While at Bunbury Music Festival, Harness Magazine talked with singer iamchelseaiam to learn all about her music, songwriting and what she has coming out for this year.
Harness: You’re a singer/songwriter, so how long have you been writing your own music?
iamchelseaiam: I actually started playing when I was nine on piano, and then I started writing poetry when I was 15 or 16. The two sort of meshed together probably somewhere at the end of high school.
Harness: And you’ve been performing in public for that long?
iamchelseaiam: If you count church, since I was little and couldn’t talk. So I was always in front of people. I grew up in a Baptist church, there was always a speech to be made. I used to play piano in church. So ever since I was little, I was in front of people.
Harness: And how old are you?
iamchelseaiam: I am 30.
Harness: How’s it feel to be 30?
iamchelseaiam: It feels great. No, it’s a lie. I’m 31. I just turned 31.
Harness: Oh, sure, you forgot?
iamchelseaiam: No, I did. It felt good. I don’t feel 31. I just feel whatever. I feel out here.
Harness: So what do you write about mostly? What is the focus of your music?
iamchelseaiam: The human experience. And that just happens to end up being a lot about, it’s a decent amount about relationships. But it’s relationships between people, whether there’s pain or joy.
Harness: We talk a lot about mental health at Harness. Do you want to speak to that? What’s your experience with your mental health journey through your songwriting?
iamchelseaiam: Yes. I had mentioned earlier, about two years ago, my grandfather passed away. Then a week later, my ex passed away. And I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that amount of heaviness, literally being like I can’t get off the couch. But in my experience, what I also try to tell other people, don’t think that you’re going to be okay in a day. Count little things as celebration.
Like, today I got off the couch. Today I made it to the kitchen. Today I made it out of my house. These are all small cause for celebration that you need to embrace, because one day you will get to the point where you’re trying to be. It’s little steps.
Harness: Do you have any songs that are about that struggle?
iamchelseaiam: “Purpose.” I started writing “Purpose” when I got the call that my grandfather had stage IV lung cancer. And then the second verse I finished after my ex passed away. So they’re about that situation.
Harness: Today was your first time performing at Bunbury. Can you tell us what that was like for you?
iamchelseaiam: It was epic. I don’t think it really hit me until my father texted me earlier this week. He was like, “I see your name in the ‘Cincinnati Enquirer.'” And it’s very surreal for me because my grandparents started teaching me how to read with the newspaper. So we would sit with the newspaper at the dining room table, reading the ‘”Cincinnati Enquirer.” Not just the comics, because they would make me read real news articles.
But both of them have since passed away. And it just made me think like, “wow, what would they think?” This little girl that would always be at their house is in the newspaper. So it’s more of a homecoming for me being able to perform in front of my family and my hometown, because I live in New York. So this almost felt more important than any stage I’ve played in New York.
Harness: How long have you lived in New York?
iamchelseaiam: Wow, nine or ten years now.
Harness: Are you strictly songwriting, or singer/songwriting while you’re there?
iamchelseaiam: Singer/songwriter. I started out writing, but it’s just led to artistry. So I do a little bit of everything.
Harness: What do you want your fans to know about you when they come to see a show?
iamchelseaiam: Get ready for an intimate show. Get ready for explanations. I’m about storytelling. So it’s not just the show and I’m here to hear music. You’re going to really learn about me. You’re going to pretty much know a good amount about me after you leave.
Harness: And what is it that you want people to walk away with the most?
iamchelseaiam: That you can make it through. I made it through. I feel like I’m an example of that. I’m still going through certain things, but I’m here to stand and you can do the same.
Harness: Is there anything else that you would want people to know about you or your music?
iamchelseaiam: About me or my music. No, that’s a hard question. I feel like I was spitballing it before that. No, you’ll find out all of that you would ever want to know about me through my music. That’s the truth.
Harness: What is the name of your album?
iamchelseaiam: “A Beautiful Mess.”
Harness: And this is your first album?
iamchelseaiam: This is my first studio EP. I have a live EP prior to this, and I just released the single in April, called “Nice Guys Lie.” And this is actually a stop on the “Nice Guys Lie” tour. So I’ve been to Philly, DC, Boston, here, New York, of course, and still going.
Harness: And that song was based on personal experience?
iamchelseaiam: 100%. We just need to be honest with each other. I think that sometimes people can be deceitful and not even realize it. And it’s not even just guys, girls are the same thing. We’re deceitful to get what we want out of the relationship. Sometimes we might not even realized it, sometimes we do and we’re scum. So figure it out. Let’s not be deceitful. Let’s be honest.
Harness: Can you tell us what it’s like to be a woman in this arena? Because you are one of the few female artists at Bunbury. If you didn’t notice, there aren’t many headliners that are females.
iamchelseaiam: You know what? I didn’t notice that. That’s not good. But just like off of a knee jerk reaction, that’s unfortunate.
But who are the decision makers? I think that’s the thing. Even you think about POC, LGBTQ community, any of those communities in these arenas that we’re trying to get into, who are the decision makers? Who are the decision makers for Bunbury? What does that demographic look like, and does that reflect on the people that are on stage? And if that’s the case, I’m just thinking, maybe that needs to change from the top. Because you would get a different perspective on the stage, the people who are decision makers maybe were. I don’t know, just a thought.
Harness: Do you use your platform to talk about any social issues?
iamchelseaiam: I’ve mainly used my platform, I guess in a roundabout way, mental awareness. But I never used the word mental awareness. It’s more so like, “this is what I’m going through right now. I’m not okay.” Because I think social media in general, people want to put, “oh, this is the pretty picture, where it’s super glam.” I don’t really, I have glam pictures, but you’ll see me when I have a bad day. So that’s more so where I come from. And if a part of my day has to be about people of color or this disgrace or whatever, it’ll just be mixed in. So that’s some more so what it is.
Harness: So you do speak out about women, minority issues. Do you use that in your music at all?
iamchelseaiam: Oh, yeah. I’m just working on it for my next project. It’s a three-part series, called the “Beautiful Series.” This is “A Beautiful Mess,” the next project is “A Beautiful Struggle,” and the final will be “A Beautiful Life.” So I’m actually working on a few songs that reflect that experience. Because I am finding just being a human being, the weight of being a woman, being a woman of color, and just talking to other people, I don’t think that they fully understand that weight. So I do want to speak on that just from my experiences.
Harness: Is there anything else you’d want to tell Harness readers?
iamchelseaiam: Harness, thank you. Thank you for reaching out. I’m seriously grateful for you guys.