(EDITOR’S NOTE — There’s always something affirming about speaking with Chelsea O. of Stress Dolls. A gifted songwriter and prolific artist, her impact on the Buffalo scene through her music and radio show is significant. Recently, the band released the new single, ‘Ghostwriter,’ which then just a few days ago was followed by the seemingly out-of-nowhere surprise drop of the song’s video. After seeing the video, despite our fast-approaching deadline,1120 Press reached out to Chelsea for an interview. As always, she was accommodating and generous with her time, for which we are grateful. Please read our story below. — Photo of Chelsea by Zach Anderson. Photo of Sally Schaefer by Matt Smith/1120 Press.)
1120 PRESS: Thank you so much for speaking with us and congratulations on the new single ‘Ghostwriter’ and the debut of the song’s video! The video is really captivating. Please tell us about it: Who did you work with in making it, how did the concept come about, and what was the process like?
CHELSEA O: Thanks! I knew I wanted to make a video for this song as soon as it was chosen as a single, but I wasn’t totally clear on a concept. I had ideas, but none of them were full-fledged enough to feel interesting. I reached out to my friend, Brandon [Schlia], to see if he’d be interested in collaborating, since he’s probably one of the most creative people I know. He can get you out of any artistic rut! Brandon is the mind behind Steak & Cake Records, and we’ve worked on various projects together since 2014. He brings ideas to the table that are quirky and a little weird, but he always pulls them off. The process was somewhat similar to our first music video collaboration for my song “Alone.” I have a tendency to lean into camp when coming up with video concepts, and while Brandon is always open to hearing out my vision, he’s usually able to convince me to take a road that’s a little less joke-y and more subdued. After an email chain exchanging ideas, I let him run with one he proposed that was heavily influenced by film noir. He created a detailed shot list and then gave Tyler (my boyfriend and the ‘ghostwriter’ in the video) and I the assignment of finding very specific clothing items. We met up at The Harvester Center in Batavia to actually shoot it — shoutout to Sons of Luther who have their HQ there and let us into the building! 1120: We’re always conflicted about asking artists what their songs are about; listeners make their own personal connection to music and interpret songs their own way. That said, is there anything you could tell us about regarding your inspiration behind ‘Ghostwriter’ and how the song came to you?
CO: “Ghostwriter” went through a few different phases before becoming the song you hear on the record. Originally, I wrote it as a short instrumental piece for my side project Port of Ships. From that, I knew what I wanted the vocal melody to be if I were to create lyrics, and these particular ones seemed to fit with the song. That led to a version I performed for NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, and ultimately, a sped-up variation that I then wanted to record. To be honest, at the time of writing the lyrics I wasn’t totally sure what I was trying to say. Sometimes songs make more sense down the line than they do at the moment of inception. In hindsight, it’s a metaphor for my relationship with anxiety: I take responsibility for my actions, but sometimes I can’t help but feel that my anxious thoughts and feelings control the narrative, like they’re ‘ghostwriting’ my life. 1120: The great multi-instrumentalist Sally Schaefer — with whom you often collaborate — plays violin on ‘Ghostwriter.’ What do you feel her contribution brought to the song? Also, just curious: when/how did you two establish your relationship? It’s resulted in some great music.
CO: It’s no secret that Sally is a total badass. I love her style and working with her musically has been nothing but fulfilling and fun. As soon as I had the short/fast/loud version of “Ghostwriter,” I knew that I wanted her on the track. I had a vision for the violin solo which I plunked out on keyboard and sent to her in a rough demo, and from there she fine-tuned and wrote a part. She then met up with me while I was recording in Cleveland with Jim Wirt and laid it down. I think she did maybe three takes, at most, before hitting it all perfectly. Sally and I met from working at the Buffalo Erie County Public Library, but we didn’t establish a working relationship until a couple of years later. I saw her at a friend’s birthday party and we got to chatting; I mentioned that I was starting to play out live again, she said that she’d be interested in playing together if I ever wanted a violinist. I’m thankful that we still get to perform together. 1120: We’ve noticed you have been touring a lot outside the Buffalo area recently. How’s everything been going on the road, and is this something that will continue in 2024?
CO: It’s been so much fun! Touring has been an aspiration for a while, and though it’s not like we’re going off for weeks at a time, having any opportunity to play in a different place is a win. It’s been awesome to meet people in other cities, both artists and listeners, and feel part of an even-bigger regional music community. It’s definitely something I intend to continue in the new year.
1120: You’ve been open about your health issues. Yet, despite your struggles, you remain extremely prolific — writing, recording, performing/touring, doing your radio show ‘The Scene’ on WBFO/The Bridge… It’s inspiring. How do you do it and how is everything going these days?
CO: For better or worse, I’ve always been someone who has to keep busy in order to get through the day. Since dealing with chronic illness, I’ve been especially grateful for that motivation because it’s helped to keep my life in motion even when things feel like they’re crumbling. Back in the Spring I began flaring again after a prolonged period of remission, and since then I’ve been working to figure out the next step. I’m fortunate to have a solid support system at home, and also medical specialists, who are helping me get through it. Ultimately, I try to take it one day at a time.
1120: There’s a lot of gratitude that area artists have for you in sharing their music on ‘The Scene.’ What are your thoughts on the how the show, which is a few months old now, is going?
CO: It’s taken a few months, but I’m feeling like the program is starting to catch on. We’re getting more submissions, and I’ve had people tell me that they’re tuning in on a weekly basis. The show doesn’t exist without the support and sharing of regional artists, so please: if you’re from WNY or Southern Ontario, send your music to us! We accept all genres and styles, we only ask that songs are in .wav file format and don’t have swearing (because of those pesky FCC regulations). You can find the submission form here: https://www.wbfo.org/the-bridge-submit-your-music I know that both Bentley (PD of The Bridge) and myself have plenty of ideas for the show moving forward, and I hope that we get to implement at least some of those in 2024. 1120: Thank you so much for speaking with us, and we wish you the best heading into the holidays and the new year. Before we go, is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t asked?
CO: Thanks so much for once again taking the time to chat with me and for all that you do for the Buffalo music scene! Once again: regional artists, please submit your music to The Scene on WBFO The Bridge: https://www.wbfo.org/the-bridge-submit-your-music And if you’re interested in more about Stress Dolls, you can hop over to stressdollsmusic.com for all shows, music, social media links etc. etc.