By Russel Myrie © The Voice, September 13, 2005
Tracy Chapman on fame and her journey through life – A star of Tracy Chapman’s calibre can very easily persuade her record company to let her spend her required press days in somewhere as posh as members’ club Home House, Marylebone.
Indicative of the general opulence is the massive couch Chapman has chosen for cotching purposes.
It threatens to swallow her petite frame and after a few seconds she decides to just perch on the end of the sprawling settee. But things can’t be that bad when your biggest problem is an overly comfortable couch. Thankfully, her demeanour doesn’t fit the austere surroundings.
Chapman is very smiley, friendly and generally easy-going.
Since her 1988 eponymous debut album she has continued to make music that is true to her, and her obviously important principles, while still managing to sell in the many millions. Her latest album Where You Live, her seventh, (it’s now 17 years since Fast Car), drops today and is sure to enjoy similar success.
Unlike the majority of recently emerged singer-songwriters who keep their guitars close by, Chapman, 41, doesn’t write throwaway songs whose only purpose is to sound nicely unthreatening on daytime radio.
She doesn’t even write songs when she doesn’t want to. Chapman is one of those artists – joined by the likes of Sade and Jill Scott – whose success has allowed them to release records pretty much when they like, which usually ends up being every few years.
“Most of that has to do with writing,” she says. “I write the songs that I sing. I don’t write in the studio and I don’t write when I’m touring, so I need to take a bit of time… It’s mainly about having time to write, which means having time to have a life. I wanna write about more than travelling on buses.”
Where You Live’s first single Changes definitely touches on more than the pleasures of the open road.
“One of the unfortunate things about getting a bit older,” she says with a little laugh. “Is that you start to deal with death. That’s one of the things I’m experiencing. I now know people who are no longer here, and I have friends who are losing their parents. It seems to happen during that kind of transition from late 30s to early 40s. It’s those kind of things that you look at and you feel like ‘okay I’m not going to be here forever, so maybe I should try and get things right’.
“Maybe you can see that there’s certain things you wanna adjust in your life or you might wanna adjust in the world and for whatever reason you might not actually start to take steps to look at it. I’ve seen these things happen to a few people I’ve known. They’ve had experiences and on occasions it seems like it will motivate the person to start to reassess things or make some changes. But it can all fall away once things get back to normal.”
Equally thought-provoking are her thoughts on America. For the record, Chapman was one of many celebrities behind the Vote for Change concert tour last year in support John Kerry’s nomination for US President.
“I wrote it because of all these voting irregularities in Florida and various other states. A lot of people were denied the right to have their votes counted. That was very disappointing and frustrating to watch happen. It made me start to think about how there’s a certain mythology Americans have about the US and maybe even the rest of the world about how it’s a place of opportunity and second chances and then to have this blatant example of how that’s not the case. It sort of made me think about: ‘what’s the real legacy of America?’”
Chapman first found worldwide fame after her performance at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday concert in London in 1988. The 12-hour concert, which was broadcast to over 50 countries, made it possible for hundreds of millions of people to see and appreciate her.
While many of her dedicated fan base were introduced to Chapman in the company of Whitney and Stevie, a sizeable amount of hip-hop fans first heard of her when Nice’n’Smooth sampled Fast Car for their tune Sometimes I Rhyme Slow.
This occurred in the days before hip-hop groups bothered to clear copyright on their samples. But while the incident didn’t exactly have her pulling out her locks in frustration, Tracy Chapman is not the biggest fan of sampling. She even turned down a recent request from Kanye West, who is surely one of the most creative samplers out there.
“I was upset about that because I didn’t authorise it and I think that was at a time when people were sampling records and not clearing them. They were thinking you know ‘once it’s out then I’ll get approval on this thing.’ I’m not really a fan of it, especially if people do it without permission. It can work sometimes but at other times it may not be in line with the music that somebody may have come to appreciate from the original. I guess I’m protective.”
Where You Live is out today on Elektra