On record Nigel Chapman sounds like the most laid-back guy in the room who also happens to be keenly observing the many nuances playing out in front of him. He sounds like Lou Reed with his eyes straight ahead instead of rolling back into the skull. As the singer and songwriter for Nap Eyes, Chapman is one of the most unique and clear voices in music today.
In conversation he projects a hurried thoughtfulness, new avenues of thought open to him constantly and he’s always deciding which route to take. Chapman is refreshingly earnest in his music and speech. No topic is unfit for discussion or at least consideration. He is able to mine personal experiences and beliefs for inspiration and distill them into a delivery that verges on incantation. But who is he reciting his spell to, himself or the audience?
I caught up with Chapman as he and Nap Eyes are about to embark on a 24 date tour over the course of a month, with a pit stop at South by Southwest. We covered the unique release of their second album, the struggles of intelligence, finding relief in creating, and the challenges of sustaining emotional intensity.
OpenEars:The new album, Thought Rock Fish Scale, had actually been finished for over a year but you waited to release it until Whine of the Mystic had been released here in the US. Did you find any difficulty in waiting to release the album? Were you tempted to go back and tinker with it at all?
Nap Eyes: Not so much in that regard, where we felt like we could do anything about it. Just because it was in the can; and the way we record once we’re done, we’re done. There was a bit of work with mastering. Sitting around and waiting wasn’t difficult, just sort of unusual. There’s always lag time, but the wait gave us more anticipation than we expected when we were recording.
OE: Has your relationship with the album changed in that period? Did you find yourself going back and finding different things?
NE: You can get in your own mind a bit, wondering whether the album will be good or well received. I try to, as much as I can, not worry about that and just focus on whatever I’m doing in my life and keep evolving.
OE: When you were waiting for the album to release, were you recording new material that you haven’t released yet?
NE: We don’t have any new material yet. We don’t live in the same city – I’m in Halifax, for a long time Brad was in Montreal, and now Josh and Seamus are also there. So, we’re really only able to get together either for a recording session, or for tour. This may change in the future but we haven’t had a lot of time to workshop new songs. I’m excited to record an album sometime soon. I’ve just been trying to write on my own and we’ll try to bring some new songs into the rotation when we go on tour in March. I’m excited to see where it goes.
OE: You’re clearly a thoughtful and insightful person, but listening to Thought Rock Fish Scale and Whine of the Mystic it seems like something you struggle with. “Don’t Be Right” for example, condemns knowing it all and the trappings of always trying to be right. Is that something you personally struggle with and do you see any downside to finding worth through intelligence?
NE: That idea is real to me in the sense that, intellect is great don’t get me wrong, but you’ve got to be discriminating. If you use your mind you’ll be able to solve all kinds of problems, both in your life and also abstract problems about your world views. If you can solve them mentally it will give you a clearer, calmer, less anxious relationship with the world. That being said, if you don’t integrate the lessons you learn, or if you use your intellect to prove a negative pessimistic point to yourself, usually it will just bring you down. You have to realize it’s a piece of equipment you have and you shouldn’t become the tool of your tool, so to speak. You shouldn’t let yourself use it for a way that’s not healthy. I think that’s the idea with “Don’t Be Right”, it might seem counterintuitive but being a know it all is not really that useful if you don’t have that kind of grounding.
OE: It’s almost like trying to know everything actually closes you off to the world, as the pursuit of being right becomes more and more singular.
NE: That’s right. You can get tunnel vision or ignore all kinds of things which you think would conflict with your correct argument. You close your mind.
OE: Do you find any catharsis when you’re creating music? Do you see a difference in yourself after writing, recording, or playing your material?
NE: Yeah I think so. It’s one way to find meaning in your problems, hang-ups, fears, and anxieties. Also, to find meaning in the challenges and tension in your life. It lets you take a self-reflective truth or concept and prove it. It allows for the ability to take a nugget out of some experience that may otherwise be pretty shitty. Even if you don’t write the song, processing the painful experience in that way can help you to improve yourself.I find the song helps me to externalize these emotions and I can see it in a new light that is encouraging for me. Otherwise, I might have the tendency to doubt successes or positive things I’ve done. We all have anxieties, I find that creation and creativity in any form is a really healthy thing for people.
OE: Do you ever find yourself at a point where you’re too happy to want to actually create and get so introspective? Where you just want to ride the experience and not pick it apart?
