“if success is a cocktail of chance, skill, and talent, hard work can kind of increase all of those elements”
Chelsea Warner is a musician I came across a few years ago when I saw her busking in the Castle Towers shopping center, and I was so impressed with her singing and performance capabilities even if I only saw the last few moments of her set. It’s been inspiring to watch her musical trajectory, and I was excited for the chance to sit down on Zoom and chat about how her journey in music has evolved. Chelsea is an incredible musician to get in the mind of, and in this conversation we discussed her new release, her extremely reasonable dream venue requirements, the problematic nature of self-care, and feeling like a genius on the bus
I like the plants in the background! Are they real?
Yes, but I’m really bad at looking after plants and I always water them when they’re right on the edge of dying, and that’s the cycle the plants stay in forever
I’ve actually just remembered that I haven’t watered this plant here in ages so thank you for reminding me- wow okay yeah that soil is bone dry…
Plants are strong, it’ll be right!
How did you go from me seeing you busking in Castle Towers a few years ago, to doing everything you’re doing now and totally thriving?
I feel like most musician’s kind of get their start without necessarily consciously choosing to, you just kind of ‘end up’ doing music. I don’t really know how I started, but I was always just doing music, and everything I did I feel like I owe to some weird intangible force that was leading me to the next thing. I got to a point where I was like okay I guess I should start writing songs now instead of just doing covers, I guess I should learn guitar now instead of just playing piano, I guess I should learn to produce– everything seemed like the logical next step
I’ve always had this mindset of being really infatuated by greatness, and I want to surround myself with people who I deem to be great, and always end up feeling super inadequate! That feeling of inadequacy has actually driven me a lot throughout adolescence, and once I started meeting other musicians, teachers, people on socials, and the musicians I looked up to that I didn’t know personally, that driving feeling of wanting to be great but feeling so far away from it definitely –anxiously- inspired me. It’s this constant chase to be great at something that you never really reach because the goal always relocates to somewhere else.
Tangent aside, I think that feeling got me to where I am today- seeing and hearing things and thinking I could never make something like that, but being driven to try even if I felt super inadequate
Do you think that’s something exclusive to music for you, or have you found that drive in other areas in your life as well?
I think it’s mostly music, but if I think about friendships or relationships, or academic experiences, that drive probably was a little all-encompassing. I think most musicians are perfectionists, and that perfectionism definitely did bleed into other areas of my life. If I was going to be friends with someone it was going to be the best friendship in the world and it was going to be so mutually beneficial and amazing, just like the in movies. If I was going to do a class in something then I was going to have to be nailing it. I don’t think that kind of drive is a bad thing, but you need to stay on top of managing your expectations and mental health and not letting yourself be completely ego-driven- you can’t let success be the validation. With music, it was about wanting to share ideas that are important to you, as opposed to just wanting recognition. Perfectionism is very tied into wanting affirmation
How do you balance that with creating music that you think is going to be successful and people are going to enjoy it, while also doing something that is fulfilling and driving you towards your goals?
That’s the million-dollar question! It’s really tricky, and I guess at the end of the day you can’t really worry about trying to do certain things to be successful because it doesn’t work like that. It’s been a bit of a lesson for me recently because I don’t think it’s all that possible to make something for validation, you just have to make what you like and by doing that your stuff will be better and someone will hopefully one day appreciate it. I do think that balance is really tricky, but being true to yourself- as lame as that is- is probably the best way
Yeah, and I think success can also change and evolve as you figure out more and more what your goals are. When you’re starting out into an industry that seems so overwhelming and you see people who are so traditionally successful in that they might have a lot of commercial success, it’s easy to think that that is what success will be to you as well. I think the more that you develop and evolve, you realise that success is a lot more about self-fulfillment or collaborative connection. How would you describe what success looks like to you at the moment?
