We have quite the treat for our readers today! Award-winning indie/folk songwriter Jess Chizuk has given us the inside scoop on her brand new album Lehigh Valley Line. The up and coming songstress from New York put together an exclusive track-by-track and you can check it out after the jump!
Lehigh Valley Line is available now, and you can purchase a CD here.
Lehigh Valley Line
The Lehigh Valley Railroad is an actual railroad that used to run through Buffalo NY, which is where I’m from. I did quite a bit of research before I wrote this track, and once I read its history I knew I had to write about it. The song itself goes back and forth between facts, personal anecdotes, and fiction to tell this story that I wanted to create. I also got to use the word “anthracite” in a song, which was fun to work in. I chose this for the album title as well, because what better way to pay homage to the city that inspired a record than by using a piece of its history in the name?
Eyes on the Horizon
“Eyes on the Horizon” was written as kind of a reminder to my future self. I wrote it to help pull myself out of a personal slump, and it ended up being one of the most well-received tracks on the album. It’s a nice reminder that great things can come from bad situations if you can focus on the positives. I think a lot of people need to hear that now and again, myself included.
Steady as the Rain
As a rule, I don’t write very many blatantly obvious love songs – I think female songwriters singing exclusively about relationships has been done a few too many times in today’s industry. That said, “Steady as the Rain” is my exception to that rule. I had the chord progression kicking around in my head for a couple years before I found any lyrics that fit it. Once I accepted that it had to be a love song, it came together pretty quickly. Recording the vocal parts in this one was one of my favorite moments in the studio – I have a soft spot for three part harmonies.
Originally I released “China Plates” as a single backed by an entire band – I had won a songwriting competition here in Buffalo and was awarded some studio time with session musicians, producers, the whole nine yards. It sounds great to this day, but that kind of production level conflicts with the entire message of the song. The whole point is that material possessions and fancy things aren’t what’s going to make you happy at the end of the day, and I felt like that needed to be true for the song’s production as well. This piano version on the album is by far my favorite rendition of the song – it’s simple and the message is clear.
Bonus: I wrote “China Plates” at 3 am, sitting on my parent’s kitchen floor while looking at my mother’s china cabinet. The song is actually inspired by real china plates.
“The Distance” is basically my “going home after a gig” song. If you pick the lyrics apart it’s basically a retelling of a lot of the stuff I do and think about after I finish a solo show. The message here is that it’s hard to chase after this kind of success alone, but I’ve come a pretty long way by myself so far. I might not be where I want to be yet but I’m gonna keep heading in that direction for as long as I can.
Originally I had planned to do this song with nothing but acoustic guitar and lead vocals. It’s a pretty personal track for me and I didn’t want production to get in the way of that. But so many people have mentioned how good it could sound with a full band. After a while I was inclined to agree, but something like that would have been out of place on this album. So I compromised and added some more instrumentation, and I’m very happy with where it’s at now. But if I get around to doing a full-production album, I suspect a version of “The Distance” will be on it.
Somber Is The Night
I’ve been lucky enough to have had a personal life relatively free from tragedy. But as a musician you meet a lot of people, and I’ve met people who have gone through more terrible things than I could ever imagine. I’ve played music in hospital rooms and I’ve played music at funerals. That’s the kind of stuff that weighs on you. “Somber is the Night” is kind of an amalgamation of the things I’ve seen and the emotions that come with them, in one form or another.
“Guilty Pleasure” is the oldest song on the album by quite a few years! I penned the lyrics back in 2012, right after I had started college (before my first EP was even recorded). I was finally starting to get a better handle on songwriting then. The entire song is just 3 chords (and has been affectionately called the 1, 2, 3 song many times), for a very intentional reason. When I first started playing open mics and small shows, I didn’t have a very big set list, which made collaborating with other musicians pretty tough. I made “Guilty Pleasure” simple enough to be able to teach it to anyone in a matter of seconds so that I’d have something I could play with anyone. It worked, and I still use it for that to this day!
This song was actually inspired by the Erie County Fair that comes to Buffalo at the end of every summer. As a kid it was always a reminder that summer vacation is ending, and now it signals the end of nice weather and the pending arrival of another infamous Buffalo winter. The idea of having this big event in the last fading moments of summer – trying to get just a little bit more out of the season before letting it go for good – seemed to have a lot of parallels to human relationships. The lyrics in the bridge are some of my favorite on the record.
With the message saying to enjoy the present because I don’t know how much harder the future will be, it seemed like a natural closer to the album. It’s great to have this record completed, but I know I have a long way to go yet!
Compelling, vivid stories from the heart told emphatically by graceful vocals, accompanied by little more than an acoustic guitar. These are the building blocks for most of Jess Chizuk’s songs. The young singer-songwriter has her musical roots firmly divided between both old folk tunes and new indie music, but the result of this combination is her truly captivating writing. It has been garnering the attention of audiences in her hometown of Buffalo NY and beyond.
Drawing on life experiences, honest stories, and the city she calls home, her music is soulful and truly genuine. This award winning songwriter already has an impressive catalog of accomplishments at only 22 years old. Aside from supporting national artists like Howie Day, Davina and the Vagabonds, and Dylan Jakobsen, Jess was the recipient of the Best Original Solo Act award at the 2015 Buffalo Music Awards, the winner of the 2014 Yellen Foundation Songwriting Contest, winner of the Folk category at the Smoky Mountain Songwriting Festival Songwriting Contest, a semi-finalist in the 2015 Songwriter’s Serenade Contest in Morovia TX, and a top five finalist in the singer/songwriter category of the Great American Song Contest – a contest receiving submissions from nearly 2000 songwriters worldwide.