Chappell Roan talks to us about the meaning of her name, performing in talent shows, and the secret sounds hidden in her songs.
Intro: Hello and welcome to What’d I Say, where Atlantic Records talks with artists about songs they made, songs they like and songs they’d like to have made. It’s an inside look into the craft of songs from the artists themselves. Today’s’ guest is Chappell Roan, a singer, songwriter and artist who performs with the world-weary wisdom that belies her 19 years.
At 12 years old, Chappell Roan, real name Kayleigh Rose, began taking piano lessons. Recognizing her ability, her mom encouraged her to gig around their hometown of Springfield, Missouri. Growing a small buzz, her confessional and captivating style resonated with listeners everywhere, after she posted her original song, “Die Young,” on YouTube.
It quickly amassed over 50 thousand plays. Shortly thereafter, she signed to Atlantic Records before finishing her junior year of high school. In late 2017, Chappell released her first EP, “School Nights” and quickly earned praise from Perez Hilton, Interview Magazine, Billboard and many others.
While on tour with Vance Joy in the same year, Chappell stopped by our studio in New York City to talk about her exciting and fast rise in the music business and how she plans on taking over the world. The world of music, that is.
Tom Mullen: Chappell Roan, correct? Is that the correct pronunciation?
Chappell Roan: Chappell Roan.
Tom Mullen: So, could you tell the story about your name and how it came about?
Chappell Roan: So, the story about how my name was chosen, was my grandfather, his name was Dennis Chappell and he died of brain cancer last year. And he was always really supportive and just came to every gig I had, and every coffee shop. He was always there. And I always just wanted to be called Chappell. My real name is Kayleigh and I just have never liked my real name, so I knew that I didn’t want to be Kayleigh.
Chappell Roan: So then the Roan part was, his favorite song was “The Strawberry Roan,” and Roan is horsehair, a color of horsehair. But yeah, so that’s how Chappell Roan came about.
Tom Mullen: And then the release date for the EP.
Chappell Roan: The release date of the EP just happened, this was not planned, there’s no way we could’ve planned it, was the anniversary of his passing. So, it was definitely, he had planned it or something, it was something to do with him.
Tom Mullen: I love that.
Chappell Roan: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember your first favorite song?
Chappell Roan: What is it? The first CD I ever got was a P!nk CD and it was, “I’m coming out and I’m gonna get the party started.”
Tom Mullen: Which one? “Get the Party Started,” right? That’s the song? Okay, hang on.
Chappell Roan: Yes.
Tom Mullen: It is on “M!ssundaztood.”
Chappell Roan: Oh, “M!ssundaztood.”
Tom Mullen: If we’re adding the “Z” to the album.
Chappell Roan: Missundaztood.
Tom Mullen: Yeah.
Chappell Roan: Yeah, that was the first CD my mom ever bought me. So, she made me turn it off because she didn’t realize there was cuss words in it.
Tom Mullen: How did you find out about it?
Chappell Roan: About the…?
Tom Mullen: P!nk.
Chappell Roan: How did I find out about P!nk? I just heard her on the radio. When I was little, I heard it on the radio and I was like, “I like her.”
Tom Mullen: Oh, that’s cool. So you had piano lessons at 12, correct?
Chappell Roan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I was little when I had piano lessons. I started them at 10 or 11 and I never learned how to read notes, I never —
Tom Mullen: Did you want to do it, or did someone tell you?
Chappell Roan: I wanted to play piano.
Tom Mullen: Awesome.
Chappell Roan: Yes. My parents never pushed, no one in my family is musical, so it’s not like a lot of kids, your parents put you in piano lessons at four or whatever. But I wanted to do it myself.
Tom Mullen: Cool.
Chappell Roan: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first song you could play on the piano?
Chappell Roan: It was a Coldplay song, it was … I think it was “Viva La Vida.” Maybe.
Tom Mullen: How come?
Chappell Roan: My dad really liked Coldplay and so that’s what we mostly listened to. That and Christian Rock music.
