Chelsea Joy Wolfe (born November 14, 1983) is an American singer-songwriter and musician. Her work has blended elements of gothic rock, doom metal, and folk music.
Raised in Northern California with a country musician father, Wolfe began writing and recording songs during her childhood. She earned underground critical acclaim for her releases, The Grime and the Glow (2010) and Apokalypsis (2011), which blended gothic and folk elements, as well as her following albums, Pain Is Beauty (2013), Abyss (2015), and Hiss Spun (2017), in which Wolfe incorporated elements of neofolk, electronic and heavy metal.
Chelsea Wolfe was born in Roseville, California, She is of Norwegian and German descent. She was raised in Roseville and Sacramento. Her father was in a country band and owned a home studio. By the age of 7, she had written her first poem and by the age of 9, had written and recorded songs which she later described as "basically Casio-based gothy R&B songs".
Of her childhood, Wolfe said, "I grew up pretty fast. I had older sisters. By the time I was 11, I was drinking 40s." She also struggled with sleep paralysis as a child and through her teens, which landed her in the hospital for sleep studies; these experiences eventually became material for her albums Abyss and Hiss Spun.
Wolfe lived with her grandmother during a part of her childhood, who taught her about aromatherapy, Reiki and "other realms".
2006: Mistake in Parting
In 2006 Wolfe composed an album, titled Mistake in Parting, which was never officially released. Of the album, Wolfe said: "I was 21 years old and wrote a shitty singer-songwriter breakup album. I didn't even really want to be a musician back then, but a lot of my friends were like 'let's do this, I've got some producer friends' and they helped me make this over-produced, terrible record... I sort of took a break from music for a while since I wasn't happy with what I was making". Wolfe later commented that she scrapped the album largely because it had been written about events in her personal life: "I was writing really personal stuff about my own life, and I didn't feel comfortable at all... I didn't want [my music] to be so much about myself, and I just had to find a new perspective".
2010–2012: The Grime and the Glow and Apokalypsis
Wolfe's first widely released album, The Grime and the Glow (2010), was issued on New York-based independent label Pendu Sound Recordings, preceded that same year by the limited-edition albums Soundtrack VHS/Gold and Soundtrack VHS II. Her next album, Apokalypsis (2011), stylized as Ἀποκάλυψις, gained her an underground following, as well as critical acclaim, receiving favorable reviews in Pitchfork and CMJ. Wolfe toured extensively in North America and Europe to support both albums, and suffered from extreme stage fright; when she initially began performing live, Wolfe would wear a black veil over her face. "Performing was something that I had to learn," she said. "I could barely handle being onstage for the first few years, and it's the reason it took me so long to start my career as a musician".
2012–present: Sargent House
In 2012, Wolfe covered five songs by British anarcho-punk band Rudimentary Peni, and issued them as A Tribute To Rudimentary Peni on February 17 as a free download via Pendu Sound. She later rerecorded the Peni songs with her band at Southern Studios in London, and released them as an EP, Prayer for the Unborn, in January 2013 on Southern Records.
Wolfe signed with the label Sargent House in 2012 to release her third album. Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs was released on October 16, 2012, and featured a more folk-oriented sound, as opposed to her earlier work, which had been heavily centered on droning electric guitars and distortion. The acoustic album contained "'once-orphaned' songs", according to Wolfe. On July 28, 2012, the first single, "The Way We Used To", was premiered on NPR. On September 20, the second single, "Appalachia," was premiered on The Fader
Wolfe released a live album, Live at Roadburn, on September 28, 2012, recorded that April 12 at the Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands. Wolfe's fourth studio album, Pain Is Beauty, was released September 3, 2013, as well as an album trailer, followed by a supporting North American tour. During 2013 and 2014, Wolfe released two split 7-inch singles with King Dude, Sing Songs Together... and Sing More Songs Together..., and a live EP, Chelsea Wolfe Folkadelphia Session May 31, 2014.
Wolfe also contributed guest vocals to the American post-metal band Russian Circles' fifth studio album, Memorial, released in October 2013. Wolfe and Russian Circles toured Europe together in late 2013.
In 2014, she released a long-form film, Lone, featuring music from Pain Is Beauty and directed by Mark Pellington.
"Carrion Flowers", "Iron Moon" and "After the Fall" were released as the second, third and the fourth singles, respectively, from her forth album, Abyss (2015).
On April 1, 2016, Wolfe released the non-album 7-inch single "Hypnos", preceded by a music video on March 22. In January 2017, she announced a UK/European tour to begin in April.
Her fifth studio album, Hiss Spun, was released by Sargent House on September 22, 2017. She also appeared in collaborations on the 2017 Myrkur album Mareridt and the 2018 Deafheaven album Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.
In January 2019, Wolfe teased a new untitled album on Twitter, writing only "2019". On March 12, she revealed that the upcoming album will be largely acoustic, is being recorded in the woods of Northern California, and is inspired by current events. Longtime collaborator Ben Chisholm is co-producing the album, featuring some guest players such as drummer Jess Gowrie.
