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Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 11th November, 2013 10:15AM

Chelsea Jade Metcalf A.K.A Watercolours will release her new EP this Friday November 15th. Called Portals, this carefully curated selection of songs provides access to the world Metcalf has been inhabiting for the past year, fleshing it out to the exact point at which the listener can both exist within Metcalf's space and construct their own. According to the lady herself, this is the whole point of Portals...

Hey Chelsea, what are you up to?

I'm in Look Sharp.

That store rules!

I know! I’ve just found a million note pads that have things like "Urgent" and "Fragile" written on them in creepy neon font. You know that font that has blood dripping off of it? It’s in that font.

Haha cool. How are you anyway?

I’m good. I’m doing all that stuff you forget to do before you head overseas for a long time.

Yes, exciting that you're going overseas though!

Well it’s a month, so I guess it’s a long time. That’s a long time right?

Yeah, it’s longer than your average holiday, shorter than an O.E I guess. Are you going over there to travel or for music-related business?

I’m going over there to write some more stuff with Justyn Pilbrow. We wrote the song called ‘Night Swimmer’ together, the material of which will be on next year's release.

Is early next year’s release going to be an album?

I’m not sure yet, it might just be another EP.

You often take these jaunts overseas to write, right?

Yes, whenever I get a slight cash injection I always inject it into the pockets of air hostesses.

What is it about these overseas locations that is more conducive to write for you?

I guess it’s that I don’t necessarily feel like I’m from New Zealand. I wasn’t born here and I grew up here without really attaching myself to New Zealand. That's not to say I don’t really adore New Zealand, but I don’t necessarily think that it’s where I’m from. So I figure if I stay nomadic I feel like it will keep the electricity around what I’m doing going, you know? And I also get restless.

You're about to release your new EP, Portals. Did you write this one overseas as well?

No, I wrote most of that one at Red Bull studio in Auckland. Some of the sounds on it are from other places. There’s a song on there called ‘Kyoto Train’ and the sounds on it are from - funnily enough - the train in Kyoto. The arrivals noises and departing noises are really beautiful - they're women with pretty voices saying probably very mundane things.

Was there anything you wanted to achieve, or anything you were particularly inspired by, when you began writing Portals?

I feel like there’s this one prescription that I don’t feel like I’ve fulfilled yet, that I keep plugging away at that every time I go into the studio. I’m even embarrassed to divulge what it is, but there are specific sounds and approaches to what you put in between the sounds, that I haven’t quite got there with. In terms of content, I’ve always been into modifying concepts to fit something that I can identify with – like a broad concept. ‘Sliders’ a song that has just come out – I found out that there are people who claim that they have so much energy in their brains that they can turn off street lights as they walk past them. It's this paranormal phenomena that people claim to possess. So I related that to me and how I feel when I’m jealous. I’m quite a jealous person, I'll admit.

Is there any overarching theme across Portals, are the concepts unique to each song?

For my next one, I have a really good idea for an overarching concept but for this one I felt that sonically they were on par with each other - it wasn’t the lyrical content that brought them together.

The idea of portals was quite important for the whole EP though right?

Yeah, because I come from a fine art background - which sounds so fucking pretentious because I didn’t even graduate and I dropped out twice and I still feel like I approach my work in that art school way. Doing that means presenting content but not giving answers. Portal gives you something to look towards but doesn’t tell you what the songs have to be about. Portals is just a really beautiful concept which could easily relate to my penchant for traveling (having to transport or escape into something foreign or otherworldly).

There's also that idea of stepping into something that you’re unsure about right?

Yeah and I guess for the audience they’re stepping into my portal, because it’s the first release that I’ve put out, so hopefully it creates some kind of space for someone, somewhere.

Speaking of stepping into your world, you put a lot of effort into the visual way you present yourself. How important is the visual aspect of Watercolours to you?

It’s extremely important. The best way you can approach anything, including visuals, is that if you haven’t failed on your own terms then you haven’t failed. It's more important for me to attempt to do a big heavy concept on my own terms that might come out a little bit pokey, rather than get someone to do something grand that will never work because I’ll never align with it. I guess that’s why I take it into my own hands, and it's my instinct to have this one aesthetic that is quite minimal and clean, but perhaps not as straightforward as it seems.

Does that feed into the word portals as well? Keeping it clean and simple so people can read into the visual work?

