Chelsea Wolfe says witchcraft and sobriety informed her latest album

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Chelsea Wolf poses for a portrait in Los Angeles on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, to promote her album. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

LOS ANGELES – Often in popular culture, witchcraft is associated with a kind of feminist reclamation of power and spite-fueled revenge.

And although Chelsea Wolfe’s album out Friday is arguably her most spiritual yet, dripping with poetic lyricism about tarot, underworlds and bathing in blood, the process of making it has been marked by a time of healing, joy and relinquishing control.

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“Over the years, as I’ve embraced a path of witchcraft and following the cycles of the seasons and the cycles of the moon, I put that into my writing process a lot, and I’ve started to share that more because this has been such a positive, wonderful thing in my life,” Wolfe explains.

Witchcraft’s influence has meant an increased attentiveness to letting each record “be what it wants to be,” the singer, songwriter and musician says — which can sometimes be overtly mystical, like pulling a tarot card for “clarity and guidance” on what she is about to write, or more ostensibly mundane.

Take, for example, her songwriting process for “She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She.” Although Wolfe frequently brings nearly finished demos to the studio to be fine-tuned and recorded for an album, this time around, she decided to work with producer Dave Sitek, who heavily transformed her rock-sounding songs.

“This one felt like it wanted to lean more electronic, a little bit more of that trip-hop influence that I’ve dabbled with over the years,” she says of her embrace of the genre which blends hip-hop and electronica.

And while Wolfe is pleased with where she allowed those songs to go, it was still difficult to let it happen after years of holding onto them during the pandemic.

“When you do have a lot of time to sit with the demos, sometimes it can be hard to then give them over to someone and hear all the changes,” she says. “But something about this place in my life and kind of what this record is about, thematically, it just felt right.”

Part of what informed this idea of letting go and shedding exoskeletons — “a spectral reminder of all that we’ve become,” she sings in one song — was beginning a journey of sobriety.

“I got sober from alcohol in early 2021, and I had already started this record. It’s interesting to kind of hear the songs that I started before that and the way that they changed,” she recalls. “That created a lot of openness and clarity in my life and my creativity that I just was then naturally channeling into this music. It became a lot about rebirth.”

Wolfe’s music is hard to categorize, but she is known for her tendency to blend folk music with heavier subgenres like gothic rock and doom metal. She’s aware of the specific taste required for people to enjoy it — “It’s not party music,” she laughs — but has never been afraid to stand her creative ground.

“There’s been collaborations that I’ve been asked to do that I felt like they just weren’t right for me. And maybe it would have given me a lot of exposure or more payment down the line,” she says. “I try to live simply and not have to do things that I don’t feel like I’m aligned with just for money. I know that’s a privilege.”

But she has found resourceful ways, in addition to touring, to make a living with which she feels artistically comfortable, such as collaborating with composer Tyler Bates on the soundtrack for the 2022 slasher film, “X,” which stars Mia Goth.

Director Ti West remembers wanting to experiment with a more avant-garde sound and talking to Bates about how best to achieve it.

“I kind of pitched this idea to Tyler that it’d be great to have a vocal-driven score,” West says. “It just seemed conceptually like a really weird and interesting idea to not just have the same old horror score that you hear over and over again.”

Bates, who had admired Wolfe’s music for years and had already worked with her once before, knew she’d be perfect. He came to her with the idea to use her voice to make “percussive sounds” throughout, including laughter, growling and even sexual noises — particularly apt given the movie follows a pornographic film crew in the '70s.

“She looked at me like, ‘What do you want me to do?’” Bates laughs as he recalls explaining his proposal.

But West, aware of their unconventional request, says Wolfe quickly rose to the occasion, making a big difference in the finished film.

“It’s hugely important. Music, certainly in a horror movie, is something that’s going to curate the tone,” West says. “At least for me, it’s something I’m thinking about before I even make the movie.”

Bates teases that he and Wolfe have continued this method in the score for “MaXXXine,” the highly anticipated final film of the trilogy, which stars Elizabeth Debicki and singer Halsey alongside Goth.

Between working on the “MaXXXine” score and gearing up for her album release and upcoming tour, Wolfe has been particularly intentional about taking time for self-reflection and being present amid a busy schedule.

That has of course involved witchcraft, though, like her music, she resists attempts to put walls around what that means.

“Witchcraft in itself isn’t a religion. It’s not like we all gather somewhere," she says. “Just because someone practices witchcraft doesn’t mean that they’re going to resonate with everybody else who does.”

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