Celeigh Chapman "My instrument is my voice" by Harriet Kaplan
PR: Do you feel so confident that you can become successful in music you were willing to give up your full-time job to make music a career?
Celeigh: A lot of people that have a passion outside of what they do everyday to pay the rent. I think they have thought of that on a Monday and on a Friday (laughs). For me, it was something I always wanted to do, but didn't have the guts to do. I had worked at Columbia Records for number of years, I loved the people I worked with and had a great time there, then I moved to another company, which was such a great experience for me. Then it came to a point where I wanted to focus on music. It just fell into place with my EP coming out. It was like this is what is going on now. It wasn't why I can't be successful at this, or will I fail, it was just this moment that happened and I'm very grateful that it did. This was back in March and it's been less than a year. The phrase that comes up for me is: leap and the net will appear. It's frustrating at times, nerve-racking and exciting.
PR: Did You make a lot of connections because of your job in licensing and can you tell me more about it? What did you learn that you could take with you to pursue a career in music full time and how has it helped you?
Celeigh: I met so many great people when I was doing licensing. I also went to school and studied music business. I did a hybrid major which included jazz voice as an instrument and music business as well at USC. So I met a lot of people in school and all those people went to a management company, to a label and publishing company. So that helped me as well to get to know friendly faces. I worked in the music industry six to seven years. I sent an email to the people I worked with that I was going to do music full-time they were supportive and excited for me. Some were assistants, directors and VPs. It was reassuring and really nice for me. It was a scary choice to make. A couple of licensing things I have coming up were because of those people. My music will be used in a SIMS game with some people I have worked with. They just had an opportunity and asked if I would be willing to submit something and I did. Their company and executives liked it. It happened to get into the game and it's really great. The funny thing is because I was in licensing I have someone now representing me for licensing. That company is called Lip Sync. I know the expectations from an artist's perspective and I know how hard it is from a licensing perspective. We can have great conversations because of that. When I was studying music business, I was studying it because I knew I wanted to be in charge of my career. I wanted to know everything. That was mainly because when I was little and singing, all of the people around me were playing in bands, I was 10 years old, those people were three times my age and they were all saying they tried to pursue careers in music and found it was a rough road. They all encouraged me to go to school. They didn't want me to sign a bad record deal and not be in control of my publishing. That was a goal of mine to do both. The music industry has gone that way. It used to be you could just be an artist. I don't think you can do that as an upcoming artist. You are an independent company. You have to work really hard and write really good songs. You have to be really good, and even if you're really good, it still might not happen in the way you see it. Or it could happen in a completely different way. You can't kill yourself if something didn't work out. You just have to be passion about what you do and keep putting it out there in the hopes something works. Even you're signed to a major label deal and major publisher, it doesn't guarantee you will be successful. There isn't a formula.
Photo Credit: Kolleen Kmiec
PR: You played in Italy recently. Can you tell me how that come about and what did you experience performing there?
Celeigh: I'm part Italian. I have some family in Italy. I've been there a few times. I have a friend in L.A. that's a musician from Italy and he asked me if I could go with him and play music there. Since I was on this new very available musician life, I thought it would be a great experience to go as a musician not as a tourist. We went and he helped me book a couple of shows. It was an interesting experience because most people don't speak English there. I sang a lot of original songs. The people were very nice and welcoming. It was exciting for me because most artists don't perform overseas without funding in place and a touring agent involved, I stayed with my family and cousins. I just had to come up with the money for the flight. I made a few Euros selling my CDs. But my family or friends made pasta and you're good (laughs). I was there 10 days. We did five shows. We had a couple of days to travel and a couple days to see family. With shows in between and rehearsed with musicians there. This was July and I got a couple of write ups in the local paper.
PR: How did you get involved in a tribute to a Linda Ronstadt: a benefit for Parkinson's Research and why? Are you a big fan of hers?
