NYC Singer-Songwriter Alan Chapell Ruminates About Life, Common Ground and Music in the Time of the Coronavirus

Late last year I was privileged to sit down and talk to a most extraordinary gentleman: Singer-songwriter and all-around Renaissance-Man, Alan Chapell. For those of you living under a rock (actually quite excusable in this day and age we find ourselves in), Alan is not only a talented musician, he also happens to be one of the nicer blokes you’ll ever meet. Alan’s music plies its wares in the backcountry of fun and allows us to head bang with mucho gusto and, alternately, imparts knowledge about ourselves and the crazy old world we all inhabit.

 In this follow-up to our 2019 interview, Alan was kind enough to share his thoughts and musings about everything from the global pandemic to what music is turning him on at the moment and, finally, to his upcoming album, CINCO. It’s always nice to catchup with such a kind and gifted soul and we hope that you enjoy this candid new interview!

VENTS: Welcome back to Vents Magazine, Alan! Before we get the proverbial ball rolling, how have you and yours been during a very tumultuous time? 

ALAN CHAPELL: Thanks for having me. We’re doing OK. It’s a difficult time for everyone – some more than others. We’re just grateful to have all our friends and family safe. 

 VENTS: The last time we spoke we really zeroed in on the work you had been doing with your band, CHAPELL. Can you give readers an update on what the band is up to now?

 AC: We’re just about to release CINCO, Chapell’s fifth studio album. And we’ve been touring pretty extensively – at least up until March of 2020.  We’ve done shows with some fantastic bands over the past year, including: 38 Special, the Gin Blossoms, Everclear and Jackopearce. I was supposed to do a solo show opening for Lisa Loeb in March that has been rescheduled for October.

 VENTS: From the scores of performance clips I’ve seen of CHAPELL, it strikes me that this is a band that truly translates its energy from vinyl to an electric stage presence when performing in front of an audience. How has the coronavirus affected CHAPELL and its momentum? 

 AC: If you come to a Chapell show, you’ll have a great time – and maybe leave feeling inspired. Like everyone else, our live shows have come to a halt. We hope to get back out there in the second half of the year. Meanwhile, I’ve been writing a ton – and am just grateful to have everyone healthy.

 VENTS: Going forward, how do you think the music industry, which is so dependent on touring to get the word out about their artists, will respond to these challenges in the days and months to come? 

 AC: We will all have to adjust. I’m talking to a number of wonderful venues about live streaming. More importantly, as a music fan I feel strongly that the world needs to hear new music now more than ever. I think when we look back, we’ll see that one of the silver linings of everything that’s taken place recently is the wonderful music being written.

 VENTS: You live in New York City. Can you talk about how life in the Big Apple specifically has changed over the last few months and what your NYC-specific experiences have been in dealing with a global pandemic?

 AC: NYC has been my home for a long time, but it’s a difficult place to live in during a pandemic for sure.

 VENTS: You’re a brilliant commentator about life and whatever is going on in a particular moment. From top to bottom: What are your thoughts on the racial and social unrest that is happening right now and how do we gain clarity as a nation, as a world, moving forward? 

 AC: Thanks! Recent events have certainly had an impact on my writing and creativity. That said, I’d invite you to check out the title track on my third album, Love in the Summer of Trouble – as that song captured the sentiments of many that led us to where we are today.

On Cinco, the song “Spin” focuses on the 24 hours news and the negative impact that has had on people’s perceptions and truths. You’ve got pundits speaking nonsense to millions of people – for example, telling them that the pandemic isn’t happening. Pretty outrageous lies that at least some of the people are believing! In this pandemic, the Spin has cost people lives.

 VENTS: Let’s talk a little bit about your new album, CINCO. What inspired this new entry in your already prolific catalog? 

 AC: Cinco is Chapell’s fifth studio álbum. We recorded up in Waterford, Connecticut at the Power Station New England. It’s designed by the same people who did the power station in NYC and is nearly identical. So you get those wonderful, big sounding drums. The whole band really enjoyed our time up there.  

 VENTS: Some of the tracks on the new album – On the Rooftop, SHOUT and Spin, in particular – have themes that if one were of a mind to you could totally relate it to 2020 and the tumult of events happening all around us. Coincidental, or are you just that on the ball, timely and relevance-wise? 

 AC: Every writer wants to think of themselves as a visionary. There was a lot of talk in the press about “I Am Zuck” from my last album Penultimate. Looking back, I had written I Am Zuck long before Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional hearings and the role that misinformation may have played in the 2016 Elections. For me, I just saw that Facebook had a problem. Over time, as more and more of the onion was peeled back on Facebook, people started thinking of “I am Zuck” as being prophetic. I’ll admit, there were things in that song that were designed to be parody – but that just happened to be revealed as truth.

So when I was writing Shout, I was really trying to illustrate what it’s like to feel trapped in a place or situation that you can’t get yourself out of. And it turns out, that feeling is being experienced by most of us in real time thanks to the Covid 19 pandemic. Right now, most of us can relate to being stuck at home in a seemingly never ending Twilight Zone episode. And many of are asking – How can we be together when we can’t get together? I think that’s part of celebration that many of us engage in at 7pm every night. We’re honoring those who put their lives at risk to keep us safe. But we’re also engaging in this primal scream – this shout – to let out our collective frustration at feeling trapped. 

 VENTS: How would you describe Chapell’s sound?

 AC: We’re an indie rock band that borrows from multiple genres. I’ve lived in India and Central America at different times in my life and so lots of what I’ve heard and experienced from those places comes out in my music. I grew up playing the piano and trumpet, and eventually turned my attention to keyboards and synthesizer. I’m a child of the 1980’s and 90’s and still really dig that type of sound. My band includes Lorenza Ponce on violin. Sometimes Lorenza rock fiddle. But lots of the time, she uses effects pedals to create more of an electronic synth that forms the bedrock of the Chapell sound.

 VENTS: What inspires your music?

 AC: I love that moment when a song idea comes to me. I might be walking somewhere, or on the Subway, or just talking with my wife. And all of the sudden, the air in the room changes. A feeling of electricity; of hope. That’s what happens when a song is born – and it might be the best feeling I ever experience. 

VENTS: On a related note, how do you feel social media has handled these difficult times? Have they been a force to unite, or has some of the noise out there served as more of a divisionary thing? 

 AC: Facebook is a company that’s lost its soul. And overall, social media has left us feeling more divided than ever.

 VENTS: Final (Silly) Question: Bob Dylan: Acoustic or electric? 

AC: I used to say acoustic – but I just watched the documentary film: Rolling Thunder Review. Bob Dylan and his whole band were really on top of their game for that tour.

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