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Seven Quick Questions... Princess Chelsea

Seven Quick Questions... Princess Chelsea

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Thursday 23rd April, 2015 11:04AM

Princess Chelsea is poised to released her remarkable new album The Great Cybernetic Depression next Friday. Drawing upon her classical piano training, the 10-track record has been accurately described as being "awash with lush, expansive electronica sounds, lent added nuance by a darkly baroque flair". The futuristic vibe and the simple yet elegant storytelling bind together to form a cosmic collection of songs that are sure to strike at the core of any space-nerd's soul.

The emotive effect of The Great Cybernetic Depression is no accident, the record was written at a time when Princess Chelsea (aka Chelsea Nikkel) was working through her own black spot. But rather than pen an album about literal depression,  she spun a metaphorical world event in which to craft her songs.  With a New Zealand tour kicking off next week, and a European tour quickly following, UnderTheRadar got in touch with Chelsea to find out more about the album, and she gave some wonderfully honest answers...

1. The album's lead single ‘No Church On Sunday’ describes breaking away from religion. Are most of the songs on the album anecdotes spun out of real life stories? Are there certain themes that tie the songs together?

'No Church on Sunday' was written by my friend Jamie-lee who shared the same experience as me when we moved into our first flat together in Avondale. There was certainly a fire in the yard and a shopping trolley in the bathroom or at least somewhere teenage where it shouldn't have been.

The songs from the album draw on real life experiences, often exaggerated and mixed in with a bit of fiction here and there.

The song 'We Are Strangers' came from when I was writing a story about a couple that fell in love on the internet. They had a very in-depth backstories (they met on WoW, the guys brother had died, he wasn't nice to his mother, she worked at the supermarket and was addicted to amphetamines) and everything. The story didn't end well.

2. How does it feel to put your real-life experiences out in such a public forum?

It feels pretty weird, that's why I presented it as 'The End of The World' instead because that's way less personal right? LOL (see question 5).

3. The costuming for the ‘No Church On Sunday’ video was incredible. Who did it, and what was the aesthetic intended with the outfits?

'No Church on Sunday' is a classic Simon Ward video, he filmed it, directed, edited it, provided snacks. The person most responsible for my look in the video is Tanya Barlow my friend and hair/makeup artist. The costuming was a joint effort by Simon, Tanya and myself. We sat infront of Youtube watching Shakespeares Sister and other 90s delights in preparation for the shoot then went down to Costume Cave in Wellington down the road from his studio.

4. How strongly do you think aesthetics plays in to the music you make as Princess Chelsea?

Aesthetics matter to me when they can directly effect the album listening experience in a positive way.

As long as the aesthetic you choose to compliment your music is your own concept and you are being 'yourself' (even if you're playing an exaggerated character as in the case of Lana Del Rey), then it can be inspiring and an artform of itself.

By nature I think my music is somewhat 'cinematic' and 'buzzy' and can be complimented by the right visuals. The retrofuturism and heavy use of Yamaha DX7 and Roland D50 synthesizers on the new album is complimented by Simon Ward's style of videomaking. There are some great music videos coming up in the future that we've been working on over the last year. One in particular is a fake 80s movie montage for the undiscovered New Zealand classic 'Against The Odds' and it's set against the power-ballad inspired 'We Were Meant 2 B', which in this case not only compliments the music but puts it in stylistic context.

With regard to things like 'personal styling' I am not particularly image conscious, nor do I have a lot of time to worry about it. However, in saying that, I did get my friend Brad Fafejts to airbrush the hell out of some pictures of me recently. To compliment the spacey and synthetic palette of this album and to add to its hey-the-synthesizer-has-just-been-invented sound Brad took some photos of me and then created these wonderful cosmic airbrushed press shots using nebula. They are the coolest photos.

5. What inspired the title - The Great Cybernetic Depression?

This is probably a question that gives questions 1 and 2 a bit of context.

I made this album feeling pretty cynical and somewhat depressed about the world and finding the music industry pretty scary. Instead of calling the album "I'm depressed 2.0' (maybe that's a better title) and singing directly about this I decided to fabricate The Great Cybernetic Depression - a metaphorical world event (the social depression of the 2020's?) set roughly 10 years in the future. It is a metaphor for my literal depression and makes it more interesting to sing about as I can sing a song about a crappy relationship or how I hate everything while seamlessly weaving in-and-out of a narrative about the end of the world. Sometimes I directly reference the metaphor (tracks 2,10,1,4) sometimes I don't but there's always this overarching feeling of a sadness, like 20 synth pads crushing your soul.

I am only just realizing now this is pretty personal stuff because I sort of forgot that I'd have to explain it all when the album came out LOL.

The exceptions to this thematic idea are 'We're So Lost' is obviously written by Voom and 'No Church On Sunday by my friend Jamie but they've got such an apocalyptic vibe about them and particularly in the case of 'We're So Lost' - in the context of this album Buzz's lyrics go hand-in-hand with the narrative.

Basically I am a massive nerd.

6. How does making the your music in the studio compare to when you come to play it live?

Making music in the studio is essentially me sitting in a room for months manically arranging, in this case synthesizers, and listening to hundreds of soundbanks to find the perfect pad that sends me back to the first time I heard Ultravox - Vienna. It's extremely fun and the way I do it - very intuitive, experimental and vague.

When translating the recordings live with my sick band I think I probably frustrate them a little rambling endlessly about these vague emotional ideas in my head to describe how a drum or guitar part should sound while gesturing manically. But they totally get it LOL.

It's quite a lot of work to learn the songs up as while they are simple they were made in a studio with not much thought as to 'how will i play this live?'. It's a challenge finding the balance and the right way to transform them into a great live experience that has emotional depth. I'm a firm believer in practicing until it's second nature then destroying the second nature with whiskey.

7. You have just announced some shows for Germany and France, will that be your first time touring there? What are you looking forward to most?

I've played in Germany and France in 2012 on my first visit to Europe. We are also doing a lot of touring in Czech Republic and a few shows in Turkey. I'm very much looking forward to touring even though to get over there it's more work than I can describe in a sentence. Being a musician can be hard especially at the stage I'm at which is 'not quite made it' LOL. You sort of get the worst of both worlds in some ways. You're still doing a lot of the leg work because you're not successful enough to pay other people, so you end up not having enough time or energy to be a very good friend. However. you give off the illusion of success which can alienate silly indie purists and instigate dinner conversations about whether people think you're a narcissist. LOL.

In saying that once you're on stage and you're comfortable - no matter where you are there's nothing quite like it and it is worth the drama.

Princess Chelsea is undertaking a six-date tour of the country to support the release of her new album The Great Cybernetic Depression, which comes out Friday May 1st. The tour begins next Wednesday 29th April with a show in Dunedin, head over here for full dates and to buy tickets.


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