Chanell, let’s start with your story. Tell us about your background, and what sparked your interest in music? Are there any major influences or role models that inspired/inspire you?
There was always an interest in music for me from a young age. I remember my mom buying me an electronic keyboard and I started singing hymns that were stock songs on there. But my formal training started years later as most kids do in the 6th grade. It was the first time I saw and heard a tuba and was immediately drawn to it.
I’ve had many role models over the years. Most of whom I could call up, email, or visit to ask for advice. It has been a great experience to be able to have such close relationships with my mentors. Everyone needs a good mentor at various stages in their lives and I’m happy to have had folks like Howard Johnson, Bob Stewart, Laura Karpman, and Peter Golub to name a few. And truthfully, you can’t forget people like your partner! My wife has been a huge guiding light for me. They are with you day in and day out, they see your ups and downs, and in many ways, a good partner is that person that keeps you believing in your dreams. Yeah, I recommend a good mentor and a good partner to everyone!
In addition to songwriting and composition, you are an accomplished low brass multi-instrumentalist, band leader, and arranger. How do you balance your time between songwriting, composing, and performing? How do your instrumental talents benefit your workflow as an artist?
The balancing act is complicated and difficult at times. Each day I try to tackle one major project and most days I fail at completing it, haha! But, I have gotten work in and that is the most important part. When it comes to composing or songwriting, oftentimes starting is the most difficult part of the whole project. When I sit down and start writing it usually snowballs from there but the initial process is just trying a lot of different ideas out until you find the thing that works best. Once you are there it gets easier but the time involved in writing and composing especially are long hours that can turn into long days.
As of right now, I’ve been focusing much more on composing/songwriting so I am able to schedule performances as it fits into that schedule which is pretty easy to do.
Playing horns has definitely allowed me to get ideas going quickly especially when I am writing for brass. I usually have my flugabone by my side when I am writing and depending on the project, I am playing it to see if brass would work well here or to even get a melodic idea started. The most beneficial part of playing brass is that I can record most things myself here in my home studio. It saves me a bit of money and adds depth to my demos and tracks.
How would you describe your sound, your artistic voice?
This is always a hard one to describe but I usually just say that it’s a vibe. But that word has had its run. There is definitely a sense of my classical upbringing/conservatory training, a mix of different genres and textures but the majority of my music is rooted in Black American Music, which is expansive and vast. It’s wrapped up in our DNA, from the music of Aaron Copland to the music of Beyonce. I learned a great saying from a mentor a while back that sums it up nicely – The blues is the roots and everything else is the fruits.
What would you highlight as a major milestone in your career? How did it help you get where you are today?
I’m grateful that there have been many of these moments in my career. My most recent experience of being a Sundance Composers Fellow was definitely a highlight. It was an intense and rewarding two weeks that gave me the opportunity to work alongside some amazingly talented peers and mentors. I have not experienced anything like it before and I left a stronger composer and person. Another very recent milestone for me is being on Faculty at the University of the Pacific where I have the opportunity to teach students all that I have learned on my journey.
Would you like to share any current or upcoming news? Any new music/project releases we should keep an eye out for?
I am working on a low brass composition project right now through Sundance’s Art of Practice Fellowship. BUT Major news for me is that my first feature My Fake Boyfriend, directed by Rose Troche comes out on June 15 via Amazon! I’m so excited to share this film with the world. It’s funny, beautiful and celebrates queer love. Working with Rose was an absolute highlight of my career. I’ve been a fan of hers for so long it’s just been amazing to get to work with her in this capacity and build community.
Check out Chanell’s AWFC profile.
Interview by Michael Van Bodegom Smith
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