I realised recently that I’ve been chasing success for ages but I don’t really know what it is. It’s something that changes constantly. You’ll achieve one goal and suddenly that’s not your goal anymore, and there’s a new one and a new one and a new one. I’m still very young and still building up industry and life experience, but I think right now the closest thing to success that I can imagine, is enjoying the journey you’re on and doing something that fulfills different spheres of your life. To do something that you love, that’s feasible financially so you can support yourself, and also does good things for the people and the world around you, while not being rooted in any outcome- that is success to me. This is all much easier said than done
Oh, absolutely. Do you have a small-scale idea of success that you’re hoping to achieve more short-term rather than long-term, or a smaller goal you’re working towards at the moment?
Yeah, I’ve never been the type of person to have anything in my mind be small and realistic and achievable, I’ve always thought very big picture, and this year -having more time forced to be with myself- I’ve reconciled that a bit. It used to be you know, this intangible idea of big success – five Grammys, living somewhere amazing, being conventionally successful! I think short term this year I’ve gotten really into reading and listening to podcasts about self-help. There’s this guy Tom Bilyeu who talks about making your dreams be like plans, and breaking things down into smaller more achievable little chunks, with the intention of making sure that every day you’re moving towards the bigger goal. For me, I need to figure out what that bigger goal even is, but in terms of my artist project, I’d love to just get work out that I’m really happy with! It’s great if people jump on board, if radio jumps on board, but I can control what I can control and that’s just making music that I really resonate with, and building up a catalog. My production and co-writing work is really special to me as well, and I want to build that up and hopefully work towards having some songs released that I’ve worked on with other artists that I think are really special. So right now, it’s all just building blocks
That’s so great! When it comes to your collaboration and co-writing, do you feel like those experiences contribute to propelling you in the direction you want to go in, or is more small scale stuff like developing your skills. Does your co-writing and collaboration influence the way your sound might change and evolve?
It’s definitely a bit of both. The holistic bigger picture aspect about getting more releases under your belt is always going to be great, and at the end of the day that’s kind of what I want to do- be a songwriter and producer in any way that I can. It does propel me to where I want to be personally, but it’s also that really warm feeling you get when someone lets you in on something that is really special to them, and if you’re able to help someone out with that or help them actualise a vision that they were unsure about, then that’s incredible and that gives you the warm fuzzies! It’s really fulfilling as well. I think co-writing -in terms of how that’s influencing my own project- is really developing my experience as a music listener, a musician, and as a consumer of music as a whole. I’ve become so much more open-minded and appreciative of all different types of music. I definitely went through a stage of being a bit pretentious with music like- oh that’s not real music if it’s on the radio. I think working with different people and being forced to understand everything that goes into a lot of different genres of music has been incredible for fast-tracking a bit of maturity in me. There’s no such thing as ‘good’ music, it’s all great and it’s a personal preference thing. I’ve kind of shied away from being so intensely musical and complex, and have just been making something that feels good, and collaboration has helped me in that way
I think that’s such a good goal to achieve as well with any sort of song making- if at the end of the day it feels good, then that song has hopefully communicated a great message. But I know what you mean with listening intentionally to music in that way, as a small comparison, I was watching a lot of visual effects youtube videos that break down the CGI in movies, or stunts in movies and it really opened my world! I can’t believe how passively I would watch movies, and see these incredible things going on, and just blank-faced think ‘yeah that’s really cool’. That’s like- literally millions of dollars in action, or a 5-minute fight scene sequence that took 6 weeks for them to rehearse. Music is like that too, and it’s so easy to listen to things and think it has no inherent value, but you aren’t seeing the hours behind it and any of the artistic choices that maybe resonate with people that just aren’t you. So many facets of life are like that
Dude 100%. The way society and culture is right now- it’s very much about mindless consumption, and forcing yourself out of that and actually appreciating things is becoming counter-cultural! I saw something that said so simply ‘don’t go on your phone when you’re watching a movie or tv’, like try not to do two things at once and try and soak in what you’re actually watching, instead of just mindlessly consuming
I definitely need to be more mindful when I’m consuming things like movies or music. Deciding to care about things and focus on what you’re consuming is something that is so important, and it’s great that you’re kind of discovering that for yourself during this weird year. How has you’re writing and producing been during this isolation period, have your methods changed very much?
