2008 – Shy Revolutionary


By Nui Te Koha, Hearld Sun, November 16, 2008

[singlepic=1061,349,668,left]TRACY Chapman released her iconic self-titled debut album 20 years ago.

But Chapman, now 44, reveals there were two false starts.

Alex Sadkin (Simply Red, Duran Duran) was hired to produce, but was tragically killed in a car accident.

Then Chapman was sent into the studio with an unknown producer.

“Those sessions went horribly,” she says with a laugh.

“I didn’t like any of the songs. In the end, I had to tell my record company I was leaving to stop it all.”

Soon after, Chapman and producer David Kirschenbaum worked on then-new songs including Fast Car, Talkin’ Bout A Revolution and Baby Can I Hold You.

* Audio: Listen to Tracy’s new single, Sing for You

The album cover shot — a portrait of introspective Chapman against a mustard background — was almost ruined.

“The record company wanted me to wear leggings,” Chapman says.

This month, Chapman released a new album, her eighth, titled Our Bright Future.

“The songwriting process hasn’t changed,” she says.

“Everything, music and lyrics, is written before I go into the studio.”

But the intensely private Chapman dispels any thought she is a workaholic.

“But I have to give myself time at home without too many distractions,” she says.

“I need time to travel, read and go for walks. I need to live half a life.”

Our Bright Future has themes of excess, love and war. The title track is about conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“So much has been asked of young people in fighting these wars,” Chapman says. “With a society that asks that kind of sacrifice of its young people, what kind of future do we have?”

Chapman lightens the tone on I Did It All, a woozy cocktail bar reflection of drugs, parties and feeding the celebrity culture.

It is fiction, of course. And Chapman stresses it is not a comment on Hollywood bad girls.

Asked why she never indulged in the vices of that song, Chapman says: “I never thought about living that way. It never occurred to me.

“A lot of my friends today are the same friends I had in college. Not to say they didn’t know how to party. But it’s not about who I am.”

Chapman never discusses her private life in interviews.

But, in 2006, Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker revealed she had an affair with Chapman in the mid-1990s.

Walker described their romance as “delicious and lovely and wonderful, but it was nobody’s business”.

What does Chapman expect from love and relationships?

“There is a part of me in those songs, but I’m not writing autobiographically,” she answers.

And how does Chapman recall the moments described by Walker?

“I don’t talk about my personal life,” she says.

But she does discuss an incident when, aged 13, she was almost killed in a race hate attack in her hometown near Cleveland, Ohio.

Chapman mended physically, but says the real healer was a scholarship to study in another state.

“That ultimately saved my life,” she says. “It took me out of the environment to a new life.”

Our Bright Future is out now.

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