Ben Chapman’s Make The Night Better is a startling debut marked by both warm accessibility and credible depth, an album populated with weight as well as levity where no word is wasted. A native of Lafayette, Georgia (pronounced Luh-fett), Chapman deftly maneuvers through deep-fried Southern rock grooves to rally behind a natural ability as a lyricist at odds against his mere 24 rotations around the sun.
Ben, a self-taught guitarist, made his way as a teenager through the VFW halls and stages of North Georgia, drawing inspiration from classic heroes like the Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band while earning the notice of singer-songwriter Channing Wilson, a fellow Lafayettien who challenged Chapman to study the music of Guy Clark and ultimately try his luck in Music City.
“I didn’t wanna go before I turned 21 ’cause half o’ Nashville is socializin’, and I knew I couldn’t get in any of the bars,” says Chapman, and without delay, he was packed and on the way up I-24 to Nashville within hours of his 21st birthday.
Cards dealt, stars aligned, and promises licked, Chapman wasted no time. He met and began collaborating with singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Meg McRee. The two fell in love and endured the early days of the pandemic writing songs on their front porch.
In 2021, Ben signed a publishing deal with the newly minted Hang Your Hat Music and this past year began a monthly residency at The Basement East dubbed Peach Jam. All in all, not a bad three years in a ten-year town.
Ben the individual is charming, personable, and clearly enamored with the world of songwriting– and if there’s an underlying wariness of the industry machine, it’s counterbalanced by a measure-twice-cut-once savvy and honest desire that makes Ben one of the most exciting new artists performing today.
AI- Brent Cobb tells the story of goin’ to Nashville and bein’ informed that he could be the songwriter or he could be the performer, but that it really wasn’t expected of him to do both. Did you have that same experience?
BC- I got a little bit luckier than Brent because everybody up here’s been kinda lettin’ me do my own thing– they haven’t told me I can do either or. I just kinda slid in and was like, “Well, I’m just gonna try it!” Nobody’s said anything about me doin’ both– yet– but Brent’s told me that story a lot o’ times! He’s like, “You lucky, sonofabitch! I can’t believe you just slid in like that!” (Laughs)
He’s told me that folks tell him that he’s the lucky one because since he did it the way he did, now he gets to go and be the performer, and nobody bats an eye!
Oh, yeah, man! Where he’s at right now is perfect for him. He’s absolutely crushin’ it! He’s out playin’ shows then he’ll come back in town and write a song that somebody’ll cut– he’s got it goin’ on right now!
Tell me about your publishing deal with Hang Your Hat Music. How did that all come together? ‘Cause that’s the dream right there– to get the publishing deal!
It is! It was a huge blessing! It really helped me out, especially with bills and stuff and not havin’ to worry about that set pay that I have to have for rent and everything. But I met Jake Gear about a year and a half ago in up in Nashville, and he started comin’ to a lot of the writer’s rounds that Meg and I were doin’. Meg McRee’s my girlfriend and she’s all in this story! We were playin’ a lot o’ stuff together and Jake came and checked us out at the Listening Room one night. He was like, “Hey, I really love ya’lls stuff, let’s keep in touch, send me songs,” and all that, so we just kept in touch for a while. Hillary Lindsey is the main writer that he deals with and she was ready to leave BMG, which is a bigger publishing company. They’re just more of the “industry” vibe, you know? You don’t get that personal relationship a lot o’ the time at these big companies, so she was ready to leave and so was Jake. They broke off from BMG and they both left together– Jake as a publisher and Hillary as a writer– and started Hang Your Hat. They do a co-venture with Concord, which is another publishing company up here. They’re awesome, great publishing company! But that’s how that all happened. I’ve been with Hang Your Hat and Concord for about a year and a half now, and it’s been goin’ great, man!
Was Make The Night Better part of the plan from the beginning or did you just get to a point where you had a collection of songs…
That was actually Jake’s idea– he produced that record– and he was like, “Hey, man, let’s do a record,” ’cause I didn’t have any music out and things were goin’ quicker than expected. He was like, “We really need a record,” so we went and did a record! And then after, he was like, “Hey, man, you wanna sign a publishin’ deal?” So it worked hand in hand! I got lucky there!
You brought up Meg, and I wanted to talk about your relationship in the songwriting area. “Hippie Speedball” is where I wanted to start because you’ve told the story of sittin’ out on the porch, gettin’ ready for the day (laughs), and capturing that moment. Let’s talk about writin’ on the porch– is that generally your office where you and Meg go to write?
