Thursday, Feb. 24, 8 p.m.
The Patio, 6308 Guilford Ave., 253-0799
Tickets: $5 at the door
In one of her best tunes, singer/songwriter Jen Chapin says, “I want to stir up trouble everywhere I go.”
The kinds of trouble the New York-based performer stirs up, however, are feelings of passion, of broken relationships and one’s own responsibility to themselves and their community.
On her most recent album, Linger, she presses all of those buttons while maintaining a smooth, neo-jazz, contemporary, urban sound. The relative quietness of the music makes her passion stand out even more.
But you can’t categorize her as just another guitar-toting female singer. There’s rock, folk, jazz and even hip-hop influences in her music. The only commonality is Chapin’s unwavering sense of self-assurance.
“It’s funny,” she said in a phone interview from New York City. “The people I’m most compared to are people whose music I don’t even know that well, such as Rickie Lee Jones. I’ve been compared to Janis Ian, whose music I also don’t know that well but who is a legendary figure. I certainly have always felt — partly because I come from a jazz perspective — that music can and should have an expanse. It’s not just for the young. It is something than can grow and encompass a range of experience. As a songwriter, I try to write songs that I won’t be embarrassed singing five, 10, 15 years from now.”
The eclectic nature of her music comes to her naturally as a result of years of listening to different forms of music, she said.
“I’m inspired by a whole variety of music and I lean toward varying things,” she said. “Lyrically, I look towards an album of performance as a chance to give as full or complete a story as I can. That’s why my music has so many facets.”
Chapin’s appearance in Indianapolis will be with a trio, which will soften her music even more. But don’t be fooled by the surface sound; underneath, there’s some very real anger and rage.
The song “Passive People,” for example, attacks apathy and encourages engagement in social justice without coming off as strident. It’s one of the most effective tunes on Linger, as well as one of the oldest.
It was spurred on by the 2000 election recount and what she saw as a gross injustice.
“That song has its harsh edges that are smoothed over by the music,” she said. “I look at it as a song of empathy, just for how busy we all get and how there’s a necessity for us in a democracy to stay informed, and stay involved and keep our public officials accountable. And now we have our corporate masters who control our lives as much as the government.
“It’s not so much accusatory as much as it says, we all can do more. Initially, I was filled with trepidation about it, that it might sound too preachy.”
Of course, working for social justice comes naturally to Chapin. Her father, revered songwriter Harry Chapin, co-founded the activist group World Hunger Year (WHY), and Jen Chapin continues as chairwoman of the organization.
“We work on innovative solutions to hunger and poverty, particularly those initiatives that are flourishing on the grass-roots,” she said, “local community-based organizations that are helping people become more self-reliant.”
Besides working as facilitators and organizers for more than 4,500 food banks around the country, WHY also works on after-school programs for at-risk children and many other long-term solutions.
“We’re trying to get to the root causes of hunger and poverty. We’re a complement to the emergency feeding system, which for better or worse has become institutionalized in this country. Everybody’s well-versed on what to do on a food drive and that there’s a need for supplementary food, but we try to get to the justice issues behind that. People who are working full-time at very essential jobs are faced with the reality of not earning enough to pay for basic necessities.”
Chapin was 10 years old when her father passed away and, while she realizes her famous surname gives her instant recognition in some circles, she says her father’s music is more of a spiritual rather than a tangible influence on her music.
Asked if having a famous last name is both a blessing and a curse, she said, “Curse is too strong a word, although that can be a real burden, having a famous parent in the same business, particularly someone who’s still around, like what Jakob Dylan must go through. Or Ziggy Marley, whose father was so famous and such an icon. As far as my dad, he had an amazing career and had a big impact, but he’s not as well-known as some of those people. That’s good, in that there isn’t such a huge shadow.
“At the same time, of course, he had a huge impact on my life. As a performer and the energy he put in, I can’t hope to emulate that. And I haven’t created quite the market demand that he did. So I haven’t had to face that tough predicament yet.
“But it’s wonderful. People remember him so fondly. I’m sure that when I come to Indianapolis, whether or not the local press mentions it, people kind of figure it out. I can look out into a crowd and say, ‘Hmm, there are some Harry Chapin fans out there.’ It’s like an extended family of people who are looking out for me and who have accepted me on my own merits. They don’t expect me to do ‘Cat’s in the Cradle.’”
She said that her name hasn’t helped her in the music business much. “I’ve been doing the dues-paying thing for a long time and that’s a good experience in itself.”
That experience includes gigs at some of New York’s most well-known clubs, such as the Bottom Line, Joe’s Pub and the Mercury Lounge, as well as numerous appearances on National Public Radio.
At her Indianapolis performance, she will be accompanied by a duo that includes her husband, acoustic bassist Stephan Crump. The couple avoided performing music together at first, but, she said, “It began to feel artificial to not work together. We’ve sort of become band buddies. We’re conscious of keeping a nice balance between the other band members and us. There are the usual little fights about directions and other silly road things, but overall we’re fine touring together.”