Grammy-nominated, Songwriter’s Hall of Fame inductee, Beth Nielsen Chapman, has earned a reputation as one of America’s most prominent songwriters over the past four decades, with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Keb’ Mo and Elton John all having covered her work. Here, she speaks to Headliner about the making of her latest record Crazytown, as well as the evolution of her creative process…
When did work on CrazyTown begin? It feels like a real departure from your previous work.
I’d always wanted to work with Ray Kennedy, a great producer and someone I’d been friends with for years. He’s worked with Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and a bunch of amazing artists. I knew with him it would have a live band feel, so the songs we were going through felt like they would work well with that. Right after we finished recording the basic tracks the pandemic was upon us, but I could never have anticipated that so many of the lyrics would almost be as though I’d experienced the pandemic and then written about it. This has happened to me a few times in my career, where I’ve written an album, and then just after it is released, the things I’d written about started to actually happen. It’s amazing how sometimes art comes ahead of life.
Despite the dark themes addressed on the album, it’s a very upbeat, hopeful sounding record. Is that a deliberate counterpoint you like to bring to your music?
The natural way that I am is that in the midst of the darkest times I always try to find a way back towards the light, so that comes up in my songs a lot. There is a song on the album that is devastatingly sad called The Edge, which I wrote back in 1994 right after my husband died of cancer, and I was doing a whole album of songs about coming through that. But for some reason, that song just didn’t fit with that album, so with every album I’ve written since I’d be thinking about whether I could fit that song on, but it just was never the right time. But with this album, it felt like there was room for it to breathe.
How did it feel approaching that song again and bringing it to a new album after so long?
It was great. It had been waiting for this album and this group of songs.
What was it like working with Ray Kennedy? And what do you look for in a producer?
First and foremost, Ray is an absolute master of the technical side of creating sound. He has amazing, vintage gear and modern technology, so he has a real blend of both. I felt I could always trust his judgement from a technical sense. He also put the band together for this album, who were amazing. I really let him go and take the lead as a producer. I’ve produced records myself, but it was a real luxury to say, ‘you figure it out, I’ll turn up and sing’. It really freed me up to have more fun and flexibility. And he always has a great way of making the artist feel really good and he’s very sensitive and open to the fact that it is the artist who is making the record. He's fantastic that way. And we worked really quickly, we got it all finished in about six days.