INTERVIEW: Chase Gassaway

INTERVIEW: 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Nicola Gell | nicolagell.com

 

Chase Gassaway

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PERHAPS a few days after becoming a father is…

PHOTO CREDIT: Nicola Gell | nicolagell.com

not the ideal time to get the best out of Texan singer-songwriter, Chase Gassaway. That said, as this interview proves, he is fine and deep form: waxing lyrical about his new-found responsibility and the effect it has already had on his mindset. Only in his early-thirties; Gassaway has a wealth of musical experience under his belt: albums, E.P.s and songs have flowed like wine; he has toured around the U.S. and has thousands of social media followers. Although he is married to his college sweetheart; Gassaway does not focus on love and relationships. He uses his musical parapet to look at the human spirit and calls for social justice. A Fly Can’t Bird – intriguing in its images and title – is a series of covers from across the ages.

PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Davis | danieldavisphoto.com

A portion of the album’s proceeds go to Help One Now/Help One Classroom – which Gassaway discusses – and aims to have classrooms built in Mali and rural Uganda. On the album are tracks from The Lumineers and John Legend; takes on Austin-based music from Quiet Company and Alpha Revs. I talk to Gassaway about the album and what it was like tackling standards like Ain’t Too Proud to Beg; how his new fatherly duties are treating him and what the Austin (where he lives) scene is like. He goes on to tell us whether there are any upcoming tour dates and plans for 2017; some sage advice to new songwriters and the three albums that mean most to him.

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Hi Chase. How are you? How has your week been?

Well. My wife and I have been expecting a new baby and he arrived four-weeks early! So, this week has been a whirlwind of sleepless nights, full hearts and lot of learning. I also played four release-shows around Texas for my new album release in-between. Do you have any coffee brewed?

For those new to you and your music, can you introduce yourself, please?

Hello, I’m Chase! I’m a blue-collar songwriter, composer and performing musician from Austin, TX. My music floats between a couple of genres but usually fits nicely under the title of Americana. I try to focus on honesty and transparency in my songwriting, so lyrics live in the forefront. But, I also love creating lush soundscapes with strings, horns, winds and a variety of unconventional instruments. I owned seventeen ukuleles at one point. My wife has now limited me to five.

A Fly Can’t Bird is your latest album – and one comprised of cover versions. What started that idea and what kind of songs are on the record?

This album is unique because I never planned to make it. When you’re a career songwriter, you’ve always got plans laid out for your next release, but A Fly Can’t Bird nudged its way into the cue with simple practicality. I was just planning to record my cover of How Do You Do It by Quiet Company for a compilation record out of Austin. But, when I booked the studio time and had the players mic’d up; I went ahead and captured two more cover arrangements just for fun. I like playing my friend’s music for shows so I arranged The Best by The Rocketboys and Remain by Tyrone Wells for that session.

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Everything sounded great on the recordings so I wanted to give them to fans but didn’t really have a platform unless I released them as singles. So, I arranged three more covers from songs I’d been performing lately, and pretty soon, I had an E.P.’s-worth of cover-material to release.

I sat on those recordings for a bit while I was touring. When I got down to the business-end of the project I realised I could release this as a full-album if I tracked two more. So, I booked a solo day and tracked All of Me by John Legend and Black Sky by Alpha Rev – completely stripped-down to round out the set.  All the tracks sort of arrived out of necessity and I just wanted fans to have them. So, now, I have a cover record.

I am intrigued by your version of The Temptations’ Ain’t Too Proud to Beg. It seems like the album mixes the old and new. Was it quite daunting approaching a song like Ain’t Too Proud to Beg?

Believe it, or not, I was in a wedding band for four years. It’s not the most musically-fulfilling way to earn a living but it allowed me to make the leap into full-time music without getting a desk job. We mainly covered the Motown catalog but sped everything up to try and keep the crowd dancing. I’ve become so familiar with this tune I can sing it backwards and forwards without missing a beat.


PHOTO CREDIT: Nicola Gell | nicolagell.com

I was playing an acoustic show in Lockhart, TX a few months ago and someone requested a Soul song so I came up with this arrangement on the fly. It felt so good: I threw it at a rhythm section for my next show and it’s had place on the set-list ever since. I’ve changed the feel and added some fresh harmonies to the bridge but this song has always had its own personality. I just treat is like an old friend I get to re-introduce to fans every night.