I think it’s a lot more purposeful now? Before, I felt like I was kind of running in and out of things, and half doing everything. I was so concerned with keeping up and pushing myself and I thought that that was quantity was a good thing- doing as many sessions as I could, being out of the house as much as I could be. Having more time to be purposeful about what I actually want to make, and not just writing for the sake of writing, has been such a blessing really. I didn’t really spend that much time on my own project last year, but towards the tail end of the year I got into producing for other artists and loved it! It’s become a huge passion for me, and I was kind of just doing that and not thinking about my own stuff. This period of time has been a reminder to work on my own project as well, and making the time as well to tap into being intentional around what my message is and what it is that I want to say
Do you feel like you were maybe procrastinating from doing your own stuff?
I think I maybe wasn’t backing myself enough. I had the opportunity to focus my energy elsewhere, and going between full-time uni, doing as many sessions as I could, doing lots of gigs with my band, cover gigs, and working
It’s a lot
Yeah, but that’s lucky though! To have a lot going on is a huge blessing so I would never begrudge it because I think it gave me the opportunity to put my energy into things that I thought bore more immediate results. Collaborating and meeting people always feels like a step in the right direction, but sitting down to write a song for yourself… sometimes you kind of like it, but you’re like I don’t know what to do now
And you don’t necessarily have a person to bounce those ideas off of
Yeah, so there’s a lot of doubt, and you do get that validation through collaboration. I wasn’t necessarily procrastinating, but I was putting energy into things which I thought were more immediately beneficial, which short term, maybe, but long term, who knows
I think there’s nothing wrong with changing your streams up a little bit, and I don’t think you’re worse off having spent a lot of time collaborating because I’m sure you’ve really honed your skills, and when you come to work for yourself and for others it’s a more efficient process, you’ve had so much practice and so many tools in your arsenal. That’s a great outcome to have from spending time doing anything
Yeah and that’s why I think you can never really begrudge that kind of busyness, and I’m sure it was the right thing at the time
And timing matters, you don’t know what could be different if you just focused on your Chelsea Warner project, you never know and you gotta take the opportunities as they come and hopefully not overthink too much
Definitely, and it feels awfully self-indulgent sometimes. It’s something I need to get over, but sometimes it’s more safe and comfy to be in the background of a project -and I really like that- but there is a challenge in having to own a project and put your face to the work
Is that something that makes you feel vulnerable with your own releases, do you feel a sense of hesitation when you’re writing or releasing something that feels personal?
Yeah of course! It’s got inherent vulnerability attached. I don’t know if it’s necessarily something being super personal -although there is that thing in the back of your mind when you release something when it’s really personal- but most of it is that inherent doubt you get when your ego comes into the picture, and you don’t have the safety blanket of a song sitting in your folder on your desktop anymore
That’s so true!
I don’t know what that vulnerability really is, it might be fear that people will hear it and thinking hmm nah, but it’s something you need to just get on top of, and experience helps you overthink less. But I’m sure most musicians would feel that vulnerability, how about you?
Oh for sure. I think especially when it’s something that’s not collaborative and it’s got your name on it, and you’re held accountable and responsible for all the decisions and all the sounds. When you’re doing a collaboration you have a bit more of a safety blanket with the ideas, and when it’s all yourself you feel the need for everything to be perfect, and it makes releasing music a little harder. I often take a lot longer to release stuff that’s just mine because I know that I’m represented through every element of the track. When it’s a collaboration, I’m more likely to be like oh yeah sounds good! You’ve got someone to share responsibility and ideas with.
