- Tracy Heck
Bill Champlin kicking off new year with new single, 'Reason to Believe'
As the end of one of the roughest years on record comes to an end and a new one begins, legendary singer/songwriter, Bill Champlin, of Sons of Champlin and Chicago fame, is bringing the light with new single, "Reason to Believe," which will be out on January 1st.
The track is from his forthcoming new solo album, Livin' For Love, which will be released digitally through Imagen Records and will also be available in physical form at his official website here.
The album comes after a long break from his solo work and after the tragic loss of his older son to esophageal cancer and his own aggressive battle with prostate cancer.
Both "Reason to Believe" and the album are a testament to coming out on the other side and his own gratitude to those who were by his side, including his wife and co-writer Tamara Champlin.
Rock Life was grateful to get a chance to chat with Champlin about the new release and his long career.
Q: You've got a busy new year coming up!
Bill Champlin: Yeah, I've got a new album and a new single coming out and we're real proud of it and real happy about it. I just want to let all of your readers know about it.
Q: Yeah, the new album is Livin' For Love and the new single is "Reason to Believe" and just hearing the titles bring positive vibes, which is something I think the world really needs right now.
BC: Yeah, I mean I think the whole record is kind of like that. On this album, I've kind of gotten away from just being Mr. Background Singer and went ahead and tried to really write lyrics that meant something. I read somewhere that if it isn't personal then it isn't art.
I decided that I had a lot of stuff to say. I'd been writing a lot of very good pop songs, which is fine and dandy and occasionally it was something pretty deep, but I think that this one has a lot of stuff that is a lot more relatable. There's a couple of tracks that are just R&B things and the traditional "my baby left me and took my car and my suitcase; those kind of songs! [laughs]
So, yeah there is that traditional R&B vibe, but there's also a lot of real stuff in there. "Reason to Believe" is pretty real. I've gone through a handful of things including a cancer battle and my wife Tamara, who I co-wrote the song with, if she hadn't been there, I don't think I would have made it. She kept me really cooking, so there's a lot of gratitude in that song.
The other co-writer, with me and Tamara, was Bruce Gaitsch, who had put together the track and I loved it. The thing I loved most about it was that my old pal, the late George Hawkins, was playing bass on it. That was really cool because almost every album that I've done for the last twenty years, at least, has had some sort of a George Hawkins appearance on there. I miss George a lot; what a great player! It was cool because "Reason to Believe" was an older track that Bruce found in his Pro-Tools files and he said, hey, let's send this to Bill and Tamara and see what they could do with it.
We had the song recorded with the vocals within two days. We just went, man, this is great! It's very cool and just one of those things where the whole record came together like that. I had different writers coming in to help. Greg Mathison came in, who is really a soulful songwriter and a great arranger and a great keyboard and organ player and someone I've worked with over the years. So, I got him back in the ball game. It had been ten years since I'd done a solo record, so it was definitely about time!
Q: And it's a great way to kick off the new year!
BC: Yeah, that's the first single and the first song on the album. Now the album is being released on Imagen Records digitally, but they weren't really interested in selling physical copies so I asked if they minded if I did it and they said to go ahead. So, I'm going to have CD's available at billchamplin.com. It's a great package that we are putting together and we are making sure every i is dotted and every t is crossed in the booklet and with all the credits and everything. It's pretty cool.
I've done a lot of albums over the years, but I'm really proud of this one. This is one that I really want to bring attention to and make it move. It was time for a solo record. I'd been through so much that I kind of just needed to get it off of my chest.
Q: Yeah, there's still that audience out there who wants something physical.
BC: I do too and somebody said hey, you should put out a LP. We got an artist who had painted this picture called "Symphony of the Sun", Vladimir Kush, and Tamara went ahead and licensed it for the album cover so if we get a LP together, that thing's going to be insane! It's just beautiful. The guy is such a good artist and I was so proud to have him say okay.
Q: Now, since you have a home studio, it probably made it easier to record in this COVID-world?
BC: Well, I did the basics on my own in my house. It's more of a work station than a studio. I've got a pretty decent Pro-Tools rig in there and a nice microphone. I can do guitars, bass and piano, really everything but drums. I can do electric drums to get the sound moving and then replace it with a real drummer later as quickly as possible.
Q: And it's a bit of a different style for you too. Do you feel like it's something people will be surprised by?
BC: A little bit. I think people expect a certain level of quality and intonation and all of that, but I kind of did it differently this time. I'm kind of known for putting together ensemble vocals and doing all of my own vocals and making choirs out of it, but it's sort of a mathematical thing to do. This time around, I said no matter what backgrounds you are doing, don't sing lead the same day that you are doing the backgrounds because it's really two different hats that you've got to wear.
This time, there are some really good lyrics and you really need to feel them when you sing them. I kind of had a little talk with myself and said, let's go long here and see if we can get these lead vocals to really, really smoke. For the most part, I think I achieved my goal there. There's a lot of straight-ahead burn and great songs, but there's a few things on there that are really personal too.
My oldest son passed away a few years back and it took me a couple of years to write a song, but I finally got that on there. And as I said, "Reason to Believe" is really about gratitude. It's not maudlin, but it's got that emotion behind it. All of my records tend to groove and I love drummers and bass players who really put that pocket on there and that's what we got on this one. There's some great players on there and I did a lot of rhythm guitar, so it's pretty cool.
Q: Are you hopeful that you'll be able to get out on stage next year and do some live promoting?
BC: Yeah, I want to have some fun in '21! It's kind of funny because everybody I know that is stuck at home is making albums, at least everybody who has a rig. There's really nothing else to do and no place to go so in some ways, the lockdown might be good for recorded music, just not for live music. I see bands doing stuff on Zoom and that's great and cool to see them finding some kind of alternative. I think there's going to be more albums released in 2021 than there were babies born nine months after the New York blackout!
Q: You've toured all over the world with one of the biggest bands of all time and you've gotten a chance to write for some of the biggest artists in the world and now you're continuing to do your own thing. What do you feel is the most different thing about the solo career or the most satisfying for you?
BC: There's that personal connection with the solo music, but there is also a connection with my roots. When I started out, I started with a group called Sons of Champlin, which we still occasionally play some gigs and it's always fun to hang out with the bros that I started with. We made a kind of musical splash when we first came out with a little bit of radio here and there, nothing too big, but I like the saying that when opportunity knocks, I answer the phone!
So, with my solo stuff there is a feel of Sons on there, not as much with Chicago, but Jason Scheff and I are partners in a few different things that we've done and we've got a duet with me and Jason on Livin For Love that I think Chicago fans will really like. It's a really cool duet and I think a lot of Chicago fans miss that vocal blend that we have so we gave it to them. A guy told me a long time ago that the best albums are made with old friends and that's what I did with this one.
Jason and I and Tommy Thayer, the guitar player from KISS, are doing a project together also in addition to this. I've always got my hands in a lot of cookie jars!
Q: Looking back at your long career, what are you most proud of?
BC: Well, I think just the whole thing! It's not even so much pride; it really is like a craft that I try to do every day as much as I can on whatever level, even if it's just putting strings on guitars. It's all a part of the same thing in my mind. I love it all. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and I kind of learned that it's just an organic thing when you just do it all of the time. I've kind of carried that with me for my whole career.
This whole album I kept harkening back to the idea of having pride in your craft and making this thing feel right and making it touch people and hopefully that's what we achieved.