In the midst of the pandemic, Christian Douglas is making a career shift. As a tenor in the United States Army Chorus and actor in regional musical theater performances, his voice had always been a part of the crowd. Now, with the release of his debut album, the D.C. area singer-songwriter has his own time to shine. “Inside Voice” showcases the versatility of Douglas’s voice and style while touching on topics like quarantine and physical distance. We caught up with Douglas about his new album, pandemic songwriting and pushing musical boundaries.
District Fray: Why did you decide to write about the pandemic?
Christian Douglas: It took shape gradually. At the beginning, the first few songs are entirely about quarantine – one [is] literally [called] “Stay Inside” – [and] the other one [is] a quarantine virtual love story. As the pandemic began, it was the first thing on my mind, so it was what I wrote about. As the months went on, I kept writing these songs that felt of the time or the moment, at least in my mind, and the idea of putting out an album to mark this very unique time took shape and grew out of that.
What was different about creating an album during the pandemic?
I found an incredible mentor in artist Becca Stevens. She was somebody who I looked up to as an artist. I found on Instagram she was having one-on-one songwriting lessons. I jumped at the opportunity. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was hoping to expand my world of songwriting and that’s what she helped me do. She gave me new avenues into writing a song, [and] helped me find different inspiration and tools. In a way, it was this beautiful exploration of something new while being totally locked inside. It felt like all of my creative purpose was gone, so to be able to have something to explore every day was really meaningful.
What did your lessons with Becca Stevens look like?
It was over Skype at first and then over Zoom, like everything is these days. I would bring her a song or something I was working on, and she would give me feedback. And at the end of the lesson, I would ask for an assignment. She would say, “Okay, find a poem that really speaks to you and set that to music and don’t touch an instrument.” It would be this whole new assignment that would keep me going and push my creative boundaries.
Were any of the songs particularly challenging to write?
There’s one song called “A Little Love” that was the first time I tried to set a poem [to music]. As a writer, that is a pretty typical thing. But I had never tried. The poem in and of itself really spoke to me. It is about the idea that in the midst of struggle and pain, I can make it through if you leave me a little hope of love. I thought it was so beautiful, especially for the time. The arrangement became this full, beautiful, mysterious, almost medieval-sounding arrangement, especially because I recruited the help of my friend Niccolo Seligmann, who is a fellow artist in residence at Strathmore. He plays a lot of medieval instruments. I was so proud of how that song evolved and took shape.
Do you have any plans for upcoming shows?
I’m lucky enough that in the coming months, as a part of the Strathmore Artist in Residence program, I will be performing a 90-minute concert outside on the patio of the Strathmore Mansion. My month of being the featured artist in residence got cut short by Covid halfway through March. I didn’t get to do my final show, so it worked out that it got put off to now. I have this new project that I can promote and play out in the world.
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