I had sought out, for some time, singer, songwriter, guitarist Becky Chace for an interview regarding her life and times in music. A life rich in gigs, travel, recordings, starts, stops and …
I had sought out, for some time, singer, songwriter, guitarist Becky Chace for an interview regarding her life and times in music. A life rich in gigs, travel, recordings, starts, stops and reinvention — a prolific past with the promise of a fruitful, creative future.
Chace had previously declined my offers for a sit down, citing her then-current position and feelings. “I’m not playing out at the moment. I don’t have much to say, and frankly I’m not very interesting.”
I, however, continued my bid until, just recently, she consented to my request. I was invited to her home for a ‘kitchen table chat’, during which I found the Barrington resident to be articulate, charming, focused and absolutely sure of where she is, where she’s been and where she’s going.
Sitting in her cozy, sun-lit pantry, the artist spoke of her atypical beginnings as a songwriter, why she decided to change her name and her lookout for the next “magical” singer.
Contrary to her erstwhile self-assessment, the interviewee was indeed interesting, having much to say — expressing it all with clarity, abundant humor and chill.
“I come from a musical family,” said Chace. “My great aunt was a fantastic piano player. We would all sit around the piano in her East Providence home and sing. My aunt was a very good singer, and my uncle played a variety of instruments. No one thought I was a particularly good singer, because everyone sang in the family. So, it was difficult to stand out from the crowd.”
My mother had music blasting in the house when I was a kid,” remembered Chace. “She played ‘Hooked on Classics.’ The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Joan Baez. She really had an array and depth of musical taste. Paul Simon was her favorite, and he’s my favorite too.
“She loved Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints, and we went to those concerts together. That was my childhood in the ’80s.”
I wondered if that environment was the impetus for her attraction towards the life of a songster and instrumentalist.
“Yes, I believe so. It was all around me. I began to write lyrics and music in my head. I didn’t play guitar or any instrument at the time. From my mind, in a stream, the songs just kind of popped out,” said Chace. “I remember the first song I ever wrote or put together. It was like a protest song. I don’t think I titled it. Untiled work #1,” she laughed.
A high school duo
“I was in a duo in high school with a friend of mine, Sean Grady. We both sang but only he played guitar. I couldn’t play, which left me very frustrated,” said Chace. “Then one day, when I was 18, he bought me a guitar. I taught myself how to play it. I started writing more songs and learned enough chords to accompany myself.
“Sean and I played for a few years together. The name of the duo was Sean Grady and Becky Brewster, which is my real name, Chace being my middle name. Punky Brewster was a mega hit on TV at the time, and I didn’t care for the comedic association, so I altered my stage name to Becky Chace”
While in college, Chace produced her first solo CD, entitled “Play Me.” In order to promote and sell the CD, Chace needed a band to play live. Through an ad placed in the Providence Phoenix, she garnered four experienced local musicians for the project, forming what was to become the first incarnation of ‘The Becky Chace Band.’
The Becky Chace Band
“I put a band together and released ‘Play Me.’ We were playing out at all the local bars. We did shows on Block Island and I sang the National Anthem at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, “ said Chace. “We had a booking agent/manager at the time, and he booked us into the Sunset Music Festival, where we opened for America, BB King, all kinds of great national acts.”
“The Becky Chace Band began to gain momentum. We put out a bunch of CDs and banged around between here and Boston for at least 5 to 8 years, 1998 to 2006, but around 2006 the band broke up,” said Chace. “I just didn’t have the dedicated unit that you need, so guitar player Brian Minisce and I continued on with a duo. Just guitars and voices. We did that for three or four years.”
Harboring a case of wanderlust, Chace accepted an offer to join ‘Forever Young,’ a local Neil Young tribute band, and after a successful stint with that project, she accepted another offer to join the all-girl group ‘The Jammin Divas,’ which afforded her the opportunity to travel. The Divas embarked on what was titled ‘The Home Roots Concert Tour of Nova Scotia,’ which brought the band into people’s homes to play concerts all across the region.
“After the Nova Scotia tour, I left the ‘Divas’ and at some point, around 2012, Brian and I put out what I think is a really good album of mine, called ‘Rise and Fall.’ In those days, musicians were still selling CD’s out of their guitar cases at gigs, and that’s what we did,” said Chace. “It was well received. We sold out of 1,000 of them, which was our goal.”
Becoming a teacher
Striving to make a living as a working musician while doing various, sundry side hustles to survive can become a struggle, especially when one begins to approach their forties. After much rumination, Chace, who had earned her college degree years ago, returned to school to secure her license to teach school in Massachusetts. She said she was, “lucky to immediately get a job” and became a teacher, full time, in 2015.”
“So now I’m teaching, and we put out another album with The Becky Chace Band called ‘Wire Girl.’ We were playing a lot, and I was making good money gigging and teaching. Teaching all week, getting home at 3 in morning from gigs. I was like ‘what am I doing?’ At that point I’m in my early forties, I still want to play music, but I just started to feel like I was doing it for everyone else.”
I asked Chace to explain what she meant by, ‘doing it for everyone else.’ Was she feeling differently toward her artistic life, love and attraction?
