By Kailyn Champlin
It’s every young musician’s dream:you’re playing trumpet in the school marching band and spending your weekends writing, singing and playing music with your friends. The biggest thing to look forward to is the local battle of the bands, and whether that girl from the other high school who you like oh-so-much will actually come hear your music. And the next thing you know, you’re sitting in a recording studio where a Grammy-winning producer is helping you record those very songs.
Well, that’s what happened to indie rocker Chapell all those many moons ago. Legendary producer Jimmy Ienner took the talented but troubled Alan Chapell under his wingback when he was but a young and stubborn musician.Ienner was the first person who helped Chapell understand that “the shortest road to mediocrity is trying to sound like [someone] else.”No trueradvice could ever be given to an aspiring artist – musician or otherwise.
But sometimes opportunity is wasted on the very young. While Chapell how recognizes the wisdom he received from Ienner, he simply wasn’t ready to take much of it to heart. “I was just too young, too head strong, and too angry at the world to take direction”, Chapell now recalls. “I felt all this pressure to write, and almost all of it was self-imposed. Eventually, that pressure began to erode away at my love for writing. I needed a break.”
A quick year-long sabbatical from music ended up lasting well over a decade. But eventually, the ideas began to flow again. And some of those ideas started to turn into songs – eventually, more than enough songs for an album. But where to find a good producer? Chapell was good enough (or just maybe lucky enough) to strike gold once again.
In a world that grants few second chances, Chapell more recently (and somewhat miraculously) found two more mentors in the name of former Talking Head Jerry Harrison and engineer Eric “ET” Thorngren. Chapell notes that he has learned more about music from Harrison and Thorngren than from anyone else thus far in his career. In addition to being informed about the businessof making music and being generous with their time, they each bring with them different strengths to the table. The two were so influential on Chapell that he has been incorporating what he’s learned from them into his own approaches to songwriting and making the most of his studio time.
Chapell’s Musical Influences
Chapell’s music is particularly unique when compared to today’s music, which he says is the result of simply being himself.The flip side of his uniqueness is that no one really knows what to make of his sound. His previous album saw great play on Americana stations, and while he is grateful for the exposure, he’s not sure that Americana is his natural genre. He considers his sound to be more “indie rock,” but notes that thiscan mean different things to different listeners.
Chapell used to think that his music would only strike a chord with the “over 30” crowd.However, the younger generation of listeners has shown themselves in surprising numbers. Chapell credits America’s currently turbulent political landscape with renewing an appetite for the folk sound that he creates and thatwere prevalent when artists like Cat Stevens and Paul Simon were in their prime.
Chapell’s favorite song to perform live varies by the day. (Those songwriters can be a fickle breed). Typically, the most recent song he’s written is the favorite de jour. And right now, that’s either “Soul Man” or “Jane” from his new, as-yet untitled album,due out this summer. He’s also excited about a new song that he’s been working on thathe can’t wait to introduceto his band andplay live.
Chapell cites Van Morrison as an influence and, like many musicians who have channeled their idols through their sound, one can detect a hint of Morrison in Chapell’s vocals. Neutral Milk Hotel has also been an inspiration, not only because they also use the trumpet, but also because of their “uniquely identifiable” sound. When you hear a Neutral Milk Hotel song, you know it’s Neutral Milk Hotel –something Chapell strives for, too.
Another artist Chapell admires is the late Jeff Buckley. “Hallelujah” can still move Chapell emotionally, even to this day.And while that may sound clichéd, Chapell has a unique reason for his continuing goosebumps:he got to know Buckley when they shared a rehearsal studio in NYC. Every time he hears “Hallelujah,” Chapell feels a fresh stab ofmourning for Buckley’s genius.
Some of Chapell’s favorite bands at the moment include Wye Oak, Savoir Adore, the Death of Pop, and Coastguaard.
The Man, the Band, and the Process
Chapell has evolved from playing the trumpet in high school to composing a rousing and significantly more ambitious sax/trumpet/trombone combo on The Redhead’s Allegations. However, while this amalgamation may have been a delight to play, it took Chapell’s sound in a direction that he did not want to continue. “At some point though, having that much brass takes my music to a slightly different place, almost intoa Blood Sweat & Tears type of sound,” Chapell notes.
For his next album, Chapell has come up with an arrangement that “sounds more like…well, me.” He’s gone back to his roots of recording withone trumpet and one violin – rather than full string and horn sections. Chapell will be working with Tim Hatfield in New York forthis record. Hatfield has previously worked with such artists as Death Cab for Cutie, the Butthole Surfers, and Keith Richards.
Chapell feels his next album is his best work thus far, though he doesn’t yet feel like he’s quite captured his “best” album, or written his “best” song.Even though he has a lot of experience in this business, he still feels that “on some level, I’m just getting started.”
Kailyn Champlin has worked as a professional writer ever since she secured the title of “Long Island Pop Culture Examiner” for Examiner.com back in July of 2009. Her passion, however, is entertainment writing, and her life goal is to eventually be able to shuffle loose the 9-to-5 coil and make freelance writing her full-time gig. Follow her on Twitter @tinycourageous.