CHELSEY WEBER-SMITH

 
photo: Ashley Erickson

photo: Ashley Erickson

 

Chelsey Weber-Smith

Poet/musician/writer 

Seattle, Wa


Where do you currently call home and what is keeping you there?

I just got back from living on the road for eight months in my truck, Old Handsome. I spent the most time in New Orleans, living on a quiet road with a bunch of other boondockers. I thought I might move somewhere else, but I ended up coming back to Seattle. What is keeping me here? Probably my friends and family, I got real lonely out there by myself. Also, art. I am part of a performance group here called the Grief Girls, and that is a completely new pursuit for me. I have been a writer and musician forever, but I am interested in making new kinds of art in which I can feel embodied and get to know myself in a different way.

You have done quite a bit of traveling in your life. Out of all places you have been which was your favorite and why?

I think that New Orleans is the best city in the country. I used to hitchhike a lot in the US, and I still love this country dearly, though of course there is plenty about it to despise as well. I love the Southwest, the desert, I love the California coast, but I love the South most of all. Overseas I love Italy, especially Venice.

How about your least favorite?

Tuscaloosa, Alabama after a football game. The whole town looked at me like I didn’t belong there and honestly, it scared me more than any other place I have been. A fairly affluent, very straight white college town. They were not friendly to someone who looked like me. I got out of there fast after a few drunk men said some pretty creepy stuff to me, like “Be careful, there’s a lot of weirdoes out tonight,” followed by what can only be called maniacal laughter. Nope.

You have a pretty sweet writing gig, can you tell us a little about it and how you got into it. 

I work for a murder mystery company, and most of what I do involves writing about true crime. I actually got the job through Instagram, weirdly enough. So, for the last eight months I was living on the road and writing about the sociological and philosophical implications of American crime, studying some pretty intense stuff, all while living alone in a truck. Someone recently said to me, “Oh, so you are living in my nightmare.” I am currently working on a podcast for them where I interview folks who work within this genre.

You write music as well, most seem to be about love and traveling. Do you remember the moment you first wanted to start playing music?

I don’t remember the moment, no, but I do remember the first couple weeks. I was 18 and my father had an old guitar that he mailed to me and it came in a big box and I immediately learned the G and D chords. Then I took the guitar over to my best friend Allison Vincler’s dad’s apartment, where he lived with his friend Ron. We hung out there all the time as teenagers. We would drink and smoke and sit in a big circle while I played those two chords over and over again, and make up verses, one person at a time. It is one of my fondest memories. 

I have only seen you play guitar, are there any other instruments you play?

That’s really it. I’ll always be a poet before a musician.

Do you have any rituals that help motivate/inspire you before you get on stage or write music?

Oh boy. Beer helps. Spliffs too. Finding that “fuck it” attitude that lives deep inside me. I don’t play music people are used to hearing, so I’m always ready to be rejected, and it’s hard sometimes. But other times I just have the spirit and I can throw it all out there carelessly. Then more spliffs, of course.

Lets get a few of the favorites and best questions out of the way.

Favorite local musicians/groups?

Not musicians, but the Gramma poetry press sure knows how the fuck to throw a party. Check out their amazing stuff.

Local writers/artists/musicians: (just a few I love, not all by any means!): Corrine Manning, Laura Ashcoff, Markeith Wiley, Anastasia Renee, Natasha Marin, Moh Grout, Roache the muralist, Allison Vincler, Brandon Vosika, Josephine Jardine, Makenna Lehrer, Buggy Vigor, Jennifer Henley, Kelly Bjork, Coach, Nixon Tooth, Kid Crust, Taylor Brandesky.

Favorite not so local musicians/groups?

I’m really into Josh Ritter this year, always into Conor Oberst, Emmy the Great, Joe Pug, Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, Kendrick Lamar, First Aid Kit, Fleetwood Mac, Deer Tick. I’m weird and listen to the same music over and over again for the most part.

favorite poem?

This is so hard. How about my favorite line?

