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Tenzin Chopak ready to release new album at GrassRoots Fest

Emmett Scott and Tenzin Chopak
Emmett Scott and Tenzin Chopak

Tenzin Chopak has been one of the more prolific members of the Ithaca music scene over the past decade. Both as a solo artist and as the frontman for Rockwood Ferry (in its many incarnations), Chopak has proven to be a compelling lyricist, talented guitarist, and powerful vocalist on the five albums he has released since 2013 as well as countless live performances.

On Saturday, Chopak will mark the release of his latest album at the annual Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance, using his 3:15 p.m. set in the Cabaret Hall to celebrate the arrival of “Live at Red Newt.” Recorded in November 2022 at Red Newt Cellars in Hector, New York, the album captures Chopak and Scott performing a dozen songs in an intimate setting. Chopak plays guitar, foot percussion, and vocals on the new album, while Scott plays piano, Moog Voyager and Sub Phatty, and sings backing vocals.

Chopak recently answered a few questions about the new album, his evolving approach to songwriting, and what projects he’ll be working on next.

Tenzin Chopak and Emmett Scott perform at Red Newt Cellars in November, 2022.
Tenzin Chopak and Emmett Scott perform at Red Newt Cellars in November, 2022.

Q: You’ve played in several band formats over the past few years, both solo and as Rockwood Ferry. What's the most satisfying thing about playing with Emmett Scott? What does he bring to your songs?

Tenzin Chopak: Emmett Scott is a deep empathic listener, he responds from his heart. I always feel that with him, that’s the most satisfying.

He’s also a consummate musician. His musical voice arises from his experience. He brings a fluid, spontaneous, visceral communication to the music, all arising with natural precision.

Q: Do you play guitar differently with a pianist?

TC: If I play solo I might sometimes take up more sonic space. Playing with Emmett, the guitar and piano are dancing together so each may say more with less.

Emmett also covers bass with his left hand, which is amazing to me.

Q: Why did you choose to record another live album, and to do it at Red Newt?

TC: I really love live concert recordings. I wanted to make an album that nakedly offers our sound as it arises with an audience. Red Newt Bistro overlooks Seneca Lake, it has a beautiful energy and good acoustics for what we do. David Whiting and Susan Waterbury are old friends that have been so generous and supportive over the years. Also, the grand piano at Red Newt sounds so good.

Q: What are the challenges in recording a live album?

TC: Brian Dozoretz did all the engineering/mixing/mastering for this recording. He is a master and navigated those technical challenges while making it feel totally smooth for us. From our side the challenge is to record album-worthy takes while in front of people and playing from the heart.

It seemed best to be as chilled out as possible.

When we did the concert, we took a few minutes between each song where the audience could stretch, talk and decompress, we’d joke around, then we’d record the next tune. That way we could stay relaxed.

Tenzin Chopak
Tenzin Chopak's latest album is "Live at Red Newt."

Q: Any special memories of that show?

TC: There was a moonbow when I walked out of Red Newt after the show. I took this picture (shown above) then.

The people who came out to support the recording made the whole night magical.

Q: Why did you choose to do a release show at GrassRoots?

TC: A lot of the people who come to experience music at GrassRoots have been looking forward to the festival all year as a healing time, ready to let down their guard and to embrace one another. Good feelings.

I released my first album, “Speak Like Water,” at GrassRoots in 2013. It feels like a good time to celebrate this live album.

Q: Has your songwriting evolved over the years, both musically and lyrically? If so, how?

TC: With music and lyrics I feel a little more trusting of my body and my heart than I used to and I feel more at ease.

Q: You’ve been a regular part of the Galactic Escort Service for a few years – how has that impacted your approach to writing and/or playing music?

TC: That experience has encouraged me to be and stay open to anything that arises and to openly embrace the sheer joy of free association. I learned, for example, some of what happens when I operate an MPC loaded with samples from a 90’s Psychic Friends Network infomercial. It’s a flow state education and I feel so grateful for each time I’ve been able to be a part of it with those beautiful folks.

Q: Any other projects you’re working on?

TC: I’m working on music for a studio album to be recorded with Emmett and others down in Tennessee. That album will be produced by our friend Ethan Jodziewicz. News about that and info on how to help us if you’re interested will be on the internet places on July 22nd. This live album can help us raise some resources for that project.

Other Shows

• 7 p.m. Friday, July 28, at Mainstreet Gallery in Albion, New York: Tenzin Chopak with Emmett Scott

• 8 p.m. Saturday, July 29, at Lovin' Cup in Rochester, New York: Tenzin Chopak with Emmett Scott and guests

• 12 p.m. Friday, August 24, at The BBQ, Black Bear Recording in Danby, New York

• Chopak also plays with the Galactic Escort Service every other Wednesday night at Deep Dive in Ithaca

Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, WITHradio.org) and its affiliates.