Going Outside The Square

She’s made her name as Sam Tolhurst on ‘Home and Away’, but Jessica Chapnik is branching out as a singer. She talks to DARREN LEVIN about the actor-turned-singer stigma and her recent collaboration with Ben Lee.

Where you worried about the actor-turned-singer stigma when you embarked on this project?

I didn’t worry because this stigma thing didn’t occur to me at all. I have done both music and acting for a while, so I completely forgot that music was a side that other people might not know about me. I wasn’t expecting people to think I had suddenly turned to singing over night. But shortly after we put out the record, I started getting asked this question a lot in interviews, and then I realised, its clearly something that is on other people’s minds.

It was sort of a surprise. I guess I’m naive to this whole thing – I understand the stigma. It’s been done before that actors have tried to capitalise on a fan base and made records. And it is what it is — sometimes it works amazingly and sometimes it doesn’t. You do what makes you happy. I’m not claiming to be making this big pop move or be this amazing singer. I’m not ?moving? from acting to singing. I’m just someone that sings and acts. I think people prefer it if you stick to one thing sometimes. It’s neater or something. It would be neater for me too. But I like to do both.

You met Ben at South By South West while touring with Sarah Blasko. What were your first impressions?

That he seemed like the kind of person who knew the right thing to say at all times. That he was un-awkward and uncensored. That he was excited to be alive. That I wished I was more like that.

I’m not ?moving? from acting to singing. I’m just someone that sings and acts.

Tell us something we don’t know about Ben.

He doesn’t drink coffee. He’s more of a juice guy.

What was it like working with Ben in the studio?

It was lovely to work with a friend. To feel like you don’t need to quickly get to know someone, but like you are working from a place of understanding. And in the process, getting to know them more, but in a different way. It was really cool. I felt very grateful.

You’ve made a name for yourself as a back-up singer primarily, was it difficult to push yourself into the foreground as a vocalist for this project?

It was certainly different. Initially, it felt quite natural. And then somewhere half way into the project, I did suddenly feel terrified. New things are always frightening. But the crazy thing about performing is, you not only get to be scared, but you get to do it publicly. Its very exposing and funny when you think about it. But I got on with it pretty quickly. Most things I do I’m terrified about, even the things I think I know how to do. It’s part of doing anything, isn’t it?

Does having an acting background help when you’re working on a soundtrack?

If it did, I certainly didn’t think about it. I tried to sing each song as honestly as I could, which is what I want to bring to any work I do, be it acting or music. Having said that, I did have an idea of the kind of vocal sound that Ben wanted for the songs, so consciously or not, my voice probably moulded to that a bit. Maybe it’s an actor’s skill to have lots of voices up your sleeve. I’m not sure about that one. Maybe all singers are sort of actors anyway.

Tell us about the film, The Square.

First time I saw it, it ripped my heart out. Second time I saw it, I laughed while on the edge of my seat. Third time I saw it, I bit my nails a lot, which isn’t that unusual for me, but still. It’s a great film, full of surprises and really thrilling. And it has some wonderful performances.

Have you found your niche as a singer, or is acting still your first love?

I’m not sure what it feels like to have a niche. Actually, I just looked it up in the dictionary to answer this really well, and it said ?a comfortable employment?. Wow. That seems pretty huge. Mostly, I’m pretty uncomfortable, so clearly there is no niche in sight. I can say music has saved my life many times. Films have changed my life many times, and that makes it so worthy to be a part of. I love them both. I don’t think that’s the same as saying it’s my niche, but I’m working on it.

Jessica Chapnik and Ben Lee’s soundtrack for The Square
is out now on Igloo Films through Inertia.