A suitcase that doubles as a musical instrument — that’s what you can find onstage alongside one JMU student. Freshman media arts and design major Teddy Chipouras is a singer-songwriter who creates a musical blend of folk and Americana music with his vocals, acoustic or electric guitar and suitcase kickdrum.
As a child, Chipouras wanted to play guitar for an obvious reason: Every cool rockstar plays guitar. He received his first guitar, a Squier Stratocaster, when he was in fourth grade. He’d sit in his room pretending he knew how to play until he ended up teaching himself on an acoustic guitar.
“I try to be a little bit unique because there’s so many singer-songwriters just playing acoustic guitar and singing,” Chipouras said. “or doing something different is definitely an attention-getter.”
Before Chipouras really got into music, he was scared to even sing in his room with his parents downstairs. But one day, Chipouras’ dad, who also sings, heard him testing out his voice.
“He came up to my room and he was like ‘Here, sing this song with me. I’ll sing it with you,’” Chipouras said. “And so we sang a song together and that’s sort of what made me be able to sing in my own house because I was kind of scared. I had no idea I had a voice at all.”
According to Chipouras, his voice wasn’t that good in the beginning, but developed over time.
Chipouras got more serious about music and writing songs in his sophomore year of high school. He started playing with his friend Grant Bogle, a sophomore finance major at JMU, who he met in Little League baseball.
“From [Teddy’s] music standpoint, he is very mature and humble,” Bogle said. “Behind the scenes he’s just fun and he’s always been just one of the sweetest people.”
According to Chipouras, he started out playing duos with his friend Bogle because he was terrified to play by himself.
“I’ve always been kind of introverted and not wanting to share a lot of myself to other people,” Chipouras said. “Which is what singing songs is, it’s kind of a vulnerable thing.”
After encouragement from their parents and taking a trip to see a concert, Bogle and Chipouras decided to start recording music videos.
Chipouras and Bogle’s first show was a neighbor’s wedding, where they mainly played covers since Chipouras only had two original songs.
“It was a lot easier having somebody else on stage because if you messed up or something, you could look over and laugh,” Chipouras said.
According to Chipouras, being by himself onstage is terrifying because he has to communicate with the audience by himself, even though he isn’t having an actual conversation with anyone.
Eventually, Chipouras warmed up to the idea of playing solo. Now, he feels a lot more relaxed after playing hundreds of gigs.
“It’s still scary the first song or two playing, especially for big crowds,” Chipouras said. “But I’ve gotten a lot better at being able to communicate with the audience and bringing them into what I’m doing.”
At one of his first solo shows in Purcellville, Virginia, a couple approached Chipouras and told him that they were excited to hear him play. This couple was Bill and Cheryl Bunce, two music promoters.
According to Cheryl, what caught their attention was his original music over his covers.
“It was one of those times in hearing a new artist we call goosebump moments — you know that person has talent and you don’t want to stop listening,” Cheryl said.
The Bunces started their music promoting company named Buncearoo Presents in 2010.
“It started as a bucket list-inspired party with six of our favorite bands playing ... in our backyard and has evolved into a curated music series pairing national touring artists with the best local artists in unique settings like breweries, distilleries and art galleries,” Cheryl said.
The couple also founded Off The Record, an annual boutique music festival in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After Chipouras’ successful open-mic session at the festival last year, he’ll be performing as one of the 18 artists this June.
“Teddy is making his own way in his music career and taking every opportunity that comes as a means to improve, learn and work with some of the best talent around,” Cheryl said.
The Bunces have given Chipouras a myriad of opportunities, such as opening for Paul Phau, who was on “The Voice,” and have helped him produce his EP by connecting him to the owner of SuckerPunch Recording Company, Mark Williams.
About a year ago, Chipouras released his EP, consisting of six original songs. In addition to recording music, he’s also begun to play at larger venues such as Jammin Java, Tally Ho and IOTA Club and Cafe as well as The Golden Pony downtown.
“He has definitely shown me that anything is possible really,” Bogle said. “Seeing my best friend from growing up playing this amazing music and starting to grow a fanbase and stuff, you don’t really think of that as something that’s happening to someone that you’re really close to. So, it’s just been really cool to see that from behind the scenes.”
Chipouras’ new single “Happy Song” was released this past Friday and will be a part of the album “Folk & Love & Stories” that he plans to record this summer.
“Music means everything to me,” Chipouras said. “It’s been in me for the longest time and I’m glad that I found that I can do it myself … it gets me through a lot of stuff, but ultimately, like what I said before, it’s really cool to make other people feel something with something that I create.”
Shanna Kelly is a freshman media arts and design and Spanish double major. Contact Shanna at firstname.lastname@example.org.