Chelsea Wolfe: A Study of the Untamed Feminine
Femininity is dark, light, fluid and flexible
I might be a music snob. I’ve willed myself to be more respectful of music choices as I’ve aged, but I’m still picky. While I have my favorite artists that I go back to over and over again, I don’t like any specific genre more than any other. My music taste varies wildly and widely.
Chelsea is a musician I met when I was 21. At the time she was performing in very small venues and at open mics. She must have also been recording because I remember listening to her music on Myspace sometime after we met. Now Chelsea is signed to one of the most reputable labels for genius rock artists (in my opinion, and that of more knowledgeable music lovers than myself).
Chelsea has been the opening act for Queens of the Stone Age and collaborated with many well-known acts in her genre. Her music has appeared in television shows (like Game of Thrones) and probably more. Her style is described at folk-goth.
She’s extremely prolific with 10 albums in 13 years. Her songs often talk about death, spirits, suicide, and love. Her fans are die-hard, with many of them seeing her as a symbol of beauty, the object of desire, but she is a well-kept secret from mainstream music fans.
Her first album is now one she disowns but has lived on due to the internet. Fans who know her for her other albums are mostly in one opposing boat:
- those who like the old album better because her voice isn’t drowned out by distortion and heavy metal
- those who understand completely why she disowns the album, they see it as cheesy or just low quality
There are a few of us who love both styles of Chelsea equally. I’m one of those people. The first time I saw Chelsea Wolfe I was spellbound and haunted. I was sure I was seeing the next huge rock star if she wanted to be that. On one hand, she looked like a friend of mine I’d lost touch with and desperately longed to reconnect with. On the other hand, her music inspired me and reminded me of the songs I used to write, just more exceptional.
I never started writing song lyrics again, but thanks to Chelsea I did pick up the guitar and start singing again. I did covers, ended up busking, and eventually ended up leading kirtan, recording meditations, and mantra music. This is something I still plan to put more time into someday. Chelsea has a very dark image, but that doesn’t deter me, because the darkness is also deeply spiritual.
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On a personal level, Chelsea did two other things for me. She commiserated with me in conversation about my former situation in a new town in an unhealthy relationship. She heard me, she validated what I didn’t share with many others in my life. She intuitively shared her perspective on my life, not in a confrontational way, in a general sense. It was as if she knew what my life was going to look like and she didn’t pussyfoot around her opinion.
Though I didn’t like the reality of her diagnosis, I loved her for saying it. She said it in a way that warmed me, instead of offending me the way others did at that time. On the other hand, she modeled another version of femininity than I’d experienced and I was deeply attracted to it. She seemed unapologetically pure and dark, sweet, and hard, it expanded my mind.
Some of her fans have a hard time believing she could produce such different styles, but it’s not surprising. True femininity is flexible, adaptive, and fluid. That doesn’t mean it’s artificial, it is in fact, vast and more genuine when there’s a depth of differences in expression. Especially in art.
To a lot of people, I don’t come across as a person who would listen to Chelsea’s music. Especially her newer, harder stuff. I’m a black female, a spiritual, mild-mannered, hippie-ish mom, or at least that’s how it looks from the outside.
But I’ve always loved both hard and soft, dark and light. So does Chelsea, as she reflects in her style, often wearing either black or shades of white. So does any embodied woman, at some level in their lives.
But we rarely see women reflecting this much nuance. Maybe it’s because people don’t know how to take it and are often drawn to reduce us down. Maybe because we anticipate a response we’ve had before and reduce ourselves in order to avoid negative judgment, retaliation because of others’ discomfort, or just plain hurt and disappointment from having our vulnerability rejected.
But the juiciness of life comes in embracing your personal contradictions, and even how people react to it. I suggest looking at the contradictions in the women around you and see how they fit into the puzzle of that person. Look at your own contradictions and see how you can paint your own picture to encompass your differences without dulling them.
Dare to be different from yourself and definitely from what is expected from you. Dare to be fluid, flexible, and downright irrational sometimes. If you’re feeling stuck or blocked, break free from being easily defined.
I’ve always been hard to understand to the people I grew up with. In my family and at school people found it hard to put their finger on who I was. I thought the way to respond to that was to try to be more predictable. Of course, I then realized I was drowning myself inside out. Eventually, I learned that my value came from my own sense of self and the relationships forged with people who take the time to see and appreciate all of me.
Dare yourself to be fully you; to actualize the diversity brewing within you and dare yourself to look for people who fully see you, who can dare themselves to be fluid, authentic, intuitive, flexible, and see/appreciate nuance. You deserve it. Find value in the untamed underside of the people around you and yourself.
I wrote this on a YouTube video of her first album, as the debate over which Chelsea sound ranks supreme.
“I fell in love with Chelsea’s music before this album was released. I heard almost all these songs live when she was doing very small performances and open mics. Some I heard the first recorded versions because after talking to her the first time I met her, we became Myspace friends and she had several recordings on there.
The music sounded more clear with just her guitar. I still love it. The songs are awesome and we were just in our early 20’s then, the lyrics are great, even if not what we’d write in our mid-30’s. I’m a writer too (stopped writing songs, but I write everything else) and I get it.
While I got praise for my writing in those days, what I’m writing now is light-years ahead, there’s a depth to it that I hadn’t developed yet. Also as an artist my identity and what I want to portray/have published are different, back then I wanted everything I wrote to be published. I’m more discerning now, I have specific things to say, a certain style that represents my artistry. I’m sure the person who made this album is still there and could easily make a song in the same vein as these, but then she would edit it more, refine it more, add more layers and that is how you get the Chelsea Wolfe music that is currently being released.
This was the first Mp3 I ever purchased and I only wish I still had it. It’s still the soundtrack for that period of my life. For instance, Inside A Girl sounded completely different and I was not fond of the change when I first got the album. Nothing, No One, and Your Name reminded me of most of the music I heard her playing at the time and were fairly (if not completely) the same as the way I heard.”
Here’s a great recent performance with minimal instrumentation: