Lucy Kaplansky: "I Don't Know What a Good Place for a Folk Singer is anymore"
Courtesy of Red House Records
Not many musicians can make the claim of being a clinical psychologists and a singer. As a matter of fact, Lucy Kaplansky may be the only one. Hailing out of New York, Kaplansky has been making quality folk music since 1978. Yet after making initial commercial inroads, Kaplansky went back to school and became a clinical psychologist. Luckily, her own therapy led Kaplansky to return to music in the early '90s.
Speaking from her home and in anticipation of Friday's show at Uncle Calvin's Coffee House, Kaplansky talked with DC9 about her interesting journey back to music and how New York City isn't the place for folk music that it used to be.
Have Your played on Valentine's Day before?
Oh my God, is that when it is? I didn't realize that. I am always working on Valentine's Day.
You live in New York City. Is there a better place to live for a folk singer?
I don't know what a good place for a folk singer is anymore. I am not really part of the music scene in New York. I was a long time ago. It used to be a great place to be a folk singer. I don't think there is much of a folk scene in New York.
When you originally moved to New York, there must have been a great folk scene.
Yes, that was forty years ago. It was a really important scene. I would say now that there is more of a scene for this kind of music in Boston and in Austin.
Being raised in Chicago, were you exposed to some great blues growing up?
No, I grew up listening to what my parents listened to. My dad basically listened to classical music. My brothers listened to rock and roll. I didn't even go to a club until I was 17 and that was when I was introduced to folk music. Back then, folk music was a big deal in Chicago.
Do you think folk music thrives in more liberal communities?
I think that is absolutely true. I hadn't thought about it. I don't know why that is. Probably because of the legacy of folk.
You were in New York on 9/11. Many artists have written songs about the tragedy. Did it affect your music as well?
There were a couple of songs that came directly out of that for sure. I remember thinking, along with a lot of other thoughts I was thinking, whether or not I was going to be able to write anything again. Then, the song that happened just happened. It is called "Land of the Living." My friend John Gorka told me to write down what I saw. That's what that song is, an account of a witness. I think it's human nature to move on and forget. I think 9/11 is always in the back of all New Yorkers' minds. Every time you hear a loud noise, you get nervous.
You got your PhD in clinical psychology. Are you the only folk singer with such a degree?
I think maybe I am. I know someone who is a doctor. I know someone who is an English professor. I must be the only clinical psychologist.
Did being a psychologist affect your music?
The way I think about it is by becoming a psychologist just opened up my worldview. It informed my world view and informed my understanding of people. It affects everything about me. I see things differently than I did before. I don't know of a direct line into my writing, but I can't see how it couldn't affect my writing.
Why did you decide to go from psychology back into music?
It is a long story that I will try and make really short. I always wanted to be a singer. When I was 23, things were going well. I was too neurotically conflicted to let myself go for it. That's when I went back to school and then I became a psychologist. Right around the time I finished my doctorate, I started therapy with a really good therapist, ironically. I found out that I had run away from the thing that I really wanted. So I left psychology and became a singer again.
Since many people use music as therapy, does a singer/songwriter sometimes serve as a kind of psychologist?
There is music therapy, but I don't know anything about that. I never combined the two. For me, music is music and therapy is therapy. I think that hopefully my music can be moving and cathartic for someone. Maybe sometimes, it is therapy, too. It's just this thing that I love to do. I feel very connected to myself when I am performing. I wouldn't say music is therapeutic. I would say it is cathartic. It feels really good being able to express myself in that way.
Are you a math whiz like your father?
Oh God, no, I was good at math when I was a kid. Who knows if I still am? I was good, but I was never really interested in it. That was his great passion.
Isn't there a correlation between music and math?
There probably is a connection. People who are good in math seem to be good in music. I am guessing it is part of the brain that functions in both. My dad was a great musician also. I think that is true.
Many Folk artists, for the most part, do not have the reputation as being super great musicians.
Folk music is a large term that applies to a lot of music. Some of it is complex and some of it isn't. I am not a great guitar player. I can accompany myself. John Gorka is a great guitar player. There are some great guitar players in folk music.
Your last album came out in 2012. Do you have a new album in the works?
Nothing of my own although I've written a few songs. I have a possible project with someone else that I hope is going to happen, but I can't talk about that.
1999's Ten Year Night is cited by many as your best effort. What makes that album resonate so well with critics and fans?
That song, "Ten Year Night," got a lot of airplay. People really liked that song. I am very proud of that album. It was produced beautifully by Ben Whitman who has produced my albums ever since.
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