Alan Chapell didn’t take the conventional route because, in his own words, “It never felt like the right time.” Born on the mean streets of Stamford, CT, Alan began performing musically at an early age. At five he was already singing at talent shows; at eight he was first chair trumpet in the school band; at twelve he toured the local middle schools playing classical piano and was the regular organist at his local church.
While still in High School, Alan recorded his first e.p. with legendary music producer Jimmy Ienner – who a few years earlier was producing albums for such artists as the Bay City Rollers and Three Dog Night and would soon go on to producing the soundtrack for the enormously successful hit movie Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze.
After college, Chapell’s band All the Voices was making big waves from NYC to Maine. Regularly pulling crowds of 1,000 people and touring alongside Flock of Seagulls, 10,000 Maniacs, Crash Test Dummies and Echo and the Bunnymen, Chapell’s former group counted Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth among their fans. But All the Voices fell victim to the guitar laden grunge movement coming out of Seattle in the early 1990’s. “All of the sudden, nobody seemed to want to hear quirky songs written on a piano” notes Chapell. “Post-punk noise ebbed out of most clubs in NYC and across the country for nearly a decade, and it didn’t feel like there was room for much else.”
Seeing the writing on the wall, Chapell took his musical talents all the way to Mumbai, India to make music with the multi-national East-West fusion band Kalki. To make ends meet, he wrote jingles for Indian TV and had an all too brief stint as a video jockey. After writing a bunch of songs and recording a well received e.p. with Kalki, it was time to come home and, he thought, grow up.
Connecticut felt like a dead-end and, as it so often does, New York City beckoned. He took a day job at the seminal digital media firm Jupiter Research and attended Fordham Law School at night. Unfortunately, by the time graduation day had come, the dotcom bubble had burst and there was little interest in someone with a digital media background and an advanced degree in human rights law.
Chapell treaded water musically for several years – knowing that something better was out there. He had all but given up. Until one night, after a long jam session with his father’s band, his dad pulled him aside and said: “Hey, kid,” he said, “you love making music. Why aren’t you doing it? Fuck all those people who aren’t ready for you yet – go create something that feels right to you and everything else will take care of itself.”
And so he started creating again. He wrote and recorded dozens of songs. After years of writing, Chapell finally felt… ready. He recorded a demo in NYC and began shopping it. When he was looking for a producer, old friend Chris Frantz introduced Alan to his his fellow Talking Head Jerry Harrison. Alan had instant chemistry with Jerry and world class engineer Eric “ET” Thorngren. “From minute one, Jerry and ET really understood what I was trying to create,” says Chapell. “It took me years to get this close to the sound that I’d been hearing in my head, so it was critical to find a production team who are of the same mind.”
That hard work and soul-searching is in evidence all over Chapell’s new release, the deeply autobiographical The Redhead’s Allegations. Drawing seamlessly from influences such as Bryan Ferry and Elvis Costello, Flaming Lips and Neutral Milk Hotel – this is music for discerning adults. Look no further than the lineup used on the album: cello, fiddle, organ and a full horn section sweep over – and the lyrics both celebrate and vilify NYC as the backdrop for some heartfelt storytelling.
Harrison and Thorngren assembled a band of world-class musicians such as drummer Prairie Prince (The Tubes), Tommy Mandell (Bryan Adams) on organ, Riley Osborne (Kenny Wayne Shephard’s band), George Marinelli (Bonnie Raitt) on guitar, and relative newcomer Sarah Gregory (the Gregory Brothers) singing harmonies. And Jerry Harrison couldn’t resist sitting in occasionally on Wurlitzer. “Those initial sessions were nothing short of magical,” said Chapell. “The vibe in the studio coming from Jerry and ET and the rest of the musicians just felt right.” And while they continued to experiment in the studio well into 2014, Chapell knew from those first recordings that he was finally on the right path.
Chapell’s team was further bolstered when his songwriting caught the eye and ear of Peter Corriston, the design genius behind some of the most inspired rock album art in history. Corriston’s design work on The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You and Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy is a classic and seamless blend of art and music. “Jerry and ET strongly emphasized the importance of artistic imagery to the success of the Talking Heads,” Chapell said. “So I knew it was crucial to have someone as talented as Peter involved as I fleshed out visual concepts for the album.”
Peter introduced Chapell to the work of photographer Martin Schoeller, who graciously lent his talents to the album artwork. As a result, the entire album has a gritty feel that speaks to a different time. From the songwriting to the instrumentation to the album cover featuring Schoeller’s timeless photo of performance artist Marina Abramovic on a NYC subway surrounded by a group of naked passengers, the album evokes a timeless NYC. But rest assured, this is no oldies album. The words and music clearly shows evidence of his time living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn as the neighborhood serves as both a backdrop and a protagonist on The Redhead’s Allegations.
Chapell’s sound is retro-modern Rock, sort of a second cousin to the new-old soul movement. Chapell’s lyrics lay perfectly over a bedrock of intelligent pop sound. His songs address loss and transition, growth and decay – hardly bubblegum stuff. “I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn New York – juxtaposed between the young and old,” he sings in his soulful tenor on Changes. “In the shadow of the factories, the rain falls hard on the place this used to be. I feel love, I feel pain, but I won’t be this rainy day no more.”
It is a sentiment that hints at a transitional time for Chapell. The Redhead’s Allegations is about not fitting in, the discomfort that it engenders and the creativity it can inspire. Relating neither to Greenpoint’s 20-something hipsters nor its more traditional Polish residents, He was spurred to move out – and write. In so doing, he found his stride on the other side of his 30th birthday. Finally, Chapell is ready.
It is ironic that The Redhead’s Allegations evokes much of the imagery of the lyrically driven songwriters of the 60’s and 70’s – the very same ones who once proclaimed that over 30 was over the hill. “I thought when I was 28 and I hadn’t ‘made it’ that I wasn’t going to,” he says today. With the talent he’s assembled for The Redhead’s Allegations – and an ever-stronger songwriting voice of his own – Chapell has made it now. Just you wait and hear.