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The Chapmans play it simple man

By David McPherson, June 2005

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"We still recorded the basic instrument tracks in Nashville, while the overdubs and vocals, we did all that in our studio."

"The reason we did the tracks in Nashville is that our studio is not laid out big enough right now for all of us to cut live together, and we wanted to do that because you get a much better feel for the music when everyone is playing together," Jeremy continues.

"Then, when we had that down to where we liked it, we took all that home and could rest a little while, and when we had to do overdubs, we would work on those all the time. The other thing we noticed on some of our other albums, if someone wasn't feeling good vocally one day, you still had to sing your parts just because studio time is running. Whereas when we had the studio if someone woke up and their voice just wasn't working right we could say, 'well let's just try again tomorrow' so we could get the best out of it."

The Chapmans were fortunate to have Gary Paczosa mix "Simple Man" to get the best out of the studio sessions. The veteran recording engineer has worked on six Grammy-winning projects, including Nickel Creek's "This Side," the Dixie Chicks' "Home" and Parton's "The Grass is Blue."

Jeremy explains that working with Paczosa was one of the highlights of the recording sessions. "He gets a sound in the studio in his mix that is pretty incredible, so that was a dream of ours to work with him," he says.

"Simple Man" features some old-time favorites, notably George Jones' "Sometimes You Just Can't Win" and the late Jimmy Martin's "You'll Be A Lost Ball."

However, the majority of the songs are new finds. Choosing songs for the new record was also no simple task for The Chapmans - these bluegrass boys began the process with some 3,200 demos to sort through.

"Each album that does better you start getting more and more demos from songwriters," Jeremy says. "On this one, even the record label submitted to various publishing companies telling them that we were going to do a new album, asking for CDs. So for a while, every week we would be getting a big box with 40 different CDs in it. We were spending all the time we were on the road driving from show to show just listening to different demos and putting them in a pile of: ones we didn't think would work, ones that had potential and others that we really wanted to listen to again. We kept trying to narrow that down a little at a time to a manageable level. We finally got it down to like 80 songs, then had to whittle that down to the 12 that made the album." Choosing a dozen songs from several thousand is a daunting task for any music aficionado, so how do The Chapmans decide when a song has what it takes to make it on to one of their albums?

According to Jeremy, it's often the words that speak to them first. "Lyrics that tell a story throughout the song," he says. "We would have some that had a really cool melody, but lyrically just didn't do much. We also got a lot of songs that were done as country demos...recorded originally for a country artist, and we really couldn't hear a bluegrass band doing it, so we had to change up the chord progression a little bit and mess around with it...try it one way, then another, to something we could work out."

The lone original The Chapmans worked out is "Pickle-Flavored Ice Cream" - a barn stompin' instrumental romp, which Jeremy explains was inspired by a young fan.

"We did this craft show tour with a bunch of different acts, and one of them is a magician and his wife, and they have this five-year old son," he says. "We have known him since he was born pretty much, and he would always tell everybody that he loved pickled flavored ice cream just to see what type of reaction he would get from them...he would say 'I love pickled flavored ice cream', and we would go 'Oh gross!'"

Vincent raised the bar for quality and musical craftsmanship on "Simple Man" without compromising The Chapmans' artistic vision. "Working with Darrin was a big plus because we got a lot of ideas from him vocally and instrumentally," Jeremy says.

Other musical ideas came from Union Station guitarist Ron Block who plays backing guitar on three songs: "The Photograph," "Runaway Kind" and "Sometimes You Just Can't Win." For Jeremy, having this multi-talented instrumentalist contribute to "Simple Man" was one of the other highlights.

"He's a hero of all us in the band," he says. "We went over to his studio and recorded his parts. He's a great instrumentalist, and it was really cool to watch his process of how he recorded in the studio."

Singer Sonya Isaacs, guitarist Rob Ickes, and fiddlers Stuart Duncan, Andy Leftwich and Aubrey Haynie also lent their talents.

"We are interested in seeing how this new CD turns out," Jeremy says. "We are all really proud of it. Now we get a chance to find out what everybody else thinks."

Judging by the early accolades in the month and a half since the disc's release, many think that it's a finely tuned bluegrass record. "Simple Man" debuted at number four on the bluegrass Billboard charts.

With their work in the studio finished, The Chapmans are now on the road, giving their fans across the country a taste of these songs live, averaging about 140 shows each year. And, despite this full tour schedule and "Simple Man's" early success, The Chapmans won't quit giving music lessons just yet.

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