9 Nov 2018

The Mixtape: Princess Chelsea

From RNZ Music, 3:43 pm on 9 November 2018

"The Loneliest Girl continues Princess Chelsea’s examination of storybook love and, ever so sweetly, defaces each page" said Nick Bollinger of Chelsea Nikkel's latest album. She talks through some of her greatest influences with Kirsten Johnstone for The Mixtape. 

I've been making music for about eleven years / I stay inside on summer days, I've drifted from my friends
My parents, they are so polite they want me to have kids / I'm working in a record store to try and pay my bills

"It's pretty on the nose" says Chelsea of her song 'All I Need To Do.' The autobiographical song on her latest album also includes a nod to one of her songwriting heroes Bruce Springsteen and outlines her modus operandi:  

All I need to do is / Make the music and try to be true/ It's not always so easy to do / But it's better than sitting around wishing I knew 

As the song states, she works part-time at Marbecks, New Zealand's oldest record store, which specialises in classical music, something that Chelsea knows a fair bit about. She trained as a classical pianist, inspired as a child by a Yamaha keytar that can be seen in the poignant music video for the song 'Growing Older'. Made up of Nikkel home video footage from the 90s, it starts with Chelsea, around 8 years old saying "I want to be a musician when I grow up." 

"It's a long term goal" says Chelsea, who formed a band called Teenwolf while still in her teens, and joined The Brunettes live touring band while they were having international success in the early 2000s. In 2011, as Princess Chelsea, she released 'The Cigarette Duet', a passive-aggressive back and forth between her and her then boyfriend Jonathan Bree, which went a little viral. 

"That song changed everything for me" she says, "it exposed my music to listeners from all over the world all of a sudden, and from that go over there and play live and build an audience." 

When we make this mixtape, she and her band have recently returned from playing shows around Europe, and for the first time in Seoul, South Korea, and is halfway through her NZ tour. Here are Chelsea Nikkel's song choices:

Mercury Rev - Dark Is Rising

"When I was a teenager a friend of mine showed me this album, and I guess I hadn't fully discovered alternative music [yet] and so for me it was some of the first music I heard that - and it is kind of similar to Pink Floyd in that it's quite cinematic and over-the-top. And so this album, it really turned me on to a different type of music and what pop music could be. I haven't listened to it in a long time, but it'll always stand in my mind as a real turning point for me as a music listener."

Tokey Tones - The Beach 

"When I was maybe about 18 or 19 there was a local group called Tokey Tones, when I first started going out to shows actually. The music is so - I still love it so much to this day - it's so special. Scott [Mannion, leader of the group] made these amazing ... masterpieces, these two albums Butterfly and Caterpillar. And at that very young age when I was just starting to go out and see music live, I'd just started my own band, called Teenwolf, and it was a real big influence on me to think man, I wonder if I could even try something like that?" 

Interpol - Untitled

"When I was - again, a teenager - and just discovering alternative music, this album had just come out. And I remember going to Real Groovy Records and talking to Matthew Crawley, who worked there at the time. He was always really nice to me, and nice to a lot of people actually. He's been a pretty important figure in the Auckland music scene, he's always helped to run venues or clubs or bars where up and coming musicians would play. He's been really encouraging, and never makes anyone feel like they don't belong.

"I guess [this song] reminds me of that time when I'd just left home, and I didn't really have so many friends, and I was just exploring around record stores, and met a nice person who showed me this album. I'd never listened to Joy Division or Echo & the Bunnymen, and I still think when I listen back to the first two Interpol albums, they definitely subscribe to that certain sound, but the melodies in the songs are very strong and the arrangements are really clever and well thought out with the guitars and everything."

Ariel Pink - Dayzed Inn Daydreams 

"Sometimes when you inject comedy into your music I think critics can find it... I think everyone takes themselves too seriously these days, and they can find it somewhat confounding, like 'I don't know if I can take this artist seriously or not because they're not taking themselves seriously'. Sometimes I feel that from people. I mean there's artists that I'm influenced by like Jonathan Richman... he's a mixture of really earnest, romantic, and funny as well, and political even.

Also someone like Ariel Pink is a good example of someone that has a lot of humour, and certainly does confound a lot of people. I really like his music a lot, I think he's super brave and cool. I find him inspiring 'cause he says what he wants, but again, melodies are super strong, lyrics are quite bold and quite strange, and this song ... it's that really nice mix of melancholy and reflective as well." 

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band - Thunder Road

"I didn't really like Bruce Springsteen much until maybe mid-20s. I don't know what it was but one day I heard something by him and it was like I heard it for the first time. I sound like such a cliche Springsteen worshiper or whatever but it just hit me one day how amazing these songs were. 

For me, they encompassed everything I loved about someone like Bob Dylan, delivered with passion and fire. For me it's the pinnacle of what you could achieve as a musician. Like If I hear this 'Thunder Road' acoustic, it just tells a story in such a clever way, and I actually find it hard not to cry every time I hear it, and I'm not a very weepy person.

"That's why I put it in a song, like I had this moment where I went and saw Bruce Springsteen live, and I was standing there thinking 'Oh my god, I'll never be this good. Should I be doing this?' and then it's like, 'yeah yeah, just keep doing it.' 

Richmond Fontaine - Disappeared 

"This is a band that I was introduced to when I was working at Marbecks Records as a youngster. They're relatively unknown, they've got a cult following, Americana group. The lead singer Willie Vlautin is now writing novels, and all their albums seem to be concept albums that tell stories. 

This is a track that's taken from an album called The Fitzgerald. Willie holed himself up in a motel called the Fitzgerald in Reno for two or three weeks and just wrote stories that became songs about the characters that he saw milling around the casino and motel. His lyrics remind me of Springsteen lyrics in a way. I listen to his music a lot, and I think it's influenced me, just the way he repeats certain words, and just how honest and stark some of the lyrics are." 

Music Details 

Artist: Princess Chelsea
Song: All I have to Do
Composer: Nikkel
Album: The Loneliest Girl
label: Lil’ Chief 

Artist: Mercury rev 
Song: The Dark Is Rising
Composer: Donahue, Grasshopper, Mercel
Album: All Is Dream
label: V2

Artist: Tokey Tones
Song: The Beach 
Composer: Mannion
Album: Caterpillar
label: Lil’ Chief

Artist: Interpol 
Song: Untitled 
Composer: Interpol
Album: Turn On The Bright Lights 
label: Matador

Artist: Ariel Pink
Song: Dayzed Inn Daydreams 
Composer: Ariel Pink
Album: Pom Pom
label: 4AD

Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Song: Thunder Road
Composer: Springsteen
Album: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Live 1975-1985
label: Columbia

Artist: Richmond Fontaine
Song: Disappeared 
Composer: Vlautin
Album: The Fitzgerald
label: Union

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