CMJ Spotlight: New Zealand’s Chelsea Jade is the Dream Pop Princess
When scrolling through the countless up and coming musicians coming to preform this week at New York’s CMJ music festival, you will come across Chelsea Jade‘s photo and you will certainly do a double take. Ms. Jade (formerly known as Watercolours) has piercing blue eyes, blonde hair, and an ethereal face that suits her self-proclaimed ‘dream pop’ music almost too perfectly. I met with the New Zealander last week and we discussed her latest record, Beacons, her love misadventures, and what it’s like to finally reveal herself as a standalone songstress.
Interview & photos by Jess Kohlman
Can you tell me a bit about your upcoming EP, Beacons?
Beacons is the first output of me under my own name. A beacon, as a concept, is a guiding light and a warning signal at the same time, which I thought was a really apt way of describing the art of revealing yourself. It’s that weird tension of like, when you’re just starting to see someone romantically, and you get to a point where you’re like OK, this is a thing that’s happening, I’m gonna give more of myself, but I’m also more on guard. Or you do something and then analyze whether it was the right thing to do. And I feel like it’s a really overt act. Even just visually, in my old EP covers, you can’t see my face. My new cover is basically a progression of that exact [formerly obscured] image.
How long have you been working on this record?
I’ve been making Beacons for quite a long time. And I’ve been trying to really understand what I wanted to do. I wanted to form my own language and then try and speak in it fluently. It took a long time to build up that language. By that I mean that, all of the songs on Beacons are made out of field recordings that I’ve taken myself. Innately, that’s a totally unique bank of sounds that has a context for me. It’s very personal. It’s ended up being an effect that’s denoting me being more forthcoming with myself.
What has it been like, transitioning from being a member of a band to on your own?
That’s interesting, because I was never really a member of a band. Watercolours was still just me. But that’s such a common misconception that I could almost hide behind it. Take comfort in it, the lack of total responsibility for my music. But now, I’m totally willing to take a bullet for this EP.
I’ve heard you describe your sound as dream pop. What does that mean to you?
I don’t really know how else to describe it. It’s kind of a washy sound, that reminds you of something poorly remembered from a dream. You have dreams and you try and recount them and can’t fully. All of these songs are also, obviously, from my perspective. Naturally I’m biased towards my own opinion. My songs lay out my version of events, which is quite dreamlike.
You’ve won a spot to attend the Red Bull Music Academy and a Critic’s Choice Award at the New Zealand Music Awards. What are some more immediate goals you have for the future?
I want to start treating myself like an industry. I think it’s just survival. I just want to hustle really hard, start getting my stuff out there. For something that’s not exactly tangible, I just really want a lot of people to hear my music. I don’t care if people like it. I just want them to have the option to have an opinion because I know that I just f***ing love it. Like it’s so good. And for something concrete, I want to make a full on pop record.
Who are some female musicians you see as your major influencers?
I’ve always had a natural inclination to female musicians. I saw Warpaint the other night, and they were just insanely good. That bass player is so hypnotic. She dances to different rhythms than what she’s playing but it totally makes sense. Angel Olsen, I’ve played her records over and over. I love Lykke Li I just saw her at Radio City Music Hall.
How else would you describe yourself as a performer?
Confrontational. I feel like as a person I’m the opposite, but when I’m on stage I just feel this urge. Not in an aggressive way. But more in a sustained in your face-ness. I like to leave the stage and go into the audience. It’s the perfect thing. It’s so nice to weave through the crowd and feel like I’m a part of it. I always want to create some kind of dialogue at my shows.
How do you pick which audience member you’re going to single out?
If you look really uncomfortable I’m probably going to pick you. It’s like some cruel stand up comedy thing, if you’re in the front row just prepare.
Where does a song come from?
Sounds kind of gross but, I only ever write about my own romantic misadventures. I think every song on Beacons is about one person. I shouldn’t admit that.
Would he know who he was?
Yeah I think he would. Actually, I played one of the songs to this boy who it wasn’t about, who I was seeing at the time. And he was so upset thinking it was about him. I was just like wow, there must be something that I don’t know about you. You obviously feel as though this is what you’re like, but that’s not how I see you at all.
You say you’re socially reclusive, but then you make a career out of performing for people on stage. Is it almost like an alter ego that’s up there?
It’s very different. I don’t think so, I feel like just because I’m socially awkward doesn’t mean that I’m not intelligent. It actually makes more sense to me. Because songs are really a curated way of expressing what you think and you’ve had a really long time to form these opinions. It’s a really particular way of communicating. I think what makes me socially anxious is when I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. When I’m on stage I’m totally in control, I’m the one with the microphone.
What’s your favorite track or video you’ve made thus far?
I think my favorite was the Nightswimmer video. I saw this girl’s work, her graduate show from art school. And it was like these very formal looking columns made with ice and concrete powder. And they melted into these craggy landscapes. I really liked the fact that the more people that came to see it, the faster it would melt because of the body heat in the room. I thought that was so sad and beautiful. So I asked this girl, Zainab Hikmet to be involved with the video. And she was really into it.
How much control do you have over your videos?
Complete. I tried to relinquish some of it and I didn’t end up liking the final product and we didn’t use it. I just feel like you can’t trust anyone with your material. No one will ever care as much as you do. I have struck up a really great director, Alex Gandar, who has directed three videos for me. He’s amazing cause he just has this boundless energy and loads of ideas. That kind of relationship is so important, to build trust.
When you’re recording a song, are you visualizing it simultaneously?
I definitely see it, but in abstract form. I go through a certain visual journey when I listen to each of my songs, but the video is normally very different from that. I think that’s what so interesting about making content. They can exist as two separate works.
Set release date for Beacons?
The 24th of October.
What are some of your performances coming up that you’re excited for?
I’m playing at the Studio at Webster Hall on Tuesday [the 21st] for the New Zealand showcase. And then I’m playing at Carroll Place on Wednesday [the 22nd].