In the midst of this year’s CMJ festivities, WDRKMR (Alexander Iezzi and Jordan Robin), caught up with Los Angeles-based musician Chelsea Wolfe. They found her at stylist Jenni Hensler’s Williamsburg loft for a rainy afternoon of dress-up and conversation.
WDRKMR: Photographing you was especially fantastic because of your visible transformation when you get into wardrobe and in front of the camera. Can you tell us about how style and performance affect you as an artist/musician?
Chelsea Wolfe: I really liked working with you guys too. I found traces of flowers scattered down the stairs later. I’m one of those wear-on-the-outside-what-you-feel-on-the-inside sort of people, so getting dressed or dressed up has a lot to do with what’s on my mind or heart any given day. Lately I’ve been really inspired by layers, furs, leather, and jewelry that doubles as a weapon or armor. I don’t consider myself a visual artist at all, so trying to bring together clothing that suits the music is a good challenge for me..
WDRKMR: You started with theater, didn’t you? Were you playing music all the while or did you transition from one to the other?
Chelsea: I didn’t start with theater, actually… I mean, I’ve been indirectly involved with things of that sort my whole life, but it took me a really long time to feel comfortable as a performer and not just someone who records and stays hidden. I’m naturally a pretty hermitic person.
WDRKMR: Either way, there is a very theatrical quality to your music not only because of styling and performance, but there is also a sonic drama that matches the mood of your look. Which would you say comes first? Does the music develop from the mood, or does the mood develop from the music?
Chelsea: They work together. I’m always trying to create an atmosphere and a film screen within each song. I want something bigger than sound.
WDRKMR: Can you identify a moment when your interest in fashion came to be? How would you explain the role of fashion in your work?
Chelsea: I’ve always been interested in fashion, and of course being able to follow collections from afar on the internet helps create constant inspiration. I didn’t understand what sort of silhouettes I wanted or needed for a long time, I would just wear layers of black. But now I’m experimenting more and trying to find the right shapes for me and clothing that brings together form and function. I need to be able to move around and breathe and know that what I’m wearing isn’t going to come apart. I like straps and laces and clasps. I can’t stand wearing something that feels like it’s going to fall off if I move an inch. I like things that look medical or strangely oversized or out of date. Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Alexander McQueen, Mordekai, Iris van Herpen…
WDRKMR: What draws you to the dark and often occult objects that you use in styling? For example the detailed headpieces, oversized spikes, horns, etc. We noticed Jenni had a lot of symbolic accessories for you.
Chelsea: I think it’s an affinity for toughness, warriors, nordic folk and white trash… and something elegant mixed in. Kind of black metal in a less blatant way. Yes, Jenni does an amazing job of understanding my all-over-the-place influences and bringing them together in a cohesive way.
WDRKMR: How do you identify yourself and your work? Would you say that Chelsea Wolfe is a musician, an artist, or something other?
Chelsea: I think musician and artist are the same thing for me. I approach music in a way that has privacy and integrity and is influenced more by film, visual art, books, than by other music.
WDRKMR: Would you say you have a different persona onstage or on camera than off? What are the similarities and differences between Chelsea Wolfe onstage and Chelsea Wolfe offstage?
Chelsea: No, pretty much the same. A combination of shy and rage. I am pretty moody, not a jerk, but my mood ranges in extremes within a day, show, hour.
WDRKMR: We have been interviewing a number of people working in different creative fields, we’ve found that while disciplines and process change, there are two constants in the creative world: wandering and dreams. Would you say that these things are part of your process? Also, do you remember your dreams? Can you tell us about a dream you’ve had?
Chelsea: Well, last night I dreamed that Rei Kawukabo brought me some Comme des Garçons dresses in different shades of red. Usually my dreams are very elaborate, like little movies, with lots of colors and shapes. When I was younger I had night terrors, I would scream in my sleep, but really I was just having these repetitive, maddening dreams about one singular object growing large and small over and over. I think it helped shape my perspective of size and distance, which is really kind of off. If you didn’t mean literal dreams, I’ll say I also find dreams as in goals very important. It wasn’t until I started admitting that I wanted to succeed as a musician that I found a single ounce of success. And I still have a very long way to go!
WDRKMR: Can you describe what your process is like?
Chelsea: Creative process? It depends. Sometimes inspiration hits me out of nowhere, like a crush, you know? And I just become obsessed with something without really knowing much about it, or him, or her, and I follow that inspiration wherever it leads. But sometimes I’ll do research on a subject and fill my head with words and pictures pertaining to something that intrigues me and write songs and work on things that way.
WDRKMR: Are you originally from Los Angeles? I am. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the unique creative energy I find in LA and how it differs from New York, or another city where there is a bit more of a street culture and a more confined space to walk through the streets. I spend a lot of time walking with my headphones and thinking of ideas, but in LA there is a different way of using the place to find inspiration because of car culture and the way the city is set up. Is there somewhere you go or a location you find inspiring? Do you use the city in your creative process?
Chelsea: I’m from Northern California, on the outskirts of the capital city. I think the place I grew up influenced me a lot. A big, old, overgrown house across the street from the train tracks and next-door to a railroad museum. Something about forward-motion and nature mixing with humanity. I’ve lived in LA for a year and it has new inspiration. This glittering darkness, the constant sun and smog, dirty and sparkling. I love it. I’m constantly surprised by new areas of LA and the different feel each place has. I don’t mind car culture because I’m not really one to be out in the open a lot. Walking around with a lot of other people makes me paranoid. But I do love New York and I think in a setting like that I’m able to actually forget that anyone is around me and just pretend I’m alone. If I ever get nervous onstage I use that same trick.
Photographs by WDRKMR (Alexander Iezzi & Jordan Robin)
Styling by Jenni Hensler
Top image: neck piece made of broken mirror shards, made by stylist; gloves, Dolce & Gabbana; dress, Gemma Kahng; headpiece, Bevel
Second image: chain headpiece, Mordekai; neckpiece, Gris Gris; dress, Mandy Coon
Third image: fur arms, Logan Neitzel; tunic, Gemma Kahng; skirt, Mandy Coon; belt and wrist cuff, Mordekai; headpiece, Bevel
Fourth image: neck piece made of broken mirror shards, made by stylist; gloves, Dolce & Gabbana; dress, Gemma Kahng; headpiece, Bevel
Fifth image: fur arms, Logan Neitzel; tunic, Gemma Kahng; skirt, Mandy Coon; belt, rings and wrist cuff, Mordekai
Sixth image: metal halo, Mordekai; leather top, Gris Gris; vintage lace top, Christian Lacroix; skirt, Timothy K;
gloves, Dolce & Gabbana; ring, Bevel
Seventh image: fur arms, Logan Neitzel; tunic, Gemma Kahng; skirt, Mandy Coon; belt and wrist cuff, Mordekai; headpiece, Bevel; belt, wrist cuff and rings, Mordekai