Bringing home the dark
Folk-doom musician Chelsea Wolfe comes back to Sacramento
No one makes music quite like Chelsea Wolfe. The critically acclaimed artist blends rock with a melancholy and Gothic atmosphere, ambient yet heavy electronica and grunge-doom washed guitars, evoking comparisons to Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Siouxsie and the Banshees, even heavy metal titans YOB.
On Friday November 3, Wolfe returns home to Sacramento after a five-year absence. She’ll play Ace of Spades in support of her new album Hiss Spun, released through Los Angeles-based Sargent House Records on September 22.
“It’s a very intense set of songs,” Wolfe said.
Hiss Spun—like all of Wolfe’s music—is heavy and pulls no punches lyrically. The title track “Spun” expresses self-destructive chaos in the wake of loss: “You leave me restless, / you leave me hung, / you leave me coiled, / you leave me spun.”
The track “Vex” has lyrics suitable for a poetry reading or a prog-rock album, with the line: “Hush, Ancient Purr, I swore off obsidian thoughts, / and lay awake on broken glass.”
Wolfe cites literary influences including Walt Whitman and Dylan Thomas. She samples ambient noises like coyotes and motorcycles.
“(Musician) Ben Chisholm and I make these textures out of them,” she said. “Dealing with textures from our own lives to give them a more personal and tactile feeling.”
Wolfe said audiences seem to be reacting positively to the new album’s songs, and it’s not difficult to see why. Each of her five studio albums has its own sound, but each shares themes with her overall repertoire. Since 2010’s debut The Grime and the Glow, she has flirted with occult imagery and played with distortion using a Gothic aesthetic that refuses to be neatly packaged; Hiss Spun is definitely a “rock album,” as she puts it.
“I don’t think I ever stick to just one genre,” Wolfe said. “I like to experiment and I like to create my own world.”
Last year, Wolfe moved back to Northern California and now resides near Sacramento, which has served as her latest muse.
“A lot of it just had to do with revisiting memories that I haven’t thought about for a long time,” Wolfe said. “Dealing with things in my past that I haven’t dealt with yet. There’s some good times and there’s some darker times in there that I was definitely using without even really realizing it as inspiration for new songs.”
For the last seven years, Wolfe has been based out of Los Angeles. The last show she played in Sacramento was in 2012 at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub. She admits it did not go well, and at the time she said that this would be the “last Sacramento show” her band played. Wolfe said she wasn’t in the right headspace to come back home in 2012. But never say never, as the adage goes.
“I think I just needed some distance,” Wolfe said. “Any artist needs time away from their hometown … I think Sacramento is a really great incubator for bands—and it was definitely that for me in my early 20s.”
Wolfe’s first Sacramento-based band Red Host allowed her to experiment with different styles, ranging from acoustic singer-songwriter to rock music. Then, moving to LA helped her find her voice.
Hiss Spun encircles the listener in a sonic atmosphere of haunting melodies and mournful vocals. The track Twin Fawn stands out as exemplary of the album’s sound: a soft buildup to a woven cacophony of darkly distorted guitars. Each track feels simultaneously demanding of ferocious headbanging and deliciously soothing. Perhaps the album’s best mark of success is that it keeps getting better with each subsequent listen.