guitar and bass? There is also analog synths and a lot of vocal layers, but in the mixing process I'd make sure they weren't overpowering things. I've always loved viola and violin and was lucky to find two great players to add raw emotion to the songs.
Were you at all worried about the record feeling disjointed because the songs hadn't been written as a single cohesive unit? I titled it as a "collection" because of the span of time the songs cover.
You've said you don't listen to a lot of music, which makes me wonder what your biggest inspirations or muses tend to be, specifically or otherwise? Books, film, world news, life experience, simplicity, the intensity of nature.
Can you share some of the backstory behind the title Unknown Rooms and talk a bit about why it spoke to you? I came across the phrase "unknown rooms" and it stood out to me instantly. I wrote it down to remember it. I found that it was in reference to dream interpretation. Finding or creating rooms in your dreams represents revealing a hint into the afterlife or a part of yourself you hadn't been ready to conquer in the past. I'm not big on dream interpretation actually but I do often write in a sort of dream-like state and the meaning of this phrase was aligned with the feel of the album for me.
What is your process of making and selecting artwork for your albums like? Each one has such an interesting cover, including your latest. For Unknown Rooms, I knew I wanted to work with someone familiar, so I asked my friend Kristin Cofer to shoot the photos. We've worked together for a long time and she's a good friend. She told me about a supposedly haunted hotel overlooking a cliff in the Bay Area so we rented a room and spent the day there shooting. Turned out we were the only tenants that night and even the man at the front desk went home so we had the entire hotel to ourselves to explore. Many of the rooms were open. The hotel used to be a brothel and each room was named after a different girl and had a different decor and mood.
Aesthetics are a big part of what you do. Have music and images always been aligned for you in that way? Aesthetic is important to me. One thing that I've kept pretty simple though is the stage. I like to wear mostly black and have the band wear black and not have too much else going on because it's not my style to have a big stage production or distractions. I'd rather have people close their eyes and see visuals in their mind. I don't consider myself a visual artist. I only know how to paint pictures with sound. But when it comes to photos and video I love to experiment with intensity and fashion and have as much fun exploring my interests in that area as possible. I like to create a story.
I wouldn't say Los Angeles was a very goth city, what with all the sunshine, beaches and fair-haired aspiring actresses. How have you found it as a place to live? Growing up in Northern California, I do miss the landscape and seasons and especially the cold, grey days, but L.A. has it's own strange darkness, it's more of a glittering darkness, covered in smeared makeup. There's always something hidden. But I've also met a great number of amazing, genuine people there and am really enjoying my time living in L.A.
Listeners of your first albums might not have known you had interest in folks like Townes Van Zandt and Hank Williams. Is there anything that you think comes through in your writing that you took from the influence of folk music? I've always loved great voices in folk, even if that influence doesn't come through in my own music. One of my favorite voices is Selda Bagcan, a Turkish singer with so much soul. Vladimir Vystotsky is another. I adore Townes Van Zandt, Roy Orbison. I need passion in music and voices. So much music these days lacks soul and people forget how important the soul of music is.
What comes to mind when you think about Seattle? I absolutely love Seattle. I always get excited when I'm driving into Washington.. the trees, the smell. I know so many good people from Seattle. I'm never surprised when a lovely person I've met reveals that they are from Seattle. I have visited a lot of cities in the past year on tour but Seattle is still one of my very favorites.