For the most part. Man, that first year in Nashville we got so many songs! I met Meg about six months after I moved to Nashville and there’s no tellin’ how many songs we wrote on that porch, but about seven made it on [Make The Night Better]! I signed that publishing deal, and then like a month later, they asked Meg if she wanted to sign, so we’re both there and we both have the same manager now. We always try to stay away from the duo thing, but we play as much as we can together. We’re huge fans of Delaney & Bonnie and all that ’70s stuff– everybody just kinda jammed back then– Little Feat, Linda Rondstadt, and that’s the kinda vibe that we were always shootin’ for. We never wanted to be duo, we just wanted to be writin’ partners, and then the love connection grew and it went from there! But it’s been awesome!
Another cool thing about the album is how many people you do get to write with. You wrote the title track, “Make The Night Better”, with Adam Wright. I love Adam! He is not afraid to letcha in on his process because he’s still obviously such a fan of writing and of music! Tell me about workin’ with Adam.
Adam Wright has been one of my musical heroes for a very long time, so when I got to write with him, I was shakin’ like a leaf on a tree! When I went in there, I was nervous as all get out ’cause he’s a legend in Nashville just as far as writing goes! I think “Make The Night Better” was the first song that we wrote together, if I’m not mistaken, and then we actually wrote “Hard Country” off that record. He’s got two or three in the can with me that I think I’m gonna cut on this next record, so pretty much every song I write with Adam, I end up cuttin’ it! He’s a genius, man– and he’s a great guitar player! Nobody realizes how great of a guitar player he is! He’s awesome!
I’d had something in the works with Gabe Lee– he was doin’ a playlist takeover for us goin’ into a festival– and one of the songs he included on his playlist was “Kentucky Deluxe”, which sparked a whole conversation on dealing with anxiety as a performer. Is that a true story? And did you write that one with someone?
Yes! I wrote that with my buddy Drew Kennedy and he’s out in New Braunfels, Texas– he’s a great artist, great songwriter! But yes, that is all a hundred percent true! I’m always nervous, man! I always have some sort of anxiety goin’ on, but you know, I think every artist, if they tell ya they don’t, I think they’re lyin’ ’cause I think everybody has a little bit o’ nervousness. And I think a little bit o’ nervousness just means that you care. It means that you wanna do good, you wanna impress the people, you wanna put on a good show– but sometimes, there is those nights where it can just be unhealthy, and you have to drink a couple of shots o’ whiskey to keep it at bay! I think it’s somethin’ that every artist has to deal with, and I think there’s certain ways you can combat it. As you get older and just go on with time, it eventually wears off, but I’m still in that stage of my career where everything’s kinda new and all the people that I’m meetin’ are kinda new, and I have a weird thing of like, “Man, I hope everybody likes me…” So I have that anxiety too.
You brought up Delaney & Bonnie earlier and I have to say, on the song “Still Have You”, you’re Georgia really comes out on that track. I also love that little fill at the beginning of the first lead break. I don’t whether that’s an electric piano or an organ that sneaks in and sneaks out that sounds really cool!
Oh yeah, man, that’s Mike Rojas! He’s one of my favorite keys players up here! He’s a session cat and he’s absolutely amazing! But yeah, you’re right, I think that is like a little keys lick goin’ into that solo! But I’ve never heard it put that way– your Georgia comes out! I’m gonna have to steal that (laughs)!
You wrote that one during COVID– that’s about you and Meg bein’ on that lockdown?
It is! We thought the world was comin’ apart– just like everybody else! We sat down and went from there. That’s one of my favorites off Make The Night Better.
I watched the whole video series of you talkin’ about the songs on the record and you talked about writing “Things People Say” with Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson– who is that singing with you on that song?
That’s Channing Wilson!
You guys wrote that over ZOOM. Tell me about the experience of writing that way as opposed to being in the room together.
ZOOM is so weird at first and then once you get the hang of it, it almost saves you a little bit of time. When you get in a room in person, you have this conversation period– you’re gonna be talkin’ for thirty minutes to an hour before you even start writing, just ’cause you’re excited to meet somebody new or you know the person and you just wanna catch up and hang out. But on ZOOM, everybody knows their purpose. You get on there and it’s like, “Alright, nobody really likes bein’ on the computer screen, let’s knock this song out and try to make it the best we can.” It’s a lot o’ trial and error. I feel like you can always get a good song in person just cause of that connection and you can read a person’s body language– that aspect is gone in ZOOM, but like I said, I feel like everybody’s gettin’ on ZOOM with a purpose. That bein’ said, I’m horrible with a computer! It stresses me out to send a freakin’ email! It was a lot at first but it turned out awesome. Probably five of the songs I got off of that record were off o’ ZOOM writes.
