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Lori Chaffer: An Engaged Life

Lori Chaffer: An Engaged Life

If you’ve ever had the priviledge of attending a Waterdeep concert, you know that Waterdeep concerts aren’t just about music: they’re about sharing. It’s not uncommon for lead singer Don Chaffer to talk for 20 minutes between songs as he rests his hands on his guitar, talking about watching loved ones dieor other disappointments in the Christian life. With the deep insight shared from the stage by Don, their concerts quickly become gatherings of strangers and friends, sharing common pains and struggles along with successes and celebrations.

Faithfully to his left on stage is wife Lori Chaffer, who also straps on an electric or acoustic, adding back-up vocals and sometimes lead to the acoustic rock indie phenomenon, Waterdeep. Now taking the chance to stretch her music and songwriting wings, Lori offers 1Beginning, a collection of songs written over the span of 10 years. She talks with RELEVANT magazine about the plethora of joyful and painful life experiences she drew from lyrically during that time—and the experiences that are just around the corner (hint: her slightly frame will be going through a big change over the next few months).

[RELEVANT MAGAZINE:] Is this your first solo album?

[LORI CHAFFER:] Yes. I started to do one back in ‘91 but ended up sharing it with a friend named John McKenna (he was later in a band called Huckleberry and now is in Red Guitar). Honestly, I can’t remember why we decided to make an album together, though it might have been because I didn’t have enough songs (or money, for that matter. I was a junior in college) at the time. In any the case, it wasn’t solo, so this would be my first official solo project.

[RM:] Why did you decide to do a solo album?

[LC:] I’ve always wanted to do one. I was actually going to do one right after Don and I got married, but then we decided to record Sink or Swim. I love being in a band, but it’s also nice to explore the different ways I naturally tend towards music without much outside influence. It consequently made me appreciate playing in a band a lot more when it was all said and done. But it was also a lot of fun playing so many different instruments: bass, keys, guitars.

[RM:] Describe how it’s a musical departure.

[LC:] That’s a hard one, because when you’re making your own music you don’t really think about how different it is from other things you’ve worked on. Ultimately, you’re used to the way you think and make music, even if it has slowly changed over time. So even if it’s a departure to other people, it still feels like the same old me, especially when i sing. However, I suppose it departs by being maybe a little more neo-soul influenced in spots and more ethereal at other times. It also incorporates loops, which Waterdeep has never done on album, though the band has been experimenting live more lately. It is a lot less acoustic driven than maybe some people expected; in fact, there’s only one acoustic guitar oriented song. There are several piano driven songs as well, which might come as a surprise to some people, since waterdeep is not really considered a piano driven band.

[RM:] What was going on in your life as you were writing and/or recording this album?

[LC:] Actually, these songs cover a span of 10 years. The first song on the album was written when I was still in college and the last song on the album was written (at least lyrically) in the studio this last July. Obviously a lot has gone on in that amount of time, but I would say that generally, this album represents a grappling with life’s meaning. In the last couple of years I have passed through a lot of trauma; watched two people I dearly love die, supported a young friend who was dealing with abuse, tried to help some friend’s keep their marriage from falling apart (to no avail), was unfairly accused by people who we don’t know and by people very close to us. All these painful circumstances (and these are just a few) have lead me to question what is truly spiritual.

I look at older, wiser Christians and I notice that they aren’t freaked out by anything, because they’ve been through it all. I’m starting to feel that way because I have had a certain loss of innocence that an engaged life brings. However, I have come to see this loss of innocence as sacred, a sort of sacrament, instead of as something dark and scary. There are so many events in life that are sacraments that somehow we Christians are taught to feel guilty or awkward about: death, birth, getting merry with wine at a wedding or celebration, s e x, sitting with a friend who is grieving or depressed (without having to say something “spiritual” like “God is with you” or “God’s in control”), making a meal for someone, dancing. These sacraments are way more important than not cussing, not drinking, not smoking, not this that and the other. We Christians have described ourselves so often by who not to be that we’re paranoid of being human, lest we should cause anyone else to “stumble.”

