Lucy Kaplansky’s made a career of defying convention.
The trend started early when she lit out from her native Chicago for New York’s folk scene to hone her songwriting. During those years she performed with the likes of Shawn Colvin and Richard Shindell. Established as a songwriter, she chose yet another path, that of studying psychology and starting her own practice. Fortunately for her fans, Lucy ultimately returned to songwriting and performing.
For her latest album, Everyday Street, Lucy decided to forego streaming services, making the album available only at her concerts and through her website. She’s sticking with that decision, saying “Streaming services have cut way into our incomes because people generally don’t buy CDs anymore. And I think our audiences don’t necessarily know that. Well, now they know it with me, and they’re happy to pay to help support what I do.”
In recent years, Lucy’s made a Swallow Hill a stop on her Western tours, and we are very happy to welcome her back to Tuft Theatre on Sunday, April 14. We caught up with her via email for our latest Q&A, that conversation can be read below.
On your latest album, Everyday Street, I really like how you portray “known” people like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Shawn Colvin into regular people, which of course they are, but we don’t always see them presented that way.
Do you approach writing about a real life person in a song differently than you might a fictitious or composite character? Do you feel a responsibility to get them right?
Interesting question that I’d never thought about. Yeah, I guess I’d have to get them right if they were real, recognizable people. Generally I’ve written composites, so there’s no one specific person I’m writing about, so “getting them right” hasn’t been relevant. People often ask who a song of mine is about and I can honestly answer that it’s not about anyone in particular. In terms of those two songs on my new album, “Old Friends” isn’t really a portrait of Shawn, it’s a portrait of our friendship, so I guess it wasn’t very relevant there either. But “Keeping Time” is, in part, a genuine portrait of PS Hoffman. And yes, I tried hard to get details right (“scruffy and smiling”, “baseball cap and jeans”).
Speaking of Everyday Street, you’ve decided to sell it only at your concerts and through your website, foregoing streaming and digital services. You’ve explained at length elsewhere why you chose to take this step, several months after its release, how do you feel about this approach?
Honestly, I’m feeling pretty good about it. I’ve been very gratified by how willing my fans are to pay for the album. I think people understand that paying for content is important. I like to tell people that I pay for my subscription to the NY Times and NPR. And I believe I should. They need income to do what they do. Well, so do singer songwriters. Streaming services have cut way into our incomes because people generally don’t buy CDs anymore. And I think our audiences don’t necessarily know that. Well, now they know it with me, and they’re happy to pay to help support what I do.
Other songs on the album, “Sixth Avenue” and “Thirty Years Begin Now” deal directly with the passage of time. You are in the thick of your songwriting career, do some of your newest songs remind you of things you’ve written in the past? If so, does that offer you clues about how your songs might develop in the future?
Let’s put it this way, when I write I find myself using ideas I’ve used in older songs ALL THE TIME, and when I realize it I’m bummed! And then I know I have to come up with something else. Happened to me yesterday. I’m trying to write a song and used the line “It’s time to go,” and I really liked it. Then I realized I’d already written that in my “Song for Molly.” What a bummer!
You came into your own as a songwriter during a particularly fertile time for New York City songwriters, earning your stripes along the likes of Shawn Colvin and Richard Shindell among others. Do you have your ear to the ground for what’s happening in that scene now? Is there any emerging sound or artist you find particularly striking?
Oh God, I’m so out of the scene these days, I almost never hear the up and coming folks. I will say that I know of one who’s great, Lucy Wainwright Roche, who also happens to be a friend of mine. She’s genuinely great.
You’ve grown quite attached to your family dog. Are you able to bring her on tour with you? (If not, no worries, Coloradans love their dogs, no doubt you’ll encounter more than a few!)
No way do I bring her on tour! Wish I could. Hard enough just to get myself around. But I miss her a lot when I’m gone. She’s an adorable 2 year old beagle and even though we got her for our daughter, ostensibly, she’s become my dog!