Revenge of the synths

Princess Chelsea plays at Dive on Friday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Princess Chelsea plays at Dive on Friday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Princess Chelsea is reasonably well known in New Zealand, but she’s one of those artists who can basically go anywhere and find a bigger fanbase.

Her deceptively whimsical 2011 song The Cigarette Duet absolutely exploded, racking up over 50million views on YouTube, and garnering her a loyal international following. That, combined with her tendency to spend long periods in the studio, means Dunedin often misses out. But that’s all about to change on Friday when she plays at Dive.

Why do you think you tended to tour overseas?

I have developed a fanbase over there, and I guess I’m one of those funny artists that’s more known overseas than in New Zealand ... so that’s part of the reason. And the second part, I guess, is you only have so much energy, and it takes a lot of energy to do that. And time. And I think I’ve always also spent a lot of time recording.

You’ve called this your homecoming tour. What are you coming home from?

I’m kind of having a break. I’ve actually been in New Zealand for a while. I got back from Europe at the end of 2018 and took a break from playing live or doing anything for a while because I was quite unwell, so it’s kind of my return to actually functioning as an artist.

You’re going for ‘‘as live as possible with as many synths as possible’’. Why have you decided to take that approach?

I decided I didn’t want laptops or backing tracks or anything on stage, which with the sort of music I do it would be totally reasonable to do that because it’s heavily layered with lots of orchestral sounds and stuff. So unless you have an orchestra, it’s not that easy ... I’ve decided I just want it to be quite honest, kind of old school, before laptops were a thing. We basically just plug in and play all our instruments, and some of the songs are rearranged and some of the live arrangements are really really different, which is quite cool. In fact, I probably prefer them.

How many band members are there?

There are five of us, and a lot of them are multi-instrumentalists, so we’ll be swapping instruments or playing at least two instruments during a song.

What synths are you going to be using?

We have a Roland D-50, but it’s actually a D-05, which is a tiny version, and it commands every other keyboard. And a lot of the classic cheesy sounds. We’re using a Nord Electro, but we have DX7 samples in there, because I use quite a lot of DX7 stuff in my recordings. And there’s a new introduction, which is like an Arturia, just like a synth bass synth, I’ve forgotten the name of it because it’s not mine. And there’s also a Korg.

That’s a lot of synths.

Yeah there’s a few. We have a keyboard rig of two keyboards, and I have the little synth, and the bass player has a synth. So there’s four. And there’s three glockenspiels, two guitars, bass and drums ... we’re pretty covered.

You’re using a lot of synths from that ’80s/’90s era when they kind of sounded more real but in a really artificial way.

Yes, very much so, there’s a pizzicato sound, which is not really pizzicato strings but it’s got that great Enya synthetic computer version of that sound, which I really like. It’s not about trying to sound like that, but more trying to emulate that period which, for me and people my age, is when you’re a kid — it might bring back memories of that.

It feels like for a while that period was kind of not really appreciated, and kind of shunned, and ’70s synths were all the rage.

It’s true, especially the early digital ones everyone was like, ‘‘here we go’’ ... But, yeah, they’re great. I mean I haven’t delved into 2000s synths but I’m sure they’ve got something good as well. I mean I think it’s also like, at least when synthesisers first came out, they became really embedded in pop culture and all the movie soundtracks and things you see on television would be soundtracks by those so they really imprint on your memory.

Have you got any new material coming out?

Not yet, no. I’m recording, but this [tour] is really just because I didn’t make it to the South Island on my last tour. I kind of paused the tour halfway through and just stopped playing ... initially I was like ‘‘I have to get to Christchurch and Dunedin and I haven’t played in a while and I want to get back into it so let’s start there’’. Then the full tour sprung from that.

The gig

  • Princess Chelsea at Dive, Friday, November 27, with Stef Animal. Tickets $25 from

For more from Fraser Thompson go to


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