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In Sheep's Clothing

6 November 2012 | 7:30 am | Anthony Carew

"Singing and writing songs is something that comes very naturally to me, but being a performer and being up in front of people, that’s something that takes a lot of work..."

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Chelsea Wolfe makes dark, solemn music and presents a dark, solemn visage; the cover to her Apokalypsis LP shows her with black around her eyes yet whited-out irises, an image both beautiful and genuinely creepy. Thus, to the world, she is a goth revivalist; a little sister to Zola Jesus rummaging through old Siouxsie Sioux records. It's a reductionist take on an artist synthesising Finnish freak-folk, Norwegian black-metal, Dry/4-Track Demos of PJ Harvey and all manner of other beautiful and disquieting sounds.

“It's natural that people want to label you, [but] it's up to you to just not care about it,” says the softly-spoken Wolfe. “I don't consider my music to be 'goth', I consider my music 'reality' music. I'm not trying to create these fantasy worlds – I feel that my music is firmly rooted in daily reality. It's just that there's a dark side to even the most beautiful things in the world... People don't realise that a lot of my songs are meant to be love songs. And they are love songs – they're just a little bit deranged.”

Wolfe has thus far displayed her deranged love songs over three albums: 2010's The Grime And The Glow, 2011's Apokalypsis and her newly-pressed LP, Unknown Rooms: A Collection Of Acoustic Songs. Where the first two were dense with noisy guitar squalls and electronic rhythms, her latest strips the songs back, showcasing Wolfe's mournful voice against stark strings and spartan guitar.

The album came into being after Wolfe signed with Sargent House (the Los Angeles label/management home to Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Zach Hill, Fang Island, etc.), who suggested she compile old unreleased home-recordings. “When I started gathering those songs, I decided to write some new songs that were acoustic, and folk-like in nature,” Wolfe explains. “Once I started I didn't think it'd work having old and new recordings together, so the project became what it is – an album of songs that all inhabit the same sort of space.”

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Unknown Rooms' title suggests the spirit of the four-track aesthetic. Growing up in Northern California, Wolfe cut her teeth as home recorder; her father a country musician (in a band called El Dorado) who had a studio set-up. Wolfe started rolling tape on rudimentary Casio compositions at eight (“My dad recently made me a CD of all the songs I recorded when I was young,” she says, “I sounded like a little boy with my alto voice”), and persisted through her adolescence. After feeling unhappy with the music she was making, she stopped recording; only for a tour through Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, opening for a performance-art theatre group, to coax her out of a premature retirement.

“Play[ing] songs in all these unusual spaces,” Wolfe recounts, of the tour, “it gave me a chance to really explore, to find my voice. When I came back to California I began taking my eight-track around to different spaces, recording with different people, and that was the first time I really felt good about the music I was making.”

That became The Grime And The Glow, which trickled out into the blogosphere early in 2011, with Apokalypsis following later that year. With her name suddenly known, Wolfe set out to play shows; something at odds with her natural shyness. “It's such a vulnerable position to put yourself in – there's so much energy being exchanged, so many eyes looking at you,” she says. “Singing and writing songs is something that comes very naturally to me, but being a performer and being up in front of people, that's something that takes a lot of work... I used to be really bad, like I'd play three songs and freak out and leave the stage. But I definitely don't do that anymore; I'm determined these days to do my best, no matter what.”

Chelsea Wolfe will be playing the following shows:

Thursday 8 November - Oxford Arts Factory, Sydney NSW
Friday 9 & Monday 12 November - Northcote Social Club, Melbourne VIC
Sunday 11 November - The Bakery, Perth WA