Eight years ago, Stephen Chopek was performing songs in the New York City subways.
He treated it like a full-time job – heading out in the morning, picking a spot, and sticking to it for seven hours. He’d pack up his guitar, head home, and do it all again the next day.
It's clear when Stephen tells the story that it doesn't strike him as unusual. He was a professional drummer learning to play guitar and sing – what better way to hone your skills? He refers to his time playing underground as casually as he talks about his life on the road or studying with drummer Billy Martin of Medeski Martin & Wood. Stephen is a perennial student, as disciplined as he is curious.
Long before those subway sets, Stephen's apprenticeship with legendary jazz percussionist Leon Parker led to touring and recording with guitarist Charlie Hunter from 2000 to 2002, which opened the door to a world tour with John Mayer and the recording of Any Given Thursday. He’s kept the beat for Marc Broussard, Jesse Malin, The Alternate Routes, The Pimps of Joytime, Todd Carey, The Everymen, Amy LaVere, John Paul Keith, Shannon McNally, and many others.
Not surprisingly, his stories tend to be about what was learned from every adventure; each tour, each artist, each session, was a prerequisite to the next. It is this collection of his experiences that laid the foundation for Stephen’s career as a solo artist.
His debut album, See Through, was recorded and released in the spring of 2012 - just him and an electric guitar. Over the two years that followed, he created an ambitious series of recordings that featured full-band treatments of his new material, every instrument tracked in the studio by Stephen himself. The songs were released throughout 2015 - the two EPs and a culminating full-length album, Things Moving On Their Own Together, earned Stephen critical praise for both his songwriting and his musicianship (“A skillfully crafted tapestry of punk, pop, folk and roots” - Skin Back Alley). He spent the better part of the next two years on tour in support of the album, thousands of miles logged in route to a dozen or more cities at a time.
Touring is the thing you do to support the art you created - but it turned out that these travels were a critical element of Stephen’s growth as an artist. Through each tour, he found that his songs began to evolve and grow in new directions. And with so many days on the road, he also realized how much he thrives on the momentum of touring.
“There’s an energy to it,” he says. “I feed off that, performing every night, a new show in a new city. And in between gigs, being able to explore the town, even something as simple as taking time to walk around the neighborhood before I play; I think it’s had an influence on my songwriting. It’s time to process, to gather information for future songs, lyrical ideas. It gives me material for new music and the motivation to get on the road and present that material.”
While on tour last year, he recorded a six-song EP, Talk Will Tell, at a studio outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. It features four previously released songs - two from See Through, two from Things Moving On Their Own Together - and two new songs, “The Ballad of Cash and Dean” and “Radio Caroline” (both historical explorations of a sort, one that literally came to him in a dream). The feeling of this EP, which will get a digital-only release on March 10th, is the gripping immediacy of an intimate, live solo acoustic show.
It’s also a bit of a preview of what fans will hear when his next full length album, as-yet untitled, comes out in early 2018. Recorded in Memphis at 5 And Dime and mixed with Doug Easley (Cat Power, Ben Nichols, Frazey Ford), the album finds Stephen increasingly comfortable and confident in his songwriting, both lyrically and melodically. While rhythm was at the heart of the writing on Things Moving On Their Own Together, melody takes centerstage on this new effort to great effect.
Look for these releases - and look for Stephen Chopek on the road, in a town near you.