A Conversation with Beth Nielsen Chapman
Puremisic: Hello, Beth, it's Frank.
Beth Nielsen Chapman: Hey, Frank.
PM: How are you?
BNC: Good. It was a great show the other night, wasn't it.
PM: Oh, wow, yeah. I've really fallen in love with that woman's music, and she has a wonderful personality on stage, too. [see our interview with Maia Sharp]
PM: She's very self effacing and still confident.
BNC: Yeah, she's really strong. I was knocked out with her new stuff. I mean, I've heard her stuff through the years, but she's really gotten very, very consistent.
PM: Yeah. And like you, she seems to have a really incredible ring of co-writers.
BNC: Oh, yeah.
PM: I mean, that's such a smart way to do it, just to really run in fast company.
I really enjoyed getting into your records the last couple of days. I already knew some of your songs, especially the big ones. But, really, there's such an incredible depth to the body of work you've assembled so far. It's pretty amazing.
BNC: Well, thanks. [laughs] I've been going so fast forward, I rarely look back. One day I guess I'll look back and try to assimilate it all.
PM: And what an extraordinary life you've led so far. So much success and so much adversity.
BNC: Yeah, I have had my share of adversity. I was re-writing my bio until late last night--I hadn't really gone through the whole thing in a long time--and I was like, "Wow, this sounds like a TV movie!"
BNC: But I have to say that for everything difficult I've gone through, I've had at least the same amount of gifts and blessings and stuff, so it kind of balanced out. I can't complain.
PM: Yeah, what's the sense? How is your health today, and how is your spirit?
BNC: Oh, I'm great. Actually, my biggest challenge is not to overwork myself, because I have so much energy that I sometimes don't take as good care of myself as I should--making sure I stay rested and all that stuff.
BNC: That's something that I've had to struggle with my whole life, because there's just so much I want to do, and I don't have time to get everything done. And that's my life.
PM: Yeah. And I think in the second half of one's life, the urge to go harder and harder builds, instead of going the other way.
BNC: Because we have less and less time.
PM: The dreadful snowballing effect.
BNC: That's right. It does speed up as we go, that's for sure.
PM: When you and I met the first time, in an airport somewhere, your son Ernest was with you. He seems like a really fine person.
BNC: A fine young man, yes, he is.
PM: How is he? What's he up to?
BNC: He's doing great. He's just finishing college. He got a degree in music from Hampshire.
PM: From Hampshire, nice school.
BNC: Yeah, yeah. And then he decided to go get more structure and actually focus even more on music, so he just did a couple of years at Berklee in Boston. And this year he's finishing up. Now he's going to dive full on into performing and writing and producing. He's actually going to step into his whole artistry, I guess you'd say.
BNC: So that's been really exciting to see.
PM: What instruments was he pursuing at Hampshire and Berklee?
BNC: Well, he was majoring in guitar, and then he decided to major in piano. And he's pretty much played everything since he was a teenager. He's kind of like Beck. He plays drums and bass and guitar and saxophone and--
BNC: [laughs] He's just kind of enmeshed himself in music in a lovely way, actually.
PM: He harmonized lovely on that Eric Kaz co-write.
BNC: Yeah, yeah, his voice has really come into full bloom. It's been great. And on the Hymns record--I don't know if I gave you that one--
PM: Yes, I got that. That's a wonderful record.
BNC: He sings the tenor parts on that, which was--coming from his tumultuous teenage years when he was going through a lot of grief, having lost his dad--to see him standing there singing in Latin was such a lovely vision.
PM: I believe it... It had been a long time since I heard an Eric Kaz song. That was great.
BNC: Oh, well, he's written some of the great ones of all time.
PM: Yeah. Is he an old friend of yours?
BNC: Yeah. Eric and I wrote "All I Have," which was actually my first hit on my first record.
PM: Oh, wow. Where does he live?
BNC: He lives in Los Angeles.
PM: I shared a little table at the Station Inn for a Gillian Welch show recently with your co-producer on Look, Peter Collins. He's a very nice man, and a tasteful producer.
BNC: Very tasteful. And actually it was one of the finest experiences I've had in the studio--which partly, I guess, I chalk up to my own maturity, finally, after all these years. But he was wonderful to work with, very supportive, and also had a lot of great ideas, and knew when to sort of stand on the soapbox and say, "No!" It's a great thing to feel that someone really fully gives you their opinion. And also, once they've done that, as the artist it's up to you to finally decide. And if I were to not then necessarily agree, he is very flexible about it. So we didn't get into any head-banging or anything like that. He was a lovely person to work with, and very knowledgeable. I guess one of his greatest strengths is the way that he relates to the musicians, and creates a very relaxed atmosphere, it's great.
PM: Was that your first record with Peter?
BNC: Yes. continue