Praise Abound for The Chapin Sisters

Los Angeles based sister act, The Chapin Sisters finish a triumphal month long residency at The Echo and have just released their full length debut “Lake Bottom LP”.

Abigail Chapin doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. “We’re not depressive kinds of people,” she says of the Chapin Sisters’ “Lake Bottom LP.” The trio’s debut album, coming out Tuesday, has song titles like “Don’t Love You,” “Drop Me,” “I Hate the Moon” and “Kill Me Now” (which rhymes “lonely” with “stone me” — in the Shirley Jackson sense). “There’s a lot of happiness around,” Chapin says. “But, I don’t know, I find it hard to write happy songs. I think the melodies that I’m drawn to are minor keys; it’s what I like.” The tales of love burnout, pleas for forgiveness, dismissed paramours and such are etched upon a spare backdrop of acoustic guitar and brazenly forward three-part harmonies. The soft-pedaled darkness doesn’t come out of nowhere: Abigail and her sister Lily (above, from left) are daughters of singer-songwriter Tom Chapin, and half-sister (above, right) Jessica Craven’s dad is fright-master Wes. An audacious remake of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” first landed them notice, but the songs on “Lake Bottom” are theirs. “One of us brings a song to the table, we work on it together extensively, and then the harmony writing, guitar parts. It takes months.” But when they hit the stage: “With the three of us, it’s almost like a physical high,” says Abigail, “just the harmony in the singing — there’s something really amazing about it.” Live: The Chapin Sisters play every Monday in March at the Echo. Frank Farrar/Los Angeles Times 3/13


     Rolling out with the otherworldly beauty of antique folk and simmering ’70s folk-rock, The Chapin Sisters‘ debut full-length are like Maddy Prior singing honey harmonies with Linda Ronstadt and Shannon McNally with the added delicious synchronicity of sibling resonance. Lake Bottom (released March 18 on Plain Recordings) is a melancholy haul, sad music that makes you grin a little.

     Happy records don’t begin by saying, “My baby hates me and it’s nobody’s fault but mine/ He says he’d leave me but he’s sure is taking his time.” A few cuts later on “Kill Me Now” they proclaim, “You’ve ruined my life/ Don’t defend it/ Just go get a knife and please end it.” What’s cool about the Chapins is how they take such funereal material and make it glow and tumble in ways that keep Lake Bottom from being a folksy Bauhaus. This is endlessly lovely and all three ladies – Abigail, Lily and Jessica – have a complexity and ingenuous prettiness to their singing that’s nigh irresistible. The trio has contributed vocals to recordings by Vetiver, Lavender Diamond, Gary Louris and others, and it isn’t hard to see where their presence gives a significant lift to any recording. Here, in their own setting, things are spare and exposed, immediate as a campfire hootenanny if said hoot took place on the ivy covered steps of a country castle.

     Producers Thom Monahan (Devendra Banhart, Vetiver) and Mike Daly (Whiskeytown, Grace Potter) keeps things clean and roomy. The ladies’ voices soar with some nice ceiling and the largely acoustic instrumentation hits with bright clarity in these tales of dancing demons and hateful moons. Well sung, well played and well written, Lake Bottom is a lovely, engaging first salvo from these very talented sisters. Dennis Cook/ 3/26/08


     The Chapin Sisters may be the most overdressed singing group in music these days. While most young starlets wear designer-skimpy outfits, this Los Angeles-based singing trio sport long, flowing gowns that make them appear as Victorian bridesmaids. The vintage look is part of their performances, member Lily Chapin tells Spinner. “It makes us excited to put those dresses on and to get onstage,” she says. “It’s part of getting into character almost. It’s really a way of saying, ‘We’re here to entertain you and we’re here to take you on a journey.'”
     Their appearance, not to mention their haunting acoustic folk sound, is as unconventional as their family genes. All of them have the same mother, but Lily and her sister Abigail are the daughters of musician Tom Chapin (their uncle was the late Harry Chapin, best known for ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’), and Jessica Craven is the daughter of horror film director Wes Craven. Although they formally became a group only a few years ago, the sisters, who are originally from New York, have sung together since childhood.
     “[Abigail and I] grew up singing on almost all of our dad’s kids’ records,” says Lily. “And Jessica sang on “Uh-oh, Spaghetti-O’s” ads and she did a lot of jingles. When we were all in the car together listening to music, we sort of naturally fell into music.”
     The Chapin Sisters first got noticed when their unique acoustic cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ became a breakthrough hit on local radio. “We just did that as kind of a joke,” says Lily. “And it turned out really beautiful.” After time spent performing live and recording, they just released a full-length debut of originals, ‘Lake Bottom Lp.’ While the sound is gentle folk and the vocal harmonies are very exquisite, the lyrics tell a melancholy story. Song titles such as ‘Kill Me Now’ and ‘Let Me Go’ offer some clues. “We get asked that a lot,” Lily says. “‘Why are you guys so depressed?’ I think that we’re attracted to the melancholy moments because those are some of the most poetic moments. The dark tragic moments in life are the moments you kind of need to express.”
     One prominent fan, producer/artist Daniel Lanois, professed his admiration for the band in a most unusual way at their show last year. “He had gotten a hundred-dollar bill changed into singles at the bar,” recalls Lily, “He threw all these one-dollar bills [like] confetti onto the stage during our encore to get us back onstage while we were just taking our bows. Everyone was kind of astounded. ‘Who was this crazy man throwing money onstage?’ After the show, we realized who it was and it was kind of an amazing moment.” David Chiu/ 3/19


