Interview: Chelsea Wolfe

chelsea wolfe, interviewSoutherns’ Latitudes sessions began as a way for Southern to pay tribute to John Peel and his legendary BBC Radio One sessions while facilitating a way for artists whom they admire to utilize the Southern studio, which has seen the likes of My Bloody Valentine, The Fall, Sonic Youth, and many others since the 1970’s.

Recently, after a delay from the pressing plant (likely due to the massive production run on the Beatles box late last year), I received Chelsea Wolfe’s, Prayer for the Unborn, a collection of songs originally written and performed by legendary UK band Rudimentary Peni. Pressed on gorgeous red vinyl, the songs have been reimagined and filtered through Chelsea’s tinted perspective. The album is a brooding meditation on space, power and constraint and marks the latest from Southern Records “Latitudes” sessions.

Currently on tour for her new album, Chelsea took a few minutes to answer some questions about her process and the Latitudes session.

How does appropriation factor into your approach to art/music?
I approach any new song or project or album in a very instinctual way, so basically I sing what comes naturally without overthinking it. When I first recorded the Rudimentary Peni songs I was experimenting with singing in my full voice, pushing it to its limits for some songs and then holding it back for a couple. I was drawn to the frantic energy behind the voice and lyrics of the original music and it really haunted me until I finally sang them myself in my own frantic way.

Interiority and dreamspace seem to be characteristics of yours. Even without delay/reverb on your vocals you still manage to capture that feeling. Does that stem from your approach to vocal delivery?
It probably stems from my headspace when I’m writing, really. I often imagine the landscape or mood of the song in my head when I’m writing or performing. Something cinematic.

There is also considerable “space” in the songs both on Apokalypsis and Unknown Rooms, likewise on Prayer for the Unborn. Is the space between as important as the notes?
My friend Steve Vanoni brought that up to me once, in a complimentary way. I hadn’t thought about it before, but it made sense.

Do space and melody inform each other?
I suppose it does. I like to let things ring out, especially when I’m singing through pedals, to see what happens and let the mood hang for a moment longer.

How long did you rehearse the songs?
For “Prayer for the Unborn” I first wrote and recorded them all in one take but once we decided to re-record them as a band for the Latitudes session with Southern the band and I went over the songs for a couple days to add drums and synth parts. It was rad to hear my drummer Dylan Fujioka get to play around with a more free style than usual. I think he really shined on this recording.

Did they change over time or did you have a clear vision of how you wanted to perform/record
them?

They got a little tighter. It’s fun to play them live every so often because the live performance of any of these songs is very loose and open.

When composing or (re)writing for the Latitudes release, what were the basic elements you wanted to maintain from RP and was there a process you can easily articulate that you went through that lead you to the final versions?
The main thing I was taking from them, obviously, was the lyrics. I still haven’t heard some of the original versions of songs I covered, and I didn’t refer to the songs while covering them. That’s why I call it a tribute and not really “covers.” I was really just haunted, like I said, and the only way to exercise that voice in my head was to sing these tributes.

Southern was obviously quite pleased with the outcome and RP’s Nick Blinko provided the album’s central artwork. What was Rudimentary Peni’s reaction?
I originally got in touch with the band through David Tibet of Prefuse 73 and asked if they were cool with me releasing a digital version of the songs. Then, when I went in to re-record it all with Southern, it turned out that our engineer Harvey Birrell had recorded a lot of Rudimentary Peni albums there, so obviously Southern had a cool relationship with the band. I also love Nick Blinko’s artwork, so I was more than happy to hear that he was down to contribute a drawing for the cover. David reported back that after they listened to the recordings, the band said that on a couple songs I “out-peni’d the Peni” which I take as a huge compliment of course!

How long did the recording take?
One day! It was our first day of a month-long UK and Europe tour and I think I blew my voice out. I got really sick right after and it was hard to sing for the first couple weeks. But then I got over it and it was worth it because I love how it all turned out, and also it forced me to finally quit smoking cigarettes!

What was it like, recording at Southern studio and working with Harvey?
Really great coincidence working with him—it was a dream. He totally gets it and works
fast like I do. We feel really honored to have done this project: everyone involved was really
great.

How does the process of recording and covering another artist differ from you own? Obviously
there is the completed document of the song, or in this case, a suite of songs, but what is
interesting is what you’ve done with them. Do you take it and treat the material as your own, or
is there a reverence for legacy?

Both. I’ve done cover songs since I was a little girl and I often change a lot about the songs
while still attempting to maintain the original spirit, or energy, behind the song. I don’t ever feel
like I’m doing it “better” than the original–that’s not why I cover songs. I cover songs that I can’t
get out of my head because I adore them so much.

The Latitudes packaging for the Prayer of the Unborn vinyl is really striking by the way.
Yes, Stephen O’Malley is wildly talented, and combined with Nick Blinko and the quality
of materials it’s, really beautiful, I agree.

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