A calm has been reached within the auditory realm Chelsea Wolfe has been tirelessly building for the past ten years. 
Her emergence, marked by 2010’s The Grime and the Glow, was the start of a spellbinding journey that saw the genre blending, fringe-folk artist plant her roots and grow into one of the most distinguished and inventive singer-songwriter acts of our time. Incorporating various elements such as doom metal, folk, and electronica, and tying them together with her evocative, haunting vocals, Wolfe has created an unmistakable brand over six full length records, the latest of which being both a departure and a return to form.
Birth of Violence, released in September, is a quiet and pensive album themed on a personal process of healing that directly contrasts the dark and heavy direction she took for her previous record, Hiss Spun. Now, as she traverses the east coast during a special acoustic tour in support for the new record, Chelsea gave Byline Houston the opportunity to check in and ask about the meaning of violence, her daily arcane rituals, the usefulness of labels, and the unique role that drums take in her music.
Byline Houston: Alright, first thing’s first. You’re two weeks into this Birth of Violence tour. How’s it been treating you so far?
Chelsea Wolfe: Good! Yeah, things kinda locked in a few days ago. The first few shows are always a little bit like… you know, the whole working on the setlist, trying to find out which songs work the best. But yeah I came up with a set I feel is working and flowing well. I had show in New York that just had a really good energy. I really enjoyed it, and that’s a rare thing for me, to really feel that good overall about a show, because I’m always beating myself up about the little things that I did wrong (laughs). So it was a really good night.
Byline Houston: This tour is particularly special since it’s an acoustic tour, though I understand it’s not just you, your guitar, and the ol’ dusty road. What can people expect from this set?

Wolfe: Well, Ben (Chisholm) is providing some accompaniment and extra guitar, keyboards, stuff like that, but there’s a section where I play by myself which is really fun for me because I really haven’t done that in a super long time. It’s a journey through older songs, some stuff from the new record, got couple covers in there as well.

Byline Houston: This mean we might get some of those older songs reworked into quieter versions of themselves?

Wolfe: For sure, definitely. Some big heavier songs brought down to just guitar and vocals, yeah.

Byline Houston: Noticed you played a show at the Stanley Hotel (inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in The Shining). Pretty curious to how that one went. Did you get to visit the famed Room 217?

Wolfe: I honesty didn’t even have time. I unfortunately was there for such a short period of time, but just being on the grounds and seeing the hotel… I did get to visit the whiskey bar after the show, and that was really cool. The whole place was gorgeous, and the setting too, obviously. All the fresh air and the mountains. Just a special place to be, and obviously the The Shining influence was so cool, it just set the whole mood perfectly. They did a really good job of putting the show together for us.

Byline Houston: So, the new album is titled Birth of Violence, which on the surface can sound menacing, but I’ve heard you mention that there’s a deeper or less conventional meaning to the word “violence” in this context. Could you elaborate on that a little more?

Wolfe: Yeah, that line “birth of violence”, came pretty naturally as I was writing in this state where I felt like I was kind of channeling something from another place, or another realm. Whenever that happens I have to stop and look back on the lyrics and sort of decipher them and translate them. So, it took me a while to come to terms with that phrase and understand it. But I think in the end, the word “violence” is such a beautiful sounding and looking word for something that’s so ugly in this world and I tried to take that and bring it to a more subtle and poetic way, you know, imagining different ways I could use the word “violence” in a softer way, like thinking of a feild of poppies in violent bloom, or just the violence of emotion.

Byline Houston: I see. Is there also a kind of subtext to the dagger you’re holding in the artwork?

Wolfe: I was definitely visually inspired by Joan of Arc and her sort of personal awakening and vision, so theres was kind of that reference there as well, but also a knife or a dagger in witchcraft is typically not something that’s used to draw blood. I mean, I guess it can, but it’s not a violent tool, it’s used in a different way. So it’s symbolic in that sense.

