Sasha Chapin
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Sasha Chapin

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2015 | SELF

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | SELF
Established on Jan, 2015
Solo Pop Singer/Songwriter




"Band Crush: Sasha Chapin"

Listening to Sasha Chapin’s debut album, Golden Ticket, is a lot like opening a bag of chips. Maybe you had no intention of finishing the whole thing, but before you’ve had enough it’s all gone—again. The Toronto singer and songwriter creates tiny morsels of tenderly crafted pop music which highlight everything bitter and sweet about relationships with the austerity that only pop music can provide.

Over 13 tracks, Chapin takes listeners back to the after-parties you don’t remember being at, text messages sent too impulsively, and tables for one, but he does it all with the uninhibited enthusiasm of someone who just found a five dollar bill in their spring jacket. On "Number One Dad," he sings, “You’re like my favorite song/I don’t know all the words/but I can sing along” and wistfully captures the naivety and charm of romance while simultaneously offering us all a line to scare first dates away with.

Chapin’s catchy and charming melodramatic songs are bed-headed conversations that orbit the delirium of love, but it’s not just ex-girlfriends that he has on his mind, so we checked in with him to hear about his nervous breakdown, procrastination, and well, inevitably ex-girlfriends.

What were you doing before you started playing music?

I was writing a novel. I was doing that for two or three years and then I had a nervous breakdown and needed something else to do, so I started writing songs.

Did themes that you were exploring as an author carry over into songwriting?

I’ve always been interested in fiction that explores interior life as much as events within drama. But my fiction was mostly concerned with displaying my intelligence to strangers, lots of long verbose passages. Kind of like cotton candy, just all bundled together. Songwriting has really allowed me to resist the impulse to be so verbose and grandiose because there are fewer syllables.

It’s funny you say that because your songs are very short and concise, by pop standards.

I think the brevity of my songs has a lot to do with insecurity. I don’t want to bore people. I like a lot of short music, Guided by Voices, early Beatles stuff, but I’m also at a point with my songwriting where when I stumble upon a good hook or a really nice structure, I don’t want to mess it up.

Can you trace your desire to make music back to a particular song or moment?

It was a party in high school. I was stoned lying on the couch, and Sgt. Peppers was on the stereo like it is at a high school party. There are two sections to the Sgt. Peppers theme: track one, and the reprise at the end. There’s this one line where there’s a variation on the theme. Instead of singing “Sgt. Peppers lonely heart clubs band” they sing “Sgt. Pepper’s one and only heart clubs band” and there’s this beautiful fluidity to the melody right at that moment. Something really shocked me about the melody of that, how it seemed so intuitive and primitive yet obviously a product of tremendously intelligent craft. Right after my nervous breakdown I spent a lot of time wandering around at night listening to my favorite pop music, my comfort music, and listened to that track over and over again. Even just that one line, trying to absorb what went into that moment.

How do you procrastinate?

I go on my computer and tell myself I’m going to learn about something serious and then I end up looking at pictures of my ex-girlfriends.

What’s something people are surprised to hear you’re really good at?

People are surprised to hear I’m a bit of a jock. I have a workout I do with a sledgehammer every morning. I put on reggae and swing a sledgehammer around, that’s how my day starts. Like so many things in my life it started with a chance encounter on the internet.

If you could be paid in anything other than cash what would it be?

I had my earwax removed at the doctor the other day and it felt amazing, so I’m going to go with periodic ear waxing.

What band would you choose to support you on tour?

She’s way above my pay grade, but Sharon Van Etten.

What would be the ideal setting for someone to listen to your album in?

Someone told me they used my album as make-out music the other day and that’s about the most flattering thing I’ve ever heard. I guess the same way I listen to music, walking around at 3am, trying to fill your mind with something just to get through the moments. Or while eating handfuls of food from the fridge. Moments of comfort that have a shameful element to them.

The name of your album, Golden Ticket, reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and exclusivity, but what does it mean to you?

