Nigel Chapman of Nap Eyes – COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, August 5th, 2020  

Nigel Chapman of Nap Eyes – COVID-19 Quarantine Artist Check In

“I am optimistic about a few things, like the realization among employers and staff alike of how much can be accomplished remotely.”

Jul 21, 2020 Web Exclusive
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We are checking in with musicians during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to see how they are dealing with everything. What has their home quarantine experience been like so far and how is the crisis impacting both their career and art? Here we check in with Nigel Chapman, frontman of Nap Eyes.

We’re living in future history right now, unprecedented times that will define our era. At some point we will be living in a forever-changed post-COVID-19 timeline, but right now we’re deep in it. Many have had their livelihood interrupted by the pandemic and included are most musicians, who make a lot of their money by touring and performing, two things they can’t do right now. Most record stores are closed and vinyl factories are shut down, so album sales are depressed too. Our intention with this series is to highlight the challenges musicians are going through right now to hopefully encourage our readers and their fans to rally around and support each musician (financially if you can, but we know it’s tough out there for many people). 

We’re all in this together, a whole planet united in this fight, and we hope these interviews will help illustrate that. We put together the same set of questions about the current crisis and emailed them to several musicians and will be posting their responses as they come in.

Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Nap Eyes started as Chapman’s solo project, then called “The Mighty Northumberland.” If you mix together The Velvet Underground, Yo La Tengo, and add a sprinkle of Stephen Malkmus you get the indie-rock musings of Nap Eyes. As you might gauge from the interview, Chapman is endlessly interested in the human psyche. What is meaningful? And how do we decide? He’s particularly curious right now on how COVID’s required isolation might integrate itself into culture itself. We just have to wait and see.  

Nap Eyes released a new album, Snapshot of a Beginner, back in March via Jagjaguwar/Royal Mountain in partnership with Paradise of Bachelors. Jonathan Low (Big Red Machine, The National) and James Elkington (Steve Gunn, Joan Shelley) produced Snapshot of a Beginner, which was recorded at The National’s Upstate New York Long Pond Studio. The album’s first single, “Mark Zuckerberg,” tackled the founder of Facebook and all of the album’s songs stem from Chapman’s “20-minute voice-and-guitar free-writing sessions.” The Canadian band also features drummer Seamus Dalton, bassist Josh Salter, and guitarist Brad Loughead.

Read on as Chapman reflects on his COVID-19 experience so far. 

Where are you spending the quarantine and who are you spending it with? If you’re spending it with other people, have you found that the quarantine has brought you closer together or caused tension?

Since getting home early from our tour with Destroyer in March, my partner and I have been staying at our apartment here in Toronto. It’s a pretty small place so spending every day here has been an adjustment for both of us, but one that has brought us closer together I would say. We’re both relatively introverted people, so that makes things a bit easier on us. No matter what though, you can’t help but get on each other’s nerves sometimes. Actually, sometimes when that happens, it’s a real opportunity for personal and relationship growth, because if you can both figure out where the other person is coming from you can really learn to communicate better, be more sensitive to each other, etc. For people spending much of the lockdown on their own, there must be equally powerful opportunities for personal growth on offer—you may just have to pay a bit more proactive attention to the world within, as you won’t be encountering such unambiguous external messages advising change as can be found in the countenance of a partner. 

Is everyone in your family safe and healthy so far?

Thankfully, yes.

What’s your daily routine been like? Have you spent much time outdoors? And since musicians spend so much time on the road, have you found it hard adjusting to so much time at home?

It’s been evolving and changing with the weeks, but there are some constants, which tend to ebb and flow in intensity. I try to do at least some music-related work daily. Also reading, whether on the page or audio-format—the latter I always enjoy pairing with some tai chi practice. And we have been playing video games, watching TV, etc. One thing I’ve been working on recently is getting outside to run every other day. Not the first time I’ve tried to establish this habit, but I’m optimistic this time. In any case, it’s been helpful for me to have my brain and senses journey outside the home a modest distance a few times each week.

To answer the second part of this question, there are definitely some things I am missing about touring—journeying with my friends and playing music together for people is both rewarding and a key part of the balance in my life. Still, when it comes down to it, I’m a relatively shy and introverted person, so a fairly quiet daily routine with lots of space for different activities actually suits me pretty well. I guess modes of living are generally satisfying through complementarity with their opposite mode. I feel like I can keep hunkering down for a while here, but I’ll be relieved and energized when the day comes for us to get out on the road again.

