A singer/songwriter with a striking soprano voice and an equally compelling flair for imagery, Chelsea Wolfe has imbued her music with different shades of darkness over the years. On early albums such as 2011's Apokalypsis, she crafted haunting electric folk songs that she wrote on a downtuned classical guitar, but she soon brought other dimensions to her sound. She stripped her music to its acoustic bones on 2012's Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, then fleshed it out with electronics on the following year's Pain Is Beauty. Wolfe's fierce ethereality was a perfect fit for the heavier sounds she explored on later albums like 2017's Hiss Spun, which featured members of Converge and Old Man Gloom. When she returned to eldritch folk on 2019's Birth of Violence, Wolfe proved once again that she could take the intensity and gorgeous ache of her music in any direction and make it sound genuine.
Chelsea Wolfe grew up in Northern California with a father who had a country band and his own home studio, so she was immersed in music at an early age. She began recording herself at age nine on an eight-track recorder given to her by her dad; by the time she was in fourth grade, she knew she wanted to be a singer. During her early years, Wolfe was inspired by artists as diverse as Aaliyah and Fleetwood Mac. As time went on, her influences grew to include Nick Cave, Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt. In 2006, when she was 21, Wolfe recorded Mistake in Parting, a self-released album of singer/songwriter pop. Disappointed with the results, she took some time to rethink her music.
Writing songs on her mother's classical guitar — which had to be tuned down to compensate for a missing tuning peg — she developed a distinctively haunted, folky sound. In 2009, when she returned from a three-month tour with a performance artist friend in spaces including old nuclear factories, Wolfe recorded her music with her friends on a portable eight-track. After issuing the limited-edition albums Soundtrack VHS/Gold and Soundtrack VHS II, Pendu Sound Recordings released her official debut album, The Grime and the Glow, in December 2010. Around this time, Wolfe contributed a radically different version of the Strokes' "The Modern Age" to a tribute to the band curated by the website Stereogum, and her song "Moses" was used as the soundtrack to artist/director Richard Phillips' short film Sasha Grey.
After moving to L.A., Wolfe recorded her second album, Apokalypsis, in a proper studio, working with musicians including Ben Chisholm, who became her closest collaborator; it was released by Pendu Sound Recordings in August 2011. Her performance at the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands was captured on September 2012's Live at Roadburn. Wolfe took Chisholm and a few other musicians into the Northern California woods to record Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, which was released in October 2012. Prayer for the Unborn, her contribution to Southern Records' Latitudes EP series, arrived a few weeks later and consisted of covers of Rudimentary Peni songs. In 2013, Wolfe returned with the more electronic-leaning Pain Is Beauty, which featured Chisholm as a co-producer as well as the work of longtime bandmembers Kevin Dockter and Dylan Fujioka. She then collaborated with King Dude on a pair of split singles and appeared on Russian Circles' fifth album, Memorial. Lone, an hour-long movie directed by Mark Pellington and featuring music from Pain Is Beauty, was released in 2014.
For her fourth full-length, Abyss, Wolfe shifted gears again, focusing on the doomiest metal-inspired aspects of her music. Along with Chisholm and Fujioka, her collaborators included producer John Congleton and Russian Circles' Mike Sullivan. The album arrived in August 2015. The following year, Wolfe released the single "Hypnos," and she and Chisholm were among the performers at Blood Moon, a series of European collaborative live shows with Converge. That group's Kurt Ballou recorded Wolfe's fifth album, Hiss Spun, in Salem, Massachusetts. Featuring drummer Jess Gowrie — with whom Wolfe had been in a band years before — as well as Chisholm, Old Man Gloom's Aaron Turner, and Queens of the Stone Age's Troy Van Leeuwen, the 2017 album was even heavier than its predecessor. After touring in support of the album, Wolfe took some time to recharge and write. Revisiting the acoustic sounds of her earliest releases, she teamed with Chisholm and Gowrie to record Birth of Violence, which appeared in September 2019. ~ Heather Phares