Take a listen to her hazy electro-pop compositions and you’ll feel instantly known—wrapped in a sonic blanket of familiarity. We caught up with Chelsea in her Los Angeles home to talk about what drives her aesthetic response to her environment and more practically, just how she creates her visually rich music videos (watch her brand new video, Life Of The Party below!). So read on, and spend some time contemplating the patron saint of highly creative introverts, Chelsea Jade.
Hello! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. First off, I’d love to talk about your aesthetic. Could you tell me about what’s visually or musically inspiring you right now?
I’m finding a lens of distance compelling. How one maintains intimacy from far away. I think being an artist is like being in a symbiotic relationship with whoever wants to engage with what you’re doing. It can be so important to feel close. I know this as a fervent fan myself. I’ve been feeling like the new mode of proximity is so imbued in the technology membrane that separates us and I’ve been falling in love with that parametre. I like the boundaries of screens, the haze of a low quality laptop camera. It all seems honest in it’s commonality. Everyone is someone’s Skype convo floating head. We’re all just beautiful 2D busts and every bedroom is a little museum.
One of the first things that stands out about your work is the comprehensiveness of it all. No aspect is lacking in cohesion—why is this commitment to important to you?
It’s an interesting impression because it’s so oblique to my understanding of myself and my work! I’ve always felt like my creative language manifests as an antipasto platter. Complementary but not necessarily cut from the same cloth. It is incredibly important to me to be the nucleus of everything that has my name on it, however. My fingerprints make deep grooves in every aspect of the work and nothing is handed off completely. I imagine this makes for some kind of incidental cohesion.
I think a lot of people struggle with what it means to have their own personal style (expressed via clothing, taste, creative output etc). What are some go-to things you do to cultivate yours?
I’m interested in any kind of excellent text. It sounds bonkers but a good piece of writing can just blitz me. It can make my heart beat too fast like I’m having a new romance with each turning page. That something so physically static can be so evocative is really special. I don’t know how to curate my taste, but I do know how to become immersed in the things that are electrifying to me. Reading is one of those pursuits.
It’s so often quoted that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but what’s outside can often reveal a lot about the quality of the inside. What are your thoughts on this?
Judgement is something we all struggle with but it’s cool to eventually recognize that it isn’t an interesting or valid way to think. I think the compulsion to ask more questions is always more nourishing than to stamp answers over everything.
Tell us a little about your history with making music. When did you start? How did it evolve into the work you’re doing now?
I started honing my own voice at art school. I would do performance pieces and sound work. A lot of it had the same conceptual engagement as what I write about now. The push and pull of social currency and introversion. No wide nets, just little investigations into what it means to be alone and my perceptions of social scenarios.
Eventually I dropped out when I was in a swirl about my relationship with higher education. I was so immersed in making music that it just felt like a distraction. I went to New York and made a record with Justyn Pilbrow who I barely knew at that time but consider to be like a brother to me now. He helped me contextualize how I tend to think (which is kind of weird and lateral) into a music space. He told me to go buy a handheld recorder and to go around the city collecting field recordings. Then we’d come together and make sound beds and songs out of all of them. It was so important to me that everything felt purposeful and he was so good at providing me with a way to approach that for music.
I then won the Critic’s Choice prize at the New Zealand Music Awards which surprised me and made me feel like I was welcome in the pursuit. I’ve been working on music as my primary vocation ever since. I moved to LA a year ago and i’ve never felt more invigorated by the act of writing songs.
How involved do you like to be in the process of your song creation?
Consider me the planet and everyone one that is involved as a special moon, helping the tides stay active. I’m the impetus behind absolutely everything from lyrics right down to the artwork. I’ve got some incredible people helping me bring things to life also.
I feel like it’s important to let there be space around even the most urgent vision if another person is involved. If I can evoke excitement around a burgeoning concept, it becomes contagious and that energy merging with somebody else’s can elevate everything past where you thought it could go.
Your music videos are so imaginative and full of delicate haunting moments. I’m assuming you have a big hand in their creation, could you walk me through the steps of how they go from idea to production?
Usually I think most cinematically when I’m walking home from somewhere in the night, headphones on. I feel like this is where the kernels of all of my videos have been planted.
I’ve worked with director Alexander Gandar on my last five videos to bring these ideas and concepts to life. He’s always game for whatever lunacy I’ve got cooking. Once, I wanted to hug an ice-sculpture for an entire video and he didn’t even blink. We just made it happen and tried to do it as safely as possible. He’s also a perfectionist which feels nice to lean on sometimes.
Videos are something I really look forward to. That electricity that you sometimes have to really cultivate in other areas of music just exists on a video set. There’s an urgency with time, the crew are always so alert and excellent at what they do. It feels like running with abandon after all the minutiae of my role becomes this surging team exercise.
It usually takes months. Alex and I do a LOT of brainstorming and very precise arranging. Billie Ruck has been our dream producer a couple of times now and her calm but determined demeanor really gets things rolling. We start to place our ideas into a more concrete structure and she goes out to secure all of the components to make it happen.
We’ll always do a location visit and the past few times we’ve made proxy videos of the entire sequence in the space, just with an iPhone before anyone else really gets involved.
Tim Flower has been the Director of Photography on many of our videos and he’s got a really amazing eye for shooting to our taste. While that’s happening, I’ll usually figure out the styling—I never want it to be too intrusive on the concept, but I also like for there to be some kind of soft curveball. In the video for ‘Life of the Party’ I actually got an exact outfit I had worn in another video (Visions) made in different fabric. Both videos are based around abstract spaces and feeling confined so the subtle link is nice and makes me feel connected to the full narrative of my work. My friend/NZ fashion designer Emily Miller-Sharma is who I go to for this. Her collections and archives are always perfect for me and she allows me to modify anything to respond to what the video needs. Previously we worked together to make a small collection for a tour and one of the pieces was trying to imagine what a wet suit might be like for an Amish girl on Rumspringa, seeing the ocean for the first time—wanting to feel the magnitude of the water around her but also wanting to maintain a sense of safety in the familiar. I used it to hug the block of ice for my ‘Night Swimmer’ video.
I usually have an idea of what the edit could be like but I never really need to say anything because Alex is so excellent at it. We’ll refine it together but he generally nails it the first time.
I’ve also started video editing projects on my own and I’ve really enjoyed the slog of it. It’s such a deep diving process. There are so many ways to spin the same footage.
Do you have a favorite music video? Or at least one that you think of when you think of the category “good music videos”?
Lorde’s ‘Green Light’. It gives me a cascade of tingles from the crown of my head downward every time I watch it. Kind of like what I’ve heard ASMR people experience. I love seeing someone inhabit themselves so completely and that’s what I see when I watch it.
On that theme, how do you define “good”? “Good” art or “good” music?
I think I touched on it up there. I really like seeing an artist leaning their full weight into something. It’s “good” when the person making it is deeply energized by it. That’s all that really matters.
Do you have any musical goals? What’s the main thing you want people to take away from your work?
I want people to feel safe when they experience my work. I want it to envelop whoever’s watching or listening into one of those dreams that colors your day brighter after you wake up. In terms of goals, I’m going to keep those close in my brain for now.
Impossible! I can think of a beautiful context and hue for every color that comes to mind.
Most beloved book:
Maggie Nelson’s Bluets
Prince or Bowie (cruel, I know):