Tom Mullen: Yeah.
Chappell Roan: So, I just learned to play that one.
Tom Mullen: So, certain people have never paid for music because they just have access to everything, but your mom bought you the first P!nk CD. Do you remember when you bought something for the first time, with your own money? Like a record or song?
Chappell Roan: Anything?
Tom Mullen: A song. Anything. “I bought candy.” No.
Chappell Roan: The first thing I ever bought with my own money, music-wise, was probably a … Oh! Hannah Montana.
Tom Mullen: Really? The CD?
Chappell Roan: Hannah Montana. I went to her concert and I bought a T-shirt.
Tom Mullen: Nice.
Chappell Roan: Yeah. A $50 T-shirt but it had Hannah Montana on it.
Tom Mullen: Of course. Was that an arena show?
Chappell Roan: Yeah, it was an arena show.
Tom Mullen: Was that your first show?
Chappell Roan: That was my first concert.
Tom Mullen: Wow.
Chappell Roan: My first concert, yeah, was Hannah Montana. The Jonas Brothers were opening.
Tom Mullen: I like that. Do you remember the first time you sang a song? Do you remember where that was or where you were?
Chappell Roan: The first time I sang was in Kindergarten. We have our Christmas shows and everything but all throughout school, recitals and stuff. But the first time I actually sang in my real voice, was eighth grade. It was for the talent show. Christmas Talent Show. And that was the first time anybody had ever heard me with my real voice, I guess you could say. And that’s when it all started.
Tom Mullen: Really?
Chappell Roan: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: So people noticed and then-
Chappell Roan: Yeah, they were like, “Something’s different.”
Tom Mullen: Cool.
Chappell Roan: Yeah. That was when everything started rolling, from that moment on.
Tom Mullen: And you had annoyed your parents and sang in your bedroom and stuff, probably? Or no?
Chappell Roan: My parents, the first time they ever heard me was at the talent show.
Tom Mullen: No way.
Chappell Roan: I was way too scared to sing. I still don’t like it [during] soundcheck last night, I made them go in another room at the venue because I get really nervous with my parents watching me and my family. I’m very private about that.
Tom Mullen: People have referenced Sia, Lana Del Rey, but who would be surprised to find out who is an influence of yours?
Chappell Roan: Childish Gambino. And Vince Staples. I love… I’m very picky with rap music, and they were [a] large influence. I love Nicki Minaj and, it’s really rap music had really set it off to opening new doors of how I would write certain words and how many words would I fit into a certain verse, was based on rap. But I would turn it into pop.
Tom Mullen: Cool. And then when you’re recording a song, who are you picturing listening to this? Who’s your audience?
Chappell Roan: So when I record, I always think of… I don’t know I’ve always pictured this, ever since I started singing, is being on the Grammy stage, is always what I envision. Because in my head, that’s always been my goal, just to perform at the Grammys. Not win a Grammy or be nominated but just to perform there. Or the VMAs. An award show, I would love to do that.
Tom Mullen: Cool. What’s the most recent song you discovered and had to share with your friends?
Chappell Roan: Oh, I just recently discovered Beach House. I’ve never knew Beach House ever existed until I found their record, the “Depression Cherry” one, and it’s a velvet cover and I was like oh, this is fuzzy. And I put it on the record player and there was, my heart dropped and that’s when I was like, what? That’s very rare for me and I was just freaking out.
Tom Mullen: So you told everybody?
Chappell Roan: Yeah, yeah. I was just like, “Guys.” And they’re like, “Oh yeah, we know Beach House.”
Tom Mullen: When was the first time you heard one of your songs in public? Or on the radio?
Chappell Roan: I actually haven’t heard my songs in public yet, or on the radio, but my mom has the Sirius XM and I was on The Pulse one time, and also my grandma was at the hospital in the rehabilitation and they were playing it at the rehab room.
Tom Mullen: So your family’s heard it but not you.
