Singer/Songwriter Chantelle Tibbs: The Journey from R&B to Indie Folk-Pop
The music of singer/songwriter Chantelle Tibbs spins moods like a spider weaving its web. There is a hypnotic effect on her new album Bicycle, one that threads its way across the whole record; the slow, gradually developing tracks are awash with atmosphere and quiet feelings. On the surface, the record is a flashback to the dreamy haze of Mazzy Star, especially on the sundown-lit tranquility of “Hollow” and the bright shimmer of “Covered in Me.” However, there are times when it recalls the plaintive roots rock of the Cowboy Junkies. In fact, Tibbs sounds quite a bit like Margot Timmins at times, namely on “Knees.”
Oddly enough, Tibbs’ musical background isn’t in the indie folk that she is pursuing now. Rather, she got her start in all-girl R&B group that were almost signed to University Music, the same record label that discovered Mya. In her heart, though, Tibbs’ tastes leaned towards rock & roll and folk, which somewhat made her an outsider in black culture.
In the following interview, Tibbs reveals those struggles in being different and how she overcame them to finally discover her true artistic self.
Q: You entered the music scene at a young age. Was it something that you treated seriously back then? Or did you feel it was simply a hobby?
A: I was 14. I took it very seriously. I was in a girls’ R & B group that was almost signed to University Records back in the day. That was the label Mya was signed to. I came close; one minute we were staying in hotels in New York, the next I was kicked out of the group for being tall. It was heartbreaking. So for a while I put it to the side and focused on acting.
Q: You’re an actress as well as a musician. What was first, and which do you prefer?
A: Acting came first. I had a classmate in high school that was in the movie The Real McCoy with Kim Basinger. He introduced me to his manager, and I wound up booking a music video with this group called Imajin. The mother of one of the singers in that group was my first voice teacher. She put the girl group together that I was in. I don’t prefer either. I need them both for my sanity. They tend to compliment one another for me.
Q: Were your parents supportive of you becoming a musician?
A: So supportive. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for that. I remember I got fired from this crap restaurant job and my dad came to pick me up. I was crying and he slapped me five; he said, “Thank God you aren’t cut out for this shit.” My mom just gifted the entire Island of Puerto Rico my new CD. By entire island I mean all of my family in Patillas and Dorado.
Q: How long did it take to you record Bicycle? Did you write the songs specifically for the record or have they been around for a while?
A: It took about a year actually. The drummer, Eric Dudinsky, on the album reached out to me and said we should do an album together. He really made it come together. I had songs that were written already, and some of the last songs on the album were written with completing the album in mind. I recorded the album in Los Angeles. I live in San Francisco so it was a bit more time consuming. I also want to tip my hat to the engineer, Paul Du Gre. He made things run smoother as well.
Q: How do you feel you have evolved as an artist since you began?
A: I spent a lot of time when I was younger trying to make the kind of music I looked like I should be making. I spent a lot of time when I was younger being ashamed of the music that moved me the most: folk, rock, and pop. Over the years I stopped thinking so much about what the other dark-skinned girls in high school thought of me. I just pulled it together and started making the music I was meant to make. I actually really enjoy doing folk covers of hip-hop songs now. It’s just my way of rebelling I guess, having fun. I learned to love cross collaborations because music is music no matter what the genre. I also am becoming interested in the concept of putting on a show. Meaning I am interested in peaking my audience’s interest visually as well as musically. I want to start treating every song like a page in a pop-up book, bring it to life visually on stage.