Jen Chapin – New York Minute Magazine
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Jen Chapin

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Jen Chapin’s music has the sort of colorful, vibrant, and engaging lyrics that can only come from a poet’s hand. It’s therefore especially rewarding to find her words perfectly accompanied by jazz-influenced grooves and song structures that are both natural and complex. Her voice has a sweetness that belies its power and lyrics that are both challenging and empathetic.

Her new album, Reckoning, combines all of these elements with a sophistication and artistry that makes it seem effortless. It is brilliant, clear, and has the spirit of connection that comes from honest writing.

NYMM: You grew up in a musical family. At what point did you decide to take it up on your own?

JC: Although I was surrounded by music because of my father [Harry Chapin], I was rather late getting started myself. My grandfather and uncles were musicians too. I always loved music and singing, but I guess I took it for granted until I reached a point in my college years. I was in a band who broke up and then re-formed without me [laughs]. That made me realize that even if it was just my hobby, that I needed music in my life.
To have it taken away from me, made me realize that I needed to perform. That’s when I decided that I needed to get better, build my voice and learn to write songs. At the time, I was finishing up a degree in International Relations at Brown University. I turned around and applied to Berkelee College of Music, and that was the beginning of thinking of myself as a musician. Originally, I planned to be a teacher and work for a non-profit and just sing on the side.

NYMM: Do your interests in teaching, etc, play a role in your songwriting?

JC: I’m a very political person and am very concerned about income equality in this country and hunger in this country, and that’s how I was raised. Inevitably, the things I think about make their way into songs. It’s hard to write songs about that without being irritating, preachy, and didactic, but I enjoy that challenge. If you’re interested in commenting on the world through any kind of art, you have to personalize it and give it a kind of immediacy or else you miss the chance to reach people.

I have an interest in details. I believe that in specificity is where you can find universality. It works for some people in pop songs to have really vague sentiments, but I’m interested in painting an evocative picture that can go on to have larger meaning.

NYMM: Your songs also seem very personal.

JC: It’s true that you write what you know and what’s important to you. I’ve been happily married and collaborating with my husband for 15 years. For many songwriters there’s the well-plowed ground of romantic angst and unrequited love, but for me, there’s only so far I can go there and stay truthful. Pop radio is all about the ups and downs of love, and sometimes I wonder if I should give in to that, but I am who I am.

NYMM: You just released a new album. Tell us a little about it.

JC: I’ve done a number of albums, Reckoning being the most recent. I hired a very established, renowned producer. I brought Kevin Killen (U2, Peter Gabriel, Shawn Colvin) into the project, who became a dear friend. We did several weeks of ten-hour days at our home studio as well. He has a strong, ego-free sense of structure. He would make really great suggestions. The fact that he’s the nicest guy in the world and that he has so much credibility, made it much more palatable.

I feel very connected to this album. There were two others I did before that were full-produced, long projects. This one has the most immediacy for me, most of the songs coming from my life as it is now, trying to find a balance between being an artist, mother, and activist.

NYMM: Those elements show up in the songs. Were they immediate parts of life when you were creating them?

JC: We were working on an album when I had my first child. We did the basics in the studio and then a few weeks later, I gave birth. Then we went back to the home studio and did overdubs. He wasn’t a noisy baby, so I could work and listen and take care of him as well. It was the ideal window to be a working mother. I was able to create something and be a full-time nurturer. The same thing happened with Reckoning, except this time the kids were at school or with a babysitter.

NYMM: What are your next plans for the future?

JC: Anyone involved in jazz music understands this perspective: there is a life-long sense of musical growth. There’s the pop music idea that you have to make it by the time you’re 24 or you’re done. I come more from the place that believes you can grow and do shows when you’re 70, as many of my role models keep going.

You can find more Jen Chapin here:
Images By: G.E. Masana and Nathan Leatherman

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