I love the Dixieland horns on “Ain’tchu Honey”, and there’s a great deal of sonic variety across the album. I could call it a country album and that might be alright, but that single label would not necessarily be representative of Make The Night Better. How important was it to you to have variety in the songs as far as the way they sound?
For the first record, I really wanted it to be a variety like you just said. I have to give all [the credit for] the Dixieland horn ideas to Jake Gear, the producer. He’s a superfan of Dr. John– and so am I– and that early Leon Russell stuff, and I was like, “Yeah, dude, let’s do horns!” And then when we got horns on there, it was like, “Well, crap, we might as well add ’em to a couple more!” (Laughs) So three or four of the other songs ended up havin’ horns!
“Ain’tchu Honey” was one of those that I’d gotten right before we recorded it, and it was kind of an impulse decision. I was like, “Let’s just put this thing on there!” I’m such a fan of that whole vibe, like that Little Feat vibe. The horns just put the icing on the cake for me! I’d never thought in a million years that my first record would have horns and all that ’cause I’m a Marshall Tucker Band superfan, so hearin’ saxophone and all that stuff, I’m like, “This is alright!”
“Two Ring Circus” is just a beautiful song! Did you write that one for or with or both with Meg?
I wrote that with Adam James, one o’ my songwritin’ buddies up here, and he’s been crushin’ it lately in the songwritin’ world! He actually recently got married when that song was written, and we were just talkin’ about marryin’ a musician and how crazy we sometimes are, as you would know (laughs)! It’s literally like bein’ in the circus! We’re always gone, we’re always comin’ back through, we’ll be on the road for a month and then come home for a month and it’s a complete circus! When we’re home, we wanna be back out on the road, and then when we’re out on the road, we’re missin’ home! It makes us crazy people! That’s what that song is definitely about is marryin’ a musician and livin’ that life and understanding that life.
You have a monthly showcase at The Basement, you call it Peach Jam– is that exclusively a 2022 engagement, or is that something you think you’ll extend goin’ forward?
Hopefully, it’s somethin’ we’ll extend and it’s all accordin’ to The Basement, but man, it’s been goin’ great! The guests have just been out o’ this world! We have a big one comin’ up in September for Americana Fest and we’re gonna have a lotta folks on there. I think Kendell Marvel’s gonna come, I think Hayes Carll’s gonna come, and it’s turned into the thing that I wanted it to turn into. It’s a community hang and it’s a place where you can come and feel welcome and just let everything go for an hour or two. It’s been goin’ really well, so hopefully, we’re gonna extend it into 2023, for sure!
Well, let me ask you this– what would be the possibility of you taking Peach Jam and makin’ into a roadshow?
That’s another thing in the works! We’re tryin’ to do that as we speak. There’s already been quite a few venues reach out and been like, “Hey, whatta ya’ll think about carryin’ this around?” We’re workin’ on logistics right now, but hopefully here in the next half year or so, we’re gonna start releasin’ some stuff about that.
Macon has got a perfect place for you to come and do it when you get ready to start makin’ the dates!
We’d love to come to Macon! I’m a huge Allman Brothers fan, so I grew up makin’ my family go to Macon for a vacation just so I could go to the Big House (laughs)!
One last thing, since you brought it up earlier– your next album. You’ve got songs ready for that? I know it’s the strange thing where you’ve just put out an album and it’s foolish for me as the interviewer to even ask about the next record but since you brought up, you’re already planning or have already begun the next project?
I’m still just in the planning phase. I think I have a producer that I’m gonna use. We have a great relationship, so I think I have that part nailed down. I have about six songs that I know for sure that I wanna do, but I’m still just in that creative phase of I kinda wanna go in the woods for a couple o’ weeks and just see what songs come outta that– just carry some buddies out in the woods and do a writer’s retreat. After that, I think I’ll have the batch o’ songs, and then from there, it’s just planning and gettin’ the initial date and gettin’ the studio dates down. Hopefully, it’s gonna be out sometime early next year or towards the summer of next year.
Do you see yourself bein’ an album a year producer?
I do. All my favorite bands that I’ve ever looked up to were pretty much on that year base rotation. I think that’s where I wanna live, but I also don’t wanna put out a record just to put out a record. I wanna make it say somethin’, I wanna have it mean somethin’ to somebody, so God willin’ I can do one every year. But if that creative drip stops, sometimes you just have to let it come back to you!