I had a long list of potential album titles and my friends, who are generally smarter than me, talked me out of every single one of them. Some were Mental Health Album and Avoid Situations, which is a HorseEbooks tweet I really liked. I think one theme that occurs a lot on the album is relationships that are a bit too loving, a bit too intoxicating, and a bit unbalanced. That’s an idea that resonates a lot with me, overindulgence, something being so good that it overwhelms your farsightedness and any boundaries you thought you had. So that can be a chocolate bar, or it could be a person. - Nylon Magazine

"Sasha Chapin is Nobody's Everyman"

Sasha Chapin is an interesting dude. You couldn’t tell that just by looking at him, because the novelist-turned-singer/songwriter is almost shockingly nondescript. If you came across him while looking at a crowd of people, nothing would stand out: he’s an average size, of an average build, and looks like the sort of man with whom you could speak at great lengths with without saying anything of substance. But looks can be deceiving, and the more time you spend around Chapin the more you find just how deep shallow waters can run.

The story of Chapin’s journey from author to musician is as interesting as the man himself. Chapin had been working on a novel for almost three years when he suffered a nervous breakdown and abandoned the project. Needing another creative outlet, Chapin began a deeper exploration into his infatuation with music in order to discover what music written and sun by him may sound like. Two years later, he's completed his debut album Golden Ticket. It’s a collection of stark and finely-crafted pop songs that sounds like nothing else you’ve ever heard, full of content that teeters on the edge of heart-breaking and hilarious.

While it’s Chapin’s beautiful arrangements and lilting melodies that will capture your attention, taking the time to delve deeper into the lyrics pays dividends. It’s these words, the ones that are sung as well as spoken, that make him a mesmerising artist and individual. The lyrics on Golden Ticket are simple but incredibly effective—invoking imagery that grabs hold of your emotions and takes them wherever it damn well pleases.

When I caught Sasha’s performance at a tiny venue/art space in Toronto, Chapin kicked off his set with no preamble, shocking the crowd with the distinctiveness of his voice. You notice it on the album, but live, it’s something else. It's cooed and gentle, as if he's performing to a room full of infants. Halfway through his set, he invites the audience to interact in a Q&A session. While he’d already enamoured himself to the crowd with the quips and anecdotes between songs, this was when you got a sense of who Sasha Chapin was. Before answering your question, he’s silent for a considerable time—really taking it in and formulating an answer that more often than not is pure gold. When asked if he prefers dogs or cats, Chapin looked at the ceiling, pondering for a few moments before replying: “Dogs will viciously bite you, but a cat will eat its owner after he’s dead. So it’s sort of a draw.”

In an interview full of pregnant pauses, we spoke with Chapin about insecurity, creative fulfilment and why female singers/songwriters are the bee’s knees. Read the full interview, and check out his Scorsese-inspired music video for “Number One Dad” below.

Noisey: At what point after your efforts as a novelist prematurely ended to you decide that you wanted to get serious about music?

Sasha Chapin: I threw myself into it more or less immediately. I think I considered being an artist integral to my self image. I briefly considered a bunch of things but I saw myself finding my way through life through self expression and anything else seemed unimaginable. It wasn’t so much I wanted musicianship specifically, it was just I needed something and that was the first little piece of flotsam to float by me.

When you first began writing songs, was there any anxiety that this endeavour would come to the same end as your novel?

Yes, definitely. There were late nights singing a song over and over again, not being able to hit the notes. I called friends of mine—dozens of times, probably—essentially begging them to tell me to quit. [I described] my anxiety in such a way that would make them intervene and tell me to stop. No one did, fortunately. I wrote fifty or so songs before I started feeling confident at all.

Some people might assume that as a writer you would write lyrics first and then put music to it. Would that be a correct assumption?

I would surprise those people. My writing process starts with music, usually with me feeling bored and playing guitar. My mind is wandering and I find some combination of a certain phrase and a certain couple of chords. That’s how I access the emotion that goes into the song; that’s how I find whatever memory, place or literary conceit I’m writing from. Not more so than any other person, I constantly experience conflicting emotions about my recent past so I don’t quite know how I feel until I start writing a song. It’s wonderful that way because it allows me to extract a better, more refined emotion and thought from an endless tangle of whatever’s running through my mind at a certain moment.

