Shemekia Copeland: Uncorked and Uncovered

 

Artist: Shemekia Copeland

Played at City Winery: September 27, 2012

 

Q&A With City Winery

You have been newly crowned the “Queen of Blues.” Congratulations! How does it feel?

It was a total surprise and an incredible honor, something I try to live up to every time I perform.

You aren’t afraid to perform songs about serious issues and obstacles in life like domestic violence. Are these coming from first hand experience or knowing someone in these situations? Did growing up in NYC, seeing the constant class struggle and disparity have anything to do with your awareness?

I try to perform blues songs, but in a contemporary way. To make blues relevant for young people, especially women. So it makes sense to address issues like domestic violence and financial disparity. I don’t think these issues came out of growing up in NYC. They’re issues we all have in common everywhere, but you’d certainly run into them in NY.

Blues is one of those genres that kind of spreads out into a lot of other genres or at least influences and informs other genres/styles. Given that, is there anything you feel you’d like to do musically that you haven’t done yet?

I want to help this music evolve and grow, to reach young people and get them as excited about the music as I am. I’d like to expand the boundaries of traditional blues. Do a blues samba. A blues in French. New, different, and unexpected explorations.

 

 

Artist Spotlight with Lucy Kaplansky

Artist: Lucy Kaplansky

Played at City Winery: February 10th, 2012

 

Q&A With City Winery

When you were 18 you decided not to go to college, but to move from your hometown of Chicago to New York to pursue your musical career. What inspired the change?

I met a guy who loved my singing and we formed a duo. I was 17, I was in high school and he had finished college, he was 5 years older than me. So he wanted to move to New York. And the other thing that happened was there was a huge article in the New York Times about a folk revival in Greenwich Village, this was 1977, and that’s really what propelled us to New York. The place was Folk City, which is no longer there. So I was 18 when we moved, and my parents were freaked out I wasn’t going to college, but they let me go.

But it felt like the right thing to do at the time?

I guess at the time it was the right thing to do. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but somehow I ended up OK and it all kind of worked out.

What made you then decide to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology?

That’s a long story, but I’ll try and make it short. So, I came to New York to be a singer and it was actually going really well. And when I was 21 I got a really, really good write-up in the New York Times. I could have really pursued it but I was too neurotic and too conflicted and decided I didn’t want to do music, and at 22 I quit and decided to go and become a therapist. I went back to college at NYU and ended up deciding to become a clinical psychologist because I thought therapy was interesting. I did that for a few years, got my doctorate, and then started therapy with a really, really good therapist and realized that I was running away from what I really wanted, which was to be a singer. And that’s when I came back. That was 1993 or so.

Were you still as involved in your music or did you have to put it on the back burner?

It did take a back burner. I didn’t pursue it in any kind of active way. People had me sing on their records, I sang on a Suzanne Vega album and Shawn Colvin’s, but I wasn’t writing and I definitely wasn’t performing.

You also perform with a group, Red Horse. How is playing with them different from playing solo?

It’s all the difference in the world. The trio is two of my old friends, Eliza Gilkyson and John Gorka, and we’re all singer songwriters. We’re taking turns singing lead, we’re doing lots of harmonies, and I don’t have to just front the whole show. So, it’s fun in different ways. They’re incredibly funny and we laugh a lot. I love singing with them and we’re doing mostly different songs than I do in my own show. But doing my own show is also really exciting, and much scarier.

Have you all written together?

No, we haven’t done that yet. We recorded an album of mostly each other’s songs, but we have not written together yet, although that’s certainly possible.

Has playing with them taught you anything that you’ve used when performing solo?

Oh wow. I guess I’ve been doing the solo thing for so many years that I kind of take the solo thing and bring it to the trio. The trio’s just very different because we’re playing off each other, and when I’m solo there’s no one to play off of, except the audience. So they’re really very different animals for me. Both fun in their own way.

In all your years here, what’s the weirdest/funniest thing you’ve witnessed on the streets of New York?

Wow, there’s an awful lot…You know, I saw the best Halloween costume ever in the Halloween parade, so that counts. It was a guy who looked like he was sitting in an outhouse. He had built himself an outhouse with fake legs and he was propelling himself down the street. And that was the best Halloween costume I’ve ever seen and maybe the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in the street. My daughter loved it too; she was seven at the time.

Where’s your favorite place in the city to go and relax?

Home. Home is definitely my sanctuary. Even in the midst of a loud, crazy city it’s relatively peaceful. And that’s where I do everything. That’s where I write, that’s where I practice, if I ever practice. That’s where I have my life, really.

Do you have a favorite wine?

I like Chardonnay. There’s a wine my husband and I discovered years ago, I think at the Union Square Café, called Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which is the best white wine I’ve ever had.

 

Backstage at John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders (Feb 4, 2012)

 

Josh Ritter

SP: You went to Oberlin College to major in Neuroscience and then switched to music, majoring in “American History Through Narrative Folk Music.” What made you change your mind?

JR: I’m not good at organic chemistry. I never thought there was too much of a difference between science and music, so I think the real deciding factor was that I wasn’t smart enough for neuroscience.

SP: Your parents were neuroscientists, right? Did they encourage your music?

JR: They did. They never put any pressure on me to follow their footsteps. My only reason for starting out that way was because that was what the kitchen table talk was about. So I always figured there wasn’t anything else that you really did.


John Wesley Harding

SP: What is your absolute favorite part of the Cabinets?

JWH: I absolutely love it when the show gets going because it’s just like a snowball running down a hill. I put quite a lot into shaping the show before hand, but all of those decisions are made by the time we start and it’s just like, ‘yeah, let’s see what happens today.’ But it doesn’t happen by magic, it happens because people work hard. All of the performers are people I like and I figure if I like them that’s enough of a thread through everything. It’s my mixtape for the world.