Yeah totally, because I guess portals indicates a space and if you leave that space boring and blank but still inviting and intriguing then it gives other people room to exist within it. I’m specifically talking about my EP cover, which has a small image and small text with a lot of space surrounding them. How often in this time do you see such a barren space? Never, everything is spoken for.

You mention that you worked with Justyn on a song that is on the EP. Have you worked with anyone else on this record?

Yeah, Justyn mixed it all but Jeremy Toy, Jackson Hobbs, James Duncan and David Parker helped me produce it.

What did these guys each bring to Portals?

Jeremy and I actually got paired up for this Red Bull ‘Prodigy’ project where they pair a rookie up with a veteran of the industry and they let you have free reign in the studio for two weeks, and they document it. They didn’t know this but I already knew Jeremy – he’s played in an iteration of Watercolours before, so we already had quite a good rapport. Jeremy is the perfect combo of being really open and really knowledgeable. If I said I wanted something to sound a certain way, he would know exactly how to do that. Even if he didn’t and it came out different, it would usually be better or more interesting. That’s what’s good about collaboration – it’s a breeding ground for new ideas. Ben Lawson who is the engineer is probably the best friendship I have made over the past year. I think the key with collaboration is to have a non-musical rapport, otherwise you have all of that social bullshit to wade through before you can get anything done, which is a time-waster.

You recently finished up a tour with Anthonie Tonnon right?

Yep. For a lot of the time I was the only lady in the touring party. I feel like I got to know all those dudes on another level – I really sound like the town whore here but that's obviously not what I mean. For example, we were staying at Chick’s Hotel in Dunedin and we’d been talking the whole way down about the strange occurrences that have happened in this place. Several murders have taken place within the walls of Chick’s Hotel, and it’s said to be haunted. So of course we get there and of course it’s stormy and rainy and dark. Tono assigns us our rooms and we have sound check and head upstairs. Jono and I are in this room where you can either choose to have the heater on or the light on – it’s freezing cold. I was freaking out the whole time we were driving there because I believe I am in touch with the other side, and the reason I think that is because a psychic told me.

Have you had experiences?

I’ve had like sleep paralysis and a lot of sleep walking, and I feel like that’s on the level.

Anyway it turns out, after I was in this room alone for ages – and I was listening to rap music to try to calm myself down and lighten the mood – that Tono had put me in the murder room. The murder room! Jonathan (Pearce) and I both refused to sleep in there and so we were both inside our sleeping bags with our sleeping bags done up right around our faces with our eyes darting around, on this double bed in this freezing, haunted room. Yeah so I barely slept and then we had to leave really early in the morning and fly back to Auckland and shoot a music video. IT was very stressful.

Can you please talk us through the songs that appear on Portals?

'Last Night': We lugged a slab of wood into the studio at Red Bull and I took to it with my tap shoes, improvising to a click track until something worth repeating emerged. Just when I'm about to collapse into a heap of exhaustion, Jackson Hobbs (Sharpie Crows) picks up the slack with some beautiful drumming. The lyrics are as transparent as my writing goes – kind of that situational depression that has a finite time period, if you can accept that there is more to know than what is currently dragging you down. Also, break ups are awful. Also again, I'm not a psychiatrist.

'Sliders': I wrote the lyrics about my ever-present tugs of jealousy in the context of people who think their energy can turn off street lights. It was the first song we built during the Red Bull 'Prodigy' project and finished it over the first two days. Jeremy Toy and I both sat at the same drum kit and barreled down on our respective halves until Ben (Lawson) got bored of being alone in the control room (JUST KIDDING, BEN YOU ARE THE BEST!). Somehow the rest of the song erupted from that initial brainstorm. Jeremy's guitar playing is a triumph because he doesn't need you to know it's a guitar. It's the same as his production style in that it lacks ego but not style. I dig it.

'Kyoto Train': I took an impromptu trip to Japan in November of 2012 that I couldn't really afford. It was a strange adventure and I came back with all of these sweet and gentle samples from train stations and pedestrian crossings. The song had been an improvisation bed for live shows but the train sample gave it context to be something else. I wanted it to meander on that feeling of restlessness when you can't confront what is consuming you so you fruitlessly try to move on without an answer and end up doing nothing.


Chelsea is celebrating the release of her debut Watercolours EP with shows this week in Auckland and Wellington - see below for details.