Thirteen may be an unlucky number for some, but not for country singer-songwriter Celeigh Chapman. That's the time the Bakersfield-born musician, who release her new five-song EP “The Winner” Friday, has spent in the industry.
“It's been about 13 years now. Kind of unbelievable,” she said of being immersed in Southern California life since relocating for both school and to pursue her musical passions. “I'm still finding my place within the L.A. country scene; however, I have found my place around the musician scene.”
Recorded and produced in Los Angeles, the place Chapman's called home for more than a decade, the release also marks another milestone in a career that’s felt both the pinch and warm embrace of a capricious industry. Currently prepping for a promotional campaign in support of “The Winner” that includes both radio and live appearances, Chapman remains ever-focused.
And just like The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Dave Alvin, Dwight Yoakam and others before her who cut their teeth along the experimental musical vines of Laurel Canyon, Hollywood and San Fernando Valley country rock, Chapman engages with similar kindred spirits in new homes for country.
“The Hotel Cafe Hootenanny has become a great supportive place for artists and musicians. Dave over at the Maui Sugar Mill gets a great Country Jam session going that reminds me of Trout’s and makes me feel at home. There's a network of musicians who all run together and I think more than anything I fit with all of them, so rather than a bar or club as long as I'm in the company of those fine folks, my music fits in.”
Chapman, who attended music school at USC, made the right connections that wove her into the new fabric of young artists permeating the energetic Silver Lake music scene. Over the years she’s released a number of well-received singles, collaborated with country and artists of other genres — including electronica — and had her music included on the soundtrack to the 2011 film “A Little Help,” starring Jenna Fischer (“The Office”). And although sometimes released with help from a major label, she’s always reaffirmed her independence.
“Despite having two singles in my career (Columbia Records and London Tone Records), all of my music has been released independently. I feel like that's something to be very proud of because it's not easy to do. You have to wear a lot of hats and I sorta feel like Dr. Seuss with how tall mine is and how many roles/jobs I have taken on just to release music to the public. But when you do that, despite the amount of work, and how thin you're spread, the creative freedom is priceless.”
If Chapman’s last 2014 EP release, “Happy Now,” was a culmination of where life had brought her up to that point with its downhome Nashville blend, it also served as reminder to country listeners that there were options outside the mainstream, including Bakersfield.
“I can't tell you how many times in Los Angeles people ask me where I'm from. I usually get Texas, or the South, or Georgia. I think you have to know what's in your blood. I may write and create other types of music — because at the core I'm a musician, and I want to be creative — but I'm a Bakersfield girl through and through.”
While “Happy Now” did help draw in new fans, it still wasn’t enough to push Chapman’s voice further than those in the know and music fans who actively seek something off the radar.
“I will say that not all of the Top 40 music that's out right now is my jam, however I think now more than ever the genre of 'country' spans quite a wide spectrum. It's still tough to break through. Don't get me wrong, but I think the success of people like Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson, Maren Morris, etc. is extremely encouraging.”
Be it through Web music blogs or the “New Discovery” section of a favorite music rag, Chapman’s awareness of shifts in the industry has helped her make worthwhile creative decisions.
" ... I think we're going to start to see a wider variety of music and a lot of subdivisions within the umbrella of country," she said, noting a lot of the pop/rock writers in L.A. she knows have moved to Nashville. "My hope is that terrestrial radio will start to diversify soon as the new audiences more firmly develop and give these amazing country artists who maybe don't fit into the Top 40 box an opportunity to be heard and build a lifelong career.”
For “The Winner,” Chapman put experience, progress and lessons learned to work assembling a team tailored in all the right places, from string to strum and beyond.
“To be honest, they are all my friends. I mean, I feel like I should pinch myself when I say that because they are pretty amazing musicians who play with amazing artists. We're talking Selena Gomez, Kacey Musgraves, The Haden Triplets, Megan Trainor. If it sounds like I'm bragging, I totally am.”
And why not? She even snagged Tenacious D bassist John Spiker to produce the project.
“Spiker is so incredibly talented and successful, and yet every time you work with him you feel like your music is the most important thing he's ever done. Spiker could start a sentence and I could finish it by the time we were done. I am so fortunate that I have been playing in the musician circles in L.A. long enough that they've all become friends of mine, so when it came time to record the new EP it was as simple as a few text messages and next thing I knew we had the best guys in town playing my songs.”
Opening with “Might As Well Be Me,” that comes right out of the gate with a signature nineties country pop rock force that brings to mind divas Lorrie Morgan and Shania Twain. Plus, the strength of Chapman’s voice has been raised more than a few bars, a noticeable improvement in comparison to the exploratory style of “Happy Now.”
Make no mistake, this isn’t some throwback country record; in fact, it can be said it’s the record she’s been waiting to make. Still by her own rules, writing modern tales with just a tip of the hat to classic country’s independent heart and soul.
“For me this album was the most comfortable I've felt in my own skin because there were less questions in my own head. I think at every stage in my career I've made music that felt like me, but like most artists the questions of ‘Is this good enough?’ or ‘Will they like it?’ ‘Will they get it?’ always pops into your head.”
My personal favorites on “The Winner” are “California” and “Leave You Where You Lay,” both shining examples of Chapman at her passionate best.
“This time I tried to pull inspiration from other aspects of life than relationships and delve into topics such as: the fickleness of the music industry, rising real estate prices, the concept of identity, home, loss, the struggle and reality that working hard doesn't always mean you get what you want/deserve. etc. I do like to shroud ideas within the context of relationship situations because it allows me the freedom to keep something for myself. A secret maybe instead of giving it all away to the audience.”
When asked whether we’ll get a Bakersfield show sometimes, Chapman, who’s shared stages with local greats Buck Owens and Red Simpson, says she’d love nothing than to have a homecoming show, or two, or three. It's your call, Bakersfield. Hint-hint.
“Man, how lucky was I to be a musician growing up among such legendary country music performers. I mean Buck and Red, Bobby Durham, Theresa Spanke, Doyle Holly and Jim Shaw and so many others. All of those people reached out their hand to me at one point or another when I was little and really encouraged me. They taught me the ropes. Theresa Spanke taught me all about how to emote on stage, allow the lyric to guide your note choices, and be a passionate performer. Watching her was magical because as young girl there weren't many female performers I could look up to.”
You can catch Chapman at a special EP release party at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles on Sept. 21. But don’t wait, go download “The Winner” beginning Friday on iTunes and all popular digital outlets. You can thank me later.
“I'll be playing with all the original musicians and we can all relive the amazing sessions and memories we had making it alongside all our friends and family in the crowd. It's important to celebrate all the milestones in life, and this one I am definitely proud of.”
For more information visit celeighchapman.com.