When I met 13-year-old guitar phenomenon Chelsea Constable and her father at Muriel Anderson’s All-Star Guitar Night in 2003, she was so shy and exceedingly polite that I wondered—to myself, of course—if she’d ever develop the aggressive demeanor and all-about-me marketing stance it can take to sustain a career in the often dream-shattering music industry. I shouldn’t have worried. Now 27, Constable has not only retained her impeccable manners and soft-spoken grace, her selfie collection documents meetings with guitar legends such as Les Paul, Eddie Van Halen, and Slash, as well as other 6-string luminaries. She’s also a legitimate YouTube celebrity—thanks to her demo videos for TC Electronic, her own “The Solo Lesson Series,” and some stunning performances with her extremely talented younger sister, Grace. (Lightning appears to have struck twice in that family.) Constable may not strut the keyed-up gusto of an infomercial pitch person, but she was somehow able to invite contributions from Billy Gibbons, Steve Morse (who she prizes as a mentor), Paul Gilbert, and Doyle Dykes for her debut EP, Pt. 1. Sometimes, all you need is talent…
Do you have a particular approach to composition?
Well, it all starts as a simple idea. On “Greasy Creek Breakdown,” for example, I had been playing banjo a lot, and I wanted to apply some banjo techniques—rolls, very clean picking, and all those notes just spilling out—to the guitar. I was listening to a lot of Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley recordings, and I also had the music of Jerry Reed, Albert Lee, Danny Gatton, and Steve Morse in my head. Ultimately, I narrowed down the composition to a combination of what I really liked about Earl, Albert, and Jerry Reed.
You co-wrote “Taylor Made” with your sister. How did she contribute?
Grace and I share a deep appreciation for the music of the Tony Rice Unit, and I wanted to do something similar. I started playing a melody, and she came in on rhythm doing these jazzgrass chords she loves. She understood where I wanted to go with this song, and her chords helped structure the arrangement. In fact, she switched to the relative minor at some point, and that revitalized the song. It took the lead sections to a different place melodically. She really helped build up the intensity.
Is it difficult writing with a family member?
I wouldn’t say we have a sibling rivalry—although if I play something fast, she has to play it faster—but she definitely pushes me to try things. I’m happy to have her input, because she looks at songwriting much like a producer would. She plays so many instruments that her perspective is usually about parts and textures and making songs sound good. We’re both trying to be commercial. We’d love to write a mainstream song that would get on the radio.
What do you feel defines your songwriting style?
I don’t think I could define my own style at this point. I have so many influences, and the study of music is such an endless thing. All I can do is draw from all the music I listen to, try to push the limits of everything I do, and look for ways to sound a little bit different. I think it’s important for composers and performers to be unpredictable.