2000 – Not so tall tales

By Aidin Vaziri, CDNOW.com, May 3, 2000

Tracy Chapman does not typically enjoy doing interviews. In the 12 years since her self-titled debut album propelled her to international stardom, the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter has only granted a handful of interviews, most of which were more notable for their long awkward pauses than the brief but courteous responses that followed.

But with Telling Stories, her first new album in four years, Chapman, 35, really wants to be heard. Reviews have compared the stark emotional landscape of the new disc with that of her debut. Indeed, Telling Stories sounds suitably disengaged from the mellow blues of her comeback album, 1995’s New Beginning. While that mean it odes not have an obvious radio single like her comeback hit, “Give Me One Reason”, it is personal work of which Chapman is immensely proud.

CDNow : Did you take so much time off between albums to get back in touch with your motivation ?

TC : Not really. I think I was a little bit less self-conscious about the process of writing these songs than I have been at other times. Maybe it’s little closer to the way I was writing songs when I was much younger, when I first started. I don’t know if that’s about time.

Do you ever go back and listen to your old albums ?

I do listen to them, mainly in the process of preparing for tours. I don’t sit down and listen to them as part of my music-listening entertainment – not that I’m not entertained by my own music. I’m more likely to sit with my guitar and play the songs than to actually play the record.

Do the songs conjure particular memories for you ?

I hear memories. They’re new memories, created over time. The significance of the song is always evolving for me.

When you hear the debut now, do you think you were naive or that you had an old soul ?

I don’t know. I’ve heard people say that about me, but I don’t thin of myself in that way. I don’t think of the songs as being naive, either. Someone might say that about a song like “Talkin’Bout a Revolution”, but i don’t feel that far from the sentiments behind that song. I’m still thinking and hoping there’s an opportunity for people to have better lives and that significant change can occur.

You haven’t become cynical with age ?

Not any more so than I have ever been.

It is more difficult for you to write about politics or personal relationships ?

I don’t really write about my personal relationships. The songs on the record aren’t necessarily autobiographical. There’s some part of me in there, but a lot of is fiction. I don’t believe in breaking the songs down into categories, either. They’re just songs, and they come about through emotions and ideas. I don’t see that much of a separation between the two.

San Francisco is an idyllic place. How do you connect with the dark side that surfaces in your songs ?

I don’t think I have a dark. What do you mean by that ?

There’s a certain sadness to your songs.

I’ve heard other people say that they think there is some sadness in this record, and I don’t really see it that way. No, it really just seems to be that the songs are just realistic. They’re very much about the stuff of life. There are good times, and there are bad times. That’s the way it goes. There’s nothing mysterious about it; it’s just the way we experience life. Someone might feel that their life isn’t exactly what they want it to be, but they go on. I guess I don’t see sadness in it ; I see the reality in it.

Does it frustrate you when people misinterpret what you are trying to say ?

Yeah, but no more and no less than anyone else. You can talk to someone and explain the thought or the song, and then they find that when it is described to someone else, it’s not what you had in mind. All the time we’re speaking the same language, but the translation doesn’t hold up.

Is that why you’re careful about which interviews you choose to do ?

In part, but the main part of it is there’s a time and place for everything, and my focus is music. So that’s what I prefer to spend most of my time doing and not talk about making music. But I need to let people know that I made a record if they’re interested. I just try to balance.

How would this all work for you in an ideal world ?

It’s pretty much what I’m doing now. Once this stops working for me, I’ll stop doing it. I’d rather be at home right now, but I made a record that I’m really happy with, and I’m really proud of, so I don’ t mind letting people know that I made it.

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