Q&A with singer-songwriter Chastity Brown
Multi-genre musician talks about her new album, upcoming tour
Singer-songwriter Chastity Brown is coming to Buffalo, fresh off the release of her latest album “Silhouette of Sirens.”
The artist, known for her blending of roots and folk music, will be touring the nation – stopping in Babeville on Nov. 14. Brown will join poet/musician Andrea Gibson for part of their “Hey Galaxy” tour beginning in January.
Brown spoke with The Spectrum before her tour and discussed her new music and her many inspirations.
Q: Your record, “Silhouette of Sirens,” was released in May. How does this project differ from your previous works?
A: For one, it differs in the time. It took me four years to put it out. That was its own kind of grueling process, but as a result – the level of critique – it gave me time to dig deeper. Sonically, it’s more reflective of living in Minneapolis for 12 years instead of the last record, which was more of an homage to living in the South.
Q: What sort of an impact has Minneapolis had on you as an artist?
A: This is the city where Janet Jackson recorded all her albums. Prince is from here. Then you have all the punk bands like The Replacements. Those are the roots of this city and now it has this very exquisite palette of music. There’s mind-blowing R&B happening, awesome folk music, dope improvisational jazz. It’s become this place where all the artists are different and they support each other so deeply, which is the best f*cking atmosphere. You can try to figure out who you are as an individual artist and sonically, this is my opinion, maybe other guitarists in this town have a different opinion, but the electric guitarists in this town have a particular atmospheric quality. Very soundscape-y type stuff which I love, which very much appears on the new sh*t.
Q: Lyrically and conceptually, what were some of the tougher songs that stand out to you on your new project?
A: “Carried Away” took me a couple of weeks to write but three or four months to be honest about what influenced it. So I had a series of P.T.S.D. episodes and came out of it. The song isn’t entirely about that, but I wrote it in three or four days after coming out of this very dark space. So this song exists in a duality, in a space of pain and elation. So that song in particular, it’s not the time that took to make it, but I wrote a lot of songs to narrow it down to the ten that are on the record. A lot of little ditties, by a lot I mean 45 or 50 songs over the course of a couple years. It took time to figure out how...and you can understand this as a writer, figuring out how to say so much but distill it down to a point. I borrowed from an Alice Walker quote, “where there are tears, there will be dancing.” So there are some “rip your heart out, throw it on the ground” type of moments, but there are also some “get down and get sexy” type of moments.
Q: On using your songs as emotional release, like “Carried Away,” is it a goal of yours to relay what you’re going through in your music?
A: It’s not so much a goal. I’ve always been shy and weird, so when I started writing it was like “oh sh*t, I can sing how I feel.” Now that I’m older, I sing what I examine. I sing what may or may not be happening in the current societal dialogue. As a folk singer, it’s distinctly different. I’m rock as well, but there is a different quality to folk music. Everything is technically folk music but the whole goal is being honest with the story of now, whether it’s my story or a character I try to create. Whatever those experiences the character faces, it has to be true. It can’t be contrived.
Q: It’s been 10 years since your first project, “Do The Best You Can.” Looking back, what sort of things have you kept since that project as a musician -- traits or writing -- since that record?
A: I haven’t listened to it in a long time, but the songs are really, really long. They’re very storyteller, lyrical-type narratives. I’m not religious at all but what I’ve learned growing up in church was letting go when you’re singing, how to sing from your f*cking gut. So emotively, that’s the quality of the record from ten years ago, but the difference now, I can put that emotion into a container that’s more palpable and not where you edit things. Where you refine what you’re trying to say. One of my favorite authors, Nikky Finney, said in her book that she was always trying to say the same thing the right way. So I feel like I’m maybe trying to scratch the surface, and there are certain things that will prick my heart, and they’ll probably always prick my heart. I find different perspectives on those things and as you get older, you have more distance from the things that prick you and you can think about it differently. So long story short, the refinement is what has changed but the emotive aspect of my singing, it took me a long time to accept that’s just the way I sing.
Q: You take a lot of influence from a lot of places in your sound. How do you blend all those aspects into one space?
A: I think the blending of it all is that I become the filter, then everything synthesizes. I can try to sing a Beyoncé song verbatim. I can hit the notes, but it will still sound like me. I still have a particular phrasing, a sonic quality of my voice. So I think that’s the main thing, I’m always emulating the artists that blow my mind and get me moving. But every time I try to make a song like someone I love, it doesn’t sound like them and maybe there are similarities but I am the container. When it comes out, it’s inevitably going to be a little differently, at least hopefully.
Q: I know you mentioned poetry earlier and I wanted to add that you’ll be touring with a poet/musician Andrea Gibson. What is it like to act as a musician for their tour?
A: I’ve always admired Andrea’s work and as a music geek, when I go to hear someone I love I don’t need to hear someone like them open for them. I love when artists say “yo, this is dope as sh*t, that’s why they’re opening for me, check it out!” So I just love being part of a scenario that isn’t a typical tour. It’s exciting and especially when you live on the road, it’s nice to switch things up. For the Buffalo show, I’ll just be by myself but I think [Andrea] and I will be back up there together. I’ve performed last year at Babeville when I was on the road with Ani [DiFranco], which was super dope. I’m a nomad though, and I have a nomad’s heart. Being on the road, I just enjoy being in a different city each night. This album that I just released is still new. It’d be crazy to not want to be on the road and take every opportunity to share it with people. It’s hard work, but it’s still a privilege so I’m looking forward to not being entirely in Minnesota for the winter and testing out new sh*t, seeing how new songs feel. And no better way to test them out then in front of a live audience.
Benjamin Blanchet is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.