Chapel Hart

It's funny where you might discover new music. I was watching America's Got Talent a couple of years ago and saw an indie band from Poplarville, Mississippi called Chapel Hart take the stage. What was transmitted through the tv was a whole bunch of talent wrapped up in three young ladies (sisters Danica and Devynn Hart along with cousin Trea Swindle), coupled with a high level of likeability.

They performed an original song, "You Can Have Him Jolene", a witty response to Dolly Parton's 1973 hit, "Jolene". The band received a golden buzzer that night, giving them a direct pass to the finals. They ended up as one of the finalists that season and gained a truckload of fans in the process, including me.

This year they were voted back to the show's Fantasy League series by the fans and once again expanded their exploding popularity with some outstanding performances. Determined to make it in country music on their terms, the band has released three excellent records, all containing top-notch songs.

Their latest release, Glory Days, (and their best in my opinion) has been my go-to record for the last year, with a wonderful collection of heart-felt, humorous and foot-stomping songs. The secret sauce behind these songs is three-fold: the high quality of the songs themselves, the warm and irresistible lead vocals of Danica and finally the tightly-woven harmonies that are icing on the cake.

I was so excited to talk to Danica this week about their recent success, the amazing Glory Days record and more. Here's what she had to say:

antiMusic: From the first time I saw Chapel Hart on AGT, I was hooked. I absolutely love your voice, Miss Danica. After I saw you, I downloaded Glory Days from iTunes and I couldn't believe how good it was. I went right away the same day and got The Girls Are Back in Town and then I had to get Out the Mud right after. It's strange because I'm not a big country fan but there's just something special about your band that few other people possess. I know you're on a very rare few days off before you head to Britain so thank you so much for taking the time today.

Danica: Well, let me tell you what, Morley. That's the biggest compliment for me. When people say, they're not a country fan but they love what we do, that makes my heart so happy. But I want to say thank you so much for getting the music and the admiration makes my heart so happy. So thank you before we jump in.

antiMusic: While the first place that a lot of people saw you was on AGT, the band has actually been around for awhile. What's the story behind the band? How long have you been together and how did Devynn come to join you and Trea?

Danica: Well, there's a song of ours that says, "I got a song at the hospital but I was still on the run because I knew I was looking for something bigger." So I was working at the hospital at the time...I think it was 2013 and ended up losing my job. Trea and her sister were in New Orleans at this point and they were always going, "You've got to come down. You've got to come sing. You would love New Orleans."

Trea always says that New Orleans from Poplarville is 40 miles and 40 years away from each other. (laughs) And a lot of people were saying, "Don't go. You're not going to make it." But when I lost my job, I knew if I was going to try it and be a "real singer", then this was my opportunity. So I went down and we got a portable keyboard and Trea and I started singing on the street. We would just do some of our favorite covers.

I don't think we knew what we had at the time because people just started coming. They would gather from miles away. They would say, "We could hear you from the street over and we had to come and had to find out who was doing this." So that's where it all sort of began for us.

Then in 2018, Dev lost her job...and I like to say we were a family of job losers but it all worked out for us...(laughs). So we said, "Look, come sing with us. And if you want to do something else, then go but in the meantime, this will at least put a little money in your pocket." We were already singing in New Orleans and we had a band. We were looking for a third harmony singer at the time so it was perfect timing. And I guess the rest is history, huh? (laughs) Trea always says that she is on the sixth year of her three-week trial. (laughs)

antiMusic: You ladies are so busy, with videos and tons of shows, yet you're an independent band. Tell us about the decision to put out your records independently and also about all the work involved when it's all on you.

Danica: I'll tell you what. I don't know if we're nuts or we're crazy. There's two sides to that coin. One side is not that we haven't accepted a deal...we haven't got any offers yet. At least not one that makes sense. The hard thing for us is that we've done this from the ground up. We've done this every which way you can think of in the most grass-roots way so it's hard for us to have someone come up and say, "Here, sign this and I'll make you famous." Like one of those old, crazy 360 deals where it takes you 40 years to dig out of it.

We've worked too hard and done too much of the work to just take anything. Doing it ourselves, we've had to learn a lot along the way. Nobody's offered us a major label deal so far, let me just say that.

