I first came across Chelsea Wheatley, aka Chela, when a promotional image of her landed on my desk—the one above, showing a striking-looking woman with the most incredible eyes (her eyeliner game on fleek) and flaming red hair, with (real?) crustaceans stuffed into her mouth, all set against a bright blue background. Immediately I was intrigued so I searched for her online and came across a track that has been on constant repeat since then— the totally danceable “Romanticise.”
Chela’s musical story begins in her bedroom, where the once-aspiring music producer started writing songs. In 2012, she released two tracks, “Plastic Gun” and “Full Moon.” This was followed by two EPs in 2013: Zero Mixtape and Romanticise, which has my track-of-choice on it and five awesome remixes. And last year she released yet another EP, Handful of Gold (The Remixes). Chela’s brand of synthpop is very listenable and the pronounced 80s throwback makes me nostalgic for that good ‘ole decade (even though I was only five when it ended, I’m well into my 80s music). Her sometimes cinematic, sometimes fun’n’kooky video clips add to her appeal. But mostly it’s her vocals that I’m digging—resolutely clear, deep, and self-assured; a sign of a musician who has a long career ahead of her. I asked Chela if we could have a chat and she obliged.
Did you always want to be a musician?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist! I would spend hours in the driveway of our farm digging up stones. I found it fascinating. Meanwhile, my sister was heavily involved in music and I started joining in as more of a backup. After I discovered punk in my teens, that’s when I really began to love it.
Why the name Chela? Urban dictionary says you’re “very beautiful inside and out…loves it when she makes someone laugh, confidence is one of her problems. Very athletic, and a teeny bit stocky. Chela’s are usually short, but mighty. They have a tendency to fall in love with the wrong person, and break hearts.” Can you relate?
Ha, yes I have read that before. Making someone laugh is definitely one of my great joys in life. I wouldn’t say confidence is a problem, especially onstage. I can be shy offstage, but I’m also carefree. I do have a tendency to fall in love with the wrong person too! Ugh.
What have you been doing this year?
I have been writing new music and going through some immense life changes, which have influenced the new music in a good way. I’m hoping to turn them into an EP or an album for release in 2016.
You’re based in Melbourne. What do you like and dislike about the music scene there?
I’m based in both Melbourne and Los Angeles. I also spend a lot of time in Perth, my hometown. It gets confusing sometimes having three homes! There are lots of talented musicians in Melbourne, but the industry isn’t as supportive as it could be if Australia were more populated perhaps. In the US the opportunities seem endless, and music careers seem to thrive better.
How do you feel on stage? What can audiences expect from a live show?
On stage is a place where I feel incredibly free and joyous. I do put a lot of effort into preparing for a show, but at the same time I don’t take myself too seriously. I want to leave room for the spontaneous moments to happen.
Your look is bold, colorful, and playful. Is that your style in real-life or do you amp it up onstage?
I am absolutely who I am onstage as I am offstage. Sometimes I’ll wear the same outfit I wore shopping that day to my gig, maybe with more jewelry. I couldn’t imagine formulating a persona for music. The music I like comes from artists who are authentically themselves both on and off stage.
If you could raid one person’s wardrobe, who would it be?
The wardrobe I have made up in my head! If only I could click my fingers and my visions would come to life! I plan on bringing my design ideas to fruition later down the track.
Do you think there is pressure for women to conform to certain body types in the music industry? Do you yourself feel or have ever felt that pressure?
Yes absolutely! Attitudes are changing for the better as women stick up for themselves, but unfortunately there will always be a pressure to feel body conscious as a performer. Especially when it comes to the day before a shoot or a show. I have had some unhealthy thoughts in those moments, but my mom raised me well. I’m in love with food and I have a good relationship with it. I just wish there was more education and information available to young impressionable girls about healthy and effective ways to lose weight. Becoming vegan was a big step for me in feeling great inside and out.
Do you have an opinion on the way female bodies are presented in pop music videos (Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” is an obvious example)?
Sometimes I feel torn because I think it’s wonderful for women to publicly celebrate their bodies (especially the ones without classic model figures), however, private parts are sacred. I think the mystery, wonder, and respect attached to a girl who keeps it under wraps/special for her personal life or partner is an extremely attractive thing. It all comes down to someone’s intentions in the end—I hate the idea of someone using nudity to shock or to sell. We see a lot of that in the music industry. At the moment we’re fighting for equality and there have been some great achievements due to women being loud, proud, and body confident in public and on social media. That’s the part that I love.
What has been a career highlight so far?
I love touring, and last year I played lots of shows in new places. Discovering new places and meeting new people is something that fulfills me a lot, so there were some touring experiences I’ll always treasure, including playing in Chile, making friends with some people who came to the show, and having adventures with them in their hometown.
Who are some of your favorite musicians?
I have lots! MJ, Arthur Russell, Lauryn Hill, Chairlift, Caribou, The Strokes, Ratatat, LCD Soundsystem, Die Antwoord, Mazzy Star, and M.I.A., amongst many more.
What does making music mean to you?
It’s the greatest form of expression.
What does success mean to you?
Making a positive difference in the world, as well as achieving happiness and contentment in your life.
What advice would you give to young musicians starting out?
You can do so much on your own, create your own ‘buzz’ doing what you love, and don’t feel like you need to adhere to any trends.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
I would love to collaborate with Seth Bogart and Peggy Noland. Oh wait, I already have last weekend on a music video! Like that plug?
Who are some of the women who inspire you?
Peggy Noland, Banoffee, Joan Jett, Nelly Furtado, Kelis, Caroline Polachek, Tavi Gevinson, my best friend Nellie, my sister Nicole, my mom Essy, my Lola, and my nana.
Describe your sound in three words.
I couldn’t possibly.
And finally, any upcoming gigs you want us to plug?
I’m playing the David Bowie Is exhibition in Melbourne on October 30. (That’s next week, kids, so grab your tix here.)
Main image courtesy of Danny Cohen.