James Chapeskie combines 80’s rock, gothic fantasy, and light shows

The multi-creative talks about his creative process and influences

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A photo of James Chapeskie and another person singing a duet, each into their own microphones, their silhouettes covered by a fog of coloured lights.
PHOTO: Courtesy of James Chapeskie

By: Petra Chase, Arts & Culture Editor

I’ve never associated ‘80s rock with gothic fantasy, but it’s a combination that immediately made sense when my algorithm presented me with singer-songwriter and producer James Chapeskie’s song and music video, “Fairy in the Night.” An enchanted conversation between a boy and a fairy in a dark forest night, the song features an immaculate overlapping duet between Chapeskie and ethereal singer Nicole Beer. Chapeskie’s music can feel like the soundtrack for a medieval fantasy musical, but with groovy synth basslines. It scratches a part of my brain that makes me nostalgic for two time periods I’ve never experienced, but are captured at once.

I was eager to chat with the Ontario artist over Zoom to find out about his influences and creative process.

“It was my first time ever doing something with two overlapping parts like that and I think everything with that song worked really well,” he said, reminiscing on the song that blew up on TikTok, a masterwork in the “mysterious vibe” he likes to put into some of his songs.

“Fairy in the Night” was from his most recent album, 2022’s adventurous SOAR, but Chapeskie has released over 52 songs in the six years since he started his music label, J Music Records, perfecting his sound. Sometimes TikTok can have a way of letting art reach the right audience.

“It really made me feel good that I’m actually being able to make a bit of a difference in the world and brighten peoples’ day and actually inspire people to be creative and do music.”

When I asked him how he’d classify his genre (a question he’s probably used to), he said that question confuses him. “It’s different. If I had to classify it, I’d probably say pop-rock, because my dad does a lot of the guitar solos on my songs, and that gives it a rock n’ roll kind vibe, but I’m also into synth [ . . . ] I love ‘80’s music,” he said. It didn’t surprise me when he added he’s also inspired by musicals and movie soundtracks, and he’s even released a full length comedy/fantasy musical, DARKNESS, with Nicole Beer. 

“I work with a different artist in every song. That means every song is going to sound a little different, because everyone who comes in the studio brings their own creative touch to projects,” he said. “When we all put our heads together, come up with different ideas, we can really create some amazing stuff.”

Aside from dark mythical fantasy, his other core musical preoccupation is “fun, upbeat dance songs.” Collaborating with other musicians and multi-creatives is an important part of his process, whether it’s with friends, family, or people he connects with online.

His biggest collaboration yet was with the cast of his local theatre’s The Buddy Holly Story musical, where he works as an audio operator. “Bring Back the Music Again,” started with a foundation upon which the cast “just came into the studio and laid down a track.” Bassface-inducing guitar, a wave of Bossa nova-esque sax, a music video with everyone jamming out on a beach . . . everything fell into place.

For Chapeskie, making a song with his friends is how he spends his day off. His dedication to his craft is grounded in a life-long passionbeing “born to entertain.” As a baby, instead of lullabies, he got rock n’ roll. After getting a soundboard for Christmas at 13, he started making original songs on the keyboard and began experimenting with his sound.

It would be remiss not to mention how big of an influence the Disney light show Fantasmic had on him at a young age. Fantasmic is “a nighttime spectacular that combines lights, water, and original musical soundtrack.” Chapeskie got started making light shows as a kid with a makeshift dollar store flashlight, a CD of the soundtrack, and Disney figurines. When he got older, he got into DMX lighting. Now, he puts on light shows and incorporates them in his music videos. For instance, his most recent duet, “Darkness of your Heart,” places him, vocalist Ojonugwa Usman, and backup dancers amidst a labyrinth of lights, which pair perfectly with the jaunty keyboard melody. 

Like the adventures and drama he conveys in his music and videos, Chapeskie’s career has taken many twists and turns, with unexpected encounters along the way. Last year, comedian and commentary YouTuber Kurtis Conner reached out to Chapeskie to make a documentary about him, after coming across his music on TikTok. They ended up making a song and music video together, “Feeling of Victory” — that’s just what happens when you spend time with Chapeskie — you make a song.

As soon as the documentary came out, he said he was bombarded with subscribers and messages telling him he was an inspiration. “It really made me feel good that I’m actually being able to make a bit of a difference in the world and just brightening peoples’ day and actually inspire people to be creative and do music.”

If you’d like to collaborate with Chapeskie, he always has open auditions on his website for “singers, dancers, production assistants,” and anyone with an idea! You can also support him and stay tuned for updates by following him on Instagram at @jameschapeskie22 and supporting his Patreon.

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