Pain is Beauty. Just take it from Los Angeles’ Chelsea Wolfe, who takes the dark, empathic elements of drone metal, folk, doom and goth, and throws them into a sludgy, boiling cauldron to create moody tunes that doubles as her catharsis. Sample some of that concoction when she kicks off her North American tour with New Zealand rockers A Dead Forest Index at Bunkhouse Saloon April 24.
You tour extensively—months out of the year. How do you balance touring with writing and your personal life?
I keep my home life and personal life pretty quiet. Life on tour is so the opposite of that: It’s chaotic and fun, and you’re surrounded by people all the time, doing a lot of press and interviews, a lot of opening yourself up. I lived in Los Angeles for a few years in a really loud neighborhood, so it felt like I could never really find that balance before. It influenced a lot of music so something good came out of it, but when I started writing Abyss about two years ago, I decided to move out of the city and into the mountains. I found a quiet place in a small town and found that I was able to be so much more fully focused on writing and creating, free of distractions. There was a lot of space to fill with sound. Now I’ll never live in a city again.
How did you deal with the recent van break-in in Portland?
I was upset for sure, and felt stupid as I know that’s a problem there. It happened during dinner at the Doug Fir. We had our gear bolted in the trailer, but our clothes and personal things were in the back of the van so that was gone. I had a suitcase stolen that was full of all my favorite clothes, shoes, and jewelry. I’m a bit of a collector when it comes to that sort of thing, and most of the clothes and jewelry were handmade commissions or gifts from small independent designers, which made it sting a bit more. But I have to say, something about performing the next night in just jeans and a t-shirt was really freeing. I felt naked in a way, and the performance was really raw. I consider a lot of the things I bring on tour to wear as talismans or good luck charms, and they help me feel strong and confident to go out onstage, but since that break-in I’ve stripped things down quite a bit.
The contrast between darkness and light is ever-present throughout your discography—musically and lyrically. How is this shown in “Hypnos”/”Flame” and on Abyss?
“Hypnos” is a love song, but it’s about taking on the darkest part of your lover, or wanting to protect your child with your own life, so it’s got heavy love mixed with heavy sacrifice. I knew things were going to get dark when I started writing Abyss. I set up a makeshift studio in an empty barn out in the desert at my manager’s place and would have these writing sessions where I’d come out shaking. I wanted to dig deep into myself and channel things I’d been avoiding for a while. I wrote the song “The Abyss” just as a sweet reminder not to get too lost when everything was getting really twisted mentally and emotionally.
What are you doing after the tour?
I’m writing songs for my next album, and I’m really excited about the group of musicians I’ll be working with for that. There’s a couple other exciting things I’m doing that I wish I could tell you about, but can’t announce yet.
Things that are different for me. I’m trying to be more brave and more open. I think I’ve held back a lot up to this point.
You played Vegas last year, and you opened for Queens of the Stone age in 2013. How were those experiences?
Opening for Queens of the Stone Age was so great; it helped me get more confidence, feeling accepted by them and their audiences. Just watching Queens play every night … I learned so much. [They’re] incredible musicians. I love those guys, they’re class acts. The Vegas show with them at The Joint was my first time at the Hard Rock Hotel, a place I now absolutely love. It’s so much fun.
Last year in Vegas was cool, but also my very first show of the “Abyss” tours so I have to admit: I was pretty nervous to be playing most of those songs for the very first time. I think it showed but the audience was really nice to me despite that.
Got any other tales from Vegas?
There’s a Fender Jaguar that I signed hanging in the Hard Rock Hotel—that’s pretty wild! My favorite thing at the Hard Rock is Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals tour stage outfit though.
Chelsea Wolfe with A Dead Forest Index
9 p.m. April 24, Bunkhouse Saloon, $12-14, 702-982-1764; BunkhouseDowntown.com.