Cartwheel, led by guitarist and vocalist Kristyn Chapman, will celebrate the release of its debut recording, Best Days, on Friday, Feb. 15, at Wave on a bill with Old News, Mess and Pigments. It is an all-ages event.
Joining Chapman on the release are drummer Will Erickson and bassist Riley Day. Chapman recently visited the KMUW studios to discuss the origins of both her band and Best Days.
You've got this new record, which is something you've been working on for quite a while. Where did this whole thing start?
I've played guitar for a long time, and I've struggled with writing songs pretty much the entire time. I'd turn into a perfectionist and overwork the idea. I'd be looking for the best guitar part ever, which doesn't really exist. Putting that kind of pressure on an early idea kills creativity. About four years ago, I took the pressure off myself.
The first song I wrote for this band was in 2015. It was a year after that that I got in touch with Will (Erickson, drums). I knew that I wanted to play these songs with a band. I didn't really want to be a singer-songwriter type. I wanted volume. I didn't want to be talked over. Will and I jammed together for about a year before we found Riley (Day, bass).
What was that first song that you wrote?
It's called "Nothing." It was just a really honest depiction of what I was going through at the time. I was at a really low place, fed up. I didn't know what to do with my emotions. I started seeing a counselor. She encouraged me to write. One night, I was just really worn out after a social event. It just poured out of me all at once. The lyrics, the melody, the song, all came together at once in my most depressing cave of an apartment, where I lived at the time.
I recorded a little voice memo on my phone, listened back to it, and thought, "That sounds like a song!" That was the first time I was able to write something. It was a big deal. I kept trying after that.
Did things come more easily after that?
I just kept writing songs. Shortly after I wrote that song, I moved in with a group of really cool girls. They were really supportive. At first, I was afraid to let anyone hear me sing. Once I did it and one of my roommates said, "Whoa, I love your singing!" Having that support when I was in that vulnerable stage of creating was really important.
Are the songs on this record connected by theme?
Yeah. I grouped them in a way that there's a narrative. The very first song, "Life Doesn't Wait," is about my brother. I lost him when I was 19. It's a song talking to him. "Nothing," the second song, is about after I'd been in grief for a couple of years. At the very bottom of it. "Cutting Off a Limb" is a little more outward, looking at ending important relationships and wanting to be more than what you are.
"Choose an Adventure" is about letting go of someone that you really love. "Best Days" is about my mom and wanting her to feel hope again. "Break & Mend" is the resolve of the whole batch of songs and it's about comforting my younger self. I think of it as an anthem for quiet people. You'll get your time.
Tell me about the person who's on the album cover.
That's my mom. I saw that picture two Christmases ago. It was really striking to me because I've seen a lot of pictures of my mom, but I've never seen that one. It was in a box of old slides that she shot in college. When I saw it, I said, "That's going to be the album cover." The picture is very striking.
I know her very well, obviously. I share a lot of her qualities. Her expression, to me, is just really powerful. When you first look at it, you're not really sure what she's feeling. What's going on in her world? She looks really strong but you can tell there's a lot going on in her eyes. She looks like she's prevailing through some hard stuff. So, it fits the theme perfectly. She was 26 when that photo was taken; it's a self-portrait. I'm 26 now. It's confirmation that, yep, that's the album cover! [Laughs.]