So on the other side of that, if nobody is going to present you with that, what are you going to do? And for us, it's put your head down and work harder. Sometimes I forget to just take a second and say look, "We've come from such a long way." It's just been hard work. I mean, the things we didn't know about the industry, we'd look up, do the research and get the information. Things like learning how to build the website and everything.

And still, while doing everything, realizing the importance of staying close to our fans and having that interaction with them that we have. And ensuring that we still are good performers. I always say that there's a business side of the industry and the artist side and we have to do both.

antiMusic: While I'm sure that you would be successful without it, would it be fair to say that AGT was a great stepping stool for you?

Danica: Oh yeah. I always tell people that there's something sweet in surrender. And there's also something scary. Because especially when you're a control freak like me. (laughs) I need to know what's going on. If I do this, I need to know what's going to happen. If I do that, I need to know what's going to happen. But there's something so sweet and scary about surrender.

The scary part is when you let go, you definitely have no idea what might happen. So the story part with us is we were originally not going to America's Got Talent. I watch now and everybody is going on these shows. But I remember when we were first going on, people said, "That's career suicide. Do not do it. Absolutely don't go because the minute you go on, you're discredited. If you didn't have a record deal before you went on, you definitely won't get one after because these shows are career suicide."

So we were like, "OK, I'm hearing ya." But for us, nobody else was offering anything. We were supposed to be going out on tour with the Indigo Girls, a week run with them. But it turned out that someone on their team got sick so they shut down the run for the week. There's the saying that you tell God your plans and watch him laugh.

So we had a fan that kept reaching out and would say, "You have to do it. You have to audition."

We would say, "No thank you. We're busy. We're touring." But then it was like all of a sudden, when our run with the Indigo Girls was cancelled, we went, "Well, if we're not going on tour, we might as well go to the audition." And I always say, "Thank god we did." Thank goodness we found the surrender. We talked and said, "You know, when we're sitting on our porches in our rocking chairs, we just want it to be said that we did it all. We left it all out on the table. We wanted to look back and have all the stories."

We didn't even really have that much expectation for the audition but we wanted to say we at least tried it. So thank God we said yes. Thank God we finally went because AGT was the moment that changed our lives forever.

antiMusic: Let's talk about the Glory Days record. One of the first things I noticed was how all the songs on the record jumped out as visuals in my mind. I pictured every single song, not just listened to it. Tell us how the writing works with the group and where your favorite place to write is.

Danica: Well, the one thing with is us is that wherever we are...in whatever city...cuz sometimes it's planned...but sometimes somebody will just play something on the bus or wherever and we'll go, "Ooh, that's kind of cool. Play that again." And then other times we get to sit down with some of our friends who are writers.

But we say, no matter what the song calls for, we yield to the song. Every song knows what it wants to be and what it wants to say. It's our responsibility as musicians and writers to allow it to do what it wants. We always say, it's not about us, it's about the music...the song.

These songs on Glory Days are the most special for me because they were birthed out of a special place. Before the last record, we'd head out on the road, friends and family would say, "Listen y'all, this is going to go by so fast. Remember to slow down. Remember to take it in." And after we got into it, we'd say, "Wow. This is what they were talking about."

We sat down and started writing these songs about things like the slow-down in life. Like in the song, "If You Ain't Wearing Boots", everybody had a grandpa or uncle or dad or somebody who would go, "Well, back in my day..." And at the time I was so annoyed. I was like, "Why do I have to hear that story again?" (laughs)

But now that we get to go tell these stories around the world, I wish I had stopped and heard one more of my Grandpa's stories. Because now I see that it was him passing on his wisdom and those life lessons that you learn along the way. So that really was the seam of the record.

And songs like "Home is Where the Hart is" where we got a chance to be a bit more personal, more vulnerable. We talk about our friends. Dev's best friend is Lexi who will call Dev and give her the low-down scoop of what's going on in Poplarville. That's how we know what's going on in the hometown. And Trea had two best friends from two different times in her life named Jessica and Jessica still comes to some of the shows with her little boy who I call my boyfriend. (laughs)

Then my best friend is Lauren. I always talk about when in the second grade she told someone who kept messing with me that she was going to punch him in the face. And we've been best friends ever since. (laughs)

But it's songs like that, like "Love in Letting Go", which came from when my Grandmother lost her brother. He was her favorite sibling. She loved them all but he was really the glue who held all the brothers and sisters together. She had so many questions. She said, "I know I'm not supposed to question God but I have so many questions. Like why not me? It hurts me. Some days I'm OK and some days, I'm a wreck."

