INTERVIEW: Chelsea Wilson – Stonnington Jazz Festival Melbourne Victoria

Chelsea Wilson - Stonnington Jazz Festival Melbourne Victoria

Meet Chelsea Wilson is the Artistic Director of Stonnington Jazz Festival, Deputy Chair of Music Victoria, is a regular Broadcaster for Mi-Soul Connoisseurs London and PBS 106.7FM in Melbourne. She has curated the ‘Women of Soul’ series featuring artists such as Kylie Auldist, Mojo Juju and Stella Angelico since 2011 and Melbourne musician who has just released her highly anticipated second album Chasing Gold via House of Valerie Joan.

Congrats on the album release! Can you tell us about Chasing Gold? What’s the story behind the name?

Thank you. I’m really thrilled with the album. The title track is actually about money conflicts and financial issues in relationships. I had an unfortunate experience dating someone who turned quite nasty quite quickly when it came to conversations around money and suffice to say the money issues ruined the entire relationship – if you listen to the lyrics you’ll get the story! I think a lot of people can relate to this rarely spoken (and rarely sung about!) relationship issue – but if you can’t agree on how you arrange your money, the relationship is not going to work. I loved the name of the song as the album title as it also gave me an excuse to have fun with gold colours and fabrics. My designer friend Alice made me a couture gold tinsel coat that I wore for the cover shoot and the album cover has gold foil used for the font. It’s all a bit fabulous #bling.

It’s been a little while since 2014’s I Hope You’ll Be Very Unhappy Without Me, have you been writing ever since, or did you take some time off?

After IHYBVUWM I toured the record to the UK and did a season of shows at home. I then co-produced and released the Women of Soul album featuring Kylie Auldist, Stella Angelico and more and then toured with some of the ladies to Perth Fringe World and Adelaide Fringe. I then starting writing the new album. I didn’t really have a break at all – I think it’s an illusion that musicians take breaks! Since I got back from touring ‘Women of Soul’ I have directed seven festivals in Melbourne; took up the helm as Deputy Chair for Music Victoria and produced the new album. I also traveled to Scotland as an Australian music industry representative for The Visit Showcase Scotland last year and recently presented on local music on the ‘Spotlight on Australian Jazz’ panel at New York City Jazz Congress at the Lincoln Centre. Next month I’m heading back to the UK to promote the album and then I’m in Germany for the Jazzahead conference. It’s just go, go and GO atm!

How did you get Ross McHenry onboard as a producer?

I’ve known Ross and been a fan of his work for quite some time – when I was Music Manager at PBS 106.7FM we had his soul outfit The Transatlantics play live to air; we also featured the Shaolin Afronauts albums and his jazz solo records. He’s prolific, super intelligent and an exceptional musician and we always catch up when I’m in Adelaide or he is in Melbourne. Originally I asked him if he would be interested in co-writing but the conversation expanded to us working on the production together. Ross challenged the way I approach writing and recording and that excited me – Ross told me to stop thinking about genre so much and to write something ‘undeniably you’. Usually I like to record demo versions of my songs at home and I (attempt) to play all the parts for the band to hear on the keyboard – Ross wanted me to not do that and be more open to playing with the songs with the band and experimenting more. So we jammed the songs with the band over a couple days. It was a completely different process but it allowed the band to bring more of their personality into the songs and resulted in some amazing musical moments throughout.  

You co-produced, did you enjoy being so hands-on or do you prefer letting another, unbiased ear take the reigns?

I don’t think there is such a thing as an unbiased ear ha! But to answer the question, I’m very hands on – I have a very specific aesthetic and know what I want and what I don’t like. Ross and I were very consultative and collaborative with the artists and our sound team Tom Barnes and Jake Mason. I was present for every part of the recording – from the backing vocals to the string recordings, mixing and mastering. There wasn’t any moment where I wasn’t there. Albums are bodies of work that we create as artists so it’s really important that the recordings represent our vision and it takes time and care.

