Chelsea Wolfe's New Album Finds Stability in Chaos

The songwriter explains how a willingness to embrace change inspired 'Hiss Spun' and the anxious video for "16 Psyche."

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Aug 14 2017, 5:59pm

Chelsea Wolfe's sixth studio album Hiss Spun was catalyzed by a reunion. Around 10 years ago, the goth-folk songwriter had a band with Happy Fangs drummer Jess Gowrie, but the years since had been quiet for the pair. "[We] didn't talk for seven years after I left," Wolfe explains. "Two years ago, we started hanging out again, and along with our friendship the musical chemistry came flying back. It was important to me to play music with Jess again—she taught me a lot about music and how to be a front person of a band."

The follow-up to Wolfe's 2015 album Abyss began as a side project between the her and Gowrie, aided by friends like Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and Wolfe's bandmate Ben Chisholm. Fueled by the comfort of their reconnection, Hiss Spun—due out September 22—came to life as an evocative meditation on finding stability and sanity in a chaotic world.

Accordingly, the record opens with a disorienting swirl of sounds. The distorted screech of "Spun" gives way to the soul-shaking swell of "16 Psyche" and the mesmerizing pulse of "Vex"—demonstrating the omnivorousness of Hiss Spun's power. "Each song has many worlds inside it," Wolfe says. "A way for me to bring the songs together on this record was a list of short words with big meanings: flux, hiss, welt, groan, swarm, spun, scrape, [and] strain. They became a sort of guide. Flux represents movement and flow. Hiss is life force and white noise. Welt is the brutality of life, [and] groan represented sensuality and death."

Photo by Nick Fancher

During the earliest stages of the project, Wolfe kept these words among a list of ideas and notes to guide her through her songwriting process. "Some of it was written during a time when I was staying with family while looking for a new place to live," Wolfe recalls. "I didn't have much space to myself [so] I'd set up a little bedroom studio and would work on songs in headphones, creating my own world… It almost made me feel like a teenager again—understanding that feeling of escapism, a way out from physical surroundings. I found refuge in music."

"16 Psyche"—the record's second track and one of its standouts—is a clear result of that time spent alone. Sharing its name with the recently discovered asteroid and the Greek goddess of the soul, this cosmic ballad examines how life's restrictions—self-imposed and otherwise—can alter us. Shot in a single day at a studio located in downtown Los Angeles, the video for the track allowed for Wolfe to tap into what she calls the "claustrophobic," "frantic," and "feral" aspects of the song. Viewers bear witness as she attempts to break free from the faceless and bandaged attendees who try to restrict her mobility. The stylized confinement brings to mind the surreal panic of the videos for 1990s anthems by Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, which she says she sent as references for the video to director Zev Deans, along with visuals by Smashing Pumpkins and Deftones.

Much like her videos for "Carrion Flowers" and "Feral Love," Wolfe says the clip was shaped by grappling with her mental and physical health. "I deal with extreme anxiety that gets exacerbated by bouts of insomnia," she explains. "I'm constantly trying to find ways to calm down… That has manifested into addiction at times [and] I carried a lot of that into this record, especially on "16 Psyche" and "Spun." In doing so, Wolfe was able to open herself up to the world rather than closing herself off.

Photo by Bill Crisafi

Through vulnerability, she was also able to find healing. "There were some things I hadn't dealt with before, from the dark past of my family, to relationships I'd had, to my own health," she admits. "Some of the songs became a personal exorcism and some of them were written in dedication to the hardships that others have faced." It seems only fitting that the album was recorded in Salem, Massachusetts by Kurt Ballou, a decision that added an additional thematic layer to the LP. "There is a lot of anger on this album for what my female and genderqueer antecessors have had to face, so recording in a town that historically murdered women for being "witches" was fitting," says Wolfe.

Because of this openness, Hiss Spun ends up feeling like a portrait of transformation and hope. "In this era, everyone is expected to really have their shit together at all times and present it as such on social media, but it's okay to embrace the mess of yourself," she says. "That's the first step towards personal growth." Wolfe encourages us to be at peace with transition. "Take it one day at a time," she suggests, "Surround yourself with good, supportive people in real life. Know that it's okay to change."

Catch Chelsea Wolfe on tour:

August 17 - Las Vegas, NV, The Joint @ Hard Rock Hotel / Psycho Las Vegas *
September 28 - Santa Ana, CA, Constellation Room
September 30 - Los Angeles, CA, The Regent Theater
October 2 - San Diego, CA, Belly Up Tavern
October 3 - Tucson, AZ, 191 Toole
October 4 - Phoenix, AZ, Crescent Ballroom
October 6 - Austin, TX, Paramount Theatre
October 7 - Houston, TX, White Oak Music Hall
October 8 - Dallas, TX, Kessler Theatre
October 10 - Nashville, TN, Exit/In
October 11 - Atlanta, GA, Aisle 5
October 13 - Chapel Hill, NC, Cat's Cradle
October 14 - Baltimore, MD, Baltimore Soundstage
October 15 - Philadelphia, PA, Theatre of Living Arts
October 17 - New York, NY, Irving Plaza
October 19 - Cambridge, MA, The Sinclair
October 20 - Montreal QC, Le National
October 21 - Toronto, ON, The Opera House
October 22 - Detroit, MI, El Club
October 24 - Chicago, IL, Metro
October 25 - St. Paul, MN, Turf Club
October 27 - Denver, CO, Bluebird Theater
October 28 - Salt Lake City, UT, Urban Lounge
October 30 - Seattle, WA, The Showbox
October 31 - Vancouver, BC, Venue Nightclub
November 1 - Portland, OR, The Wonderland Ballroom
November 3 - Sacramento, CA, Ace Of Spades
November 4 - San Francisco, CA, The Regency Ballroom

All dates with Youth Code, except *