So I said, "Can I take what you've given me and write you a song?" And she said, "I would love that." So I came back with "Love and Letting Go" and she just wept and said thank you. We put it out and realized that there were so many other people dealing with loss and grief and they said "This is the song."

So Glory Days, even though it's been out for a minute, for me it's been one of our more personal albums. It was one where we could really open our heart and slow down and so some real writing on it.

And the response from around the world to songs like "American Pride"...I had absolutely no clue that it was going to do what it did when we went back for AGT Fantasy League. But I think one of my favorite compliments is when I look on YouTube and people say things like, "I'm from Scotland and U.S. patriot songs are not my thing but man this song touches my heart. I cried." I hear what the song is wanting to say and maybe I don't get a chance to say that but I know we're talking about America and I feel this all over the world.

So Glory Days was really the chance to get more personal. On The Girls Are Back in Town, we wanted to show the music industry we could have radio songs. We could do this. We had versatility. And still nobody ever reached out. We were like, "Man, at least let us give you a showcase." So then we went, "OK, forget it. Let's make the music for our fans. Let's write the music that's burning on the inside of us."

antiMusic: I hear what you're saying. To my ears, there is such a difference between The Girls are Back in Town and Glory Days. The songs are just several steps above. I mean, I have thousand of records. And Glory Days is just one of those special records that is one of my all-time favorites. I play it every night on my headphones at work so it's been my go-to record for the past year and I'm still not tired of it. I absolutely love every single song.

But continuing on with "American Pride". While I love everything on the record, for me this track is head and shoulders over the rest. From the first time I heard it, I always get a few tears in my eyes...and I'm not even American (lol). I'm Canadian. You mentioned it before but can you expand a bit about writing this one?

DanicaIt's crazy...and I don't know if I've shared this with anybody else so this is a you-exclusive. I wrote this song about 2017, I think. I was watching the world be destroyed by hurricanes and all these natural disasters that kept happening. It was thing after thing after thing. So originally when I first wrote this, I think the first verse is kind of similar but it was just talking about the nature of what was going on in the world, like all the natural disasters.

And I was just thinking about all the communities of people who just pitched in, like during Katrina in New Orleans, there was so much devastation that once the water subsided, everybody who stayed just pitched in to help everybody else. If you had two open rooms in your house, maybe you let a family come stay in one, another family come stay in the other. You put all your food together, all your resources together and you just survived it until people came to help.

So that was the theme of it at first. But then I was sitting down with Darrick and he said, "That's a great message but there's a bigger message in there and one that you can tell." I sat down with it and thought about the things that were close to my heart and dove in a little bit, which is the final version we have today.

So both versions talk about things that make my heart hurt. People and places. I always say, I don't think we have a political problem. We don't have a president problem. We have a love problem. With social media, everybody gets to judge everybody based on where they are, what they think and what they believe. We've lost sight that we have a love problem. We weren't sent here to condemn each other. We were sent here to love each other.

I say this everyday at the show, people are dying every day just because no one loves them and they are completely alone. And we hide behind our screens and go, "That isn't...whatever." I think that when we settle in love, we can correct in love also. It's not like people should not tell you to do anything but when love is the root, if you're my friend and I say I love you, I should be able also say, "Now look. What you said isn't right." Good love can make it right. When it's done in love, there's a difference. Love kind of has a way of covering.

So I think that writing "American Pride" came from a place of love, and I feel the rest of the world heard it in love. And that was the biggest win (sigh) for me. I was just like, "Yes!" But also singing about the things that were personal to me like honoring our veterans and honoring the people who sacrificed their lives for us. The government has always been what it is but I don't look at the military from a government standpoint. I just look at the men and women who said yes to the call. I feel like every day, those people should be honored.

I just remember when everybody had to depend on each other and I just wanted to re-paint that picture. So to hear all the comments, it makes us feel pretty good to know we're putting that positivity back into the world. I feel that what goes out will hopefully come around. And the next thing you know, we'll all be loving on each other and hopefully we'll be in a better place.

antiMusic: On the Fantasy League series of AGT, it was a great idea to do "American Pride" again. The effort you put in to the vocals was SO noticeable. You obviously really took the comments by Howie to heart. Tell us about preparing for that show.

