Fremantle-born, Melbourne-based pop sparkplug Chelsea May Wheatley has got herself a very appropriate logo, designed by friend Jo Cutri. Her pseudonym (a long-standing nickname) is rendered in 3D script with a pair of lobster-like claws at each end; a tropical vibe. But they also sort of look like castanets, which matches her ticking electronic style – and they’ve got blood on them, because Chela is badass.
Musical experimentation began early for the lo-fi electro girl, but she is grateful that she had a little more freedom to do so than her sibling. “My sister is an incredible kind of R&B soul singer, and growing up as a kid the focus was always on her. I used to write rap breakdowns for her songs,” Chela laughs. “I did harmonies for songs, all that kind of stuff. It was good because I was never pressured like she was.”
After moving from Fremantle to Melbourne at 15, Chela’s tastes evolved. “I really fell in love with punk rock, and all I would listen to was The Hives and The Strokes and Razorlight, bands like that.” She then taught herself bass and played in a punk rock band, before curving towards the gorgeous sounds of her debut EP Romanticise. “I guess throughout my whole experience with music I’ve always had a place for pop music. I idolised Michael Jackson and I’d kind of slow-play all his moves,” she chuckles. “So I always did want to dabble in that kind of music for a long time. Now I feel like I’m bringing that to fruition.”
Her influences are as diverse as her heritage. From the bogus bio on her SoundCloud page you could be forgiven for believing all sorts of colourful stuff. It’s something that Chela doesn’t mind allowing to proliferate. “So I’m Filipino-Spanish-Australian-Irish,” she says, “but I kind of like to make it up. Sometimes if [I’m] out, some sort of guy would come up and say ‘Where are you from?’ as they do, and I’d say, ‘Oh, I’m um, Aboriginal-Egyptian.’ And they say, ‘Oh yeah, I thought so, I can see that.’ I like to trick people, it’s a problem,” she laughs.
There’re no tricks on the EP, which is full of pasodoble pop and Chela’s sweet, bold voice. ‘Full Moon’ features tubey blobs of synth and a wooden marimba-style xylo sound at its peak. She doesn’t slur her notes between words, and by cutting off each syllable creates this really present feeling throughout the track; each word is imbued with its own power instead of sliding into the next.
Standout ‘Plastic Gun’ was co-written with Regurgitator’s Ben Ely, whom Chela met through her friend Emma Stewart. “She’s in a band called Wall of Mirrors; they’re brilliant. Ben’s in her band and he produced some of their songs,” Chela explains. The title track was written with her friend DCUP, and we can perhaps hope to hear more cool collaborations as Chela writes her debut LP. “I’ve been writing songs for [other artists’] solo projects for years, and even though I only came out with Chela last year, I’ve just got so many ideas that are waiting there and I can’t wait to share them with everybody,” she says. “ I was just kind of looking for the right producer, and hopefully it won’t be too long before I get something out.”
BY ZOE RADAS