Chappell Roan: My family has heard it; I haven’t heard it. I don’t listen to my music that much. It’s like, I can’t enjoy it because I’m just-
Tom Mullen: Flashbacks?
Chappell Roan: Flashbacks, also I just always wanna change something and I can’t. Always.
Tom Mullen: Let’s see. You said you want people to feel something when they hear it. What things in other songs do you hear, that connect with you?
Chappell Roan: So, when I say I want other people to feel things from my music, I want people to feel the way I felt when I heard “Stay,” by Rihanna. That song helped me through feeling lonely for a long time, and I was so confused on how I was feeling and that song really helped me just understand a little bit. Or just other songs like Nicki Minaj has some really great, powerful woman songs that make me feel so cool and whatever. But I always wanted to make my songs give people the opportunity to feel how I felt. If that makes any sense.
Tom Mullen: Yeah. That’s great. So this is a little fun one for the “School Nights” EP. You said that songs are real things that happened to me. So we could go through the songs but I thought, instead of doing, “We did this, we recorded this song.” Could you, in each of the songs, say something that someone should listen for? So, “Listen for the backing vocal on this. My mom helps out.” You know what I mean? Little tidbits for them to listen for in the song. Do you think you could do that?
Chappell Roan: On every song?
Tom Mullen: Because I have… what are there, five songs, right?
Chappell Roan: Five songs. “Die Young,” I recorded that vocal when I was 16, and it’s the only vocal I’ve ever done on that song, and there’s only been one take and that’s what we used on the EP.
Tom Mullen: That’s cool.
Chappell Roan: And everything.
Tom Mullen: “Good Hurt”?
Chappell Roan: For “Good Hurt,” maybe listen for… I can’t remember. One of the songs, I can’t remember which one, I have Invisalign and-
Tom Mullen: I do too!
Chappell Roan: Really?
Tom Mullen: I used to, I loved it.
Chappell Roan: Yeah. I hate it.
Tom Mullen: All right, anyway.
Chappell Roan: In one of the songs, I don’t know which one, my Invisalign, I had to take it out while I was recording and for some reason the producer was recording and so, you can hear it popping out of my mouth. And we used it as a snare in one of the songs. And then in every song, there’s a clock.
Tom Mullen: Really?
Chappell Roan: Yeah. Every song there’s a clock. And there’s not cymbals. I don’t like cymbals. There’s a gong but that’s it.
Tom Mullen: I like that. “Sugar High”?
Chappell Roan: Oh, in “Sugar High,” there’s so many… it’s a very ’60s vibe and there’s a lot of vocal samples of me mixed with guitar. It’s a very weird, intricate song. If you really break it down and listen to it, it’s really got a lot of different moving parts.
Tom Mullen: And then, “Bad For You.”
Chappell Roan: Oh, in the choir parts, there’s, I didn’t know this until after it was finalized but there’s also, they brought in a boys’ choir, too, to sing on top of my choir so listen for the boys, I guess.
Tom Mullen: Cool. And then last one, you’ve talked about the Grammys being a dream but is there anything else that you dream about when you’re thinking about music, or your career?
Chappell Roan: I’ve always wanted to rip off whatever I’m wearing and there be like a really sparkly outfit underneath. I don’t know who did that, Janet Jackson or something. Or Britney Spears, where she ripped off her coat and it was a blinding, sparkly outfit. But I don’t have a song where that’d be appropriate, so maybe one day.
Tom Mullen: That’s what you dream about? That’s amazing.
Chappell Roan: Yeah, I just always wanted to do that. Anyway.
Tom Mullen: Cool. Thanks for doing this. Great job earlier, by the way.
Chappell Roan: Oh, thank you.
Outro: Thanks to Chappell Roan for coming on What’d I Say. Visit iamchappellroan.com, C-H-A-P-P-E-L-L R-O-A-N.com. Our theme music is by Max Frost. Be sure and catch up on all these Atlantic Records Podcasts, at atlanticpodcasts.com. Thank you for listening.