Danica: We knew we had to do it differently. We wanted to come back re-focussed. It was the fans that voted for who they wanted to see in the Fantasy League and our fans showed up. We said, "We've got to go back." But we did take Howie's words to heart. We took Simon's words to heart. And even Sophia and Heidi.

We Were taking all those things and said, "Well now that we're coming back. How do we come back? How do we elevate this and take it to the next level." So that was really our theme in coming back. We worked with the music department and worked on vocals. All of us, Trea, Dev and me. All of us put in a different level of work this time, now understanding a little bit more about how things work.

We went in and said, "If the fans voted us in. How do we make them proud?" And I like to think or hope that we did that and that it showed up in the music.

antiMusic: "Glory Days" was the perfect first track for the record --- excellent chorus and great harmonies. What can you tell us about this song?

Danica: We got to write this song with our friend, Jim Beavers. We sat down and were just twiddling our thumbs a little bit. Something happens when we just sit down and start talking about family. A very similar thing happened with "Fam Damily".

We were sitting with another friend Erin Kinsey and she said, "There's something that keeps coming up when you talk about sitting on the front porch. There's something there." We told her about our grandparents who had 17 children. There's 108 grandchildren. And we were just talking about different things like our Aunties and how loud they are.

And with "Glory Days", we were just brain-storming and Jim said something along the lines of, "I thought that my glory days were back in the day when I was playing in a band but now that I get to watch my kids grow up and do high school and sports, I feel that these are the glory days right now." From there, we just started writing.

I feel like "Glory Days" came from just a pure place. And at the end of it, we were wrapping up our writing session and were excited about the song and Jim said, "Can you believe that there are young people who hear this who have no idea what a vcr is?" I said, everybody has that moment when you realize you're getting old but this might be it for us. (laughs)

antiMusic: It's tough to pick but I think my favorite track after "American Pride" has to be "Home is Where the Hart is". You kind of stole my question at the beginning talking about Jess, Lexie and Lauren. But who is Peanut?

Danica: Oh, peanuts sitting on the dash. I'll tell you what. In the south we have...well the one that I plug is Peanut Patch and they're this big bowl of peanuts and they have them in Cajun or spicy or regular. If you do them at home, you throw them in the crock pot for like six to eight hours. Also they do them at the gas station which is really where it all started for us.

You can get cups and you fill them up. And you're driving down the road and you've got these peanuts and that's just life, you know? (laughs) My brother does the same thing. Every time he goes to the store, he'll come back and sit the cup on the dash and I say, "You know you're my favorite sibling, don't you? Don't tell Dev." (laughs)

But I think it's just a southern thing. It's just that staple thing for Chapel Hart. On our tour bus, Jolene, we have a crock pot and 90% of the time there's peanuts cooking in there. But yeah, "Peanuts sitting on the dash. That burnin' sun is setting fast." You know when the stores start carrying peanuts, and you're you know you're getting close. That was the visual that we were trying to paint. Once you're on 59 and either coming North or South, you're getting close and once you get home, you can let your hair down and just be you, cuz home is where the Hart is.

antiMusic: Oh. I somehow thought that Peanuts was a mascot or something, I pictured a stuffed dog. What about Wards?

Danica: (laughs), Oh, you just want me to talk forever, don't you? (laughs) People ask all the time, "Well what is the big deal?" For Chapel Hart, Wards is so special because Trea lived within walking distance when she was growing up. She was always there all the time.

Wards was my first job when I was 16 turning 17. Bless them because I was terrible. (laughs) I was so slow to pick up things. It seemed so fast-paced to me. I had to learn how to count back change and that was the hardest thing for me. It took me like a year to get it. (laughs)

But Wards taught me so much. I had to learn responsibility and commitment. And the food was just absolutely amazing. It was just like a little diner, a burger shack and their main thing was a chili burger. And chili dogs. So in Poplarville, Wards is just it, OK? But I go around and tell people all my secret places and when they go to Poplarville, they take pictures of Wards and show that they got big ones or chili dogs and so I have to go, "Don't eat 'em all. Save some for me." (laughs)

I think Wards was Dev's first job as well. But I don't know...Wards is just a centre-point for Chapel Hart.

antiMusic: Your latest single is "2033" an absolutely gorgeous song. This sounds like it could have been written late on night on the bus driving to another show. What can you tell us about it?

