Over the summer, my fellow classmate and friend Nick Chakinis, a Songwriting and Business double major here at Belmont, sent me some information about a project he was working on, titled Denise. Fast forward a few months, and the final product is up for sale on bandcamp.com for only one dollar, all proceeds going to St. Jude! Upon the release of this tragic album both narrating and singing the story of a young woman brokenhearted and without a father in New York City, I decided to ask Nick a few questions to dig further into the details behind the album:
What inspired you to create this album?
It’s difficult to point to one inspiration or moment in time where the idea for this album came to fruition. For Christmas a couple years ago, I received “Anatomy Of Story” by John Truby. I believe the early combination of that book & constantly replaying my favorite Sinatra album, “Watertown,” lead to the realization that I wanted to tell and write a story. At the time I didn’t know what the story would be. I had rough demos of about half of the album in the form of instrumental voice memos, mostly with different lyrics & direction. I’m an avid fan of “Mad Men” and “Sex In The City” and was drawn to many of the female characters in those shows.
Did you have a process of getting into the mindset of a woman figuring out life after an unfaithful relationship?
I don’t think I had a ‘process’ of getting in the mindset of the female character. The story was outlined & re-outlined many times. That was always a consistent process with rewriting the lyrics over and over to make sure each word was necessary. I’ve never been in an unfaithful relationship or have been unfaithful to the person I’ve been in a relationship with. However, I have been around friends & have seen others, like the characters in the TV shows I mentioned, go through that difficult adjustment. I’ve gone through different, difficult adjustments and in some way, those were the same mindset of wondering who am I now and where am I going after what just happened.
Your sister did the artwork, yes? I’d love to hear more about that.
Yes, my sister designed the album cover. Margo has a way of seeing things like no other person I’ve known. I had no idea what the album cover would look like or what I wanted it to look like. I just wanted to write it & not worry about anything else. After a few attempts, she crafted this image of the character wearing her fancy bracelet while also holding the glass of wine in her hand. The grey-colored background shows that something isn’t quite right, which is what the story details. The character is meant to hold a paint brush not a wine glass!
Could you give a little explanation behind why you’re donating the proceeds of this album to St. Jude?
Personally, this album was initially just a gift to my mom, who the album is named after, for her birthday last April. I also sent the files to family members & close friends. Besides that, it was also going to be used to showcase my writing to a publishing house or an artist (ideally Adele) that was looking for a songwriter. I didn’t really want to just put it out and have it for free or make income off any downloads. Last semester I joined Enactus, Belmont’s social entrepreneurship club & was inspired by my fellow peers to use my talents, whether in terms of finance or songwriting, with a social conscious mindset. Additionally, a couple friends of mine are leaders for this year’s “Up ‘Till Dawn” event and seeing how passionate they all are about St. Jude really inspired me to have all the proceeds go to the organization. St. Jude is such an incredible symbol of the impact human compassion can have on the world; cancer sucks, and I wanted to play a role & help this life changing institution defeat childhood cancer.
Megan did a wonderful job portraying the emotions in the songs; did you talk about how you wanted the songs to sound?
For those that don’t know her or haven’t heard her voice, Megan Kaluzny is one of the most incredible vocalists I have heard at Belmont. Besides her work on this album, I strongly recommend, for those who haven’t heard her, to check out her Instagram page for more of her vocal performances. Before we recorded the album in one day, Megan and I spent many hours practicing these songs. It’s challenging to explain what I wanted the character to sound like. What we worked on the most was striving towards an authentic vocal. Megan was not only singing but also acting and worked very hard at trying to put herself in the character’s shoes. Megan and this character are two different people that live two different lives. Yet what Megan did best was connecting to those universal human emotions that we all feel at some point in time: shock, anger, sadness, self-reflection, confidence, acceptance. She’s incredible and I have no doubt she will be well known for her voice.
Your narrative pieces make Denise a unique experience for the listener. How did you determine that you wanted to create a storyline instead of simply an album?
I don’t know when exactly my music mentality changed, but it most likely happened in my first songwriting class with Jodi Marr. Ever since that class, every album or song I listen to I’m always wondering what the story is and where the story is going next. To me, many of my favorite albums are loose stories front to back. I wanted to really create a cohesive album with a continuous story told by each track. This meant that the next song or narration had to answer the one it followed while also furthering the big idea of the entire album. I had the voice memos of the songs for awhile and when I had the idea of the story it was just putting the pieces together through outlining & re-outlining, editing & re-editing. I always hear stories and characters in music but I don’t often hear stories in albums told from beginning to end. Tom Waits, who is one of my biggest inspirations as a storyteller, creates a unique story experience with each of his albums. I’m striving to be on the forefront of that unique experience.
What are your hopes for this album?
Simply, my hope is that this album helps raise as much money as possible for St Jude.
For those interested in listening and donating to this wonderful cause, click the link: