Artist finds inspiration in macabre

Chelsea Wolfe discusses the making of “Pain Is Beauty.”

Ingmar Bergman’s 1950s Swedish horror classic “The Seventh Seal,” black metal and the intensity of nature have little in common. However, all converge as influences on the latest Chelsea Wolfe release.

Wolfe, a purveyor of eclectic indie music that exists firmly in the realm of the macabre, is embarking on a two month U.S. and European tour in support of her brand new full length, “Pain Is Beauty.” The new record maintains the doomy, folky sensibilities of her previous works, while for the first time incorporating elements of electronic music.

Wolfe’s latest musical endeavor is particularly noteworthy when examined in the timeline of her discography. Wolfe’s previous record “Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs” was an exercise in minimalism. In lieu of electric guitars and synthesizers, Wolfe utilized violins, violas, acoustic guitars and samples of her own voice to create a haunting ethereal landscape. But while the same gloominess is present on the new record, so are some noticeable changes.

While “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone” and “We Hit a Wall” are songs that follow in Wolfe’s tradition of sullen folk music, sprinkled throughout “Pain Is Beauty” are tracks such as “Feral Love” and “The Warden,” which stand in stark contrast to the brooding down-tempo of her previous works by incorporating drum machines and synthesizers.

“It’s definitely happened naturally,” Wolfe said. “To be honest, music doesn’t really have a specific order, and music doesn’t exist on an accurate timeline. It happens out of time and out of order. And I wrote a lot of songs on ‘Pain Is Beauty’ even before I wrote the acoustic album. For me, it’s more about finding the right time and place. The electronic songs have been written for a while now.”

However, even when it comes to creating beats, Wolfe is sure to put her unique, grim spin on it.

“We made a beat out of an industrial elevator so it’s not always drum samples,” Wolfe said. “They’re actual sounds from the world and that was important to me.”

The tour that Wolfe has just embarked upon is a lengthy undertaking. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Chelsea Wolfe is not an artist that relishes in the spotlight. Indicative of this is the fact that she used to perform under a veil. But it appears that this is a fear that she has at least somewhat put on the backburner, as her latest tour consists of 47 dates spanning across 17 countries.

“[Touring is] kind of something that I’ve accepted as part of my job,” Wolfe said. “But I’ve also learned to love the live experience a bit more in the fact that it can be really special if the energy is right and if the mood is right. Sometimes it is a big challenge for me to be able to get on stage and I wish I could be invisible, but it’s something I’m constantly struggling to overcome.”

Aesthetically, Wolfe has little in common with her folk and indie contemporaries. Spotting Wolfe in a color other than black, with the exception of a vintage red dress that she sports on the cover of “Pain Is Beauty,” is a rarity. She used to perform live with a black Gibson SG, the guitar famously used by Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi. It has only recently made way for a Fender Jaguar, decked out in all black, of course. And Wolfe is just as prone to soothe listeners with a melody as she is to battering them with dissonance. But somehow, Wolfe manages to make it work.

“Honestly, my musical influences and background are a bit all over the place,” Wolfe said. “I really love old country and black metal. I love ‘70s rock ‘n roll, so I think all those styles of music come together in my head somehow and kind of created the music that I make.”

Her strange and eclectic musical background began during her early youth. Her father, a country musician, had a home studio that Wolfe was able to tinker with.

“”I think that was the most influential on me because I learned how to record at a young age, and I started writing songs at a young age,” Wolfe said. “I started making music when I was nine years old and I never really stopped.”

In addition to spooky films from yesteryear, the music of Wolfe is prompted from several other places that are less than traditional.

“I’m inspired by the intensity of nature,” Wolfe said. “And I’m interested in instincts, feral love, fighting for the ones that you love and fighting to survive. There’s definitely an aspect of that in there. And nature in general is very inspiring. It could be peaceful, it can be scary, it can be intense and it could be light.”

Chelsea Wolfe, along with True Widow, will be swinging by Philadelphia’s own Union Transfer on Saturday, Sept. 14.

David Zisser can be reached at

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