Danica: It's actually in the first part of the song, "Sitting in a motel room..." I say this at the show often, last year we had some highs. And when the highs are high, they're high. But also last year, we had some lows. And when the lows are low, they're low. Some parts of last year were really hard to get through.

I think between Oct and Dec of last year, I know I personally wanted to quit like 10 times. I said, "I can't do this. It's too hard. It's too much." It was just so stressful and so much. I'd feel like this is it, "I'm going to tell them in the morning that this is it for me." And we'd wake up and somebody would say, "Man did you see that email." Somebody would write that they were so sick, in hospice and they put on the Glory Days CD and say "it would just remind me of my childhood. Even if I could just live to come and see your show...I'm two hours away and don't know if I can make it but I'm going to try."

But to read that these people have hope and courage to live...man. People would say, "Wow. That's special. You can't quit on that. You can't give up." But Darrick walked in one day and said, "I know a lot of artists write a letter to themselves in the past. I wonder if anybody has ever written a song to themselves in the future."

The first thing I thought of was if could ask Danica in 10 years if it was worth it? The pain, the heartache, the blood, sweat and tears. Was it all worth it? I thought, man, that's a song. So I had a chance to sit down with my friend Mark Carson. I explained the idea to him and he just started playing that riff that you hear in the beginning. Right away I said, "Stay right there." (laughs) I just sang, "Hey girl, it's me. I'm sitting in a hotel room, getting dressed to leave."

And it all just started to pour out, one of the most poetically beautiful things I got to experience. In a way, writing that letter to myself, I could kind of hear from myself in ten years, "Girl, you've got this. You can't quit. You've just got cross the finish line. Sometimes you're going to have crawl. Others you have to walk. Sometimes it's a jog and for some stretches, it might even be a sprint but you've got to cross the finish line."

By the end, I was just crying. I could hear myself say that it was all worth it. It always has been and it absolutely will. You've just got to hang in there. So "2033" is so special to me.

antiMusic: You mentioned online recently that you were recording a Christmas record. Can you tell us any more about it?

Danica: Yup (laughs). If we didn't have enough stuff going on, God bless the people who will be sitting next to us on this plane because we'll have laptops and iPads up, typing away. But we want to start celebrating Christmas in July. We'll be starting to announce some of the tour dates that we've confirmed soon. And maybe even a pre-sale for the Christmas record --- we're going to order a limited run of vinyl, first come, first served. That is the thing that we're most excited about and that is the next piece of information that we'll be giving out but everything else...I've got to put a zipper on my mouth and throw away the key or else. (laughs)

antiMusic: What about other new material? Can we expect another record in the near future?

Danica: Absolutely. Even as we're working on the Christmas record, we're also working on new music. We're just deciding whether it will be albums or singles or an EP. So we haven't got that far along yet but we're already working on that Chapel Hart next leap.

Like you said, it was a leap from The Girls Are Back in Town to Glory Days. And that's important to us. We always want to make sure we're making that leap and sharing our stories and being authentic to who we are and authentic in our story-telling. Hopefully we want to let that wall down a little more for people to hear us and see us...so I'm excited about it. There's some amazing songs work that's being put in every day. Our fans are always, "What's next?" So we've got to keep our foot on the pedal. (laughs)

antiMusic: In closing, I couldn't imagine anything else being on Glory Days but I would still love to hear a record or a couple of songs with material like "Shots Fired". That's SO gorgeous. Anyway, just something to put in your ear. (laughs)

Danica: (laughs) Look at you dipping in there. (laughs) But here's a short story and then we'll wrap it up. I had a friend of mine who used to work with us and for us. Sadly, he was murdered in New Orleans but his favorite song was "Shots Fired". I could hear him playing it from another room. He would turn it up loud and sing along to it.

He would call me Empress and every blue moon, he'd come and knock on the door and say, "Empress, what happens next in "Shots Fired"? I have to know what happens next." I wanted to pay tribute to him so fingers crossed, we'll get a chance to hear what happens next in "Shots Fired". The next chapter. I love that you mention that. So another little exclusive there. (laughs)

I absolutely enjoyed talking to you and I want to thank you so much for this interview. I appreciate you so much.

Morley and antiMusic thank Danica for taking the time to do this interview.

Purchase Glory Days here and visit the official website here.

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