So there are several songs on this album that that acknowledge the beauty of just being alive, even in suffering and celebrating. I have come to realize that every person’s first act of submission to god (Christian or no) is to choose to remain alive. That is our first act of worship, whether we know it or not. I think the next step is to remain engaged in real life. This is where we all struggle most. I’ve known too many people, myself included, who go from one delusion to the next in order to avoid really having to deal with the pain, vulnerability and the intimacy life brings. These delusions run the gamut, from trying to make your kid’s life perfect, to being utterly hung up on the end times, to being an alcoholic, to being a workaholic, to being so hung up on the do’s and don’ts of faith that you are no longer compassionate or balanced and consequently hurt anyone who crosses your path.

So I suppose that my album is about swallowing life whole, both good and bad. Passing through the pain, both by grieving good and hard and by lightening up and having a good time enjoying beauty without being so paranoid you’re going to displease God, or screw up your “calling” or contaminate yourself and others.

[RM:] What is a recurring theme in the music?

[LC:] I guess I covered a lot of this in the last question. In some sense, the album has an undercurrent of a story, starting with life even before being in the womb, and covering vaguely a loss of innocence, grappling with pain, and trying to make sense of the tragedy that hits all of us at various times throughout our existence. I suppose there’s often a documentary quality to the songs rather than a didactic one. Most of the songs kind of report various facts of a particular moment in life, without making a clear judgment. And then the album ends a little more on the up side, in a bittersweet attempt to celebrate life while you can.

[RM:] What song do you feel strongest about? Why?

[LC:] They are all important to me (such an artist thing to say) but “You Will Always Hurt” feels like it nailed something pretty intensely. It’s kind of a mantra to the fact that there are some things in this life we will never completely recover from, and these things will shape who we are into eternity: death, divorce, people we love who are abusive or neglectful or self-centered. I suppose it’s my “18 Bulletholes” [a song recorded by Waterdeep].

I also feel like the first song, “Make No Protest” is important, in that it sets up the whole album in a way that is challenging, but somehow feels right. Because it is from the perspective of God speaking to a soul not yet conceived, it draws on the idea that we didn’t necessarily choose to be alive, but we have to deal with it. Sometimes I think even God is wishing it didn’t have to go down this way, with all this pain. It feels compassionate that He would have to mourn our birth in a sense.

But on the more up side, I feel really good about “Alone Everybody,” which is a vaudevillian look at how easy it is to live in delusion when you’re not around people much. And “It’s Not Safe” celebrates that we are most alive when we’re not so afraid of screwing up all the time.

[RM:] You play guitar on the project, but also the piano…. even in your shows. Do you write with guitar or piano?

[LC:] I write on both. If i get bored with one, I’ll explore the other. I have recently enjoyed playing piano again; until this last year i hadn’t really played since ‘94. I tend to write very differently on piano.

[RM:] What role did your husband, Don, have with this project?

[LC:] He played guitar on a couple of songs, bass on a couple, and sang background vocals on a couple. But his main role was as co-producer and engineering/editing/mixing guru. He actually created a lot of live loops with Brandon (our drummer). I had used a couple of loops on demos that Don and Brandon recreated in the studio and it was incredible to see how much better they sounded and yet they were so similar to the original.

We actually had a very unique way of recording this album, in which i would record for about four hours in the morning, and Don would come in and edit for the next four. We also ended up using a lot of the sounds and takes that I recorded on demos while Don was working on his solo project. Lastly, we recorded three songs live with the band.

[RM:] What’s in store in the near future for you guys and waterdeep?

[LC:] That’s a great question…we have no idea. Don’s getting more production work, which is nice because we are really fond of staying home more often and hanging out with our people in Kansas City. Looking back, life on the road was pretty lonely.

I’m pregnant, so I won’t be able to travel as much. And honestly, I’d love to play more bars and such in the region and get into that whole scene. I don’t have a single non-Christian friend, and that seems really terribly wrong to me: very enclosed.

[RM:] What are you currently into (books, hobby … anything)?

[LC:] Still trying to finish moving into our new house, so that’s hanging over my head. I’m enjoying fiction books more these days though: Room With A View, Harry Potter, Tale Of Two Cities, Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs, and my latest fave, Franny and Zooey. I am one of those people who has a handful of half-read books kicking around as well. Honestly, it still seems like we work too much to have much time for hobbies, hopefully that will change?

[RM:] Sounds like that will change soon—but the book selection will probably come from children’s genre …




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