Chapel Hart Are Reality TV Darlings Who Write Answer Songs to Dolly and Loretta Hits
The three women of Chapel Hart don’t get to visit their Mississippi hometown as often as they’d like, but their tour bus driver recently presented them with an offer they couldn’t pass up. They could either take the short route to their destination or add an extra hour and go through Poplarville.
“Our bus driver was like, ‘If we go up [interstate] 59 I could pull off and y’all could stop at Wards in your hometown. We were like, ‘59!’” the trio’s lead singer Danica Hart says.
The group, made up of sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and their cousin Trea Swindle, are based out of New Orleans but spend most of their time on the road now that their harmony-rich brand of country music has started winning over fans in every corner of the country.
Today, the three singers are crammed onto a single couch in the lounge of a recording studio in Nashville’s industrious Berry Hill neighborhood, having just come from rehearsal for the 2023 CMT Music Awards at which they’ll perform on a stage dedicated to new talent. Still, they can’t stop thinking about going home and filling up at Wards, a popular southern Mississippi franchise specializing in greasy comfort-food.
“That place has us in a chokehold,” says Danica, who, coincidentally or not, is sporting a snapback with a Mississippi magnolia blossom on it.
“There’s really only two burgers you go to Wards to get,” Devynn adds. “You either get a…”
“Big One or a Little One,” they all say in unison.
That deep love for the comforts of home is palpable on the trio’s upcoming album Glory Days (out May 19), which arrives amid a flurry of successes over the last few years. After shifting away from Danica and Swindle’s French Quarter cover-band origins as Hyperphlyy, they made the leap into releasing original music. Their 2016 single “Made for Me” and 2019 album Out the Mud established their country sound, and their profile grew further with the rowdier, tougher 2021 release The Girls Are Back in Town, featuring the Dolly-answering single “You Can Have Him Jolene.” In summer 2022, Chapel Hart finished fifth on America’s Got Talent and made their Grand Ole Opry debut just a few months later.
Glory Days shows Chapel Hart taking stock of that success and also affirming the things they value most: family, friends, love, and home, wherever that may be. There are elements of the brash, in-your-face sound of The Girls Are Back in town, but now it’s tempered with a sweeter, lighter approach that’s at times vulnerable.
“I feel like it’s like we’re dating,” Swindle says. “Now that we’ve been together for a couple months, you’re gonna take me back home to meet your parents. That’s what we’re doing with our fans — songs about the things that make us who we are.”
One of Chapel Hart’s earliest big supporters was ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, who offered his help after hearing their music and appeared in their video for “Jesus and Alcohol.”
“Chapel Hart stole my heart. Those three ladies are lots of fun but dead serious about making cutting-edge country music,” Gibbons said in a statement through his rep. “Of course, they’re from Mississippi so musical excellence kind of comes with the territory.”
That kindness from Gibbons (as well as country artists like Loretta Lynn and Vince Gill) stuck with the three of them, as an aspirational goal should they become extremely famous.
“He flew from L.A. to Nashville, didn’t charge us one dollar,” Danica says. “So when we keep having these really big moments it reminds me to stay humble, but also be that artist that you want to see. For me it’s like, be the Billy Gibbons. You can be the biggest superstar in the world but still have a heart for people.”
“Every single time we begin to process one amazing thing, something else happens,” Devynn says. “At the same time, it’s still very humbling. We know that it can all be taken away. You don’t take anything for granted, and you just keep hitting the gas pedal as often as you can, as hard as you can.”
Suddenly, one of their songs swells from a nearby room.
“Cue music!” Danica says, laughing. “This record, we got a chance to pull back a little bit and share more about us and really show this journey.”
The journey goes right back to Poplarville in “Home Is Where the Hart Is,” which nods to the Nineties sound of the Chicks while giving a nice little shout-out to their beloved Wards and the three women’s ride-or-die best friends. They later wax nostalgic about when “roads were dirt and church was seven days a week” in “If You Ain’t Wearin’ Boots,” drawing a vivid picture of rural pleasures that should evoke some familiar memories for many people.
“We’ve played shows in B.F.E., like, who is out here? Is anybody coming tonight?” Danica says. “And we show up, and the country folk show up, and they get it. We laugh and we cry. There’s Black, there’s white, there’s Hispanic. For so long it felt like Black people didn’t have a space in country, but we were living the same experience. It just didn’t look like us.”
There are also songs of love and loss on Glory Days. “Perfect for Me,” which they wrote with Leslie Satcher, is darker in tone but celebrates an everyman-type who works hard and remains a faithful, loving partner. “Love in Letting Go,” which Danica penned after their grandmother’s brother died, is a balm for anyone grappling with loss. And “Redneck Fairytale,” with its swinging 6/8 rhythm, finds beauty in a no-frills love story and recasts the term “redneck” as a lifestyle.
“At this point in time in 2023 while everybody’s being all PC and reclaiming stuff, I’m officially reclaiming ‘redneck,’” Swindle says. “Danica always says ‘redneck’ isn’t a color, it’s a way of life. It’s that lack that breeds ingenuity. It’s that want, that creativity.”
“It’s that lack that breeds ingenuity,” Danica says, mocking Swindle in a faux-posh accent.
“That’s literally what it is!” Swindle protests. “It just means you have a very, very deep appreciation for duct tape, and that’s OK.”
“As I got older I was like, ‘Oh my god, we were rednecks,’” Danica says. “We did some of the most redneck shit you could imagine.”
Chapel Hart return to the type of song that originally helped them break out: a new answer song called “Welcome to Fist City.” It’s a response to Loretta Lynn’s 1968 hit that they wrote at the request of the late country legend.
Danica says she was worried the trio would become pigeonholed as “the answer girls.” Instead, the reverse is true — Chapel Hart are a gateway for fans to learn about what has come before.
“What I’ve seen from ‘You Can Have Him Jolene’ is that this generation of kids and especially children who weren’t country fans by any stretch, they’re going ‘Dang, who is this heifer Jolene and why do we not like her?’ So they’re having to go back to listen to Dolly’s song,” Danica says. “They’re getting lost in the story, which is where we found ourselves in country music.”