By James Dillon III
The concept of ‘getting back to work’ is fairly universal, but the implications differ wildly from person to person. For many, it signifies a grind.
For Minnesota singer-songwriter Chastity Brown, however, it’s been all about ‘thrusting herself towards joy,’ as she puts it. And, perhaps, remembering to take care of herself after a 22-month stretch without performing.
Brown, now 40, took some time fresh off the European leg of her Sing to the Walls tour to reflect on major changes—prioritizing rest, reveling in calm, and basking in a romantic partnership that didn’t even seem possible in her 20s.
“I tried not to have too many expectations for this tour, but it was astonishing,” she said. “Folks came. Folks came to the shows! I was just trying to be present, but I’m just so fucking grateful to have my job back because it’s so infused in my identity: getting to sing to folks.”
Fifteen years on from releasing her first studio album and five since 2017’s Silhouette of Sirens, Brown is still developing her identity as a performer. It really came across in her return to touring after the pandemic sidelined us all for such an extended period of time.
“Playing with my band for this tour is the first time in my life where I’m dancing on stage,” she realized. “I’m certainly not a dancer. But I’m just wiggling around, scootin’, doing some hippie soul shit with my hands. I’m just really in it.”
Another big factor in this newfound energy stems from Brown’s relationship to the songs she’s performing from Sing to the Walls. In stark contrast to the mood of her previous album, Silhouette of Sirens, the songs on Sing to the Walls act as a balm. A rootsy, soul-infused, soothing balm.
Instead of making room for sorrow, she’s cultivating joy.
“Performing this new material is so relieving,” she said. “With Silhouette of Sirens, there was a heaviness for me, performing some of those songs. And I cannot continue in that space of fragility.”
“There are certainly tender songs that exist in this new work, but not songs that lean into brokenness,” she went on to clarify. “Joy, faith…these are things that can be usurped by religious ideals and then can be seen as cliché. That’s why I say I ‘thrust myself’ towards joy, because it’s recognizing that there’s an effort involved.”
Something else Brown is making an effort to recognize are the needs of her body, which can mean cancelling gigs and rescheduling engagements as she feels necessary.
“People need to understand that it’s my physical body that does the thing,” she said. “When I’m doing the thing, which is putting on a concert, I’m there 100 percent…if 100 percent even exists. I’m there to give it, I’m there to bring it, I’m there to fucking play some soul.”
Brown has come to realize that she needs to practice more self-care in order to bring her best self to her performances. Spending time with loved ones, her partner is particular, is a large factor in the equation.
“I need my love meter filled up,” she said. “Man, I love this woman.”
The person Brown has become—and the type of person she’s drawn to—has mellowed considerably from her earlier days in an industry often associated with chaotic love affairs rife for producing powerful songs.
“I didn’t know that this kind of calm could exist,” she said. “It’s just like…partnership without paranoia? There’s no idea of perfection in this. I’ve never in my life thought about a future with someone until this woman. It’s profound. I’m humbled by the way we feel towards each other.”
Despite the inevitable learning curves and miscommunications that come with any relationship, Brown and her partner are finding ways to intentionally show up for one another and work through any stumbling blocks together.
“Even our arguments have clarity and perspective to them,” she said. “Neither of us are trying to hurt each other or lash out. The conversations close out in a way where we’re like ‘Okay…we understand until this point. And maybe this is something we’ll just continue to talk about’.”
Brown’s experience of ongoing development and exploration—shape-shifting, if you will —seems inherent to the queer experience. Whether you think of it as a unique asset or a burden, (and it can be both), our queer identities often put us in the position of having to repeatedly reinvent ourselves.
And Brown is still creating herself, learning to nurture the relationships she holds dear while she evolves as an artist and as a performer.
“I was on the road with the poet Andrea Gibson,” she reflected. “In one of their poems about how queer folk create family, they talk about how so many of us left what seemed like our life, in a way, to create who we wanted to be in the world. And then, furthermore, we create the kind of relationships we want.”
James Dillon III is an artist living in Portland, Maine. A self-styled Renaissance Queer, they use photography, writing, and performance art to explore, celebrate, and challenge the world around them.