A Fly Can’t Bird’s proceeds help Help One Now/Help One Classroom – raising funds for education and classrooms for Haiti and rural Uganda. What motivated you to back these charities and start fundraising for them?

As an artist, I think transparency is the strongest measure of value. Help One Now is an honest organization that fully discloses their work to donors and how they are using funds wisely and ethically. My greatest attraction to their efforts is how they work with local communities to find real solutions instead of forcing temporary aid.

Wealthy countries often attempt to fix complex problems in foreign nations in ways that actually hurt communities long-term. Help One Now allows local leadership and governments to guide the efforts and equips people with resources to achieve exponential goals that will sustain.

Specifically, Help One Classroom invests in education and that is dear to me. My wife is a special education teacher. I believe the key to eradicating global poverty lies within the people it effects the most. My educating the next generation we are giving them priceless tools to move forward and lead their countries as healthy and prospering members of the global community.

PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Davis | danieldavisphoto.com

Do you think musicians should be more aware of charities and problems around the world – using their music and talent to help raise support and donations?

I believe solutions to problems are more tangible than we like to admit. We have more resources on this planet for everyone to have enough; we just have to learn how to give with compassion. We don’t need a wealthy individual or institution to end global poverty. We need everyone to realise they have something valuable to contribute. If we start including a small amount of charity into everything we create, the results are exponential. Art is meant to move people; I hope can empower people to realise they can be part of the solution. My desire is for everyone to start raising awareness no matter what their job description says.

The album also reinvents songs from Austin bands. How important was it to show some love to local heroes?

The music community of Austin is close and everything overlaps. Every time I go to a show I know someone on stage or someone there to support them and that culture is priceless.

We try to take care of each other because truly love each other’s music. I started including my friend’s music in my shows a few years ago just to give fans a taste of someone local they should be checking out. It’s a gesture of respect to your fellow writers when you reimagine their work. It gives a song a fresh identity that will keep it moving down the river to more listeners.

What is the music scene like in Austin and do you think it gets enough attention from national media?

Austin is a really big, small town. We’re saturated with talent here and that helps us as just much as it hurts. On any given night, you can find a stage filled with Grammy-winning musicians and only a dozen people in the audience. Award-winning songwriters have trouble filling listening rooms and some historic venues are getting pushed out as the city grows. Because great talent is available on every corner, music becomes a common wallpaper sometimes. I think this is a strong town for people to pursue music full-time; but you’ve got to tour outside the city if you want to gain some traction. We love local business here, so I think it’s hard for some artists to see beyond the city limits when they’re building an audience. I’ve tried to keep Austin as my central hub and tour nationally as much as I can.

PHOTO CREDIT: April Mae Creative | aprilmaecreative.com

You are putting aside touring duties for a little bit. Have you any plans to tour later in the year and will Britain be on the schedule?

It’s hard to tell. Ever since my son was born I’m seeing everything through different eyes. Touring is hard work and breaking-even is fine as long as you are building an audience. But, now, I’m thinking about how my career affects him and my wife. I don’t want to be gone more than I have to so touring has to become more concise and intentional.

I’d love to play in Britain, though! A European tour is looking more and more attractive as I’ve been building a global fan-base.

I get feedback from British fans all the time so I’d love to come meet them and play some shows. Want to help me book a few? (Yep – Sam)

Certain Circles was your debut album (released in 2014). How do you look back on the album and how has your music developed since then?

That album is aging well. With every project, there are pieces the artist alone will forever recognise as flaws but I know they’re only in my own head. I like to remind myself of the root word ‘record’ when I think about older albums. It was truly a record of how I sounded a few years ago and reflects my style and point-of-view accurately. I’ve grown as a person and a writer since then so, of course, my songwriting has evolved, too. But, I think that record is still strong and I’m proud of it.

PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Davis | danieldavisphoto.com

My music is evolving in a vulnerable direction. I think my previous songwriting is pretty turn-key and the songs are always delivered inside straight-forward arrangements without a lot of spontaneity. I’m learning to write songs that exist well in front of live audiences who are listening to every syllable and wanting to participate in the experience. There is more space in the sound to allow room for unique moments in every performance. Some songs don’t work for that approach so I’m learning how to write with that style in mind.

Can we expect any new material this year or plans for a second originals-only album?