Celeigh: Linda Ronstadt is one of my favorite singers. She is such a student of voice. Through some musicians I was talking to, they mentioned they were doing this benefit. Because I loved Linda so much, I thought I should come and sing. Luckily, they pulled me in, because I knew nothing about it at first. It was at The Satellite in Silverlake. It was a bunch of musicians that love Linda. We donated our time and played a two to three hour show. It was a free show but they asked for donations that went to Parkinson's Disease. She can no longer sing. Unfortunately, I never got to see her sing when she was able to which is a shame. I watched every on You Tube I would get my hands on of her performing. This show was a way to thank her for giving us such great music. There was a girl organizing the show and she chose who would sing what that night. She would pair the song up with the artist. Since I was last, there wasn't many songs left so someone said why don't you do "Willin" which is a Little Feat song that Linda covered. I would have loved to sing all her songs selfishly (laughs). The turnout for the show was great. It was such a great feeling there and we were playing such good music. I met a ton of musicians I didn't know because of that show. We're all friends now.
PR: Did growing up in Bakersfield naturally steer you toward an interest in country music?
6. My parents didn't listen to country music. They listened to pop and jazz. So the first CD I bought at a store was Music Box"" by Mariah Carey. In the third grade, I was in the school play, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," and cast as Sally Brown, Charlie Brown's sister. Sally Brown has a solo song in the middle of the play. She sings "Home, Home On The Range." I auditioned and got it. I sang that song, and from what my mom told me, people kept coming up to her after the show and said: "She has a Southern accent and a twang in her voice." She sounds like Dolly Parton. Is she listening to Dolly Parton?" My mom was like: "She doesn't listen to that." After that performance, she started to turn me on to country radio. I fell in love with it. Mariah Carey and Celine Dion were some of my favorite vocalists to start with, but as far as loving the genre and music, I went immediately went to country. When my mom brought country in my world, it felt right to me. I fell in love with Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt and Trisha Yearwood. It helped I live in Bakersfield because everyone was listening to country. All the nightclubs were playing it, I could perform in them when I started out. Thank goodness, because I don't know where I could sing Mariah Carey songs in Bakersfield (laughs).
PR: Who influenced your musical tastes and who did you admire and want to emulate as you developed your talent as a singer/songwriter?
Celeigh: Trisha Yearwood was a big influence on me and she also write a book and worked in the industry which I eventually did myself. She was working at the same time she was trying to get a record deal. Because from an early age, I wanted to go to school. From learning about Trisha and her voice, which is just incredible, she was really influenced by a Linda Ronstadt, so that's how I found about her and gravitated toward her as well. Trisha was smart and also creative. I felt I was living in two worlds myself , so I really identified with her.
PR: When you performed at Hotel Cafe recently, you said you practically grew up around bars and honky tones living there and getting your first start as a performer in them. Tell me about that time.
Celeigh: Even now people ask me where are you from? I say was born and raised in California, but for whatever reason, it's Bakersfield. If you go back in history to the the dust bowl era, people were coming over and that's who brought the country music. I was surrounded by that in Bakersfield and it's so much a part of me. I was started playing bars and in Buck Owens' nightclub in Bakersfield called The Crystal Place. I played there in Tuesday nights and on Sundays I played the bars. I met Buck Owens and sang for him. It was later on in his life. His venue is one of the best. He was very kind and all the people that worked for him were great. I recorded my first record in his studio in Bakersfield with The Buckeroos. I was young. I was in third grade when I performed there. I won a radio contest. I sang with Pam Tillis. This was at The Kern County Fair. This was in fourth grade. That was in front of 5,000 people. I wore red boots and little skirt. I was standing on this big pavilion at the fairgrounds and I could see my calves going back and forth in my boots (laughs). I was very nervous but everything afterward was easy peasy.
Celeigh: In five grade, I was started to play The Place. Then I played the honky tonk stuff. The Sunday night country jam sessions. Yes I was very young, and it was a bar,but my dad always came with me. He walked me in. We sat at a table near the front. No one could sit at my table with alcohol. I would get up onstage and sing. Then I would get off the stage, and my dad like a bodyguard, and would usher me right out. I literally came to sing and leave right after I performed. Luckily, the bar staff was super sweet to me. I would go to church on Sunday night and in the bathroom afterward I would change. I put my jeans and boots on. Then go sing at the bar. That was at the time you could smoke at bars. My clothes were so smoky. When I got home, I had to hang my clothes outside and go to bed. Then Monday, go to school. Because Monday I was so tired from going and singing, I didn't wash my hair in the morning and my hair smelled so smoky, all my teachers knew and they were supportive. Sometimes they would come to the shows.