“I was doing it because I always did it. People depended on it. The band, the audience, my friends,” she explained. “I never took a profound break. I don’t think I ever went more than three weeks without a gig, from the time I was 20 to the time I was 44. We did a 20th anniversary show in 2018. Brian and I met in 1998. The show was crazy fun and I remember thinking it was cool show, but it just didn’t give me the juice that it used to.”
A farewell show
“I was tired. Also I think that creatively I just wasn’t having as much fun as I used to. I needed to stop, full stop. It took me a year to decide to do it. I talked to my mother and to my wife about it. I needed to process it for a year. I had people that were really upset. They cried, ‘we are not going to be able to see you anymore.’ ”
Chace decided to produce and perform a farewell show. One hundred and fifty fans, friends and family members crammed Sandywoods Center for the Arts in Tiverton, R.I., to witness the final gig of The Becky Chace Band. Recorded for posterity by Fall River Public TV, it is now a YouTube favorite. Chace said of the show, “If you asked me what I wanted to achieve when I was 20, I would have said a packed room of supportive people listening to my songs and having a good time, and that’s just what happened.”
“I did the farewell show and I’m finally off the merry go round of being a working musician,” said Chace. “I took a deep breath. I was teaching and just enjoying my retirement from playing live when strangely enough, a few months later everything and everybody stopped. Covid hit.”
Throughout the pandemic, Chace was busy teaching remotely and doing Facetime concerts for friends and fans. It began a four-and-a-half-year break from the rigors of playing live, during which she produced Facebook videos, put out a Christmas song and got into cooking (and eating) more — enjoying the blisses of domestic life.
Back to live shows
“After such a long break, I wrote some songs that I liked, and about a year ago I began to get the urge to play live again,” said Chace. “So, around January of this year I reached out to drummer Eric Hastings and said, ‘Let’s put a cover band together and just play for fun’. Along with Eric, bassist Joe Potenza, keyboardist Wille Myette and guitarist Steve Allain all jumped on board, and I’m having the time of my life. These guys are all such quick studies, and in three or four rehearsals we’ve got 30 songs. The songs aren’t super tight, but they don’t need to be. It’s a cover band. It’s rock and roll. It’s called ‘Becky Chace and the Silver Linings’.
“It’s gonna be a low stakes cover band. I haven’t played in four and a half years, but I haven’t had this much fun in since I can’t remember when,“ said Chace. “I had just strived for more than 20 something years to be successful, but now things are different. We already have a gig booked for next summer. I think we can get a really good schedule for next year. We may even be ready by late fall to play Jen Minuto’s new club, ‘The Blue Room.’ ”
Her musical interests
I wondered who, if anyone, might she admire in the world of music and who does she enjoy listening to.
“I love Brandi Carlile. For a long time, I saw myself in her, except she’s more successful,” laughed Chace. “I think she’s a wonderful singer with great range and tone. I listen to the stuff I’ve always listened to. I love Paul Simon. I love the old country stuff, ’70s country. Also, Miley Cyrus is great. Very rarely do I hear anything that’s new on the radio that I like.”
I asked why the radio doesn’t catch the ear of a seasoned, professional musician such as her.
“I think it’s because I’m an older person who thinks that the older music is better, and these kids don’t know anything!” laughed Chace. “But seriously, I think music has changed. If you think about the songs from the ’40s, all the old standards, the melodies were very rich. When you learn that stuff, it’s so good that it can be difficult to get those notes in your head to sing them, but now everything is just kind of flat. And I think there is an emphasis on women to hit big notes or be one of these indie singers with some sort or weird, faux British accent, like with marbles in their mouth. I feel like there’s a lot of imitation. I think there was a renaissance of music and songwriting between the 40’s and the 70’s and I believe that’s over.”
“The big note isn’t that interesting to me. I love the low stuff. I love Sam Cooke. He had a great voice and delivery. It’s all about tone. In the last 20 years what singer has had a tone that’s just magical? Maybe Adele? She’s a great singer, but then it all started to sound the same,” said Chace. “There is no Aretha anywhere these days. Nowhere. Everyone’s a big fan of Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. I have tremendous respect for these artists, but where’s the melody? The Magic? Swift’s new song, ‘Anti Hero’ - the melody to me is like, where are we going here? I don’t get it.”
Advice for others
What’s the best advice she could give an artist entering, or currently in, the world of music
“Take voice lessons. I took lessons on how to sing correctly using my diaphragm and not my throat. To breathe correctly. That was key. And listen to yourself. There is such a benefit to listening back to yourself to become what you want to be as a vocalist. Everyone starts out sort of imitating other people, but eventually you need to become your one-of-a-kind unique self.”
As the interview drew to a close, I asked the artist if she had any parting thoughts.
“Looking back, I took a break because I wanted to let it breathe and let it sit and fiqure out what I wanted to do with the next phase of my life,” said Chace. “I’m not a young, hip, singer/songwriter anymore. I’m getting older. I’m pushing 50, and just what does that look like and mean for a local singer? There are musicians who are a little bit older than me showing me the path in some ways. Look at Neal Vitullo and Dave Howard. They have been around a long time and have done so much. Such great musicians at the top of their game, playing and having a good time. I’ve learned from people like them. I don’t need to take myself as seriously as I used to. Before it was life or death, now it’s gonna be pure fun.”
You can find Becky Chace on Facebook, Spotify, YouTube or beckychace.com
Michael Khouri is a Barrington resident writing occasionally about the Rhode Island music scene. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.