The safety blanket feeling is the great thing about collaboration, because often you’re surrounded by friends, or really cool people, and you can lift each other up which is a beautiful thing! And if you like something, and you and your friends like it, then someone else will too! Not everyone will, no one is ever going to make something that is universally adored
That’s the important thing to remember
Huge man! Huge. But hard to learn definitely
Very hard to learn. Let’s talk about some of your songs, with ‘How Come You Don’t Pick Up Your Phone’, and the DIY Supergroup track ‘It’s Not That Deep’, the subject matter kind of seems to me like two sides of the same coin, like they could almost be talking to each other
Oh okay! Nice!
That was something interesting I noticed as a listener, but let’s talk about the development process of HCYDPUYP first. I read that you mentioned how it’s very 90’s RnB influenced, and I think that’s really clear. It’s got such a good groove and it’s literally always in my head as well. How did that song come about?
I was on a writing trip in Melbourne, but I was in the hotel after a day of writing and the chorus just came to me because I was waiting for a message back from someone. I realised I had been in that position a few times with a bunch of different people, where I would literally and metaphorically be pathetically just waiting for something from somebody -in that situation it was a message or a phone call or something- but it kind of clicked in my head that there was something bigger about my dependence on other people that was coming through from this very singular instance of me staring at my phone and waiting for a message. I had this dependency on a bunch of people who were never going to give me what I wanted, because what I wanted was too much to ask of anybody, and I was putting way too much worth in other people. In the second verse- its tongue in cheek but it gets a little more self-aware- it goes into the fact that I got myself into this position by relying too much on somebody. It’s your responsibility to make sure you have enough within yourself that when someone treats you poorly it doesn’t completely knock you down to nothing. That song was kind of a turning point for me, I wrote it the year after I left school, so kind of in that transitionary period of learning more about myself and who I wanted to have around me. The song itself still exists within that pathetic space
INTD was written super recently, the day it came out was the day it was written. I had a song ready to go for the triple j unearthed DIY supergroup competition, but I wasn’t really vibing it. It was the night before, and I really felt something in me that made me want to try again, so I did and I ended up liking it! it was such a good challenge to have that time pressure of it needing it to be submitted by midnight. When I listen back to it now, there is stuff I would have changed and fixed up if I had more time, but being forced to just make calls and make decisions was incredible for the creative process, and I trusted my gut -which I’ve only recently learned to do! I thought ‘I really like this song’ so I was going to use it, and I didn’t have the opportunity to overthink it, which was important for me because I always do. Creative process stuff aside, I can definitely see how they could be the different sides of the same coin. I came out the other end and got to this space where I was someone who was comfortable enough within myself to know that this weird cycle of validation you get in some relationships didn’t really matter, and it wasn’t that deep! We can have friendships but it doesn’t have to be as extreme and intense as maybe it feels like it needs to be in high school where everything is extreme. I guess you could say that INTD is the person who I’m singing about in HCYDPUYP, like chill!
Yeah! I think it was an interesting look at where power can sit within relationships and friendships. You were talking about how in HCYDPUYP you had this pathetic-ness and powerlessness in the situation, not only because you’re depending on someone or waiting for them, but you’re also like ‘oh my god why am I like this what is wrong with me’
And with INTD you’re almost like ‘oh my god why are you like this, just chill’ it’s a bit of a play on how important those power dynamics can influence people and their feelings, and how, ideally, you want to be somewhere in the middle with your relationships where you have a sense of equality in the playing field. You don’t want someone who is waiting for you to message back the whole time, but you don’t want to be constantly waiting for someone to message you back- those signs are probably an indication that something is a little bit unbalanced
Yeah definitely, and I think a lot of my writing, especially when it’s about friendships and relationships, is about that power dynamic and about internal and external power
Yeah! Well, if as a listener, I’m seeing those two songs as two sides of the same coin, what are you hoping to communicate with this new song ‘Back On My Bullshit’
This song- I haven’t really looked as externally at where this would fit on the narrative, because I guess the narrative is my life
But, the song itself is for every recovering people pleaser. It’s unapologetically indulgent, and kind of about taking that self-assuredness a little bit too far. For example, being upset about people being late all the time. This was something I used to complain about, and then I went the whole other direction and was like -extreme thinking and egotistical my 17/18-year-old self- went very ‘okay well if people aren’t going to respect my time then I’m going to do whatever I want and I’m gonna be late some times’. The song is in this unapologetically self-indulgent space that is going too far in an effort to reclaim power that may have been lost in past relationships. It’s about living your best life even though it’s a little problematic!