What financial impact has COVID-19 had on you and your band? Have you had to cancel or postpone any tours or festival appearances or postpone an album release because of COVID-19 and how will that affect you in the long term?

Overall we’ve been so fortunate, whereas the situation has brought so much difficulty to so many, so I mostly just feel gratitude, as well as the arbitrariness of fortune. Of course, there is still plenty of uncertainty about our future. We did have to cancel a lot of shows—basically all the touring that we had planned in support of our new album (Snapshot of a Beginner). Our tour with Destroyer was roughly halfway complete when it was cancelled, and we had to cancel nearly 40 headline shows that we had planned for the rest of the year.

On the other hand our album was still released on-schedule on March 27, despite the massive changes that were occurring. Having new music out there has given us a source of positive feedback and some external things to focus on during this time, which I am grateful for. Like most musicians, our main source of income historically comes from touring, so I think, like everyone else, we’ve been looking toward the future and trying to discern what paths/strategies could be most viable in the months and years ahead. 

Do you trust the government and our leaders (such as President Trump) to effectively deal with the pandemic?

I won’t say much here, other than urging everyone who’s eligible to vote in the November election to do so. Naturally, I’d want to convince two groups of people: 1) those who are on the fence about voting at all due to the system being so mired in its perpetual old ways and 2) those who plan to vote but are not totally sure which candidate they’ll vote for. These two groups tend to have different concerns/priorities, so using different and/or broadly inclusive rhetorical strategies will be necessary in order to persuade both to come to this perhaps underwhelming, but incredibly important nevertheless, collaborative compromise. The choice between two dissatisfying prospects may be frustratingly limited—but it would be a mistake to think it is of no consequence because of this. 

As for my vote (if I had one), when it comes to this November, I am convinced that the Democrats—though they are surely flawed, excessive, and insufficient in their own myriad ways—are the lesser of two evils by a large margin—perhaps even orders of magnitude apart from the competition. Even if you don’t agree with all, or most of, what they stand for, it’s still crucial to pressurize the system of politics (however apathy-inducing it may be) to evolve, even very slowly towards (and at the very least not rapidly away from) the values and priorities we know are so important for the future of humanity and the planet. Please vote! Anyway, take it or leave it, of course—the above is only MH(C)^O. ^(Canadian)

Which sources of news have you been turning to most during COVID-19 and which social media platform have you found most useful?

I tend to rely on the BBC app quite a lot, as well as their Global News Podcast. I also end up reading from various sources online like most people, and would tend to rely on the longstanding institutions, though not totally uncritically. Sometimes I tune into the NHK world news podcast, for a cross-Pacific perspective on COVID-19 and other global developments. And of course I’ve been having conversations with my family and friends.

I generally don’t log onto social media very much—lately though (ever since Nap Eyes did an AMA on the platform a few months ago) I’ve been enjoying using Reddit a little bit. I don’t typically post anything, but I really like being able to explore the different subreddits, and hear questions and answers from individual users in the different communities. There’s a lot of good science discussion on Reddit, and you can also find information on relatively more obscure topics. For controversial topics, the echo chamber effect is still surely a problem. It seems that some subreddits are really well moderated according to clear rules though, which increases the likelihood of productive discussions taking place there.

What do you think will be the lasting effects on society of all this isolated time at home?

This of course is anyone’s guess—today’s events are so unprecedented that it’s hard to extrapolate from history (although there are surely many untapped lessons to be drawn from there). Personally, I am optimistic about a few things, like the realization among employers and staff alike of how much can be accomplished remotely—and how huge some of the benefits of this can be (e.g. no need to commute, folks can have privacy and freedom to accomplish work on their own schedules, etc.) for the psyche of everyone involved. 

On the other hand, many people may have had to spend the lockdown in less than ideal circumstances, dealing with difficult relationships, lack of solitude, or too much of it, worries about livelihood, etc. I’m definitely worried about young people like teens, who are at an age where they really orient towards their peers, and they’ve been at home from school for so many months. On the other hand, you never know, maybe there will be a new pattern of teens that emerges from these longer stretches of time in lockdown with special attributes—like greater introspective capabilities for their age, say, or greater resilience and patience in the face of uncertainty. It’s cool to think of cohorts of people having shared developmental experiences, as they will likely be able to relate to each other across a range of insights. 

Are your parents, grandparents, and others in your life who are at risk taking social distancing seriously? If not, what lengths have you gone to in order to convince them to stay inside?

For the most part, yes. So far as I know, everyone in my life has been taking the situation and corresponding precautionary measures seriously.