O World, I cannot hold thee close enough. –E. St. Vincent Millay.

Are there any Perks of being a musician and or writer?

I think you get to see the world in its full color. I remember when I was teaching my own intro to poetry class at the University of Virginia as part of my grad program, I had one student tell me that after the class, he would walk out into the world and the colors would be brighter, and he would notice them more. I think being an artist lets something special into your heart, when you can get there of course. Things touch you, colors, people’s faces, the little things people do. You notice the world’s details and you feel alive in that way. I don’t always feel this way, but this feeling is what I strive toward and what I aim to capture, or maybe a better word, to facilitate into a format that other can share in.  

How about the frustrations?

Mostly how certain people (always dudes) feel the need to come up to me after I play a show and give me some piece of advice. This happens so often. They say “Wow, that was great, but have you thought about working on your breathing while singing? Have you thought about trying to make better eye-contact with the crowd?” I sing personal-ass, vulnerable shit and I’m not a perfect person in anyway, and I certainly do NOT strive to be a perfect artist. I want to be messy because I am messy and the world is messy and I can’t always look it in the eye. I think people want to control wild things.

And, in a bigger sense, it breaks your heart every day that you are unable to create. Art does not have a constant flow, and I know that, but when I was younger it really did. So I have to adjust to a lesser output, which feels like failure. But those thoughts are pointless and lead to more creative blocks. It’s hard to be kind to the self. I’m trying really hard.

So far, what is your favorite project you have worked on and why?

I always love recording because you get to go into this special private world for awhile with people you love and trust to make beautiful shit. It’s a kind of ongoing party in some sense.

I have been working in the novel for years as well, and it’s pretty dear to me. I used to hitchhike all over the country and this novel is a way for me to try to capture those times and do something (hopefully) meaningful with them. It is also a way to ask questions about friendship and romantic love, about jealousy and how we manage to love each other through all the difficulty of being human. It is the most personal thing I have ever done, though it is truly fiction. I think in fiction, unlike poetry and songwriting where I am overtly writing about myself, I am able to go farther, ask scarier questions, go to scarier, more secret places, because it isn’t me, it’s someone else I have invented. But of course it’s me.

Are you working on any new projects? If so can you tell us a little about it?

The novel, the novel, the novel. And I have three new albums to record but god am I bad at getting that shit done.

What can you be found doing outside of music?

I like to go for walks with friends and talk about our lives and the great mysteries of the world at large, beauty, truth, love, all that. I go for a lot of long walks and hikes while listening to true crime podcasts. Most of what I do, I have to be moving at the same time, so a lot of walks. Always looking for an abandoned building to explore or a weird situation to put myself in. I love TV shows passionately and desperately. I love horror movies and Lifetime movies and the campiest media there is. I like to dip my feet into the weirdest stuff I can, for example, a local cult-like spiritual group in Seattle that had an “alien” suspended in a big glass tube. I am super into the bible which everyone gets weird about. I love the history, the stories, the lyricism, the magic, the mysticism (gnostic gospels). Give me anything mysterious and strange and I will get obsessed with it. I can hacky sack like a champ and juggle. I love sports, I play intramural softball. I like social gatherings. I’m a double leo so attention is great. I am an activist, queer and genderqueer af, and I try to show up for social justice causes, especially racial justice which I consider to have the most immediate need. I’m generally very pleasant, I think, but I’m a protester, through and through, and you don’t want to make me mad when I’m in that headspace.  

last words?

Art and the self should never be taken too seriously. Trying to love the self is so hard but also more important than anything else. It is the first step. Put your mask on and then help someone else. You gotta be ready for the fight, armed with skills of listening and empathy, and also a strong sense of what needs to be done, what needs to be changed, what cannot go on any longer. This goes for art, this goes for activism, this goes for love. I got really serious after I said not to take things too seriously. But there are serious, grave things happening constantly. It’s a difficult balance. I take the world seriously, while remembering that I am an imperfect dummy. But I’m always striving, I hope. Always moving.

 

links:

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