An interview with Chris Bathgate


NPR and BBC acclaimed entertainer Chris Bathgate of Michigan sat down with The Michigan Daily after just over five years of loneliness to talk about the past, present and future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Chris Bathgate is an American folk singer-songwriter, with parts of himself in Iowa, Illinois and Michigan. Bathgate is best known for its towering lyricism and unique production, brimming with reverb and rustic folk instruments brought to life in new and unexpected ways. His voice carries with it a bewitching resonance that blends perfectly with the string instruments that he seems so fond of.

Bathgate has become a staple of the Ann Arbor music scene while studying art and design at the University of Michigan in the early 2000s, achieving international fame in 2008 following the release of her debut studio album, A cork tale alarm clock. His full-bodied, resonant ballad “Serpentine” caught the attention of NPR and received significant airplay on BBC Radio 2, leading to a stripped-down and memorable performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk.

In a phone interview with The Michigan Daily, Bathgate offers a modest and honest look at what makes her career so special.

The Michigan Daily: Why the music?

Chris Bathgate: It’s probably because I was brought up around music. My grandfather always had classical music in the house where my mother and her two brothers grew up. My uncle Greg was a huge fan of traditional music – American folk, blues of all kinds, rock and roll. At family gatherings, the music was always on, and often music was the number one recreational activity.

That’s probably where it started, just being immersed in it as a little kid. The music is just what people would do.

DMT: So, having grown up around music, is there anything you can credit for shaping your sound – early influences, creative partners, a particular instrument?

CC: I am thinking of violin music in particular. You know, traditional fiddle music from the British Isles.

There was a time when I started to fit it in, either hanging out with other fiddlers or playing myself, although I’m not very good at it. I think I’m still trying to capture the excitement and wonder I felt as a kid by incorporating that style of music, nodding to it, or referencing it in some way. of another. It’s one of the most magical instruments, especially this particular style – full of double stops and drone notes. I think that’s what stuck with me. On almost every record there is some violin.

DMT: Among all the music in the world at the moment, what is the music that you would have liked to write?

CC: Oh yes – Erin Rae! It’s a new record she called Lighten. The song is called “Mind/Heart” and it’s so good it makes me say, “I wish I could write that.” It’s totally awesome – just a real heart string puller – doesn’t try to do more than necessary and is so seemingly effortless.

Feel free to listen to it if you haven’t already.

DMT: I understand that you had a small burst of activity following the release of your first studio album, A cork tale wake. What was this period like?

CC: Oh man, that was awesome – it’s still awesome. I got to see a lot of amazing places and play a lot of amazing shows.

I will say that I felt a lot of impostor syndrome. Music has always been hard work with lots of ups and downs, but one moment that really stood out was a show I played in Rome. I remember not having a lot of details about it, but I was playing in a room of about 400 people. I finished my set and told the audience to enjoy the rest of the show, not realizing I was the one they were there to see.

You know, I play in the backyards of college houses in Ann Arbor – maybe that’s when I really understood the power of BBC News. I was just in awe of where I was and how I got there.

DMT: And after all that, you took a little break from 2012. What did you do during that time?

CC: I spent a lot of time playing the piano and composing music. I believe that during this five-year period, this was the first time I had a pump organ in my possession, and I spent a lot of time studying jazz chords. This exchange between the root notes and the minor second chord, it’s just fascinating.

But the majority of that time I was working a regular job and just living my life. I’m a father now, which is new to me. It’s like the most satisfying thing in my life right now.

DMT: But after taking a step back from the performance, it looks like you have big plans for the future? Do you have anything to share about what could happen next?

CC: I wrote a lot of music just around me going back and forth between minor seconds in different keys and played with long buzzing chords on the parlor organ. I hope you hear a little about it over the next year and a half.

It’s all out of the dungeon and back to the workbench after all this time.

I’ve recorded stuff that I’ve been working on in an all-analog setting, which I’m really excited about. The beauty of it is the limitation – I have to do it right or live with the imperfections – which isn’t something I’m necessarily afraid of as a recording artist. The studio process was kind of outside of my Michigan studio experience; I got to work with some really great studio engineers, so everything felt very new and collaborative.

What I’ve been working on is a sort of self-reflection on how I function as a person, using simple language presented in a more poetic format. I feel like I spoke the truth even through the veil of personality – it resonates more purely than other projects with what I think and feel. Even down to the chords, it looks like I’m telling the truth. It all sounds like something I was put here to do, whether people like it or not.

Claire Sudol, contributor to everyday arts, can be contacted at [email protected].


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