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Jen Chapin talks food, politics and her 'Reckoning'

Jen Chapin wanted to reach a wider audience

Jen Chapin wanted to reach a wider audience with her "Reckoning" album in 2013. (Credit: G.E. Masana)

Jen Chapin felt that it was time.

After years of truly being a D.I.Y. artist – from recording and producing herself (with help from her husband, bassist/composer Stephan Crump) to mailing out her own CDs – the Huntington native wanted the songs that would become her new album, “Reckoning” (Purple Chair), to reach as many people as possible.

“I’ve been able to do this all my life and I’m so grateful,” Chapin says, sitting at a communal table in a coffee shop near her Brooklyn home. “But it’s all been through my own push… This time it definitely feels like, ‘All right, I’m 42, I’m gonna put it all out there.’ It’s not like I’ll quit, because this is what I do. But I don’t know if I’ll have the same focus like this.”

Chapin used Pledge Music to crowdfund the project, allowing her to hire Grammy-winning Kevin Killen, who has worked with U2 and Shakira, to produce the album, adding that he helped her capture a sound that “definitely feels like it’s coming from now, from my life now – 10 years later, two kids later… a lot of political joy and pain later.” The project also funded videos for the potent, jazzy “Go Away” and the layered folk of “Feed My Baby.”

“It worked for me,” says Chapin, who focuses on storytelling in her songs the way her father, Harry Chapin, did. “A lot of ‘Reckoning’ is about balancing – about being the mother of young kids and an activist and an artist… I have an agenda of saying, ‘There are a lot of people out there doing this balance, but there’s no music out there about it.’ I wanted to tell that story. At the same time, you don’t want to be like, ‘Look at me! I do it all!’ Everybody does it all. People always ask me, ‘How do you have a music career with the kids and everything?’ and I say, ‘How do you do it?’”

Most records have one major message they want to get across. “Reckoning” has all sorts of ideas running through that. Is it tough to balance that?

In college, I was an international relations major. The usual joke is ‘That didn’t connect to your work now.’ Well, actually, it does. I was attracted to that because it was multi-disciplinary. It’s a little bit of anthropology, a little political science, a little economics, a lot of culture and a lot of trying to make sense of fragments of information that are coming at you from everywhere… I think a lot of writers pull lots of different things together in their work. For me, there are a lot of different ideas, but it’s all integrated in me. They’re all very true to me.

“Insatiable” seems like a different song for you.

It can kind of read like it’s about external characters. It’s definitely more external than most of them. But it’s really about America. America is ‘she’ and ‘he’ is an immigrant with the wrong name. That one feels more external, but it feels personal. It feels intimate.

What is “Paris” about?

That’s the most personal… It’s a family vacation, basically, just little images from the city.

I was hearing it as something far more political.

There’s always a political undertone. That’s how I am. There’s some thought about ‘Freedom fries’ and our love-hate relationship with France… A little of it is unabashed, ‘You know what? We’re French. By marriage, it’s my heritage. My kids speak French. Deal with it.’

And you are still working on fighting hunger.

I did a video for "Feed Your Baby," which is also a personal-political song. It’s a hunger song… It’s a song about the food system and how hard it is to feed your baby. But it’s also about my youngest son, who doesn’t like to eat. He doesn’t eat pizza. He doesn’t eat hot dogs. He’s a miracle of science. It’s your No. 1 responsibility as a parent to feed your baby, but at this point we’re kind of like, "Whatever." … Writing that song was made possible by the political, by money, by industrial agriculture, and then there’s just a little kid who just says, "No."

Jen Chapin plays Grounds and Sounds, 380 Nicolls Rd., E. Setauket, at 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $12.50 through groundsandsounds.org.

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