Celeigh: I also did anthems for basketball, baseball and city council events.
Celeigh: At 15, I went to Nashville. I did a showcase for Sony Nashville. It was in the early 2000s, when the country genre was having a hard time and pop was doing really well. Pop music was selling millions of albums and country was not cool. The label was not signing anymore country acts, and in fact, they were getting rid of them. I did a showcase knowing it didn't matter. I rehearsed in Nashville and took it all the way there. I'm glad it happened the way it did because I wouldn't have had the chance to meet the amazing people I did. Instead if things were different, i might if signed a deal and moved to move to Nashville instead.
Celeigh: When I finished school, I played in some bands. I released an EP with a band. I hadnt done a solo thing yet because I knew how expensive it was. It was hard doing it on your own. I was a little gun shy about putting myself out there again because what happened when I was younger didn't pan out. I feel like I've lived two lives almost. It was scary at first and then totally thrilling. The EP was released digitally in March and physically in May. We had an EP release party at a Hotel Cafe. I wrote all the songs on the EP and some were co-written with the guitarist Kris Karlsson. We produced the EP with an engineer that worked with Adele and won a Grammy. One of the guys who played piano on it also played with Jennifer Hudson.
PR: What's next for Caleigh Chapman? Do you have a strategy for your career?
Celeigh: My strategy is that I'm fully independent and financed my entire EP. I don't have a manager. The only person I have as far as a team is a licensing agent. He's trying to get the music out there more. Social media is very important like using Instagram all the time. It's about getting the music out to as wide an audience as possible. Licensing is a big part of that because it allows you to do that without packing up your car to drive somewhere to perform to be seen. I have two independent films coming out in 2015 with two songs so my hope is the movies do really well and people will hear the songs and gravitate toward the EP in that way. I write original songs for the films. One is called Bad Roomies and Diane. I love writing to a picture. It's like putting the puzzle pieces together.
Photo Credit: A M Busche
PR: Can you tell me about your songwriting process as an artist?
Celeigh: A phrase can be that jumping off point or sound like a driving drum beat. And how does it make me feel? On the guitar, I will work out the key and chords. I can do it on piano, too. The saying goes you find your instrument first, then your voice, but my instrument is my voice.
Celeigh Chapman is a very good singer and has strong, soaring voice that has a broad range. The Bakersfield, CA born country artist seemed more at home with material that showcases and captures the power and passionate of her overall style at a recent show at Hotel Cafe. Chapman was backed by a versatile and capable band including Kris Karlsson on guitar; Derrick Wong on bass; Kevin Milner on steel pedal and Nate Lotz on drums. The support was tasteful, nuanced and subtlety colored the arrangements and gave room for Chapman's powerful delivery to take flight. The driving, urgent songs that were more musically and lyrically compelling, rather than being just pleasant and listenable, like a majority of the material, just stood out more. Kris Karlsson contributed to elevating the dynamics with his striking guitar work. The mid-tempo bent of the show just weighed it down. The best numbers of the eight-set song set, including six originals, some from Chapman's solo EP, "Happy Now," and the two covers were "Streets of Bakersfield" by Buck Owens and George Jones' "Always Get Lucky With You" and "No Words" from "Happy Now." Performing "Streets of Bakersfield," Chapman gave the audience some insight into what that classic song meant to her growing up in the city of the same name and why it resonated with her so strongly when she began her career singing in bars and honky tonks. "Always Get Lucky With You," also seemed to ignite a spark within the entertainer that was fun, playful and knowing as the song's ironic steely-eyed lyrics. "No Words" was dramatic, plaintive and tugged at the listener's emotions drawing them in. Chapman's feisty brand of talent shone brighter in proportion to how hot the set got.
-by Harriet Kaplan