Well phrased! It’s almost a bit of an important experience to have. Being a bit problematically self-indulgent I think has it’s place, even though it’s not the ideal place to be. It’s something you need to evolve from and learn from. If you’ve been in situations where you’ve felt powerless or you’ve felt taken advantage of, it’s important to have that experience of prioritising yourself and putting yourself first even if it can be a little bit problematic because then you can hopefully even out
Yeah find a healthy middle
We all have to be on our bullshit sometimes! Especially in this strange season, you gotta be a bit on your bullshit. I think everyone has gone through that especially recently
I think everyone needs to understand what their bullshit is, so they can recognise when they’re back on it because it really does happen, and it’s fine! You can’t always hold yourself to this super pious standard of morality, and sometimes in order to get little bits of yourself back that you’ve felt like you’ve lost in whatever way -whether its setbacks in your career or relationship breakdowns or friendship breakups- if you need to go through the process of reclaiming a bit of power, sometimes you don’t know what to do other than go completely full circle. You’ll probably even out, but I think it’s important to understand what that looks like for you and eventually try and swing the pendulum back a little more into the middle
Music and writing gives you the freedom to just write a song about being really problematic. There’s not necessarily the expectation of looking outside yourself and understanding your mistakes, though I think we naturally come around to the better way of thinking eventually
Every song can just be a vignette of a certain time period or a certain feeling, and this song is definitely that- it’s unashamedly problematic! There’s no real resolution there, but I think it’s important to be able to recognise your flaws and to have a song that is a little bit self-deprecating. It’s a little tongue in cheek in that I kind of know exactly what I’m doing, and I know it’s bad, but I’m going to do it anyway because I ‘love myself’. Zyad’s verse- incredible rapper – we had a rough second verse but it wasn’t really hitting the spot, until he wrote this verse that was kind of calling me out, or calling out someone who is proverbially back on their bullshit ‘why are you being like this?”. There’s that external third party calling me out, but I just go do another chorus and it’s fine and whatever! I want this song to be something that people can feel themselves to. This song isn’t just about feeling yourself and being selfish because you’re ‘allowed’ to do that- I didn’t want to make a song like that. It needed to be something that was a little self-aware. The whole ‘self-care, self-love’ culture can sometimes go a little too far and is maybe a little more indulgent than it needs to be. This is a song that in some ways kind of calls out the problematic nature of it, and then ignores the advice. It can encourage self-awareness but doesn’t stop them from feeling themselves. That’s my goal and that’s how it makes me feel
I think that’s so true about the culture around ‘self-care’, which is an important mindset in a lot of environments, but I think we can definitely use the veil of self-care to do some really problematic shit that is not actually really helping anyone or yourself in the long term. It’s like eating a chocolate cake every day and calling it self-care –that’s not really self-care
Or being late constantly to your friends! Disrespecting people’s time and making other people feel how you once felt! Making other people feel bad, and putting strain on relationships just because you can’t be bothered doing the work- I’m @ing myself here. These things that are unapologetically selfish feel really good in the moment, and maybe don’t have the best outcome. This song is definitely in that moment- very present in that moment of being back on your bullshit, and not really thinking about any ramifications
Yeah, that’s true. And it’s such a bop! It’s got such a good groove
The team on it were really incredible! Sumatra are the producers, we started and- I’m pretty sure I had to leave a session and we were going to start an idea really quick. They started making this kind of 90’s style pop-RnB instrumental- this Britney-Esque pop track, and I had this idea in my notes and I started writing. We injected more RnB layers into it- the harmonies, the synth and the sub-bass, and Zyad’s verse of course. Kind of different to some of the stuff I would produce for myself, which is more mellow generally. Everyone really killed their role on it. I normally try and do everything for my songs, and I realised that that’s a bit silly when there are so many people who are so incredible. This time I got to really focus on the topline and really hone that. It’s definitely a testament to having a really creative collaboration
That’s so ideal, what are you looking for when you’re finding a team to work with or people to collaborate with?