On June 18, 2019, Wolfe announced her sixth studio album, Birth of Violence and released the first single off the album, "The Mother Road". The album was released on September 13, 2019.
On May 14, 2020, Wolfe and her friend and drummer Jess Gowrie announced their collaborative project Mrs. Piss and their debut album, Self-Surgery with release date on May 29, 2020, through Sargent House.
In April 2016, Wolfe and bandmate Ben Chisholm were special guests for Converge's collaborative live performance, Blood Moon, along with Stephen Brodsky of Cave In and Steve Von Till of Neurosis. Limited to four European performances, the collective performed "ambient/post-rock interpretations" of various tracks from Converge's discography, particularly songs of their "lesser-heard and slower work". The first Blood Moon set took place at Postbahnhof in Berlin on April 11. The second took place at La Cartonnerie in Reims on April 12. The third took place at Electric Brixton in London on April 13. The fourth and final Blood Moon show took place at the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands on April 16.
She composed her first two albums on her mother's classical guitar, which was missing a tuning peg; as a result, the strings had to be tuned down, which was a stylistic element carried on to the studio recordings.
Musical style and influences
Wolfe has mentioned an array of artists and genres as influences, including black metal and Scandinavian folk music, but has said: "I do have a hard time sticking to one genre, and honestly I prefer it that way. I'd rather be free to experiment and make the kind of art I want to make than be easy to define." Various critics have noted elements of doom metal, drone metal, gothic rock, folk and dark ambient in her music. Aside from gothic and experimental, many critics have dubbed her sound "doom folk". Wolfe has said: "I think deep down I wish I had one of those really gritty voices like Kurt Cobain, so maybe I'm making up for it with distorted guitars." Mojo described her music as "Siouxsie & The Banshees territory [...], with treated strings, echoing drums and lashings of reverb surrounding her double-tracked, crushed velvet voice".
Wolfe has expressed a strong affinity for R&B music, citing Aaliyah as a huge influence on her career since her childhood. She said, "I grew up listening to my dad playing guitar while singing harmonies... As a kid I wanted to record my own songs so he set me up with an 8-track. The vibe of those earliest songs was like, Aaliyah meets Fleetwood Mac – what I was listening to mixed with what my parents were listening to. "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number" was my favorite song back then."
Other musical influences include Vladimir Vysotsky, Selda Bagcan, Nick Cave, Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt, Suicide, SPK, various "1920s and '30s music", Joy Division, and more recently, Black Sabbath, Sunn O))), Deftones, and Neurosis. In the past she mentioned Burzum as an influence, but later said that she considers Burzum's political views as too extreme.
Wolfe has cited the visual elements of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and photographer Nan Goldin as influences, as well as the writings of D.H. Lawrence and Ayn Rand. However, on September 24, 2015, she stated that with regard to her supposed affinity with Rand: "When I said I liked Ayn Rand many years ago I didn't know anything about what she stood for or what her books meant. I recant!". Other writers she has mentioned as inspirations include Marcel Proust, Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Sylvia Plath.
Since 2011, Wolfe has worked with New York-based costume designer and wardrobe stylist Jenni Hensler, whom she credits with helping her cultivate and develop her own original image. Hensler's costumes and styling work can be seen both in Wolfe's live performances and music videos, most recently in the video for "Be All Things."
Wolfe has been noted as having a soprano vocal range.
- The Grime and the Glow (2010)
- Apokalypsis (2011)
- Pain Is Beauty (2013)
- Abyss (2015)
- Hiss Spun (2017)
- Birth of Violence (2019)
- Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs (2012, Sargent House)
- Soundtrack VHS/Gold
- Live at Roadburn (2012, Roadburn Records)
Singles and EPs
- "Advice & Vices" digital single (2010, Pendu Sound Recordings)
- Prayer for the Unborn EP (2013, Southern Records)
- Sing Songs Together... split 7-inch single with King Dude (2013, Sargent House)
- Sing More Songs Together... split 7-inch single with King Dude (2014, Not Just Religious Music)
- Chelsea Wolfe Folkadelphia Session May 31, 2014 digital EP (2014, Folkadelphia)
- "Iron Moon" digital single (2015, Sargent House)
- "Carrion Flowers" digital single (2015, Sargent House)
- "After the Fall" digital single (2015, Sargent House)
- "Hypnos" 7-inch single (2016, Sargent House)
- "16 Psyche" digital single (2017, Sargent House)
- "Vex" digital single (2017, Sargent House)
- "Offering" digital single (2017, Sargent House)
- "The Culling" digital single (2017, Sargent House)
- Chelsea Wolfe – vocals, guitar
- Ben Chisholm – synth, bass, piano, electronics
- Jess Gowrie – drums
- Bryan Tulao – lead guitar
- Fred Sablan - bass
- Troy Van Leeuwen - guitars
- Dylan Fujioka – drums
- Kevin Dockter – lead guitar
- Andrea Calderon – violin
- Ezra Buchla – viola
- Drew Walker – drums
- Addison Quarles – bass
- Aurielle Zeitler – lead guitar (live)
- Mike Sullivan – guitar