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Chelsea Wolfe on Creating Textures and Why You Should Play With Others

The singer/songwriter talks about her unique sound and how guitars have songs inside them.

For nearly a decade, Chelsea Wolfe has spanned the worlds of folk music, goth rock, electronica and metal.

And as her latest release, Hiss Spun, shows, the Northern California native is still evolving.

With a father who had a country band and a home studio, Wolfe grew up in a musical household just outside of Sacramento and began experimenting with recording at a young age. Wolfe began recording in earnest around 2009, putting out her well-received lo-fi debut LP The Grime and the Glow a year later and gaining even more acclaim with 2011’s more refined Apokalypsis.

Wolfe’s versatility was on full display with her acoustic third album, Unknown Rooms (2013) before veering back into dark electronic territory with 2013’s Pain is Beauty and 2015’s Abyss.

She has now doubled down on that doomy vibe with the brooding Hiss Spun, a collection of deeply personal songs that is Wolfe’s most metal album to date. Bringing together longtime collaborator Ben Chisholm, drummer Jess Gowrie, Queens of the Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen, Isis’ Aaron Turner and Converge’s Kurt Ballou, Wolfe’s ethereal soprano floats above growling guitars and sludgy beats.

Here, Wolfe discusses how she crafted her unique sound, what initially drew her to writing her own songs and why she is continually compelled to grow as a musician.

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”My dad has a Telecaster he called ‘Baby.’”

“He just had a ton of guitars laying around all the time. That Telecaster was his pride and joy, so I always just admired guitars. But eventually, he showed me a few things, a few chords. He taught me how to play ‘Angie’ by the Rolling Stones.”

”I learned to play guitar by writing songs.”

“It was just more like what felt good in my hands and just creating shapes. I'd say a lot of my style, per se, is like really circular and kind of like trance-y in a way. I tend to write repeated parts and just kind of like trip out on that for a while, and then expand from there.”

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”I'm a really big fan of Jazzmasters and Jaguars because I like the asymmetrical offset look. I like things that are a little imperfect-looking.”

“At first, I actually was playing this guitar from like a thrift store that was my old drummer's that had no name on it, so I don't even know what it was. But it was rad, and that was kind of my introduction to electric guitars. And then I walked into a guitar store one day, not with the intention of buying a guitar. Just probably getting some cables or something, and there was a Fender Jaguar with a brown satin finish. It just like drew me to it.”

”I don’t like to stick to one specific sound.”

“It also kind of depends on what group of songs I'm playing at a time because I've done a lot of different tours where I'm doing an acoustic set or a blended set with string players. Lately, it's been more rock and roll, so if you ask me what type of music I play, tomorrow I'd probably just say, ‘Rock and roll.’ Or experimental rock or atmospheric rock or something. The sound in my band, I think, is creating textures. It’s rock music, but within our own weird, cinematic realm.”

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“Playing with other people is helpful because it pushes you.”

“If you have an obligation to other people to like be somewhere at a certain time and and play music, you have to make sure everyone has it together. Put together a band, find some other people who are aspiring musicians and just go for it. Find other people who are aspiring musicians or learning an instrument and just get it together. I think having the obligation to other people to be somewhere at a certain time and like getting your gear together will really help motivate you.”

“I think guitars have songs inside them.”

“I like to have a guitar in like every room of the house. They're kind of like friends hanging out, you know? It’s good to just be able to pick one up whenever you have an idea or some inspiration or just want to practice. I think it's just good to have them around as your buddies. I've never been a collector of anything, but I'm starting to slowly collect guitars, and that's been really fun learning about which kinds I like, which sounds I like.”

Click here for more from Chelsea Wolfe.