Photo: Carpark Records
Chelsea Jade is a New York based Aotearoa pop artist. She has just recently released her second album, Soft Spot, a collection of notes from the past few years. This follows her first album, Personal Best, which earned a Silver Scroll nomination for the single "Laugh it Off". I highly recommend Chelsea’s videos (“Laugh it Off” was awarded a ShowMeShort in 2018); as well as her live performances - which can often feel like reading music through one’s body.
Chelsea and I met over Zoom in opposite hemispheres to discuss her new environment, working in the APRA writers room, how dance interplays into her artistry, and how she’s coping with letting a project go.
'Soft Spot' (2022) Music Video - via Youtube
Chelsea is at the markets in Los Angeles. It’s sunny and there’s chatter all around. She’s there to help a friend with a music video. It’s been six months since she moved to New York. Soft Spot was released just over a month ago. Her current state is “re-filling the empty spaces that are created when you put something out”.
'Laugh It Off' (2018) Music Video - via Youtube
Soft Spot feels a lot different to Personal Best. I have a strong attachment with that album; I spent most of 2018 walking to University with it. I’m not sure if you know Wellington, but I’d walk along The Terrace and up three hills to get there, sweating and singing out loud on the sidewalk. Mainly to cars.
Singing out loud is something I’ve thought a lot about lately - creating your own cinematic experience as you’re walking around your everyday life. Singing out loud, but with your brain in your headphones is the most pleasurable thing to do, to be unwieldy! I really want to do a project that’s all in my ears; where the audience can’t hear the music but I can. It might be rough but would portray the emotion of that experience - of walking. Maybe that’s self indulgent (oh well).
Tell me more?
No one hears the music, but everyone hears the voice. When I’m walking to music, I love how my body engages in strange moments with what I’m hearing, in a kind of dance capacity. The experience of watching that would equate to the rhythm of the song being visible in your body, and the melody/lyrics would be the main sort of meat. Those are my two favourite aspects of music; rhythm and lyrics.
I love how you use your body in your work. I danced growing up and feel it’s still a vital part of my creation. Did you dance as a kid? And what happens as we get older and don’t go to after-school classes?
I remember the moment I stopped dancing being the moment my ballet teacher said “you’re doing it wrong” - I couldn’t enjoy it anymore. I don’t have the body for it in a professional capacity, but I can look off into the middle distance quite convincingly. Like, looking over your hand into the magical realm you’ve invented. It’s fun to know what you like about something, and have the blind confidence or audacity to keep doing it even if you’re bad. You find your own language. I’ve built up to feeling more confident with my own style of movement. How about you? What dance did you do?
I did jazz but always loved contemporary for how it was feeling based - as much as I love the mathematical feel of routine. Lately I’ve been dancing in my room to my favourite songs. It looks weird but feels natural and equally an expression as to when I make music. I love getting lost in the moment.
It’s like you’re creating your own parallel moment to reality, and elevating your own experience. It’s acknowledging that you contain some kind of magic that you’re not afraid of. I think that’s the best way to be.
Did you ever want to be a dancer?
I’ve never felt very good at anything in particular to be a professional at it. I just get interested in something and try to figure it out, so I never feel qualified to be anything. I’ve only just started realising that I’m quite capable.
I’ve just been following my nose this whole time. The first feeling I had of “I am competent” was when I was finishing Soft Spot, in the APRA writer’s room in Tāmaki Makaurau. Just being in a space that is built for purpose made me realise it’s been the limitation of my resource that has made me feel incompetent, which is really nice. The conditions help when they’re right. Now I know I’ve been army crawling through everything I’ve done, but not for a lack of tenacity. It makes me feel confident for what’s next.
Via Chelsea’s Instagram. Photo by Pictvre
You’ve struck me as very capable in your work for a while!
To be quite frank; as a solo artist, you don’t have anyone shoulder-to-shoulder with you looking at this task with the same capacity of care. You have to constantly summon it. When things go wrong, there’s no one to absorb the shock. You’re in charge of all the feelings, which makes it hard to have self-perspective. Only recently people have started asking me for help, and I love it because it makes me feel validated in what I’ve done. The privilege of being invited into a project gives you the confidence that you’re on the path - to creating a sense of community with people you respect.
Mm actually that’s a good question - what do you think you’re creating for?
Ego (laughs). I have this feeling of - I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I feel so compelled to do it, and it hurts when it’s ill received. Recently I’ve been re-examining my intentions (which sounds so fucking lame), but I’ve been re-framing why I want to do things, and whether I think I’m doing them for the right reasons. Working on other people’s stuff is a great way to check yourself; being in a service rather than ego position. Why do you do it?
When I’m putting music out it has the same feeling as if I’m (not hitting on someone), but as if I’m telling someone I love them. If they deny, it’s painful. My music feels like this ball of tender connection. If it’s ill-received it feels like utter rejection. Not that I’m lonely, but I am 23. Yet I still hope the feeling of finding who you are never leaves, I hope you still feel like you’re finding yourself. When I make music, I’m trying to find the people I want in my life - that community - to be connected and understood. That’s the core. Maybe the rest is all ego.
I have a question for you. What does it mean to be 23 in 2022 to you?
I feel that lockdown and the pandemic as a young artist/person, trying to explore the world has made things confusing. Then again, being forced to sit down and appreciate what I have has made me feel like I can make anything happen with what’s around me. When your accessibility to materials is less, it shrinks the box of daunting possibilities, which strangely results in feeling more capable.
Do you mean it makes you feel more resourceful? Getting excited about how your imagination can tackle your limitations?
