A FEW MINUTES WITH: Lucy Kaplansky
By Don Wilcock
She got her first great review from The New York Times when she was 21 in 1982. “It’s easy to predict stardom for her,” they said. It might have been an easy prediction, but Lucy Kaplansky’s road to stardom took a few detours along the way.
“One review doesn’t change things very much, and nothing really came of that,” says the singer-songwriter who does a CD release party for Everyday Street, her first CD in six years, at Caffe Lena on Friday night (March 15). “I was 21 then, and the other part of that was I was conflicted about letting myself do the thing I really wanted which was music, and I got scared, and I quit. I was really running away.”
In 1983 she entered Yeshiva University where she earned a PhD in psychology while performing as a duo with Shaun Colvin. It would be 11 years before she would record her first album The Tide for Red House Records, arguably the best label for folk/Americana music. Kaplansky would eventually record six albums for fabled label including Ten Year Night, the labels’ all-time best seller. But somewhat ironically, it was another psychologist who convinced her to take down her shingle and take the plunge as a fulltime musician.
“I was in therapy, and it became extremely clear one day that I had been running away, and once I realized that, there was no going back. Or I couldn’t stay the course anymore. At that point, I was already a psychologist. I had to do it. So, was it agonizing? No, but it was terrifying.”
Terrified though she my have been, the next 25 years established her as one of the most innovative and imaginative singer-songwriters and stringed instrument masters in contemporary folk/Americana music.
Red House released The Tide in 1994 to rave reviews, and within six months Kaplansky signed with a major booking agency — Fleming Artists — and began touring so much it required leaving her two psychologist positions behind.
In addition to her six solo LPs, she teamed with Dar Williams and Richard Shindell to form the supergroup Cry Cry Cry in 1998 and recorded some of their favorite songs written by other artists. The resulting album, Cry Cry Cry, led to a national tour of sold-out concerts by the trio served to introduce her voice to a new audience. She is a semi-regular collaborator with John Gorka and Nanci Griffith, and her repertoire includes country classics by June Carter Cash and Gram Parsons as well as pop favorites by Lennon/McCartney and Nick Lowe.
Her new album Everyday Street is the ultimate move to total independence as a performing musician. She has self-released it and is not allowing it to be streamed on Spotify or other streaming services. You want to hear it? You gotta buy it because when an artist is on a label, the label makes most of the money, and when any musician streams, the payment is a fraction of what they make even at the label.
“Labels don’t have the money anymore to offer you a big budget,” she explains. “So, what would I get from a label? And I just had this revelation. What if I just do it myself and don’t let it go on streaming services. Maybe then people will actually buy it, and honestly, the hardest part was just getting to that position, or getting to that thought. Oh, I can just do this myself…
“The upside is I’m actually the one making the money this time for the first time ever. That’s the way it works. when you’re on a label. You’re not the one who makes the money. The record label is the one that makes the money.”
Not only is she releasing the album herself, she’s doing everything else herself, too. She co-wrote seven of the 11 songs with her husband Richard Litvin, designed the CD package, took the cover and inside photos, and is managing all the promotion. The CD, released in September, is only available through her website and at her
“I would guess if I weren’t doing it this way, I would sell a fraction of what I’ve sold. That’s just my guess. I mean, people simply don’t buy albums anymore. They just don’t. They do buy them to some extent at shows and when I say at my shows, this is only available if you buy it, I sell a lot of them, a lot more than I had been selling before that.”
Everyday Street features her old friend Shawn Colvin and Richard Shindell on harmony with Kaplansky playing stringed instruments along with long-time collaborator Duke Levine (J. Geils Band and Mary Chapin Carpenter) on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandola, National guitar and octave mandolin.
The CD is worth the six-year wait. It’s a beautiful, sensitive view of a mature Americana artist at the top of her game. The best cut is “Old Friends” about her relationship with Shawn Colvin: “And if I’d never met you/So much I never would have done /All those gigs you got me /All those great country songs/The record we made/Gave me this path I’m on/The way you showed all the guys/A girl could sing and write a song.”
“When I wrote this song and played it for her, she loved it. It made her cry, and when I told her I was going to make an album, she just said, ‘I want to sing harmony on – and she calls it “our song.” I want to do that.’ It means something to hear her do that, and I said, ‘My God. That would be wonderful,’ and I think it meant a lot
to come around that way, to think that we were ever going to be friends again, and then lo and behold, not only are we, but we sing together on the song about that.”
Lucy Kaplanksy became a psychologist because she was too scared to do music fulltime. Now, she’s world renowned and in it with both feet.
“The hardest part was just getting to that discussion, deciding I could try it that way. Once I decided that, it was easy. I know how to make an album at this point, and I paid for it myself. That part was all easy and made sense to me, but getting to the point where I could say to myself, what if I just try to do this completely
on my own? That was the hard part.”