I’d like to think I can get something released by the end of the year but it’s hard to tell, with a newborn baby in the house. He definitely calls the shots, now. I’m gladly letting him occupy my time and I’m enjoying the experience of being a dad right now. I’m still writing between the midnight-feedings and diaper changes, though.

American politics is cultivating a tense environment everywhere at the moment. I’ve written a few songs I think can promote some peace and unity for our country’s current divide; so I’d like to get them heard while they are needed.

They’ve been tickling my attention for a few weeks, now, and I’d love to release them soon. I’ll try and keep you in the loop.

You just had your first child. How do you think this will impact your music and how influential has it been, in terms of your worldview and music, already?

I’ve been given a remarkable gift through my son, Jonah. I’m experiencing emotions I never knew existed and my world has miraculously transformed for the better. Before he was born, I wrote a few songs for him, but now, all I want to do is create music that will help guide him as he moves through life. There was always a gravitas toward honesty in my songs, but now, it’s encapsulated with a new purpose. I used to write just to help myself understand the world. Now, I’m writing things that will also teach what I’ve learned so far. I’ve been asking a lot of questions and I think I can offer a few answers, now.

In terms of my worldview, I think fatherhood has a natural way of connecting you more deeply to humanity. You become part of the ever-moving circle of life and your identity transforms.

You hear things differently and you see the world with fresh eyes. My life isn’t really about me anymore; it’s about how I can provide for him.

If you had to select the three albums that have meant most to you, which would they be and why?

I am absolutely terrible at questions like this (my wife can attest). I think music finds you at different moments in life and will be important for different reasons; but those reasons are always changing. You grow as a person and so does your attraction to art. It will always ebb-and-flow and that is how we move forward. But, I will try to be pragmatic and choose a few albums I think made a pertinent impact to my writing.

Bringing Down The Horse – The  Wallflowers

My sister bought this album when I was in middle school and I stole it every chance I got. I was immediately attracted to their blend of Folk lyricism over strong Rock grooves. It heralded an idea that music could have depth without feeling heavy and it was ok to pull from multiple genres to get your point across. It was twangy guitars and spinning organs with a drum pocket making a compelling argument to seize the day.

The Man Who – Travis

We didn’t have cable when I was growing up, so if I was going to see music on television it was always on the late-night talk shows. I would record the bands that came on and had a dozen V.H.S. tapes filled with performances – so I could go back and study them. When I heard Travis perform Why Does It Always Rain on Me?,

I was captivated. The song was transcendent. I went to the mall and bought the record the very next day.

The writing was so simple and moving without feeling pushy. They would repeat turns of phrase like Hip-Hop songs, but just sang them over and over with acoustic guitars. There was a defenceless adolescence to their sound that found me right when I needed it the most.

Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette

Every track on this record is hallmark and I can still remember every lyric. There was this strange time in the mid-nineties when Grunge music started colliding with Pop and Folk music. It was hard to define what was cool because too many things were coming together for anyone to care. In the middle of all that you have Jagged Little Pill. It was moody, quirky, direct and ambiguous. This Canadian girl with her own peculiar style was suddenly in everyone’s Discman and changing the way we thought about music. Everybody could vibe with that record. It defied stereotypes and brought everyone together in a unique way.

PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Davis | danieldavisphoto.com

Is there any advice you’d offer upcoming songwriters?

Write about everything and write all the time.

Songwriting is a lifestyle choice. It’s a way of experiencing the world with child-like wonder and listening intentionally to the people around you. Your point-of-view is no longer limited to your own eyes. There is always something you can learn and understand better and songwriting is a tool to help you grow as person.

So many writers limit themselves by only writing when they have a broken heart. Try to write when you’re happy, or confused; or unsure, or fearless.

Write about friends and neighbours and create fictional stories about the people you see on the train. Don’t force a song to have a defined place in the world; just let it be what it needs to be in the moment. You don’t have to change the world, just create culture.

Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?

Any of the writers from the new record are noteworthy. If you haven’t heard of them I suggest The Rocketboys, Quiet Company, Tyrone Wells and Alpha Rev.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you like and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

My friend, Daisy O’Connor, just released a new album called Lightchasers. I’d love for you to hear it!

How about the title track?

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Follow Chase Gassaway

Image may contain: 2 people, indoor

PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Davis | danieldavisphoto.com

Official:

https://www.chasegassaway.com/

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/chasegassawaymusic/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/chasegassaway

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/chasegassaway/

SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/chasegassaway

YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/chasegassaway

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