Philip Chaffin has a story to tell. Actually, he has one to sing. The co-founder of PS Classics has recently released an album which spans a life fully lived from the gay perspective–from the nervous first date through the loss of a partner. “Will He Like Me” is a collection of both well-known and rare gems. Produced with his husband Tommy Krasker, the album has been selected as a 2018 NY Times pick for Gift Giving. Times critic Jesse Green wrote, “Chaffin turns the great songs of love gay, merely by refusing to alter the titles and pronouns. From “When I Marry Mr. Snow,” to “I Got Lost in His Arms,” he tells a familiar story that has never sounded so new.”
Manhattan Digest recently spoke on the phone with the multiple Grammy nominee who, along with Krasker has preserved countless recordings from classic musicals and Broadway stars.
MD: Congratulations on the new album. How did PS Classics get started?
PC: The first CD that started PS Classics was a big band CD called “Where Do I Go From You” That’s what started the record company. Tommy and I had been working together but didn’t have our own label. He was a record producer and I was a singer. He was tired of working for other labels. I wanted to do a CD, so we did that and from that, we started PS Classics.
MD: What was the process of putting this album together? Did you see it as a song cycle or did you just pick songs you liked and later realized they told a story?
PC: I’d say a little of both. Tommy and I worked on a CD of Dorothy Fields‘ music. There was a song called “Remind Me” in it. The lyrics went, “Remind me not to find you so attractive. Remind me. That the world is full of men.” Since I was singing, I wondered how we would change the lyric because there were rhymes in it that made it difficult. We wrote to Stephen Sondheim (who is a big Dorothy Fields fan). He sent a few options and at the bottom wrote a note adding, “But it IS 2013. Just sing the lyric.” That sort of started this process.
Then a friend of mine, Niffer Clarke had an album of ingenue songs, one of which was “Will He Like Me?” from She Loves Me. I really liked it and wished that I could sing it myself. I worked on it for a class and that started everything going. I then saw a production called Arlington at the Vineyard Theater. It was a one-woman show which really inspired me. I thought it would be fun to explore the idea of a gay man going through life and everything that goes with it. I didn’t want this album to be the definitive version of that life though. I wanted the listener to also have their own ideas about it.
MD: So it’s not exclusively autobiographical then, but rather universal of the gay experience?
MD: How did your own relationship play into it?
PC: Tommy and I have been together for 25 years now. Right now, he’s ill and he went into the studio to work on this after a three-year absence. There is a song at the end of the album about losing a partner. There was a lot of crying in the studio.
MD: Will you be performing it live?
PC: I’d like to. The original idea was to do it as a cabaret/one person show, but ultimately we decided to do a recording first.
MD: The orchestrations on this are beautiful.
PC: Thank you! That is the work of John Baxindine. He’s absolutely amazing. He made every song different and knew exactly what to do.
MD: How have you seen yourselves as a couple and as artists change from the time you met in the 90s until now?
PC: When we met, we had no idea that we would have the chance to be married. For the longest time–even after gay marriage was legal–we didn’t really think we needed it. When Tommy became ill, I would go to the hospital and was told that we weren’t related, so I couldn’t come into the room with him. That really changed things. Isn’t that romantic (laughs)
MD: Talk a bit about your dating experience with one other?
PC: We exchanged rings early on and we kind of knew we were for each other. I was living in LA and was in a production of Strike Up the Band. Tommy was working for the Gershwin estate living in NYC. He came out to LA representing the estate and we met, but that was it. Many years later, I wrote him a letter asking if he remembered me. He had and said that he was putting together a collection of recordings of Gershwin musicals. He asked me to come to his office. It was love at first sight, but we couldn’t date because I was actually working for him. After the meeting, we both called a mutual friend–at the same time– and told him we found each other really cute! We waited until the recording was over and then dated. That was in 1993. We tied the knot in 2012.
MD: What is the future for PS Classics?
PC: We have two more CDs coming out. One is from Christine Andreas, who just released an album of Edith Piaf music. The other is Something for the Boys, an old Cole Porter show. we’ve been working on that for about three years. We have Andrea Burns, Danny Burstein, and Elizabeth Stanley on it.
To learn more about PS Classics, visit http://www.psclassics.com