Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Meet Michael Chapman

Guitarist extraordinaire and virtuoso, Michael Chapman has a long and prolific history of recording and touring, but tragically- he remains a rather obscure figure here in the United States. Well, after touring extensively with the late great guitarist Jack Rose, and an an interview last year with Thurston Moore for Fretboard Journal, his star seems to be rising on the shores of the US as two new exciting releases have just landed.

Light in The Attic Records just released a beautiful reissue of his classic album Fully Qualified Survivor this month, which was hailed back in the day by none other than John Peel as his favorite album of 1970. And the stellar Tompkins Square label has just released Trainsong: Guitar Compositions from 1967-2010, a 2-CD set that gathers 26 recently-recorded solo guitar tunes that span across Mr. Chapman's discography. 

Mr. Chapman will be touring the UK with Tompkins Square labelmate William Tyler and in the US in May/June.

I feel honored to have had the opportunity to speak with Michael Chapman about these new releases, his own personal recording history, as well as his influences.

Can you describe your songwriting process on Fully Qualified Survivor?

Michael Chapman: There has never really been "a process" as such, songs either happen or they don't, for me. It seems like the more I try to write the less successful it gets, and it begins to feel forced.

What does the reissue of Fully Qualified Survivor mean to you?

MC: This album was recorded in four days on an eight track and has been re-released in the UK and Europe a dozen or so times over the past 40 years. This set is the most beautifully packaged edition I've ever seen and it's great that it can be re-introduced to the US in this format. The fact that it is being re-issued as a 40th anniversary of Fully Qualified Survivor means we must have been getting something right that week.

Who were your influences during time?

MC: Jimmy Giuffre, Grant Green, Bill Broonzy, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Horace Silver. Mainly jazz and blues guys. Bob Dylan was the man who liberated songwriters. For acoustic guitarists, that man was Davey Graham, with his one track "Angi".

Looking back, how would you say Fully Qualified Survivor impacted your career?

MC: My world kind of exploded. it meant I could afford to put a band on the road and we worked all over Europe. It didn't last unfortunately, which is why it's so good to have another bite at the cherry with this re-issue.

I love the concept of re-recording songs that span across your entire career for Trainsong: Guitar Compositions form 1967-2010. Can you describe your decision to embark on such a project?

MC: I'd been working here at Phoenix Studios with Alex Warnes, for quite a while and love the acoustic guitar sound he's been getting for me, but because many of my past albums have been recorded with different guitars, different recording techniques, different studios even, just to cherry pick back tracks, the sound would vary immensely. The simplest solution to that, was to go back in the studio with Alex and record them all again. Simple.

Why solo guitar performances?

MC:That's what I do, it's what I've always done. I just sit down and play.

How did you narrow it down and select the songs for the album?

MC: I just played the ones that came into my head. Obviously, they've changed over the years and something like "Rainmaker",  the title track of my first album, I can't play at all now after I smashed up my wrist rather badly some years back. But the others just naturally suggested themselves to me.

Can you discuss some stand-outs for you? Did any particular tunes shape the direction of the collection?

MC: The last piece "Slowcoach" is one of a collection of laments for the late great Jack Rose. The piece didn't shape the direction of the album, but the man himself certainly did. 
For newcomers to your work, can you select some albums from your discography to start with?

MC: Fully Qualified Survivor obviously and Wrecked Again (which features the London Symphony Orchestra). I'd also say Sweet Powder, which is a fairly recent recording, and Savage Amusement , which was produced by Don Nix. It's from my "Memphis" phase. Lastly, I'd say the Americanas 1 and 2 for the guitar buffs.

What have you been listening to lately?

MC: Bill Frisell,Charlie Mingus,James McMurtry, Arvo Paart.

What would be your advice to aspiring and practicing guitar players?

MC: Always try to play with people who are way ahead of you.

In your own opinion, which guitar players would you say is essential listening for guitar players and why?

MC: The same kind of people who made me want to play, the ones with their own voice, who tread their own path.

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