It feels the one thing I have to do is get past (points to head) this guy..
That realisation I was talking about earlier - about being in the right room to do something - I've always disregarded the right way to do things! My attitude has always been you can make something out of nothing and frankly, I take pride in being able to DIY anything. But you have to split the difference and realize your resourcefulness can aim towards being in the right room. You deserve to be there. When I have been in the right rooms, it’s been with someone else steering the ship - feeling indifferent to their expertise and indifferent to everything they’re saying. But when you’re alone in that room; what a revelatory moment to realize you have the capacity for all of it! I never thought of myself as a technical person but I definitely am. I watch YouTube tutorials for fun.
When did you feel worthy of being in the room? And was this album all self produced?
Ex-produced, some with just myself. A lot of this music was in a state of undress for a long time. I felt that in order to move forward onto the next thing, I had to honour the work I’d done. In the midst of doing that, I realised I could produce the next project by myself if I wanted to. But when I started these songs, I didn’t believe I had the capacity to do that. The flip side is I’ve worked with a lot of people I respect and love, and am grateful for their time, taste and energy. When you work with a lot of people, you can see yourself clearer because the language you use is evident throughout a diversity of voices. There’s a true north. I’ve always thought of myself as unable to repeat myself to my own detriment, but I’m realising you can hear one person’s trajectory. I do have my own style.
Soft Spot liner notes taken from Chelsea's Instagram.
I’ve been easing up on “okay this all sounds the same”, because I accept it points to a theme or a period I’m going through.
It’s sick to not stop yourself for any reason when you’re making something. If it isn’t good at the end, just make something else the next day. The likelihood is you’ll pick a sliver out and use it in the future.
These are thoughts I’ve been having! I feel like I had this conversation yesterday.
The first EP I did, Watercolours, was initially an album and I scrapped half the songs after two masterings. I didn’t feel like they were strong enough. But now I’ve taken one idea and re-worked it. I have the worst relationship with time. Time is an invention I have to force myself into acknowledging. When someone puts out a record and six months later someone says “I know I’m late to this but..” - you can’t be late to anything! Come to it in your own time! I don’t want to make something someone can only listen to in the first month. Please come to it three years later. I want to have a legacy, not just be someone only visible when you’re in front of them. I want to be omnipresent in a welcomed way, and feel a little bit timeless.
Making records is a perfect form of timeless humanity! I wanted to ask about when you’re making and you feel like you’re the only one to hold yourself accountable. Do you have someone you ask for help?
I’d love to say I do but I don’t. Maybe I’ll meet that person. I’ve had careful relationships with people and I distrust it. I don’t need you to run around a topic to appease some ego you think I have, I can take it and I’d prefer that. I love being confronted with the truth.
It takes a lot of battery power to tip-toe around feelings! So how do you do this hard thing on your own?
This is the first time I’ve worked with a label (Carpark Records) which is great. Having the capacity to know what’s not going to serve me is so helpful.
What is it like being a writer for other people over there?
I haven’t done that in a while. I go through stages of servicing my own project and then others to keep a mental balance. I enjoy being dedicated so when an album is being made I love to throw myself into that. I don’t have the infinite capacity to be one thousand things at once.
Do you feel a parallel between how you love & how you create?
I’ve been realising I’m definitely a one on one, all or nothing person.
I think so too.
So - how does it feel post Soft Spot? Do you feel like you’ve let go of a little-Chelsea?
I’m noticing how I feel watching other people’s work. I feel really immersed and excited about seeing things and having nothing to do with them. I’ve just moved to New York and have so much access to contemporary dance and theatre. The feeling I get every time is this is the best thing I’ve ever seen! Which tells me I’m not feeling hyper-critical or comparative - just extremely benevolent in a discerning way. That’s how I enjoy experiencing work. Not worried about what isn’t working, just immersed in what you feel is working, and it makes you so happy. How do you receive work? Are you in different mentalities when you’re making vs not?
I did my first recording with parameters on time and space recently and found I couldn’t absorb any of the outside world. If I’m vulnerable and doubting my work, I’ll see something amazing and stop making. But there’s a strange selfish moment of self-acceptance watching something and not involving yourself at all, just appreciating the beauty and being inspired.
It’s being a good audience member. But it’s hard sometimes! I’ve noticed a change in the stand-up comedy audience since the re-opening from the pandemic. It’s a lot less receptive and less default to kindness or generosity. Everyone’s tepid and less-willing to “go there” with whoever’s on stage. The best audience acknowledges the humanity of who’s performing. As an audience member you have more power than you think over the energy and experience of the performer. If everyone could acknowledge that, we’d all be better off.
Before we go, I just want to share this memory I have from when I was last in New York and on the topic of walking. I was sixteen, walking down a busy NY street and a woman walked past, all dressed up, in high heels, singing full-heartedly aloud with her headphones in. I turned to my mum who seemed unfazed and told me she’s probably on her way to an audition. I couldn’t believe that would happen! No one does that here.
The concerns are very different. There is so much life happening in New York, that everyone acknowledges your sphere is going to bump into everyone else’s at sometime. Nobody is worried about what shape their sweat is going to make on the subway seat because everyone’s ass is sweaty!
Chelsea leaves me laughing before being called back to the markets by her friends. I wish her good luck in the city and hope to visit her there soon. I can’t wait to see what is delivered next, but for now, I unfold Soft Spot.
You can listen to Soft Spot here.
Chelsea’s favourite is the opener and title track, “Soft Spot”. I also love “Soft Spot”, equally with the other bookend to the album - “Night Swimmer”.