Byline Houston: You’ve talked about how this record is the result of you feeling like you needed to scale things back and heal up after spending years putting out records and being on the road. However, with the release of Birth of Violence and it’s subsequent tour, it seems you haven’t really skipped a beat. In which way did making this album end up being a process of healing for you?

Wolfe: I think writing these songs last year while I was on tour for my last record, Hiss Spun, started guiding me to this place where I knew that I needed to take some time from the constant motion of being on tour and really take some time to settle into the house I moved into a few years ago that I just kind of left almost immediately to go on more tours and stuff. So yeah, my way of settling into this house in Northern California was to record the album at home instead of going to a studio. So basically I set up this simple home studio with my bandmate and he helped me record it. It was just a really lovely process of getting used the space, getting used to the place around me, being able to see the seasons change for once. It really kind of guided the record, but it really was a time of spiritual, physical, mental healing as well as taking some time off. But it wasn’t like I was bumming around the house, because I immediately just went into making the record, (laughs) But it was a pretty calm process, and that was good.

Byline Houston: I understand that lately you’ve been able to embrace the role of witchcraft in your life. Could you breakdown any rituals or habits that you incorporate into prep or to get into the headspace of writing, or even just to get through the day? If it’s not too personal, of course.

Wolfe: You know, it’s interesting, I guess it is very personal, and like, there’s certain contexts where I feel really open about it. Like, I recently did a podcast with another witch and that was a really nice conversation. But essentially I think I’ve always kind of had simple rituals that’ve been connected to witchcraft in a way, just maybe I didn’t define it that way. Whether it’s like centering myself backstage with incense or like, candles to sort of come down to this place of light and spirituality amongst all the the craziness of tour. People should definitely go listen to that podcast (The Witch Wave #38) I did recently, I talk about it a lot there.

If I’m on the road, it’s really just about taking a little bit of time out of the day to like, be alone and to get into a more spiritual headspace. Tarot cards have actually been a big thing for me on the road as well, just pulling a card each morning and also if I’m stressed out about something or feeling negative, I’ll pull a card just to kind of get some perspective. Actually, yeah, that’s been one of the main rituals I bring with me on the road, for sure.

Byline Houston: Is that just a kind of deal where you shuffle the cards and just pull a random one out, or how does that work?

Wolfe: Yeah! Or, I mean you can do like a spread where it’s like, you know ‘past, present, future’ or — there’s so many spreads out there, really, you can just make your own. But yeah, basically as you’re shuffling your cards, you sort of place your question or intention into them and when you pull the card, it sort of gives you perspective or some wisdom on what you’re going through. I mean, I don’t think of it as like, foretelling the future, I just think it gives you perspective in the moment. It really helps me.

Byline Houston: I always thought it was really cool that you made a whole tribute EP (Prayer for the Unborn) dedicated to the anarcho-punk band, Rudimentary Peni. I wanted to get an idea on the sort of headspace Nick Blinko’s music put you in, and why you chose those songs specifically, considering that they may seem a bit arbitrary both lyrically and in style.

Wolfe: I kind of just felt possessed by him. I had a housemate at the time when I was living in LA who was constantly playing Rudimentary Peni in the living room and all the roommates would kind of just hang out at the end of the night and do mushrooms and smoke weed or whatever, and I dont know, something about his voice and his lyrcis — actually, I think his bandmate wrote some of the lyrics? I don’t remember, but it just kind of started creeping into me. It all happened very fast, honestly, I think I made the original version of that recording in one night and I was just instinctually grabbing different songs and putting them together in my own weird way.

Byline Houston: And then you just decided to make an actual release out of it?

Wolfe: Well, it was actually the studio. We were asked to come do it, and I think they actually recorded some of Rudimentary Peni there, so they knew them and they got Nick Blinko to do the cover art. It came together in this real magical way, honestly.

