Jen Chapin | Keeping It in the Family

"For me, folk is music that searches for community and meaning as opposed to being individualistic or angst-driven; it's making positive connections, and that's part of what I do."



Jen Chapin and her two-man band are preparing for a Thursday night show at the Saint in Asbury Park, N.J. As Chapin softly sings "Little man, little man/I can see you are not such a mystery to me," the opening lines to the ballad "Let It Show," the little man in question, her son Maceo, is 10 feet away in a baby carrier, quietly staring wide-eyed at his mother.

Young Maceo's attendance at the early evening sound check isn't unusual. After all, he was present-in his mother's womb, anyway-during the writing and recording of Ready, Chapin's latest album on Hybrid Recordings.

"There are a few songs [on Ready] that are really old," says Chapin, who's seated at the bar holding Maceo as husband/upright bassist Stephan Crump and electric guitarist Jamie Fox continue to practice onstage. "There's maybe one song that I wrote soon after Linger, my last record, came out. And then seven of them were written over the course of last year, when I was pregnant."

Ready was recorded during summer 2005, about a month before Maceo's birth.

"I figured the odds were better that I'd be feeling good then versus after he was born, when the sleep thing can be a challenge," she says. "My pregnancy was really easy. My energy was great, and my singing wasn't strained at all. I felt great the whole time. I got plenty of rest. If anything, my hormones were boosting me."

Like Joni Mitchell, an artist she discovered in her late teens, Chapin makes music that is eclectic and not easy to classify. She's comfortable using a term someone else came up with years ago to describe what she does: urban folk.

"I like it because it's ambiguous," says Chapin, daughter of the late Harry Chapin. "For me, folk is music that searches for community and meaning as opposed to being individualistic or angst-driven; it's making positive connections, and that's part of what I do. Also, there's the accessibility and the fact that the lyrics are a big part of it and not just marking time."

As for the urban aspect, Chapin says, "It's about community and the rhythmic tension that comes from living in the city and all of the great legacies of music, blues and funk and jazz that have come out of city life."

Chapin, a New Yorker since 1995, is no stranger to city life. The borough of Brooklyn is her home, and home is where Ready was made. The bulk of the CD was recorded with Chapin and her band playing together at the same time.

"The things that were added or subtracted or changed were really not so significant," she says. "The strings came afterward; those were significant. And there was some percussion and stuff, but the songs were pretty much right there, as we were playing together-even the vocals."

Chapin's tour itinerary includes a tribute concert to her father October 7 in College Station, Texas. Anything goes when the Chapin family gets together to play.

"It's an outrageous show," she says. "My uncles, my grandfather, and my cousins play, along with different alumni from my father's band. We mix it up and do songs of my dad's and songs of our own. We try and take things to the next level."

profile_jen-chapin_2Photos by Chris Junior

Catch Jen Chapin on tour in October: 10/7: Texas A&M University, College Station, TX; 10/21: Mount. St. Vincent College, Bronx, NY; 10/22: YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood, New York, NY; 10/24: Makor, New York, NY

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