I tend to be pretty open to most collaborations, but for it to be an ongoing thing it’s about mutual benefit and nobody feeling like they’re not getting as much out of it. There’s this feeling when something clicks, and when that happens musically it’s very poignant. If you love a producer’s style then that’s all you need! It’s pretty intuitive, would you agree?
Yeah, and when things feel like they are coming together and your mind is being blown and their mind is being blown, and you’re both contributing to the session, then that’s a really good place to be in. When you finish a session and you’re excited to listen to the bounce
Yes! On the bus on the way home listening to it over and over again
We are geniuses! Best song ever written! That’s the best feeling
That’s huge. That post-session high is super important
What would be your dream collaboration?
I feel like I’d love to work with people who are really amazing at a specific thing that they do, for example an incredible producer like KAYTRANADA, so that I can watch and learn from them. Or to observe someone like Max Martin and see how he produces and writes- people who work at a high level would be amazing to be in the room with. Also, people who really push the envelope like Tyler, The Creator. I was thinking about how cool it would be to top line for Ariana Grande
I’m so obsessed with her, I really love Ariana, and that would be insane. I also love Victoria Monét, and it would be amazing to see how she and Tayla Parx topline. I love that Victoria Monét is such an incredible artist, and also an incredible writer for other artists
To be in the room and see how tracks develop with them would be unbelievable. What would be your dream performance environment?
Probably just a decent venue with nice drinks where people are comfortable. Somewhere I can connect with people…I feel like stadiums are cool, but small venues are really special. Going to places you’ve never been before, and playing and connecting with people- that would be awesome. And if they have a deal on pizzas that would be perfect
If there’s a good dinner deal and the sound is good, that’s all the boxes you need to have ticked to be honest
Exactly, I don’t want an extortionate kiosk where the chips are $15. I don’t know if that’s a lame answer, I know a stadium would be incredible- like could you imagine? I could never recover from that
But every performance where you’re connecting with people is special
I think a lot of artists would say that the really special gigs they did were in smaller intimate ‘good-vibe’ venues, not necessarily the biggest and most impressive show they’ve ever played. It must be hard to connect with 1000’s of people at a time in huge stadiums
And artists who can do that have such huge skill
What would your advice be to other emerging artists?
Try your best to both know what you want and be open-minded. Try and take every opportunity, and work as hard as you can while you’re young. Hard work and determination creates skill and opens doors, and if success is a cocktail of chance, skill, and talent, hard work can kind of increase all of those elements. Work as hard as you can at something that makes you feel good and doesn’t feel like work, and put yourself out there and try to not say no to things until you get to the point where maybe you can. And be curious!
What do you want to stand for as a musician and an individual in this industry?
That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about this year because I had always kind of mindlessly made music and never really chose to. It’s odd to want to have a platform and want to share messages with people, but not know what that message is? I think at this point in my life, the message is about having a strong sense of self, and realising what kind of person you want to be. The songs I have out at the moment form the former part of this narrative, but the music I’m writing now is more about realising what you want for yourself and the world around you, and using the inherent potential –that every person has- to align that purpose with your actions. I’m still honing in that message, but right now it’s about developing a sense of self-respect that isn’t just limited to having 12 baths a week. Realising your potential, taking logical steps to achieve it, and really believing in yourself. That’s what I hope my music is permeating at the moment
You can find Chelsea’s music form her socials below