I read an interview in which you said your producer Matt Smith brought in a number of musical influences that you weren’t necessarily into beforehand. Do you think these influences are going to become a permanent part of your sound or are you looking forward to having whoever you work with in the future help inform the sound of each project you work on?

I love what Matt brought to the record. I think he really improved the songs and added a lot of shape to them. It’s not so much his influences were unwelcome in of themselves, it’s that I was feeling very desperate when I wrote those songs and very afraid of the whole process of recording music. I sort of thought of them as precious objects I was afraid would shatter and he brought a sense of play to them. In the end I embraced that—after a lot of producer/artist therapy sessions. His sounds will definitely stay with me and I look forward to continuing to work with him. I also don’t want my sound to stay totally static. I spend a lot of time these days playing with beats, different music software, trying to expand my palette just because I get bored of myself. I really admire artists like St. Vincent, for example, who are constantly changing their sound. I love how Bob Dylan has a bunch of distinct periods and I certainly have a restless mind.

I find that certain aspects of your phrasing and parts of your vocal approach are more akin to female singer/songwriters than the run-of-the-mill male artist. Are there certain female performers that have struck a chord with you and been an influence on how you write?

Definitely. A lot of male singer/songwriters, whether recent or from decades ago, sing with a sort of bravado that doesn’t necessarily resonate with me—not that I feel it’s invalid, it’s just not part of my natural approach. My way of singing evolved out of a terror of not being able to sing, because I really couldn’t sing when I started writing. The kind of transparency that a lot of female singer/songwriters achieve—that immediacy is appealing to me. Specifically, I really love Sibylle Baier; Joni Mitchell; Judee Sill; Sue Tompkins from the band Life Without Buildings and Jennifer Castle, a Toronto singer/songwriter I really admire.

Two songs I really enjoy on Golden Ticket are “I Can Tell” featuring Olivia Featherstonhaugh and “Rum Raisin” which features Felicity Williams who sings with Bahamas. How did those collaborations come about?

They were both people I knew from around. Olivia is a recent acquaintance. We got along immediately, she’s a very fine songwriter and just recently started playing as Snacks. Felicity is someone who’s been in the music scene for a long time. I admire her singing with Bahamas and a guy named Thomas Gill who sometimes records simply as Thomas. When I was writing both of those songs I saw them as duets just because I felt like they were intimate songs about relationships. I also felt like I didn’t have enough resources as a performer to express everything I wanted to. They’re both very intelligent singers in different ways—Felicity is laser precise [while] Olivia’s voice is very breathy and laid back and cool. I tried to encourage them to bring their own personalities to the songs and I think they did a wonderful job.

Your literary nature comes shows up in aspects of this project other than your lyric writing. Your social media posts are always entertaining and well thought out, and you’re offering one-off, hand written letters about random topics with copies of Golden Ticket. Do all these things fulfil your need to write, or do you see yourself continually adding more literary aspects?

I’m never completely fulfilled creatively. If I write a song, I might be frustrated that I can’t include a certain phrase in it. If I’m writing in my journal or on Twitter I may get frustrated because I feel like there’s something in the subject to be expressed with melody or harmony. I just got Instagram so now I’m getting into thinking about the visual world and capturing scenes around me as a way of expressing a point of view. I probably most of all envy my friends who are dancers; they can express themselves constantly through movement and the way they address the world physically. I think every creative pursuit holds something interesting for me—it’s just a question of time, money and relevance.

Coming full circle—do you ever see yourself becoming an author once again? Has that question even crossed your mind since you began this different journey? I can’t imagine it’s an easy question so I saved it for last.

