As watch parties cheered from the Dobie Holden Stadium at Pearl River Community College, and at homes and bars around Southern Mississippi, Chapel Hart made their hometown of Poplarville proud. The country trio performed one last time on America’s Got Talent before the Season 17 finale with their original song “American Pride” and a powerful message I believe we’ll make a difference one person at a time, which earned the country trio, made up of sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and their cousin, Trea Swindle, a standing ovation.
First introducing themselves on AGT with a humorous response to the 1974 Dolly Parton classic “Jolene” with a song called “You Can Have Him Jolene,” the group grabbed the Golden Buzzer from all four AGT judges and host Terry Crews and continued on with the raucous “The Girls Are Back in Town,” even gaining new fans, including country legends like Parton, Tanya Tucker, and Loretta Lynn.
Formed in 2014, the Mississippi natives, started out busking on the streets of New Orleans before writing their own songs. Danica Hart and Swindle also recorded the EP Made for Me under the name Hyperphlyy in 2016 and, as Chapel Hart, were one of several artists chosen for the CMT “Next Women of Country” campaign in 2021.
The trio already released two albums, including their debut, Out the Mud, in 2019 and their most recent The Girls Are Back in Town in 2021 and are now set to make their Grand Ole Opry debut and make new music together.
American Songwriter spoke the Chapel Hart about writing, being three of 108 grandchildren, and their momentum now and beyond America’s Got Talent.
American Songwriter: Everything is moving so fast for Chapel Hart since you auditioned on America’s Got Talent. How has the show transformed your career?
Danica Hart: We’ve been at this for a long time, and it all feels so fast, but I said to somebody the other day that it’s like having a dream car. Let’s say the Ford F-250 has been your dream car your whole life and all you’ve ever done is think “if I get a Ford F-250…” and then all of a sudden, you get the car, and it’s like, “Oh, my God, what do I do? Where do I go?” That’s what it feels like. It’s everything that we’ve always dreamed of and all the things that we’ve said that we can’t wait to do like “we can wait to play Opry. We can’t wait to play the Ryman and we can’t wait to make friends with all of our favorite celebrities,” and now all of this is happening. It’s just one of those moments. It’s something you can’t describe, and it’s a feeling like no other feeling in your life.
AS: How has being on AGT shifted the way you’re writing songs or even approaching music now?
Devynn Hart: Being on this show has definitely opened us up to a global audience, and it makes us realize how relatable our music is already. It’s keeping that open perspective as we continue on this journey of writing and sharing our stories and thoughts.
AS: You’re all still living in Mississippi. Why haven’t you made the move to Nashville?
Danica: We’ve been in and out of Nashville and back and forth for the last five years, but we’ve been on the road so much that it’s hard to make the move. Also, a lot of people feel that you have to make that move. You’ve got to stay in Nashville, but I think that there’s something [in Mississippi] that keeps us—maybe in a subconscious way—focused. Once you’re in a place, you can get complacent or may think “I’m just gonna go out for drinks today,” but when you’re paying to stay at a hotel, you’re gonna make sure you write. Looking at it as a whole, maybe not moving was a bit of a blessing to keep us focused. When you’re on your dime to be there, you’re usually a little more focused. It’s so easy to put everything on the back burner.
AS: When writing, between the three of you, is it pretty collaborative, or does one person typically have the backbone of the song, which is then fleshed out among you all?
Danica: The thing that we all agree on is that whatever the song calls for is what we will yield our creativity to. Sometimes it is individually. We might have a song and go, “Hey, ladies, listen to this, tell me what you think” or we all three sit down with somebody else, so the process is too far wide and in between, but we always vow to allow the song to have what it needs, for us to feed it what it needs.
AS: As a song is coming together, when do you know it’s ready, and that it’s a Chapel Hart song?
Devynn: One of the main things I know for sure is that there’s always a feeling. Once we’re done with the song, or even in the process of writing the song as it’s coming together, we just look at each other and know “this is us. This is it.” I think one cool thing about our writing process is that we were three of 108 grandchildren, so we grew up together, but also different, separately. It’s the same experiences but from three different perspectives. So I think that opens it up to being relatable to more people.
Trea Swindle: I would call a lot of our songs life songs, because it’s about all the different situations, from the good times to the hangouts to the stuff that just punches you right in the soul. It’s the songs that tell the stories about life in general.
AS: Is there going to be a third Chapel Hart album soon?
Danica: Every song that we do is going on the album. I think that’s why we love to write so much. “The Girls Are Back in Town” was put together from all these songs from over the years, some didn’t get a chance to make it on the album. As we started to put it together, it was like taking puzzle pieces and going, “this lyric does this, and this one makes me feel this.” That’s one of my favorite parts of the songwriting process, seeing the message in all of them and how they come together to make a cohesive story. Nowadays, a lot of people don’t do albums, and people were really hard on us at first about putting out The Girls Are Back in Town. They were like, no one’s doing albums right now. Everybody’s at home, so put out a single, but we wanted a body of work that people could listen to it and say “Who is Chapel Hart?” If you can’t listen to this album and don’t go “wow that’s Chapel Hart” then obviously you don’t get it.
AS: You’ve performed on AGT three times now. Has the experience impacted the way you approach Chapel Hart performances now?
Devynn: The thing that I loved about performing on AGT is that it’s in front of a live crowd because that’s what we do. We mostly do live performances. The thing that I picked up from it was mostly performing for televised shows, because as we’re reaching this new level in our career, and hopefully one day being one of those mainstay acts, being able to have that live performance energy translate on screen as well is important.
Danica: There’s so many songs that you want to do and so many things that you want to show off and that was our plan going in [to America’s Got Talent]. We just wanted to show them Chapel Hart. We got a chance to show our fun side. We got a chance to show our sassy side. We’d love to be able to show America our hearts, the things that we love and cherish, and there are so many songs that do that as well. We just want to be able to show off the facets of who we are as Chapel Hart.
We want to walk away from AGT and be able to say we got a chance to show America as much of Chapel Hart as we could … in one season.
Let us know what you think of Chapel Hart’s performances on “America’s Got Talent.” Comment below.
Photos: Trae Patton/NBC