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Chelsea Joy Wolfe (born November 14, 1983) is an American singer, songwriter and musician. The daughter of a country musician, Wolfe began playing music in her childhood, but did not pursue it professionally until her early 20s when she began to record album material. She earned underground critical acclaim for her first two popular releases, The Grime and the Glow (2010) and Apokalypsis (2011), which blended elements of gothic rock and folk music.
On her following albums, Pain Is Beauty (2013) and Abyss (2015), Wolfe incorporated elements of neofolk, electronic and metal. Her music has been featured in promotional material for the television series Game of Thrones and Fear the Walking Dead as well as in How to Get Away with Murder.
Chelsea Wolfe was born in Roseville, California, and grew up in Sacramento. She is of Norwegian and German descent. Her father was in a country band and had a home studio, where by the age of 9, she had written and recorded songs which she later described as "basically Casio-based gothy R&B songs".
2006: Mistake in Parting
In 2006, Wolfe composed an album, titled Mistake in Parting, which was never officially released. Of the album, Wolfe said: "I was 21 years old and wrote a shitty singer-songwriter breakup album. I didn't even really want to be a musician back then, but a lot of my friends were like 'let's do this, I've got some producer friends' and they helped me make this over-produced, terrible record... I sort of took a break from music for a while since I wasn't happy with what I was making".
2009–2011: Early releases and official debut
She sold a CDR EP at live shows, titled Tour 2009. Another CDR, the full-length Soundtrack VHS/Gold, was issued in 2010 by Jeune Été Records as a limited edition of 30 copies. Remixed versions of the latter material were also briefly issued on Wolfe's Bandcamp page under the title Soundtrack VHS II.
Wolfe's first widely released album, The Grime and the Glow (2010), was issued on Pendu Sound Recordings, a New York-based independent music label. Her next album, Apokalypsis (2011), stylized as Ἀποκάλυψις, gained her an underground following, as well as critical acclaim, receiving favorable reviews in Pitchfork and CMJ. Wolfe toured extensively in North America and Europe to support both albums, and suffered from extreme stage fright; when she initially began performing live, Wolfe would wear a black veil over her face. "Performing was something that I had to learn," she said. "I could barely handle being onstage for the first few years, and it's the reason it took me so long to start my career as a musician".
2012–present: Sargent House
In 2012, Wolfe covered five songs by British anarcho-punk band Rudimentary Peni, and issued them as A Tribute To Rudimentary Peni on February 17 as a free download via Pendu Sound. She later rerecorded the Peni songs with her band at Southern Studios in London, and released them as an EP, Prayer for the Unborn, in January 2013 on Southern Records.
Wolfe signed with Sargent House Records in 2012 to release her third album. Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs was released on October 16, 2012, and featured a more folk-oriented sound, as opposed to her earlier work, which had been heavily centered on droning electric guitars and distortion. The acoustic album contained "'once-orphaned' songs", according to Wolfe. On July 28, 2012, the first single, "The Way We Used To", was premiered on NPR. On September 20, the second single, "Appalachia," was premiered on The Fader
Wolfe released a live album, Live at Roadburn, on September 28, 2012, recorded that April 12 at the Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands. Wolfe's fourth studio album, Pain Is Beauty, was released September 3, 2013, as well as an album trailer, followed by a supporting North American tour. During 2013 and 2014, Wolfe released two split 7" singles with King Dude, Sing Songs Together... and Sing More Songs Together...
Wolfe also contributed guest vocals to the American post-metal band Russian Circles' fifth studio album, Memorial, released in October 2013. Wolfe and Russian Circles toured Europe together in late 2013.
In 2014, her song "Feral Love" was featured in the trailers for the fourth season of Game of Thrones and the television adaption of 12 Monkeys. She also released a long-form film, Lone, featuring music from Pain Is Beauty and directed by Mark Pellington.
"Carrion Flowers", "Iron Moon" and "After the Fall" were released as the second, third and the fourth singles, respectively, from her fifth album, Abyss. "Carrion Flowers" appeared in the trailer for The Walking Dead spin-off series Fear the Walking Dead, the Far Cry Primal trailer "Beast Master" and TV ads for Life Below Zero.
On April 1, 2016, Wolfe released the non-album 7" single "Hypnos", preceded by a music video on March 22. In January 2017, she announced a UK/European tour to begin in April.
"Survive" appeared in the final trailer for the film Live by Night.
In April 2016, Wolfe and bandmate Ben Chisholm were special guests for Converge's collaborative live performance, Blood Moon, along with Stephen Brodsky of Cave In and Steve Von Till of Neurosis. Limited to four European performances, the collective performed "ambient/post-rock interpretations" of various tracks from Converge's entire discography, particularly songs of their "lesser-heard and slower work". The first Blood Moon set took place at Postbahnhof in Berlin on April 11. The second took place at La Cartonnerie in Reims on April 12. The third took place at Electric Brixton in London on April 13. The fourth and final Blood Moon show took place at the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands on April 16.
Wolfe is known for playing a Taylor Guitars 716ce and a Fender Jaguar. She has said that she composed her first two albums on her mother's classical guitar, which was missing a tuning peg; as a result, the strings had to be tuned down, which was a stylistic element carried on to the studio recordings.
Musical style and influences
Wolfe has mentioned an array of artists and specific genres as influences, including black metal and Scandinavian folk music, but has said: "I do have a hard time sticking to one genre, and honestly I prefer it that way. I'd rather be free to experiment and make the kind of art I want to make than be easy to define." Various critics have noted elements of doom metal, drone metal, black metal, gothic rock, folk and dark ambient in her music. Wolfe has said: "I think deep down I wish I had one of those really gritty voices like Kurt Cobain, so maybe I'm making up for it with distorted guitars."
Wolfe has expressed a strong affinity for R&B music, citing Aaliyah as a huge influence on her career since her childhood. She said, "I grew up listening to my dad playing guitar while singing harmonies... As a kid I wanted to record my own songs so he set me up with an 8-track. The vibe of those earliest songs was like, Aaliyah meets Fleetwood Mac – what I was listening to mixed with what my parents were listening to. "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number" was my favorite song back then."
Other musical influences include Vladimir Vysotsky, Selda Bagcan, Nick Cave, Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt. Her most recent musical influences are Suicide, SPK and various "1920s and '30s music". In the past she mentioned Burzum as an influence, but later said that she considers Burzum's political views as too extreme.
Wolfe has cited the visual elements of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and photographer Nan Goldin as influences, as well as the writings of D.H. Lawrence and Ayn Rand. However, on September 24, 2015, she stated that with regard to her supposed affinity with Rand: "When I said I liked Ayn Rand many years ago I didn't know anything about what she stood for or what her books meant. I recant!". Other writers she has mentioned as inspirations include Marcel Proust, Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Sylvia Plath.