Byline Houston: The role of drumming in your music has always been unique. Where music that can get as tense and as dark as yours typically has pretty crazy drums, the percussion in your music almost always ends up stylishly lending itself to your songwriting and vocals. Could you talk a bit about the way in which you collaborate with your drummers?

Wolfe: Yeah, I guess it is a pretty unique collaboration, this project that I have (laughs). I’ve had the opportunity to play with so many amazing musicians. My original drummer, I feel like he brought this kind of like country feel to the band, even though it was a rock band. That was really special. And then when I started working with Dylan down in LA… I asked him because I went to see a show where he was playing in two different bands and they were totally different styles but he really fit into each setting so well, so afterwards I was like, “if you’re ever interested in playing together, I’d love that!” And, you know, he’s just really good at improvising as well. I don’t know, I just think his style really meshed with my style of blending genres and just being open to experimenting instead of thinking of what would be the traditional thing to do.

And then when I reunited with my good friend, Jess Gowrie, who I used to play music with well over ten years ago, that was such a reminder of how well we work together musically because we’re such good friends and we feel so comfortable writing with each other. I don’t feel super comfortable with jamming with a lot of people in this world, or just being super open and free in that way, but she’s one of the few people I can do that with. Her sensibilities are a lot more rock and roll, which I love because it has really shifted some of the older songs, like she’ll play them a bit differetnly that the original drummer, Drew, or how Dylan would play them. It’s been this really cool collaboration. Sometimes even Ben, who’s my main collaborator, would write drum parts and then Dylan would translate them. Yeah, it’s sort of just been open to interpretation.

Byline Houston: You’ve said before that you follow your intuition in terms of where to move next as far as making new music, making your progression as a musician a natural thing. But do you find genre labels at all useful?

Wolfe: I think I definitely think about it a little more now than I used to. In the past it was more about going with the flow of my intuition and instinct, not really thinking too hard about it, and not really liking labels. But now, I kind of understand. I think there’s a lot more artists these days that are blending genres and stuff like that, so I don’t think as weird of a thing anymore to not be easily definable in one way, you know? But I think by paying a little more attention now just for my own process, like when I’m thinking about the next record and I’m trying to explain it to my band mates, I can have these references, like “okay, I want it to be like, classic rock meets trip hop!” which doesn’t really make sense (laugh) but at least I have some sort of starting point.

Byline Houston: Right. Part of the reason I ask is because your music tends to get broken down a lot between them.

Wolfe: Well, I’ll be honest, the one genre type that I’ve never connected to that I actually quite get a lot is “neo-folk”. I’ve just never really connected with that label, so that’s the one where I’m like, “Ehh, whatever.” Like, I’d never call myself that, but yeah. (laughs)

Byline Houston: Any interest in doing film scoring? I feel like the horror genre would be made better with your contribution.

Wolfe: Oh yeah. That’s one of my biggest goals and dreams for sure. Something psychological would be cool.

Byline Houston: Nice. Okay, last question. You’ve said before that it took a little while for you to find the confidence to launch your career as a musician, but only takes one look at you and your accomplishments to see that it’s paid off. So what advice, if any, would you give to people who feel too bogged down by fear or anxiety to pursue their passion?

Wolfe: Hm, that’s a tough one because I think… there’s just… I’m definitely a person who’s struggles with anxiety and have had some problems with stage fright in the past. But for some reason I’ve always just had this push in me to do it anyway, just to go out there and do it. In the early days there’d be times I’d play through songs and I’d be so freaked out that I would have to leave, but it’s like… at least I did those three songs. So I just think, you know, be kind to yourself. I wasn’t very kind to myself for a really long time and I’m trying to learn that now. So do what you need to do, and push yourself, but also forgive yourself if you fuck it up, or if you’re struggling. Just keep trying because the more you do it, the more you’re going to feel comfortable with it and you’re going to start opening up and finding new layers to your own art, or voice, or whatever instrument you play and it’s really rewarding.

Chelsea Wolfe performs in Houston on Sunday, November 10th, at White Oak Music Hall.