“Our new album is aptly named The Girls Are Back In Town. We are three Black women bringing back quintessential country vibes to modern country music.” Recently, just before taking the stage for a 90-minute set at Annapolis, Maryland’s intimate Rams Head On Stage venue, Chapel Hart’s Trea Swindle could barely withhold her calm excitement while telling CMT about her familial trio Chapel Hart’s (alongside her cousins, sisters Danica and Devlyn Hart) forthcoming album release. Two hours later, she was rapping the words “we’re the next women of country and it’s our time now!” before performing a mid-80’s David Lee Roth style scissor kick and jumping off a round cocktail table in front of a raucous, hollering crowd at the seated venue. It was an astounding sight.
If expecting that small-town Mississippi-raised and New Orleans-based Chapel Hart fulfills expectations of what it is to be women making country music in any era in the genre’s history, do expect that they’ll prove you wrong. Rather, realize that in celebrating the most explosive elements of rocking ’80s country, arena rock, heavy metal, delightfully ratchet hip-hop energy, plus a delightful dollop of soaring, soulful vocals to complete the picture, the trio affirmatively points at a present era where the country music industry has successfully gone — without the aid of a DeLorean or Michael J. Fox — back to the future.
Fresh from living on separate houseboats on a lake in Florida during quarantine, the group is refreshed and excited about what appears to be an incredibly bright future ahead. Their energy is palpable, kinetic, and feels confined by words. But ultimately, they are provided here to offer an inkling of what is best experienced live.
Marcus K. Dowling, CMT: So, you’re back touring again. How, after the break, does this feel?
Danica Hart, Chapel Hart: Oh my god, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Yes, we did a lot of touring and played out quite a bit during the pandemic, but to be officially back on the road makes us feel alive again [as a trio]. We can give hugs to our fans again after the show. It’s wonderful.
CMT: So, initially, I have to ask. Your video for “Jesus And Alcohol” featured ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, and “I Will Follow” featured Jackyl’s Jesse James Dupree. On so many levels, this was unexpected, but it really feels like they love you and you love them. How did these rock/country pairings come together?
Trea Swindle, Chapel Hart: Well, initially, it’s me. I’m the rocker of the group. I fell in love with ZZ Top because I’m a fan of Jimi Hendrix, and he once said in an interview that his favorite guitarist was Billy Gibbons. I was a teenager at the time, so I did my research and discovered ZZ Top.
Devlyn Hart, Chapel Hart: So, I wasn’t introduced to Jackyl until we had to open for them. But, once I saw [Jesse James Dupree] perform, the incredible energy he had on stage during that show blew my mind, and I — well, we ALL — became fans.
CMT: You’ve been very keen on shouting out Gretchen Wilson’s influence on your music. What was it about Gretchen that makes you — and intriguingly enough, many other Black fans of country music as well — find Wilson’s music appealing?
Danica: Gretchen Wilson’s attitude transcends everything. When she released “Redneck Woman,” she was unapologetically her, and we feel she made everyone love her. Also, our family, we grew up poor in a sense — there were 17 of us who grew up around each other — and Gretchen’s song really spoke to us, and basically all, poor country folk. Wearing lingerie from Walmart, having your Christmas lights up all year…
Devlyn: I mean, we left our Christmas lights and Christmas tree up once for two and a half years…
CMT: So, Poplarville, Mississippi. Tell me about how this place, and its habits, are a part of what makes Chapel Hart unique.
Devlyn: Well, foremost, we’re warm and open, almost on purpose. Back home, we wave at and speak to everyone, say “yes ma’am” and “no sir.” If we don’t, we would probably still get smacked in our mouths by our mothers and grandmothers.
Danica: Yeah, Poplarville is in us to the core, even down to some of the stuff we say and do. Like, at least five times a week, I’ll say something like, “that durn frazzlin,” or instead of cursing, say “John Brown,” just like my grandfather would. People look at me like I’m crazy when I say it, and I respond, “I can’t not say that. That’s where I’m from. It’s who I am.”
CMT: Let’s keep it completely honest. Chapel Hart brings some unexpectedly hard-partying energy. There’s a refreshing honesty to how the three of you present yourselves that engages well with people. Can you explain to me what you think causes this to occur?
Devlyn: Well, it’s simple, actually. The three of us, we’re all personalities, on and off stage. Trea’s the cool, badass oddball who could [simultaneously] jump off a bar and fight you, change your oil, and fix your air conditioner. And yes, she’s literally done all three — while wearing a skintight dress and knee-high cowboy boots — in the same night. Danica is the mother who takes care of you when you’re drunk, plus pulls your heartstrings, curses you out, and motivates you in the same breath. I’m the middle-ground between these two. I’m younger than they are, so I’m a little bit shyer and reserved, but when it’s time to turn up, I do…but keep it classy.
CMT: “You Can Have Him Jolene” has emerged as the first one of your most recent songs to achieve some critical success. This year has seen not just you but also Miranda Lambert, via “Geraldene,” dive into the “Dolly Parton bag,” again. What about working with Parton’s influence — especially as it related to this single itself — is inspiring?
Danica: We were shooting the video for our cover of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” and Devlyn had a shirt on that read, “You can have him, signed Jolene.” I had to stop and say, that’s a statement. Like, if you think about that idea, it’s like, “who does this heifer think she is to take somebody, then turn around, and tell him that she can have him back!” So I thought, what if we wrote a song from the OTHER perspective, where the woman [who loses her partner] in “Jolene” is okay with losing him. We wrote the song in 30 minutes. It wrote itself.
CMT: Chapel Hart’s a band that — as many country acts do — loves the road. What is it about your fanbase, in particular, that makes performing so many live dates exciting?
Trea: We call our fans “The Congregation,” and we’ve got something for everyone. It’s like Danica says, “we cover everything for sizes from Tree to Me.” The congregation — like any good church — is everything from businessmen to bums and hoodrats and housewives. It’s everyone.
CMT: What can we expect from Chapel Hart in the future that really defines where you are as artists and people?
Devlyn: I’m super excited for the world to hear the second album. We’ve grown into our sound so much. This album is — more than ever — exactly who Chapel Hart is and what we’re standing on and for.
Trea: I mean, if you come to see us while we’re touring this album, you might want to bring some bail money because you’re going to get rowdy. You’re going to have some fun, and you might fight somebody. I don’t know. We’ve also got some other news coming. Let’s just say that people will definitely see so much more of what we — and these lives we’ve been talking about — are all about.