If the underground rock community doesn't embrace Chelsea Wolfe, there's always the haunted house circuit. Wolfe's music could've emanated from a spooky old farmhouse on a hill overlooking a lightning-lit valley. It's suffused with creaky noises, horror-movie synth washes, and slow undulating guitar tones like Sonic Youth being smothered by Nick Cave.
Sometimes dubbed "doom folk," her music lingers like smoke in the footlights, droning psychedelia looming over minor-key melodies that abound behind discordant peals of guitar. If Wolfe were to describe her music in terms of a scent, she'd cite a combination of patchouli and vetiver.
"One of my favorite scents is patchouli — though I know it's associated with hippie culture — and vetiver [which is] very earthy and very potent," says the surprisingly perky Wolfe. "It's funny you asked that because I'm constantly struggling with my crazy intense sense of smell. It really affects me — the second I meet someone I feel their energy and I smell them.
"It's very animalistic and maybe a little creepy, but it's just how I am."
Though Wolfe now calls Los Angeles home, she lived in Northern California until just over a year ago, and wrote her latest, Apokalypsis there. (One is excused for assuming the title was a reaction to living in the land of tinsel and plastic.) Prior to writing it, Wolfe delved into books about scientific end times theories and imagined people's reactions.
A fair amount of attention has focused on the album's cover, which features Wolfe's face in a somber upward glance with eyes whited-out, an image disturbing to some.
"For me the album cover was a positive image of epiphany and realization. The whited-out eyes was supposed to be this 'aha' moment, this triumphant moment when you understand. And the album has the same feeling, just understanding the truth and being happy with that," she says. "Apocalypse doesn't always have to connote something negative. It can be something positive."
Wolfe's musical interests were ignited early on. Her father was in a band, and had a studio in the basement of their home. When she was a child, she'd sneak down there and record. Still, everyone discouraged her from pursuing music as a career, and Wolfe hardly considered it despite having written songs since she was 9.
But a trip abroad where she spent three months with a touring performance troupe playing cathedrals, basements and old nuclear plants turned out to be the shy girl's chrysalis.
"Something about that," she says, "really awakened something inside of me, and made me want to perform and record and get my music out to the world."
That was 2009. Last year she released the industrial, clanging The Grime and the Glow, which brought forth her fascination with the dualities — light and dark, clean and grimy — that she traces back to childhood.
"When you're a child, your family wants you to be a child and enjoy life and think everything is sunshine and roses," says Wolfe.
"But somehow I knew that wasn't how it was. I realized there is some bad shit going on. And the way life could be so beautiful and so terrible at the same time — in different locations or even the same location — was just really intriguing and inspiring to me."