     “My baby hates me and it’s nobody’s fault but mine/He said he’d leave me but he sure is takin’ his time..” The opening lines of the group’s upcoming album distill the mix of tart attitude and folk harmony bliss that mark the Chapins-two daughters of singer Tom Chapin and a half-sister whose dad is Wes Craven (!)-as a worthy destination as they set up camp for a weekly residency. Richard.Cromelin/Los Angeles Times 3/12


     Fresh from the release of their new LP, Lake Bottom, the ethereal Chapin Sisters continue their Monday-night residency at the Echo. The Brooklyn-raised trio has a background as particular as its sound: Abigail and Lily are the daughters of singer Tom Chapin, and Jessica is the daughter of director Wes Craven. The group seems beamed in from the early ’60s and run through a modern indie filter: all lo-fi acoustic guitars, tambourines, and harmonies with self-consciously simple lyrics that are at once melancholy and smart. Rounding out the night’s mellow retro vibe are locals Early Dolphin and experimental-indie solo act Glasser. 3/24


Meet Abigail and Lily Chapin, and Jessica Craven, daughters of kid folkie Tom Chapin (making them nieces to the late Harry Chapin) and in Jessica’s case, horror maestro Wes Craven. Knowing their paternity gets you close to understanding their murky, ominous folk rock, where their harmonies hold you rapt and, in some cases, make you uneasy. A simple breakup song like “Let Me Go,” from their self-titled debut LP (Plain Recordings), conjures the three sirens from O Brother, Where Art Thou?-alluring, yet potentially dangerous if you don’t free them as requested. And even Britney Spears’ ostensibly vapid “Toxic” (from a prior EP) becomes something altogether different in their hands-an ethereal but visceral lament that ends with an ominous question mark. Gives a whole new meaning to “so good it’s scary.”
On Marrying Trad-Folk Harmonies and Indie Rock Moodiness
“It’s just naturally what we’ve fallen into,” says Abigail. “We grew up singing together so much that. if we were in the car listening to music, we all automatically sang harmony.” Since they were drawn to moody music-such as Delta blues, a favorite in their high school days-“it sort of naturally came together.”
The Chapin Sisters Equation: How Folk, Horror and Pop Princesses Equal Musical Ambrosia
“Horror movies and folk singers are definitely two very different parts of pop culture,” says Abby, “and I guess pop princesses, also. And I think we definitely come from a world that includes both of those things. It influences how earnest we are. Folk music is very earnest and horror movies are very cynical. And I think we’re all of those things.”
What the Folk?
Jessica says the cynicism and disappointment in their songs is why they’re not as popular at the folk festivals as one might think, or they might’ve hoped. “The music at folk festivals today is still very positive and like, ‘Fly with me, up to the.’ Our music has no content like that at all, so we have to cut our set in half; there are certain songs we have to excise because they’re just not acceptable in that circuit. We joke that we’d record ‘death folk’ if that was a genre.”
Toxic: Not So Poisonous?
“‘Toxic’ was one of the first songs that we really recorded together,” Abby says. “[The idea to cover it] came up as a joke. It was on the radio and it was so ubiquitous. And I think as we started working out harmonies, that realization struck us as much as it does anyone else. It really is a good song, and who knew?” Randy Harward/Harp March/April

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Author: James McQuiston

Ph.D. in Political Science, Kent State University. I have been the editor at NeuFutur / since I was 15. Looking for new staff members all the time; email me if you are interested. Thanks!

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