Debbie Neigher Steps Out of Her Comfort Zone With Bold New Project Lapel, Shares Lush 'Summer Vacation'

Shervin Lainez
Debbie Neigher of Lapel

After establishing her rep as a piano-playing singer-songwriter (and activist), Debbie Neigher felt the need to "rip the rug out from underneath me" -- musically, at least. The answer is Lapel, a new moniker whose track "Summer Vacation," from the upcoming debut album Periphery, premieres below.

"I just got to a point where I realized the music that I'd always done didn't necessarily move me anymore," says Neigher, who was born in New Jersey and now resides in San Francisco. "I wanted to try something totally new while still trying to create really authentic, narrative music." And the easiest way to do that for Neigher was to step away from the instrument she's been playing since she was four years old.

"I made a rule for myself that I wasn’t allowed to use any piano on the (Periphery) record," says Neigher, who co-produced the album along with Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie, Sparklehorse, Tune-Yards). Taking influence from artists such as St. Vincent and Tune-Yards, Neigher "tried to create an album that I would want to go see live and create it in a new way...as something I would want to listen to and dance to. So I started coming out with something that was a little more modern, incorporating electronic and organic sounds without sacrificing good lyrics, craft, innovation, all those things."

Neigher acknowledges that the process was terrifying. "There was a point where I wanted to scrap 50 percent of the record," she says, "which is actually a good sign. If you're creating something you're so uncomfortable with it means you're pushing yourself in new territories -- which is really good." She reached a comfort level with encouragement from others, including John Vanderslice, who produced Neigher's first two albums and owns Tiny Telephone studios where Periphery was recorded. The title track, she says, was a song that helped her get over the hump, while "Summer Vacation" -- which was among those Neigher wanted to discard -- stands out from the rest of the album with its lush and organic feel. "I wanted to blend a lot of the classical and jazz training I had growing up with this kind of synth-pop trail that I was on," Neigher recalls. "I thought, 'I love all of these genres. How can I attempt to blend them together to forge a new creative path but still keep the craft of songwriting authentic to the types of songs I value?' It was really challenging, but I think I definitely found that common ground."

Neigher, who releases Periphery on Sept. 14, has been busy with other projects as well -- specifically chosen by Tune-Yards to create an original track for Red Bull Radio's "C.L.A.W." (Collaborate Legions of Artful Women) show and also performing at the San Francisco Unite for Justice rally protesting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. She's formed a quartet to play live Lapel shows, and she envisions Lapel as an ongoing project -- and her most honest creative expression at this point in her career.

"I feel like it took a lot of years of writing and performing," Neigher says, "but I feel like this project finally feels like the music I was supposed to make. It feels like the best and most exciting thing to me right now, so there will definitely be more."


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