Debbie Chou (I believe it’s pronounced “chō”) is a wonderful singer-songwriter in the New York area that is both a solo artist and is also the featured keyboard player in The Barrens. While that band has a much louder sound, the softer-but-still-edgy side of Debbie can be found on her fine solo album titled Lovebug (ACME and Newspeak’s violinist Caleb Burhans, btw, makes a special appearance on this recording). Check the CD out here or on the link on the bottom. Debbie also loves cats, and I really should have asked her to let me see the cats while we were in conference because I could hear them meowing in the background. You’ll also find out here that Debbie herself is an avid meower.
Debbie had some time to talk via skype.
CM: Who was your biggest influence for your songwriting?
Debbie: I was very inspired by Rufus Wainwright and his album All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu. I went to see him play at Prospect Park a couple of years ago, and it was just amazing! From that, I just started to write a lot of piano-based music.
CM: You’re voice is great as well! In indie music, there tends to be some non-trained vocalists–Not that this is bad, but many of the singers sound like that they haven’t had much training, whereas in your case, you sound more trained than what I would expect to hear.
Debbie: Thank you! My voice teacher would appreciate that!
CM: How long did it take to make this record?
Debbie: Well, we started a year ago (July 2011). Me and Jonathan [Jetter], my producer, we recorded the piano tracks first, and by the time everything was done, it was around October, which is probably longer than it should have been, but I was pleased with the pace. We were trying to do as much as we could, whenever we could.
The piano parts were recorded in the basement of Steinway Hall, and then the rest was recorded in Jonathan’s studio in midtown.
My Darling (Waltz Astoria, Astoria, NY; 4/30/11)
CM: The songs on the album are so bare, and they have so much body to them at the same time.
Debbie: I originally planned everything to be just piano and voice or guitar and voice, it was only the first two songs that Jonathan suggested we add an electronic drum track or a whole backing band, and it worked out perfectly. He just had this vision and I went with it.
CM: When you started at The Hartt School, you were studying musical theater. Were you into that first?
Debbie: I started singing because I listened to musicals when I was little (Les Mis, Cats, etc), and so, sort of hand-in-hand, I started doing music and then acting. I did a lot of acting in high school with plays and musicals, and I wanted to continue to do that, except when I went to college, during the first semester I had a program that was more tedious and more theater focused, so I wanted to go back to music because that was my stronger suit. So I switched to composition.
CM: Were you asked to write longer pieces?
Debbie: The music program was very open to what students wanted to work on, and I know students that wrote masses and choral pieces–I stuck with the small chamber groups. I also did some choral arrangements for female a cappella, and I co-led the group, which I enjoyed doing more than anything.
CM: So when you moved to NY, you joined a band, and at that point you started writing songs?
Debbie: Yes, when I moved to NY, I tried being a freelance composer, doing scores for shows and dance projects. It was a very short term, so I gave that up, and I found a guitarist named John Carpenter, joined his band, and then he moved. You know how it works in New York City, you know someone, you meet their friends, and then you make new connections. The drummer from The Barrens–I actually met his brother first, and then he introduced me to the rest of the band, who, just so happened to be looking for a keyboard player, and that’s when I suggested we get together and jam, and that’s how that got started.
I’ve been playing with them for 3 or 4 years, and I started writing my first songs with lyrics, and it’s branched out to solo projects that are more “me”–solo piano-oriented stuff, and less the heavy-band-sounding backup. I’m still in the band, but the solo thing is a side project that we are promoting at the same time.
Debbie with The Barrens playing “Yellow Cigarette”
CM: I have to ask you–What is this iMeowww thing that you started doing?
Debbie: (after a pause) Oh, I see you discovered that! In high school I was in choir, and in college, I did a cappella arrangements, so I started developing an ear for 4-part harmony, AND people that know me very well know that I like cats…
CM: Who doesn’t?? [both laugh]
Debbie: I meow for no reason, at any given time. If you hang out with me, I’ll be meowing! So, I just started this side project where I meow old rock tunes in its original arrangement–drums, bass, guitar, backing harmony.
CM: Seriously, Kraftwerk, Gang of Four, David Bowie–awesome bands you chose! That’s such a cool side project because you bring such a level of seriousness to it! You invest the time to properly track it and do it right!
Debbie: Everybody thinks I’m crazy!
CM: Well, artists are crazy! I know this because I write songs too! [laughs]
I Know a Place (from the Lovebug CD)
Debbie Chou (Click here to stream/download Debbie’s Lovebug CD)
The Barrens (Official page for The Barrens)
IMeowww’s sounds on SoundCloud (Debbie’s Soundcloud for the cat-lover in you)
Debbie Chou music (Like her page on Facebook)