Chase Heard is one the primary songwriters of the Wrinkle Neck Mules, a roots-rock outfit that formed in Virginia nearly a decade ago. Recently, the band released its fourth studio album, Let The Lead Fly, which is available on Lower 40 Records.
A Florida native, Heard now lives in Austin, where he works as an architect and painter, (his paintings can be found at www.chaseheard.com). American Songwriter recently chatted with the songwriter about the new Mules album, his songwriting heroes, and Howard Johnson parking lots. (Be sure to also check out his profile on American Songspace.)
As a member of the Wrinkle Neck Mules, you share songwriting duties with Andy Stepanian. How does the songwriting process work between you? Is it collaborative, or do you each bring in your respective songs?
Andy and I have collaborated on a few songs in the past, but typically we both bring our songs to the table and then develop them with the rest of the band. A lot of development occurs during the recording process, experimenting with different treatments until we find one that fits. Mason Brent (our multi-instrumentalist) has played an increasingly important role in bringing our songs to life as of late, especially on Let the Lead Fly.
You’re an accomplished painter, as well as an architect. Does your songwriting feed off either of these crafts?
I’m sure all of my creative endeavors feed off one another at some level. Whether drawing or painting, I am always trying to convey a story and capture a sense of place. The intent is to boil it down and find the vernacular. In some ways, I think songwriting is essentially doing the same thing.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Townes Van Zandt definitely sets the benchmark as far as song crafting is concerned. Neil Young and Levon Helm are a few others I hold in high regard. I grew up with a lot of classic country around the house, and I have always loved the writing of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and the like. When it comes to drinking songs, you can’t touch Gary Stewart. That guy was the real deal.
The Wrinkle Neck Mules recently released Let the Lead Fly, the band’s fourth studio album. How does this offering compare to previous Mule efforts?
Let the Lead Fly was created in the same vein as our previous record The Wicks Have Met, but it skews towards the rootsier end of the Mules spectrum. When we sat down to record this album we actually had about 30 songs we were really excited about putting out. We ultimately decided to split them up and release this batch of songs first. The heavier songs were held back for next project which should make its way to the surface in the near future.
You’ve called Austin home for several years now. Is the town’s music scene everything it’s cracked up to be?
The reputation of the town definitely attracts an incredible amount of musicians…some better than others. And while there is a lot of music that I’m not crazy about, you can be sure to find a quality show virtually any night of the week. Combine that with the ACL and SXSW festivals and you have got a pretty vibrant music scene.
What inspired you to first start writing songs?
I think I was first motivated to write after hearing some stories of my father’s family origins in rural Georgia. Like painting and drawing, writing these things down helped preserve my memories of them and brought them back to life. That…and it was time to move on from the ’80s hair band covers our college band was playing.
You play banjo, bass and guitar. Which instrument do you prefer to write on?
Guitar is my standard writing instrument, but from time to time it really helps to switch it up. I break out the banjo when I need a change. A couple of songs on this album were actually written on my ukulele. It’s my daughter’s favorite, so it has been getting a lot of time around the house.
Will the Mules be touring behind the new album?
All in due time. Andy is expecting another little one very soon, so we won’t be getting out there until early 2010. Believe it or not, the Mules’ 10-year anniversary is coming up and we’ll be playing some shows in the Commonwealth and beyond to commemorate the occasion. Our second trip to Europe is also in the works for next summer. 2010 is shaping up to be the year of the Mule.
You wrote a song on the new album called “Howard Johnson,” which is about high-school shenanigans in the hotel parking lot. Can you tell us how that one came about?
Back in high school, when no one was having a house party, occasionally someone would get their older brother to rent us a room at the local hotel and buy us some beer. People would bring black light bulbs for the bedside lamps, the music would be cranking and before long you had yourself a party spilling out into the parking lot. Typically, some girl would be crying because her boyfriend was getting high, and some young man had his hopes dashed by Mr. Bartles and Mr. Jaymes. Pretty thuggish, I suppose, but it made for some colorful memories.