There’s almost a theatrical or musical nature to Minor Birds songs. Lead songstress and multi-instrumentalist Chelsea Wilde builds stories and scenery in her songwriting and compositions, most especially in 2018’s “Bestiary.” It features some of Wilde’s solo songwriting after a few years of writer’s block. “Howl” is the first she wrote on her own. Listeners meet two characters who are metaphorically as similar as a fox and wolf, yet clearly different and wrong for each other.
“As cliché as it sounds, I went through a horrible breakup,” she notes of her headspace at the time. “I had my heart fully broken for possibly the first time and really had no other way to deal—so I wrote. I spilled a million words onto paper, and ‘Howl’ is what came out.”
No surprise Wilde grew up loving theatre but she cut her teeth on classical piano. She always was drawn to more grandiose theatrical composers.
“I also feel like it’s my role as an artist and storyteller to (first and foremost) feel every word and note myself,” she says, “but, also, hopefully, take the listener on their own rollercoaster journey as well.”
Wilde has more than a month’s long stretch on the road ahead of her before starting a European tour later in 2019. Minor Birds, along with Dutch Carson, will first play Juggling Gypsy on February 28 after a “teaser show” at Wrightsville Beach Brewery on February 26.
She was kind enough to share insight into her wide-spanning talents and songs she’ll be playing this week in ILM.
encore (e): Tell our readers about your training as a classical pianist; was this something you naturally gravitated toward?
Chelsea Wilde (CW): I started training as a classical pianist at a very young age. When I was 6, I was absolutely obsessed with the piano and wanted nothing more than to learn to play. Like most kids, shiny things caught my attention, and I wanted to jump to something else, but, luckily, my parents made me stick to it. It was something I really enjoyed, so I never felt forced … I was just a kid and wanted to dabble in multiple things before I was really ready.
e: How did this evolve into your current stylings? Was there an instant leap to incorporate other soundscapes with piano or was it more gradual?
CW: There was definitely a gradual evolution. I’ve played piano for decades, and did some transposing and reworking of other things to suit my needs, but I didn’t start composing until the age of 21. I started a project at that time with my former bass player, Joel [Wilde] (who also started Minor Birds with me), and started working with piano, as well as arranging other instrumentation. In 2008 my mother’s passing and some other struggles hit me pretty hard, and I took a break from music for about six to eight months. After that time, I came into composition and arranging full-force, and with a dark and moody sound much more similar to what I have now—though, obviously it’s evolved quite a bit (see anything from my “Hold Back All My Dark” album for reference).
e: After piano, what was the next instrument you took interest in and why? What else have you picked up to date or plan to dabble in next?
CW: Guitar was definitely the next instrument I dabbled in. I picked it up in high school, like we all do, and tinkered here and there, but I didn’t really start playing it seriously and writing until I picked up my first electric guitar—a Fender Telecaster—in 2011. Something about electric guitar just made sense to me. I was hooked. I recently had a endorsement with Moniker Guitars out of Austin (RIP) and now play an amazing custom I call “Caroline,” but I still have that telecaster and will probably keep it forever.
Over time, I’ve learned a bit of mandolin, banjo, Appalachian dulcimer, organ and accordion. I’m really interested in working with horns for my next record—especially the cornet or flugelhorn.
e: Speaking of sounds and songs, let’s talk about “Bestiary.” There seems to be a theme—with titles like “Howl,” “House of Wolves,” “The Hunt,” “Skin,” “House of Bones”—almost wild, carnal, natural…
CW: There’s definitely a recurring theme within most of my music. I have a deep interest in nature, creatures, mythology, lore—there’s something about finding the beauty in darkness. I feel like there is this underlying wild and carnal nature in all of us—a beast, if you will—that we try to hide, but it always shows itself through our interactions with others. I created “Bestiary” as a sort of homage to the bestiaries from medieval times. A tome. A written and illustrated record of the various beasts/sides (mythical or real) to all of us.
e: Tell me more about the narrator in the “The Hunt.”
CW: “The Hunt” is also about relationships; it’s almost the mirror image or bookend to “Howl.” The fox has gone from feeling helpless to realizing she is the dangerous one. She has her own power and isn’t one to be messed with.
I definitely write more in metaphors. I’ve always been a bit of a literature nerd, and a well-written story—especially something with deep hidden meanings—has always been something I admire. Those are attributes I definitely try to achieve with my own writing and storytelling.
e: Will we mostly hear “Bestiary” when you’re here in Wilmington or are there new songs in the works you’re road testing currently?
CW: Most of what I will be playing will be from “Bestiary,” but I will be playing songs from previous records, a few new songs in the works for a future album, as well as a couple songs Dutch Carson (who is touring with me and also playing at Juggling Gypsy) and I have written together.
e: Will you have other players with you at your live show? How do you recreate or adjust the soundscapes we hear on your albums?
CW: Dutch will jump in on a couple songs with me, but I mainly tour solo. Being on the road for five-plus months just isn’t feasible for most people. However, I like to think the sound holds up in a solo set. I write things solo, and while I typically hear the full composition at that time, I also keep in mind how it sounds with just one to two instruments, and make sure I keep my sound full, using minimal instrumentation. I like to think (and hope) the minimalism of my solo sets brings its own haunting quality.
e: Any new projects to come?
CW: As far as new music goes, I’ve been working on a few things on the road: both a single I recorded with a friend in Littlefield, Texas, and some ideas for my next album that I’m very excited about. (Hint: It involves the ‘80s hit TV show “Unsolved Mysteries”!) Dutch and I are åworking on a project together that’s quite a departure from my usual work, but I like to think it’s pretty dang good.