Lucy Kaplansky has street cred at the Outpost
Album release party, “Everyday Street”
Opener, The End of America
Friday, Nov. 16, 8 p.m.
First Congregational Church of Montclair
40 South Fullerton Ave.
Outpost in the Burbs
By GWEN OREL
Lucy Kaplansky is a folk singer’s folk singer. Talk to a singer songwriter for any length of time about what’s on their headphones, and “Lucy Kaplansky” makes the top 10.
The New Yorker has praised her as “a truly gifted performer with a bag full of enchanted songs.” The Boston Globe called her “the troubadour laureate of modern folk.”
But she hasn’t had a new album in six years, before her latest, stripped down, acoustic, available only at shows and on her website, “Everyday Street.”
The album, made with Duke Levine (J. Geils Band, Mary Chapin Carpenter) features harmonies from Shawn Colvin and Richard Shindell, and was recorded organically over four days. It features songs written with Kaplansky’s husband Richard Litvin, and the instrumentation includes acoustic guitar, octave mandolin, piano and mostly acoustic instruments.
The result, Kaplansky says in a release, is a feeling that is “bluegrassy at times, with all the intimacy of a live show.”
Kaplansky headlines Outpost in the Burbs on Friday, Nov. 16. If you’d like to hear the album, you’ll have to go there to get it, or get it from her website: you won’t find it on Amazon or iTunes, and that’s deliberate.
What is an everyday street?
It’s from a song, “Janie’s Waltz.” It is ostensibly a love song to my dog, but it is also a love song to the everyday. There’s so much beauty and joy you can find in the everyday.
She’s a beagle, and the first ever dog in my whole life. She’s just over two, and I’m madly
in love. As my daughter has become a teenager and doesn’t need me the same way she did as when she was little, Janie has become my new little girl.
At least one other song, “Keeping Time,” does touch on… a remembrance of one of the dads in the neighborhood, who I would see every day on our neighborhood street, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
How long have you lived in New York?
I have lived in this neighborhood for 18 years. I had lived in the East Village years ago. I’ve lived in the Village on and off, most of the time I’ve been in New York City, since 1978. I grew up in Chicago.
You came right after college?
I wasn’t planning to go to college. It was just heresy. My dad was a professor of math at the University of Chicago. Everybody I grew up with went to college. The idea that I left Chicago for New York with no plan to go to college was pretty unusual. I had met a guy when I was 17 at the university, and we started singing together. He wanted to move to New York, where he was from. The real impetus was a big article in the New York Times in 1977 about the folk revival in Greenwich Village, featuring the Roches, who had just exploded.
When I was 21, in 1981, I played at Folk City. We got a great review in the New York Times. A year later, I decided to quit and go back to school. I finally figured it out years later, after becoming a psychologist, and never looked back.
You have a degree in psychology, and for 10 years that was your profession. Did being a psychologist affect your songwriting?
Not in any obvious way. All the training I had to be a psychologist, including my own therapy, enabled me to be a lot more insightful and wise about people, and the way people are, and who I was. It opened me up to see the world in a more multicolored way. That has affected everything in my life including being able to write and letting myself write.
You have a few covers on the CD which I love. Talk to me about the Bruce Springsteen song “Thunder Road.”
I did that song on a whim one night, when telling the audience I had just seen Springsteen for the first time and someone yelled out, “Do a Springsteen song!” I didn’t really know it but I loved it. I’d heard a version with him on the piano. I said, “Let me see, help me out with the lyrics.” It sort of stuck.
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Did you have a role model?
Joni Mitchell. She was the one who changed every woman singer-songwriter. She changed my life. I wanted to be her, sing like her, write like her. I do to this day think she is a genius.
Why did it take so long to make “Everyday Street?”
I’ve been writing the entire time. I’m not prolific. I have very high standards, so I can write plenty, but don’t think what I’ve written is good very often. The music industry has changed drastically in the time since the last record came out. Streaming services have decimated CD sales. I was out walking the dog in June, and I had a thought, “Why don’t I make a very stripped down intimate album with just me, and sell it myself, and not make it available on streaming services.” I called my husband, who said “Just do it, don’t overthink it.”
We recorded it in July, and it came out in September.
It’s kind of an experiment.
If I can get the word out to my fans, I can sell a pretty decent number. So far, it’s coming true. There’s hardly any radio for people like me anymore. There’s hardly any press for people like me anymore. Why not just make it available to my fans through social media, email list and gigs? It feels pretty great. I feel like I’ve got the reins back of my life. I get a notification by email every time I sell an album. I can tell you I’ve already sold enough to be several thousand dollars into profit. That feels really good.
It feels good to have my own business model, that seems to be working for me.
I’m thrilled with the response it’s gotten. I didn’t know what it would be like for people to get a stripped down album. I’m shocked by how happy people are about that.
What would you be if you weren’t a musician?
I’m interested in history, in neuroscience. I like to learn a about a lot of things. I wouldn’t be a psychologist.
What inspires you?
Songs for me tend to be extremely personal. I have to be moved by something. Not “I’d like to write about x topic.” That’s never worked for me to do that. I literally will sit down with the guitar and just start singing. It’s not planned, just an unconscious thing that bubbles up. Invariably, it’s something I was moved by.
The opening song, “Old Friends…” Shawn [Colvin] and I met in 1980, and sang together for a long time. We kind of had a falling out, and weren’t in touch for years and years. We each thought the other was angry. I saw her at a festival three years ago. My husband said, “Just go and say hello to her.” it was like this wonderful reunion, and we’re good friends again. This person I thought I’d never be friends with again, was my friend again.