Chelsea Wolfe's Abyss Was Inspired by Nightmares

Chelsea Wolfe is about to kick off a series of shows with Denver's Wovenhand playing support. They'll start this Saturday, August 29, at the Bluebird Theater. The pairing is perfect, as both projects are possessed of great musical darkness and intensity.

“My record label and management company recently brought [Wovenhand] into the fold and signed them, so it was a natural thing,” reveals Wolfe. “I've been a fan of David [Eugene Edwards]'s work for a long time anyway, so this was a great opportunity for us to tour together. I was really into 16 Horsepower when I was younger. I actually didn't know Wovenhand was his project until the last few years, but had thought that it was really cool.”

Wolfe has been making waves over the past half decade with a series of albums of various tones and textures, always informed by a startling and haunting vision of expressing the hidden spark of significance in seemingly everyday experiences and imbuing it with atmosphere and emotional intensity. She shares these qualities and a gift for conveying a dreamlike otherworldliness with her favorite filmmaker, Werner Herzog.

“I love his films and his documentaries, and I feel really drawn to the way that he can take any simple subject and show you how magical it is,” says Wolfe. “I love that view of reality, that straightforward [perspective], but showing the magical side of things. I feel that David Lynch does kind of the same thing, but in a really dark way. He'll put a shadow in a room, and that becomes totally terrifying. I think that's really amazing how he can do that so subtly. In my own music, I'm drawn to big themes, elemental things, macro versus micro, and I feel that Werner Herzog does the same thing.”

Herzog's obsessiveness and attention to detail is legendary, especially in connection with his film Fitzcarraldo, in which he actually moved a steam ship from one river in Peru into another over a hill to give the feat the air of authenticity. Wolfe didn't do anything so extreme in producing her latest album, 2015's Abyss. Rather, because the band has been touring so often since the release of the 2013 album Pain Is Beauty, she's taken some lessons from tourmates Russian Circles and Queens of the Stone Age in terms of what makes for a dynamic live show.

“I'd never really considered, in the past, how a song would translate to the live set,” says Wolfe. “We would usually just write the song and figure it out later. We've been touring so much in the last few years that I wanted to have some heavier songs and really guitar-based songs that would be fun to play live. I was writing a lot of acoustic, minimal songs and felt that the album would go that direction. But we kept touring more, and we did a tour with Russian Circles and Queens of the Stone Age, and I think that was a natural inspiration.”

For the new record, Wolfe also let go of previous notions of what constituted perfection in her music. Working with producer John Congleton, she was able to dispense with her usual need to have control in the studio and to put her trust in Congleton. As a result, Wolfe was able to put out what is arguably her most emotionally raw and thus best album to date.

Wolfe has also been openly discussing her lifelong struggle with sleep paralysis through her songwriting and channeled some of the energy and intensity of her powerfully vivid nightmares into the music for the new album. 

“I've always had sleep and dream problems,” says Wolfe. “When I was a kid, I would sort of thrash and convulse. My parents took me to a sleep center, and I was hooked up to all these machines overnight, but they didn't really find anything. I think it was my body's reaction to recurring nightmares, and I always had really intense nightmares. So it's nothing new; I just had an overactive imagination."
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.