What does it mean to be an artist? Do you, as a creative, have to claim some type of ownership within the realm of your medium in order for it to really count? Do you get paid to create? To what extent does that matter when it comes to establishing an identity? These are questions that artists grapple with, especially in an age when ~*personal branding*~ is sold to us as absolutely essential and visibility is all but inescapable. So, how do we deal with these quandaries in our day-to-day lives?
Creative Grind, Manqué’s Q&A column, takes those questions directly to artists.
Meet: Chelsea Wolf, a writer and musician living in New York City. Her mom-given name is Chelsea Wolf but she performs music under the name Noie (pronounced “no ee”). She grew up in Connecticut and moved to NYC 10 years ago. Currently, she is working on a memoir, a script, and songs for a new EP.
1. What medium(s) do you work in and are there any others you’d like to explore?
I am a singer-songwriter and a writer. I always wanted to play the piano and took lessons a few years ago. Last week my boyfriend set-up a keyboard in our living room so I’m hoping to get really good at it and give Alicia Keys a run for her money!
2. Does your art pay your bills? If no, what does?
I very rarely get paid for my art. My primary source of income comes from doing bottle service in a nightclub. I also nanny and I recently finished an internship at a publishing company. I joke that I was the world’s oldest intern but I’m always willing to learn new skills when it comes to my craft.
3. At what age did you start working within each medium and what attracted you to it?
My mom claims I sang before I talked. I started writing songs in fourth grade. I had a band with my friend Julie. We called ourselves “The Chitchatters.” One of the first songs I wrote was called “Talk” and the melody was basically a rip-off of Mariah Carey’s “Honey.” The song had the profound lyrics,“I try to talk to you, you never listen, I try to tell you, you never listen, is there still room in your heart for me?”
I started writing stories as soon as I learned how to write. In fourth grade, I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and fell in love with the memoir genre. Since then, I wanted to use my words and experiences to help and inspire people.
4. How did your family/friends first respond to these interests, and has their support changed over time?
My mom paid for my voice lessons and came to every show choir, musical, and talent show performance. My friends have always been really supportive too. Now that we’re older, it’s harder to get people to come out to shows. People have day jobs and families so a 9pm show on a Monday night isn’t always possible for them. This used to make me upset but I had to remind myself that I will always do music, regardless of whether or not anyone listens to it or comes to my shows.
5. What was your dream career as a freshman in college? What is it now? What changed for you, if anything?
As a freshman, I was a theater major but quickly realized that world was not for me. I switched my major to Journalism and decided that I would become a famous singer and writer. I was pretty confident that I would be discovered and whisked away to Hollywood. I’m still waiting for this to happen so Clive Davis, if you’re reading this, I’m ready to be a star now!
6. During an average week, how much time do you devote to your work? How much time do you *wish* you devoted to it?
It depends on the week. When I have a slow work week, I read and write a lot. When I have a busy work week, I write when I can. Usually this means I’m furiously making notes on my phone on a crowded subway car. I sing everyday but only write songs when inspiration hits.
7. What creative/professional (if they overlap) guilt do you wrestle with the most?
When it comes to my art, I always feel like I’m not doing enough. I feel guilty for not writing eight hours a day or pumping out new songs. Social media makes it seem like everyone is not only constantly creating but being successful in their medium. It’s also weird to be applying for day jobs and have people question my dedication to my art. “I thought you wanted to be a writer?” I do! And I am! I have to constantly remind myself that what I do for money does not define me or make me less of an artist.
8. What creators do you turn to when you want to feel motivated or inspired?
Patty Griffin is probably my favorite songwriter so I’ll listen to her first album “Living with Ghosts” whenever I need to feel inspired. I also love Fiona Apple, Amy Winehouse, and Jeff Buckley. Sometimes a turn of phrase or how I hold a note will be directly influenced by them. I wanted my first album cover to be reminiscent of “Grace” by Jeff Buckley. I’m a big fan of subtle homages. If I’m feeling particularly stuck, I research other songwriting methods. In freshman year of high school, I read an interview with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer describing his songwriting methods. I can’t remember what they were exactly, but I ended up writing over 100 songs during high school. I still have them all in a blue three-ring binder. Sometimes I flip through and take a catchy phrase or chord progression.
Writing-wise, I’m inspired by Mary Karr, David Sedaris, Abigail Thomas, and Mindy Kaling. I love writers who make me laugh. Especially if they are able to do it while addressing a serious issue. Oh, and! I recently read “Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls” by T Kira Madden and I’m using it as a kind of guide. That book made me laugh out loud one minute and feel like I’d been punched in the gut the next. I’m also constantly inspired by my writer friends who are so insanely talented that I feel like I have to push myself harder in order to keep up.
9. Do you believe in forcing yourself to create on a regular schedule or only when you feel particularly inspired? Why?
When I force myself to write everyday, I have great results. The routine is good for me. I find it harder to sit down and write songs on command. My best songs come to me pretty quickly and are usually written in under 20 minutes.
10. Make a case for your favorite television show?
Hmmm, I tend to become really obsessed with a show for a few weeks and then move on. A few years ago, I watched five seasons of “Pretty Little Liars” in about a month. I love a good mystery. Especially if the people tasked to solve it are witty teenage girls.
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