My Favorite Album: Chelsea Wolfe on Townes Van Zandt’s Self-Titled Album | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, April 13th, 2024  

My Favorite Album: Chelsea Wolfe on Townes Van Zandt’s Self-Titled Album

“[Townes Van Zandt] came to terms with his desperation; he was okay with that. He wasn’t afraid to break his own heart.”

Jul 22, 2020 Photography by John Crawford Townes Van Zandt
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Having put her smartphone in the fridge because it got too hot sitting in the sun, Chelsea Wolfe is sharing some compelling information about Townes Van Zandt, who died on New Year’s Day, 1997. Wolfe says that the Texas songwriter once threw himself out of a window to see how it felt, and that he wrote a song while sitting inside of a closet.

“All artists are weird, and Van Zandt didn’t mind coming out with his loneliness and desperation,” says Wolfe from her home in the mountains, a few hours outside of Sacramento, CA. “He came to terms with his desperation; he was okay with that. He wasn’t afraid to break his own heart. It’s that dark, troubled inmate masochism—addiction or mental illness—and he channeled that into his music, which is great for the listeners; it’s so beautiful.”

Wolfe enjoys a lot of her favorite music equally, and doesn’t like to pick an all-time favorite, but says that she prefers Townes Van Zandt over a lot of things. Townes Van Zandt, the country singers’ third album, turned 50 in 2019. “Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel,” the centerpiece of Side B, is one of Wolfe’s most-liked songs of all-time.

“It’s so beautifully written about finding love in a fucked up world—getting thrown off a carousel,” says Wolfe. “I always love cycles, circles, the cycles of being a woman. People say it reminds them of Dylan’s folk element, but Van Zandt is my go-to. He’s one of those musicians who combined country and folk. It’s good driving music, good thinking music.”

Looking at the Townes Van Zandt album cover, Van Zandt sitting at the kitchen table with his left hand resting on his cheek and eyes closed, we wonder what he was thinking at the time. “I dunno if he liked to be photographed or not, but he’s sitting so quietly,” Wolfe says as we agree on the feeling of comfort conveyed from the album. “His voice really shined on this album…it’s really strong.”

Maybe mostly in the seriousness of “Waiting Around to Die” when Van Zandt sings “I got me a friend at last…His name’s Codine, he’s the nicest thing I’ve seen, together we’re gonna wait around and die.”

Wolfe, who began making music as a child, says that she grew up on country music, hearing Van Zandt here and there. Her bandmate, Ben Chisholm, reintroduced her to Van Zandt when she was in her 20s (she’s now 35), gifting her the Townes Van Zandt vinyl. “As a musician, it helps to find a musician you really connect with—I have a long, slow burn process like Townes did. The fact that people can connect with your music after you’re dead is just as important as when you’re alive; he wasn’t well known when alive, but he made here-and-now music.”

On the morning Van Zandt died in 1997, Wolfe says that there was also a huge mudslide on a mountain where she used to go as a child. On her new album, Birth of Violence, there are lyrics on the title track that reference both the mudslide and Van Zandt. Wolfe is a spiritual being, and looking back, she pictured the mudslide being caused by the force of Van Zandt’s death.

“I didn’t make the connection until later,” says Wolfe about the mudslide timing to Van Zandt’s death, “but that was a powerful visual.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 66 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online. For the issue we interviewed musicians and actors about their all-time favorite album.]

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