Wednesday, February 21, 2007

SPOTLIGHT: Happy Chichester's House of Mirrors

Talking about Columbus music and not mentioning Happy Chichester is like talking about Dayton music and not mentioning Bob Pollard. They go hand in hand.
Last week Chichester released his long-anticipated solo CD, "Lovers Come Back" on his own PopFly Music label. Unfortunately, I haven't heard the entire album yet, but I've seen him perform most of the songs live. So I am still curious as to how Chichester fully arranged them.
What I sense from his recent work is a feeling of nostalgia - except not in the sense of longing, but more in how the past has formed him. I also felt that the lyrics leaned toward the romantic, using lush images and strong emotions.
So I wondered how Chichester faired in the studio, after using different musicians instead of a steady supporting band as he has done for years. Did that mean more or less freedom?
"It was a 'house of mirrors' effect, working by myself most of the time. Disorienting, often. I would go out and tour, come home and record, write, etcetera, and then go out on the road again. The audiences' responses to the material helped shape the final form of the album in a way like a band would. As far as freedom goes: music is never free. I am, in a way, possessed by the music in my head, and when I assert my will over it too much, it doesn't necessarily help," Chichester said.
He said that making the album proved to be just as challenging and confrontational as any he has done in the past, but with results that produced a richer and softer tone.
"It is diverse like many of the albums I've done, but not as loud. As a solo performer, I'm able to be more introspective and quiet, as you say, which has not always been the case with the bands. There is a broader range of sounds and I can create things in the studio like I could never do before. And you are correct, there is a romantic quality most of my bands couldn't wear well. 'Lovers Come Back' is a poetic title that is both a humble wish and a big statement, and appropriately characterizes the feel of the album," he said.

So I hate to keep bringing up Howlin' Maggie, but the band put Columbus music on the national radar in the 1990s. Besides, I think that his new stuff has progressed beyond his past music, so it's OK.
But I wondered if doing a solo album was a vacation of sorts or a plan for the future - Chichester was pretty clear about that.
"I have never had any intention of going back to (the name) Howlin' Maggie," he said.
Despite using some great local musicians to help record his songs this time around, Chichester put together a band to go on tour with Columbus' RJD2.
I told him I'd heard that when he came back there were talks he'd put together a steady backing band for the next string of shows, with the help of a certain Dayton band called (COUGH) Captain of Industry.
"Depending upon how things look, I may put a band together, but there are no definite plans for that at this time. I had asked Captain Of Industry to be my backing band last year, but we have not gotten together to play, for whatever reason. It just doesn't seem to be the time for that yet," he explained.
Ultimately, Chichester's new release shines a light on lyrical topics he has touched upon in the past, but now are finally able to breathe a bit more.
"I think of the songs on the album as having what I call a 'thematic chronology,' meaning that each one sets up the next much like scenes in a movie. The words are printed in the CD, and the themes are evident in the titles," he said. "For me, songwriting is a conscious effort that entails cultivating the unconscious too, sort of like trying to gain insight into a dream. Even though people have been saying that the album format is dead, I made an album that works as a unified piece, but also can be broken up if people want just a few of the songs on i-tunes or whatever."

Because, after all, this website is a project to get to know Midwestern music, I asked Chichester to name his favorite area bands. But he admitted a sense of detachment, as touring musicians often do.
"I don't hear a Columbus 'sound.' I hear people trying out all kinds of things in the bars. I have friends out west who come to Columbus and marvel at the deepness of the groove here, compared with the west coast feel. That's not to say we're better, but that the groove is distinct. I'm not up on all the bands playing around, though. Always room to remedy that," he said.
But Chichester noted that he respects a lot of individul musicians who make up the Columbus music scene, many of which helped him out on "Lovers Come Back," such as Foley, Jeff Ciampa, Megan Palmer, Barry Hensley, Carlos Fisher, Kris Keith, Jon Chinn, Middle Child, Vickie Saunders and Kevin Oliver.
"That's just scratching the surface. There are so many amazing musical geniuses around I can't even begin to get to all the
names," Chichester said. "Whatever band they're in, I can usually spot them."

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