The video for Cigarette Duet, Princess Chelsea's 2011 single went viral, clocking up over 17 million views at last count. It's a simple song with a simple message: in duet format, Chelsea (Nikkel) argues with band mate Jonathan (Bree, also of The Brunettes) about the merits, and lack thereof, of smoking cigarettes. The video clip is equally modest: Chelsea and Jonathan recline in a spa as wine glasses slip downstream in front of them. But it's in Princess Chelsea's straightforwardness, in her understatements, that the salience of her music sits. Like: cigarettes are bad for us, but sometimes we still smoke, and most people in the world know how succumbing to a contradiction like this feels.
Like the Lil' Chief Records music scene she exists within – and arguably New Zealand music and performance in general – Chelsea's work is great because it is what it is; for once, here's a performer not trying to be something that, unlike a lot of performers in the world today, they're not. This is similarly true of her new material. Chelsea has just released single, No Church on Sunday, which is about, yep, not going to church on Sunday. Now that's a message I can get behind – here's to another 17 million views.
Where did the moniker, Princess Chelsea, come from?
Princess Chelsea is some nickname my friends gave me as a joke one time, so I ended up using it as a stage name. I'm not particularly princess-like, and I think that's the joke – some would describe me as a mess.
Your influences seem to be a bizarre and charming combination of fairytale folklore, love and like, the Internet and modern life. Where do your influences come from?
Musically, I'm influenced by my instrument and the pieces I grew up playing on it - Bach, Schubert, Beethoven. I also love the synthesizer and am particularly enamoured with the early use of it in proggy bands like Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd was the first music I heard as a youngster that wasn't strictly pop music, and I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever heard, and I guess I'm trying to recreate that feeling for myself (I'm a selfish musician, I write for myself) when arranging my own work.
There seems to be this meta play-off between the old and the new in your work, too. Like, sonically your songs are often quite traditionally pop, but then the video will have HEAPS of CGI. Is this something that you're consciously playing with?
Ya pretty much, I will borrow a quote: a cool blog guy dubbed the recent No Church on Sunday video "retro-futuristic", and that's pretty much a definite buzz I'm on.
Back to my ramblings about the synthesizer: I am fascinated with the early use of it and how magical and amazing it must have been for everyone who heard it, and I'm trying to channel that, but in a more modern context I suppose.
Speaking of technology and the Internet again – and I know this is old news and you're probably sick of talking about it so apologies in advance, but – your video for Cigarette Duet went crazy viral. Did you expect it, or do you know why over 17 million people have viewed it?
No I didn't expect it – I did think the song was catchy, and my aunties and mum liked it a lot when I first played it to them.
I think it's a bit weird that so many people have viewed it – I wish that many views could make me rich.
You've just released No Church on Sunday and the accompanying video clip. What's the song about?
The song is about leaving a religion and feeling guilty about it, but mostly OK in the end. Simon [Ward, the video's director] and I were channelling Shakespears Sister, if I'm going to be perfectly honest.
Is No Church on Sunday part of a bigger release?
Yes, this single is from a new album I'll be releasing in 2015, The Great Cybernetic Depression. It's a more consistent sound than my first album, Lil' Golden Book, which had quite a varied palette. The new album is a little more focused I think and is absolutely covered in Yamaha DX7s and Roland D50 Fantasy Bells with a huge snare.
I feel that right now, there are a lot of solo female artists making electronic music and I'm trying to figure out why this sound is so popular right now. I guess it has a bit to do with consumer-available technology making the creation of it so much easier, and I was interviewing another musician who said they were bored of organic instrumentation, and technology has opened up so many different sounds. I'm interested in your thoughts on this one.
Ya interesting. Music, like fashion or food or whatever, has trends and I think that sort of Bristol-influenced thing is quite hip right now. Why? I'm not entirely sure. Why were cranberry chicken and camembert or-whatever-they-were Panini's so popular in the mid-to-late '90s, and why do men wear shoes without socks ATM? It looks weird.
I guess it has a lot to do with role models: perhaps a lot of peeps are inspired by artists like Grimes and Ariel Pink, who seem so cool and fascinating. Or, perhaps everyone can afford Logic now and the soft synths it comes with free and sound real good LOL.
As far as a lot of female artists making electronic music, I'm not sure why that seems to be the case – maybe they're just getting all the press :) Also, maybe they're sick of working in a male-dominated recording industry where 99% of engineers and producers are sarcastic men with beards and hoodies in their late thirties, and electronic music is easier to record on your own.
I try not to think about it all – sometimes if I think too hard I just get annoyed.
Princess Chelsea's Five Favourite Love Songs
1) Dolly Parton: I Will Always Love You
2) The Cure: Lovesong
3) The Beach Boys: God Only Knows
4) Al Bowlly: My Melancholy Baby
5) The Modern Lovers: Girlfriend
Published on 4th February, 2015 by Courtney Sanders
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