Interview: Chase Gassaway

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“Music is all I’ve ever done, I’ve never known anything different,” says Austin-based Americana artist Chase Gassaway, who grew up singing in church choir, playing cello and trombone, and who taught himself how to play guitar and keys, all before finishing middle school. “Writing is something that naturally came about as I was teaching myself guitar; when I’d learn a song, I’d drift from the arrangement to see if it would sound better another way. When I’d sit down to practice, I’d start a song and it would turn into something else. I realized I was more prone to write my own songs than to play someone else’s.”

On February 24th, Gassaway will release A Fly Can’t Bird, where he showcases that ability to reimagine others’ work. What initially began as a project to cover a few songs from other Austin artists turned into an eight-song collection of those covers plus some revamped perennial favorites. “I made this album for blue collar reasons,” he says with a laugh. “I’m a full-time working musician and sometimes I need longer sets. People like to hear cover songs, it helps people gain access to you and opens them up to listen to your original songs.”

“What’s unique about this record is that I’m friends with half of the artists whose songs I’m covering on the album; I got the chance to examine the lyrics and the arrangements through the lens of knowing who made the original music, and see if there’s room for a tonal shift,” explains.  A Fly Can’t Bird includes selections from John Legend, The Lumineers, and Cake. “When ‘Ho Hey’ came out, it was suddenly everywhere, and had this bright, quirky sound to it. When you look at the lyrics though, it’s a very sad and dark song that’s full of longing,” he says. “It’s the same with ‘Never There’; Cake is a beautiful band that can create truly unique works, and ‘Never There’ is like a teenage angst song about being frustrated in a relationship. Usually, that kind of song is delivered in a ballad format, and I wanted to see what it would sound like if I played it that way. You have to reimagine the point of view.”

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the album will be donated to Help One Now/Help One Classroom, an organization devoted to raising funds for education and classrooms in Haiti and rural Uganda. “You can support an entire classroom for $3,000 a year—it pays the teachers and pays for school supplies,” explains Gassaway. “When teachers are put in a position where they can only focus on survival, they can’t focus their energy on education. If we can get education to the next generation, that solves problems. Education exponentially brings countries out of poverty, so if we want to end the poverty crisis, that’s where we should focus our efforts. I believe if every person gives a little bit, there are more than enough resources and money in the world for everyone to have what they need. A lot of times, we forget that charity can actually hurt rather than help. Help One Now pairs with local communities, governments, churches, and schools to support them rather than impress western ideas of economics on them. If you find out their needs and train them in business, they have the means to do it. It’s important that they build their own communities.”

For more information on Help One Now/Help One Classroom: www.helponenow.org/help-one-classroom/

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Susan Hubbard

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