[Pause of the century]...I don’t know. When I was a novelist I thought I‘d be a novelist for ever. When I was interested in social work for a bit I thought I’d be a social worker for ever. When I was a fuck up I thought I’d be a fuck up for ever. It’s all too easy to imagine your future life in light of your present one. That said, I can’t see myself giving up songwriting and performing music any time soon. I love how social it is; I love watching people’s faces as I perform, I love collaborating with other musicians. I think part of the reason I was initially so drawn to writing novels is that I was attracted to the idea of quietly and in isolation creating a big, smart monolith to point at from a distance. Performing live is messy and fascinating in a way that fiction writing never was for me. All these little personal interactions—I’m getting a little addicted to it. - Noisey

"Sasha Chapin - 'Golden Ticket'"

A young man with a guitar – or any other means of expression, really – runs the risk of compensating for limited living by trying to sound older. Reading a 25 year old who’s been reading Hemingway is about as insufferable as listening to a 25 year who’s been listening to Leonard Cohen. But on his first, self-titled album Sasha Chapin’s writing and performance never feels out of proportion. Here he presents a purview that’s becoming familiar with the trees before sweating the forest. The airless room sound of the recordings themselves go a long way to keeping the songs in a sparse, specific space, giving the album an admirable wholeness.

There’s a specific ambiguity to Chapin’s delivery that often sounds genderless and ageless, and will briefly, but never permanently, evoke comparison. He has a vocal flutter that flirts with a warble, at times reminiscent of Devendra Banhart on his first albums, but there are also spates of monotone lethargy that bring to mind Sibylle Baier. Here and there there’ll be the lisping urgency of a teenaged Conor Oberst or the soft shyness of Stuart Murdoch, but Chapin always stays himself, a uniqueness that’s bolstered by songwriting that particular, sometimes peculiar, but never ornate.

I like the stiff cacophony of the Velvet Underground as much as the next guy who would never dare say he didn’t, but the standout for me from that manic catalogue is the Lou Reed-written, Mo Tucker-performed “After Hours.” It’s a small presentation of a small moment, but there’s a barely tangible, sinister feeling to it in the context of the Velvet’s greater catalogue. Even the sweetness and smallness of that song belies an implied darkness. In some ways Chapin’s album is like a collection of 13 “After Hours.” These are sometimes catchy, sometimes somber submissions of modest interactions, slight details, and yet ­– even though Chapin doesn’t have a catalogue of dark, roaring, kink- and drug-describing catalogue that I know of ­– there are these impressive, suggestive cloud shadows drifting over the album.

The triumph of Chapin’s limited approach gets so close to the bigness of that “After Hours” smallness. It reduces the world to one, specific quiet room in which the muffled sounds of the greater tumult outside is ambiently present inside. - Southern Souls


Still working on that hot first release.



Sasha is from Toronto. 6', 155 lbs, no chest hair to speak of, loping gait, gap tooth, squats like, 180, on a good day. Sasha started making music two and a half years ago after a nervous breakdown ended his career as a novelist. He abruptly became obsessed with songwriting because he had a guitar in his house and needed some way to justify his existence. He's closely related to famous American songwriter Harry Chapin, which has very little impact on his life and even less on his music but it's a cute press angle.

While he made the record he watched his friends achieve loving relationships, move into nicer apartments, get higher thread counts in their sheets, lotion their way to clearer skin, and so on; Sasha didn't do that; he stayed inside and poured all his time and money into his music. He got all the money by working long hours at a pizza restaurant and then subsequently a pasta restaurant. He didn't grow up with any money at all -- he had a dollar a week to spend on candy bars and that was it -- so the idea of continually impoverishing himself seemed natural, almost relaxing. 

He made his first record with his producer Matt Smith (Prince Nifty, Owen Pallett), over a year and a half in different locations: Matt's apartment, 6 Nassau in Toronto, and the Arcade Fire's studio, Sonovox, in Montreal. He self-released it, and Nylon, Noisey, and Southern Souls said a bunch of nice things about it. He's very happy with it but he's already working on another record, which is about half-written. He's become addicted to making his music. It's kind of like he's dating himself. His music can be compared to the music of all sorts of people. He's passionate about burgers and eye contact. 

Band Members