INTERVIEW: Chase Gassaway Talks About Covering His Friends' Music on New Album, "A Fly Can't Bird."
Things don't always go as planned, but sometimes, that's for the best. Chase Gassaway's new cover album, A Fly Can't Bird is the perfect example of this. What the singer-songwriter intended to be one cover song, quickly turned into an EP, then a full-length full of covers of his personal favorite tracks and songs by artists he admires. With the recent birth of his son, the album gives Chase a chance to take a breather and spend some quality time at home while playing shows nearby and even giving back a little - a portion of the proceeds from A Fly Can't Bird will go to Help One Now/Help One Classroom, an organization devoted to raising funds for education and classrooms in Haiti and rural Uganda. Read more about Chase's new album and how to get involved with Help One Now/Help One Classroom below!
Interview by Shannon Shumaker
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself for anyone who might not be familiar?
I’m a songwriter from Austin, TX and I’ve been doing music full time for about seven years. I’ve had a beard much longer than that. Also, my wife gave birth to our first son last week, so I haven’t slept in some time.
How did you first get your start in music? When was it that you knew it was something that you wanted to study and pursue as a career?
Music has always been part of my life. I grew up in a big Baptist church, so we had children’s choir as young as Kindergarten. I studied cello in fifth grade and trombone in middle school, I started teaching myself guitar and piano when I was thirteen because I wanted to write songs. I’ve really never done anything other than music, honestly. I figured out pretty quick I wasn’t suited to be an athlete or sit behind a desk, and music was the best language I’d learned to communicate with people. I studied composition in college and have been writing professionally ever since.
You just released your new cover album, A Fly Can’t Bird. Both as a follow-up to your last full-length, Certain Circles and as a cover album rather than your own material, how do you feel the creation of this album differed from anything you’ve previously worked on?
There is an ataractic freedom when you cover someone else’s material. When you compose original work, it has to stand on its own two feet. It comes into the world as a newborn baby and has to overcome anxious fragility to prove itself before it’s allowed in the community. But, cover songs already have an identity in their own right, so you are simply providing a variation or a comment on that song. Every decision you make in style or harmony has a counterpart for which it compares. You’re not focused on what your’re saying as much as the way you are saying it. It’s an easy way to meet people on common ground and invite them in to experience your art; like having a mutual friend you both know from different walks of life.
What was the inspiration behind creating a cover album?
I never really intended to make one; everything kind of snowballed out of practicality. I was only going to record one cover for a concept album coming out of Austin. I had arranged “How Do You Do It” by Quiet Company for my licensing company and was ready to record it. But, once I booked the studio and was going to have musicians mic’d up I wanted to capture a few more arrangements to make economic use of the time. I arranged a few more of my friend’s songs and we captured three in the first session. I wanted to get the recordings out to fans, but didn’t really have a platform unless I released singles. So, I tracked three more to have enough for an EP. When I finally sat down with the business side of things, I realized if I tracked two more I would have a full-length record. And that’s what we’ve got, now. I didn’t have plans to release a cover record, but I’m pretty proud of it.
Were there any songs that you were particularly excited to cover?
It’s hard to pinpoint why you’re drawn to something. Each one of these songs has a special meaning and I was eager to reimagine them all for different reasons. I think the songs I was most excited about were from writers I knew personally, though. I’ve known The Rocketboys since college back in Abilene, TX and I’ve been going to Quiet Company shows just as long. I’ve known Tyrone Wells for a few years now and “Remain” has always had a sentimental quality for me. And there is a timeless quality to “Black Sky” by Alpha Rev I’ve always wanted to explore. Casey McPherson has a way of capturing fragile moments with his lyrics and it was fun to isolate them over a ukulele.
Do you feel that creating your own renditions of these songs has helped you grow as a musician?
Definitely. Songwriting is a form of invention. The best way to understand something is taking it apart and figuring out how to put it back together. When you study great songs by other writers you unlock a lot of new techniques that pop up next time you experience the lightning storm of inspiration for your own writing. You can make quick decisions with confidence because you’ve seen those methods work before.
A portion of the proceeds of the album are being donated to Help One Now/Help One Classroom. What about this organization really speaks to you?
The goals of Help One Now are tangible and you can see real results from their efforts. Their greatest strength is how they partner with communities and allow local leadership to guide relief programs. So often, wealthy countries attempt to fix impoverished nations by imposing Western ideologies. This can be very damaging to these people groups long-term because it’s usually not sustainable. Help One Now partners with those in need and walks beside them with a unified approach.
Help One Classroom is an initiative to empower teachers and education systems in Haiti and Uganda. By raising salaries for school personal, teachers move their focus away from survival and focus on engaging their students. By educating the next generation, we empower them to discover solutions that raise themselves and their communities out of poverty.
If any fans are interested in helping out more after purchasing A Fly Can’t Bird, what can they do to get involved with Help One Now/Help One Classroom?
Any information you need is available at www.helponenow.org/help-one-classroom
The most concrete answer is by getting a group of friends together to sponsor new schools and teachers. It only takes $3,000 to support a classroom annually. If you get 5 friends together who give $50 a month, you’ve funded an entire classroom. These are real solutions to real problems and you can be a part of the cure.
Do you have any big plans for the next few months?
Usually, an album release means months of touring to promote it. But, I’ve been on the road pretty heavily the past three years. So, this album is functioning as a placeholder while I enjoy some time off with my new son and his momma.
I’m enjoying fatherhood and learning to balance this new role while doing music full time has its challenges. I’m going to choose him for a while and I’ll figure out how to get some more music out soon. I’m still playing a fair amount of shows, but I’m trying to keep touring regional so I can stay close to home.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything you’d like to add?
Go buy your mom some flowers. Seriously, I’ve been watching my wife exhaust herself the past few weeks to love my son unconditionally. This parenting stuff isn’t easy and moms are the silent heroes! They need to be spoiled with wine and chocolates every day!