Chances are, if you’re an ardent supporter of live music in the New York metro area, you’ve seen Stephen Chopek sitting behind the drum kit with soul-rock outfit The Everymen. What you may not know, however, is that Chopek has been active since the turn of the century with a resume that reads; Charlie Hunter (2000-2002), John Mayer (2002-2003), Marc Broussard (2003), Jesse Malin (2004-2005), The Alternate Routes (2005-2007), The Pimps of Joytime (2010-2012), The Everymen (2010-present).
Now, the rhythm rounding extraordinaire is stepping out front and center as a singer songwriter with a tour supporting last year’s See Through. Speak Into My Good Eye caught up with Chopek a week before he heads out to discuss his artistic background, liberation in expression, and the upcoming string of dates.
You’ve been drumming in bands for over a decade, when did you start taking an interest in the guitar?
I grew up in Rutherford, NJ (now living in Jersey City, NJ). I was drumming by age 10, and started playing in bands during high school. Since I was the drummer, the most logical place for rehearsals was my parents’ basement. Gear was usually left at the practice space, so I had access to guitars to mess around with.
How did that experience lead toward your current turn as a singer songwriter?
I’ve always been fascinated with the art of songwriting, but was also intimidated by the process of writing music and setting words to it (or coming up with lyrics and setting them to music). I decided that the only way to learn, was to just go for it. Eventually, I bought a cassette four track recorder (which I still have) and started experimenting with writing songs. What ended up coming out was not necessarily “songs”, but “experimental music”. I discovered early on that writing songs and/or composing music requires a balance of creativity, discipline, and spontaneity. Being willing to allow the piece to take on a life of it’s own, and follow it’s lead once you breathe some life into it.
What delayed the impetus to step out as a singer-songwriter until now?
I continued to play in bands, write songs, and compose music throughout high school and college; but my main focus was the drumset. A few years after I graduated college, my drumming career started to gain momentum. Since 2000, I’ve been constantly touring and recording with other projects.
How did what would eventually become See Through come about?
Although drumming has been my focus, I’ve always made time to work on playing the guitar. As a result, I’ve come up with lots of ideas for songs; chord progressions, lyrics, grooves, etc. In the beginning of 2011, I dedicated myself to the task of actually completing some of those ideas. It was through that process that I came up with the songs that comprise the album.
See Through is stark in that it’s you and a guitar, no drums. How did such an accomplished drummer such as yourself come to this decision?
I find the combination of guitar and vocals to be powerful, so I decided to stick with that concept for the album. Being a drummer, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t tempted to include drums on any of the songs. Actually, the drum-less approach was somewhat liberating. I was able to focus on playing the guitar and singing. The fact that my first solo record was done with minimal instrumentation gives me plenty of room to grow, I feel, for future recordings.
What’s your experience been heading out and playing these songs live?
I recorded See Through in March 2012, and released it online in May of that year. I didn’t start playing the songs live until a year later, once I had written more songs and became more confident performing.
Since May 2013, I’ve played regularly in New Jersey, New York City, Brooklyn, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Then in June, I booked a two week tour for myself which took me down to Atlanta, GA and out to Little Rock, AR. It went well, so I booked another tour for the fall.
I’ll be playing some of the same venues as I did in the summer, and reaching further out as well. I’ll be starting in Philadelphia, PA; going south to New Orleans, LA; out to Little Rock, AR; up to Chicago, IL; and then a few gigs in Virginia on my way back home.
What’s your current headspace before heading out on tour, and what can we expect from you in the near future?
Booking and promoting my own tours has been an interesting experience. It’s not necessarily difficult work, but it’s a lot of work. It’s possible to lose perspective and let the administrative work and logistical details turn into a full time job. I’m still working on finding that balance between work and play, but it’s going well. I have a batch of songs ready for another record, but for now I’m preparing myself for lots of gigs and long drives.
Sep 17th – WBCR – Brooklyn, NY
Sep 18 – Dawson Street Pub – Philadelphia, PA
Sep 19 – Le Grande Fromage – Atlantic City, NJ
Sep 20 – Electric Maid – Washington, DC
Sep 21 – Atlanta Room, Smith’s Olde Bar – Atlanta, GA
Sep 23 – The Nick – Birmingham, AL
Sep 23 – Mountain Radio – Birmingham, AL
Sep 24 – Poplar Lounge – Memphis, TN
Oct 01 – Bear’s Place – Bloomington, IN
Oct 03 – Tin Can Pub – Springfield, IL
Oct 04 – Swing State – Lake Villa, IL
Oct 05 – Underground Lounge – Chicago, IL
Oct 10 – Neutral Ground Coffee House – New Orleans, LA
Oct 12 – The Den @ The Howlin’ Wolf – New Orleans, LA
Oct 16 – Borjo Coffeehouse – Norfolk, VA
Oct 17 – The Hot Spot – Waynesboro, VA
Oct 23 – Rew & Who New York, NY