What are your personal favourite tracks from the album?

‘Nothing Can Come Between This Love Tonight’ is my favourite – I wrote this song in dedication of the survivors and ones lost at Pulse Nightclub Orlando 2016. That tragedy broke my heart. I wanted to write something anthemic to remind us to keep loving, keep dreaming and keep dancing no matter what violence or hatred may be thrown in our way.

My other favourite is ‘Real Love’ – I wrote this one for my #1 when we first met and I love the sweeping musical extravaganza and clip it has become. It is exactly how it was sounding in my mind when I wrote it so I’m thrilled the band really got where I was coming from.

You do so many other things in music: Artistic Director of Stonnington Jazz Festival, Deputy Chair of Music Victoria and regular radio broadcasting. What would you say to people who believe you can’t succeed as a musician if you have a Plan B?

To me, my work behind the scenes is not a plan B. Curating festivals and broadcasting is another part of my expression as an artist and is another creative outlet for me. In terms of my work for Music Victoria, I am extremely passionate about the organisation and feel strongly about advocating for the music sector and supporting musicians. As artists I feel we all have a responsibility to give back to our industry and our community of musicians and venues in order to keep our creative state buzzing, productive and fulfilling to work in. I’m honoured to have been elected to this position.

In terms of advice, I would give other artists – don’t invest time in things you don’t believe in. Don’t buy into the notion of Plan ‘B” – it is a concept built on fear and is a one dimensional view on life as an artist. All it does it deter you from practising your art and make you second guess your decisions. If you want to be a musician, pick up your instrument and hustle. Be part of the scene. There is plenty of work and opportunities out there – it is not easy but it’s not impossible. If you are spending your energy on something else when all you want to do is play, you will be a substandard artist who is frustrated in the Plan B job. If you genuinely have a love for a different path and can merge the two together so it doesn’t compromise your art or happiness then that is terrific (and rare). But you only have one shot, this is your life, not a rehearsal. You know that saying ‘better to have loved and been hurt than never loved at all?” – it’s like that. If you want to be a musician do it – if you are broke in 20 years who cares? At least you lived your life. Personally, I am not interested in getting old and having regrets. So I’m all in.

Do you have any plans to bring back the string quartet to a live show? Howler perhaps…

I adore working with strings. This is a new thing for me and I’m loving it. Recently I did a show at the Melbourne Recital Centre with string quartet, piano and backing vocals and it was magic. At Howler I will indeed have a string section and live harp! I’m working with Xani Kolac, Fem Belling and Emily Rosner and they are all incredible artists that I am very grateful to be working with.

Speaking of live shows, you’ve got a Glastonbury under your belt! How was that, any plans to go back?

Glastonbury was an amazing experience. I’ll be back in the UK next month and in the summer. I won’t be at Glasto this year but hopefully will head back in the future. I need some more time in the new age area!

What kind of outfits can we expect on stage at your launch?

Category is: Disco eleganza extravaganza.

What else have you got in store for 2019?

Next month I’m heading to Jazzahead in Germany to represent Stonnington Jazz and explore exchange partnership opportunities for Australian artists. Then in May Stonnington Jazz kicks off so I’ll be southside for 10 days of jazz. I’ve also been working on a festival called Progress for the new Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts which opens in May so it’s going to be a massive month. In June-July I’m heading back to the UK for some shows. In the second half of the year I’ll be working on a new radio project in between live shows for Chasing Gold. I’ll also be taking some time out for a writing retreat for a jazz project and my next solo album. Hoping to get back to Japan also to visit my brother and do some record shopping! Somewhere in the world, a banana lounge is waiting for me, so I hope we can finally be united later this year haha.

Chelsea Wilson – Chasing Gold Album Launch
Friday April 12 – Howler, Melbourne
Supports Au Dre, Emilia & DJ Blabrunner

Doors: 8pm

Tickets: $25 inc bf


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