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Chapel Hart: A Testament To Positivity, Humor

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Louisiana's Chapel Hart has quickly earned a reputation as one of the most exciting emerging acts in country music.

Country trio Chapel Hart performs at Wave on Thursday as part of its Follow Your Hart tour.

Consisting of sisters Danica and Devynn Hart, as well as their cousin Trea Swindle, the band will issue a new album, "The Girls Are Back in Town," on Aug. 28.

Named as "Next Women of Country" by CMT, the New Orleans-based outfit has won accolades not only from critics but peers as well, attracting the attention of artists ranging from Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top to T. Graham Brown.

With heartfelt lyrics and stories filled with humor and determination, Chapel Hart stands poised to become one of country music's breakout acts in 2021.

The band recently spoke with KMUW about their origins, friendship and collaborating with a rock music legend.

Interview Highlights

You started off busking. That's tough because you have an audience that's just passing by and yet you need to grab and hold their attention.

Trea Swindle: We started out busking on Royal Street in New Orleans; that is probably the most honest crowd you'll ever have because 100 percent of the people are going somewhere else. If they decide to stop their journey [spend time with you that's important]. You think they might stop for half a song but sometimes people with dinner plans would stop and listen to us sing for about an hour. It's brutally honest. It's right there in your face. If they don't like it, they're gonna keep on walking. Thankfully, we had a lot of people hanging around.

And to be in New Orleans had to be amazing. So much American music comes from the South, but that city, in particular, provides such an interesting cross-section.

Danica Hart: It's such a beautiful thing. It's so intimidating because the musicians are like nothing you've seen before. There are so many talented people. As buskers, we got recognition from other musicians: "Y'all the girls that sing on Royal Street?" It's, like, "Oh my God. How did you know?" New Orleans musicians are some of the greatest, and it makes sense to me that people from all over the world come there.

One of the things that I always hope for as a music lover is to have an emotional connection to what I'm hearing, to really respond in that way. Your songs definitely do that for me; it's obvious that you put your heart and soul into it. Do go get a sense of that from your audience, "Wow, this is really making me feel something"?

Devynn Hart: We've had so many people come up to us after shows and say, "Wow, your music really touched me." For whatever reason, we've been super emotional on this tour as well. We're crying; the audience is crying, everybody's crying. It's a mess. But it's a good mess. It's an amazing feeling as well.

It goes without saying that this last year was difficult. I know so many musicians who talked about how much they missed playing with their bandmates and singing with other people. So, when you get the opportunity to sing and play for people, it has to be peak emotions.

Trea: It was above the peak. Like Danica always says, if somebody would have called said, "Y'all want to play in a backyard or an alleyway?" we would have done it. If we get to play to people we'll do it.

Danica: If there was a turtle show, we'd have played for the turtles. [Laughs.] We'd have turned 'em up, honey. We were at that point. [Laughs.]

I love the piece "Jacqui's Song." I really have a sense of who this woman was through that piece of music. Can you tell us a little bit about her and what she meant to you?

Danica: What an amazing story and, really, the reason why I think we're even here, where we are today. Jacqui was the girlfriend of our keyboard player at the time. She was a ball of sunshine. She was just golden. She worked with the Musicians' Clinic in New Orleans. They had a festival in south Louisiana; they went down and the weather started to get bad and their tent got struck by lightning, and she passed away at the age of 28.

Oh no.

That was our moment where we said, "Life it too short. Life is too short to just let music happen to us. Life is too short to say, 'Well, we'll make it someday.' Every day that we get up you got to go chase after what you want because tomorrow is not promised. I think it's amazing how inspiring she was when she was alive. The fact that [when we play] people say, "Do 'Jacqui's Song'! Do 'Jacqui's Song'!" And that people are saying, "I let my little girl listen to that. I play that to my 12-year-old every morning when she goes to school, let her know that the world is hers." Or, "I thought I was gangster but I was missing one word before it, emotional gangster."

That's the stuff that gets us going. Jacqui, I believe, has played a huge part of this tour, and I'm glad that we can honor her name and keep her name alive.

Tell me about "You Can Have Him Jolene." That's a different kind of song, an answer song. Those were popular in the '50s and '60s: People would write a response to a popular song from a different point of view.

Devynn: We are just absolutely in love with Dolly to begin with. And, so during the pandemic, we were trying to find ways to be innovative, putting out content. We decided to do a music video for our cover of "9 to 5." In the video, I'm working as a cook. I had on a shirt that said, "You can have him" and it was signed Jolene. That just sparked the idea. There's Cam's song ["Diane"], where it's told from Jolene's point of view, saying, "Hey, I didn't even know that he was married. So let's just sit down and try to figure this out."

We said, "Let's get in on the storyline." [Let's just say] instead of taking time out of my day to go talk to you, I'm just gonna say, just have him. That's just gonna be that on that because nobody has time for that." We sat down, put the song together and had the most fun [writing it]. The entire process, from writing the song to recording it, to film the video, the energy was just through the roof. It was absolutely amazing. We had a blast.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.