NE: That’s a pretty good question, because I definitely have some concerns about that. When things are troubling it’s good creative fodder. When you’re having problems in your life, it gives you some tension to work through and create something worth saying. If you don’t have any tension or pressure, how are you supposed to feel inspired to write music? Sometimes if I’m feeling really relaxed I do think maybe I’m out of painful experiences in my life. When I was little, I used to naively think, you know it’s said that great artists are inspired by tragedies, so wouldn’t it be great to have some tragedy in your life [laughs]?
The long and short of it is that I definitely feel that doubt or anxiety sometimes. Also, the very fact that I have anxiety about being able to write more songs means that I’m definitely not out of the woods yet. No one can get out of the problems of life that easily. It’s interesting, I think the difficulties and challenges are what inspire you. If you look inside and really pay attention you’ll definitely find stuff, you’ll be able to bring that out and evolve through it.
OE: When you’re coming up with new ideas for material, are you mining personal experiences or are you thinking more abstractly?
NE: Either it’s really personal, something directly frustrating happened to me and I’ll try to write about that or I’ll have an abstract idea about some way I feel about a certain thing. For instance maybe there’s a commonly held view in the society and I disagree, even on an abstract level. It could have something to do with encroaching on personal freedoms, or on the other hand, idealizing personal freedoms in such a way as to ignore the plight of other humans. Even if it’s abstract I would have some kind of personal relationship with that idea. Sometimes I find in myself the very thing that I dislike and so then it’s easy to bring it out and fight that tension on a personal battleground, instead of it being an abstract political song.
OE: You’re material has a denseness to it and you’ll be embarking on a pretty intense tour soon. Will you find it difficult to play the material night in and night out and bring the same emotional weight to it that drove you to write it in the first place?
NE: It’s similar to the question of writing music, what if you get detached from your inspiration or become complacent? Then what you’re doing has less meaning and is less emotionally charged. Everybody worries about that I think, and it’s a pretty legitimate worry. So far we’ve been ok; I feel different ways about different shows we play. I don’t think that you need to get back into the exact mood you were in when you wrote the song. You do need to find a way to relate to the song in a real way in the present. If you can find some kind of emotional relationship with it which is authentic then that’s great, but you can’t always find that because sometimes you’re in your head and getting distracted. That’s part of the beauty of live music and performance art, it has a real human element to it where the artist is doing their best at any time. The variety keeps it interesting.
OE: Do you think you can come to a point where you over-rehearse your material and it can feel almost robotic and rote? Is it important to find a spot where you still have to be engaged and locked in with the material?
NE: I think that’s very true. Maybe there’s a certain point where pressure from the outside world is saying, you should keep touring this album or keep playing new songs because you’ll have more success. But internally and in terms of your artistic vision it may not feel like the right thing to do, even if it goes against good advice. We’ve been lucky because we haven’t been very successful yet so we’ve been able to do whatever we want [laughs]. Hopefully we can preserve that freedom throughout our careers.
OE: Touching on what you just said, we’re ramping up towards festival season where bands will be touring for months on end and playing a new festival every week. How do you feel about that becoming the norm for making a living through music these days?
NE: For us right now, it’s all new and still exciting. Getting paid is exciting. But I can see how down the line it could turn into this routine thing where it feels less meaningful. I could see that happening. But right now for these shows and even this summer, I’m just excited to play.
Nap Eyes starts their 24 date tour tonight at Great Scott in Allston, MA.
Nap Eyes Tour Dates:
Mon. Mar. 7 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott
Tue. Mar. 8 – Hudson, NY @ The Half Moon
Wed. Mar. 9 – Brooklyn, NY @ Union Pool
Thu. Mar. 10 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
Fri. Mar. 11 – Washington, DC @ DC9
Sat. Mar. 12 – Durham, NC @ The Pinhook
Sun. Mar. 13 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
Mar. 16-18 – Austin, TX @ SXSW
Sun. Mar. 20 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
Mon. Mar. 21 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
Tue. Mar. 22 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom Of The Hill
Thu. Mar. 24 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
Fri. Mar. 25 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza
Sat. Mar. 26 – Vancouver, BC @ Media Club
Mon. Mar. 28 – Calgary, AB @ Palomino Smokehouse and Social Club
Tue. Mar. 29 – Edmonton, AB @ Brixx Bar & Grill
Wed. Mar. 30 – Saskatoon, SK @ Amigo’s Cantina
Fri. Apr. 1 – Winnipeg, MB @ The Good Will Social Club
Sat. Apr. 2 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry
Sun. Apr. 3 – Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle
Mon. Apr. 4 – Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop
Tue. Apr. 5 – Lakewood, OH @ Mahall’s
Thu. Apr. 7 – Toronto, ON @ The Garrison
Fri. Apr. 8 – Montreal, QC @ Casa Del Popolo