What other steps should record labels, music streaming platforms, and other music industry entities be taking to help struggling musicians through this time?

Hmm, I’m not sure. There must be some insightful perspectives out there on this subject. No doubt there are steps that could help a lot. I sure do hope people are working on conceptualizing and/or implementing some of these, but this need extends across all fields of work. Anyway, the actual details of how things work now and how they could be beneficially changed going forward are mostly beyond my knowledge.

Bandcamp’s response to the situation has been a nice gesture, for example, with their waiving of fees every first Friday of the past few months, and does probably spark folks’ desire to support artists in that way. It’s hard to know, though, what kind of system-wide adjustments would constitute good combinations of feasible/impactful, especially in the long term.

What is the best way fans can support you financially right now? Buying vinyl and CDs, downloading and streaming your music, buying merch, supporting your Patreon page or other crowd sourcing platform (if you use one), or some other means? Is there a particularly cool piece of merch you’d like to highlight?

Oh, well I would say thank you for considering this, and that of course whatever way works for you works for us.  Since we don’t have a Patreon page or equivalent, buying merch/T-shirts from the band (which you can find on our website) is probably the most direct financial way fans could support us. We have a shirt that Allison and Josh designed called “No Sex Till World Peace” if that rings your bell, as well as other options. But I’m also thinking that if you like an artist, just listening to their songs, and/or sharing their tunes with people in your life who you think would enjoy them, might actually help the most in the grand scheme. This way bands can keep reaching an audience of listeners who may continue connecting with their music for years to come—making a long-term career in this strange field a more real and sustainable possibility.

Which albums, songs, films, TV shows, books, podcasts, live streams, video games, board games, etc, have been helping you get through the quarantine?

Video games have been one peaceful, soothing, and very fun activity during these long stretches. As of recently we have a Nintendo Switch, so I’ve finally been able to play through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which has been so fun and rewarding. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been another big hit in our household. 

For audiobooks, I’ll always recommend Shinzen Young’s The Science of Enlightenment (the 2005 audio version, spoken by the author) for anyone who’s interested. 

Recently I’ve been listening to a couple of great psychology audiobooks. One is called The Farther Reaches of Human Nature by Abraham Maslow (1971) (many will have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). This book is a sort of gathering together of his life’s work, drawn from his pioneering “humanistic” approach to psychology. The other book is from 2009 and is called Mindsight, by the psychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel. Very interesting, convincing, and accessible introduction to the incorporation of meditation/mindfulness approaches/techniques into the practice of psychotherapy. 

The new Bob Dylan album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, rocks. New, excellent, and varied songwriting from that great master in whose shadow we songwriters dwell. Similarly, Neil Young’s recently released Homegrown is looming large in the map’s legend.

Lastly, I recently listened to a TED Talks Daily podcast interview/conversation with Jane Goodall titled “Every day you live, you impact the planet” that I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t heard it.

Have you been doing any live-streamed concerts during COVID-19 or do you plan to? A lot of artists have been doing them, do you think it’s a challenge to make them original and interesting?

Yes. I did do a few of these in the earlier weeks of the lockdown. Definitely it’s both rewarding and a challenge. For example, at the conclusion of a song it can feel pretty strange. In my case I find myself doing a cognitive operation to remind myself that there are actually people out there witnessing, even though I can’t see or hear them—which can be a bit distracting. I think my default mode network probably gets too active at certain moments like this, but then again, a version of the same thing happens sometimes in live situations as well. Maybe this type of kink smooths out after a while as you get used to the medium. In any case, it’s still meaningful to make that performance connection, even with a virtual audience, so I’m certainly open to keep trying. 

Has the quarantine been a fertile creative time (are you writing or recording new music, for example) or have you found it hard to focus on creative endeavors?

Overall, it’s been pretty productive. You have to take the boring and the bad with the new, energized and inspiring. Amid more generic rehashings of old themes, occasionally some new material’s been showing up that seems to be moving in quite a new direction, which is exciting. I think the four of us are looking forward to getting together and working out a new sonic pathway for these different-style compositions. There is still a lot of revision work ahead, but I believe there are some good song-seeds in the basket. In this connection, you know, I sometimes notice myself thinking I have a pretty clear picture of what songwriting “is”—and the truth is, that picture is often pretty limited. But then thankfully, at some point, this limiting certainty fades, and there is room once again for surprise and curiosity, to rediscover how unfixed and non-concrete its parameters are. Thanks for reading!

www.napeyes.com

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