49 Winchester (interview with Chase Chafin (bass)) (by Joe Burcaw)
Alternative country soul from the heart of Appalachia, a perfect summarization of a small-town band hailing from Russell county Virginia. Enter 49 Winchester, named after the neighborhood street of childhood friends Isaac Gibson and Chase Chafin, who happen to be the co-founders of this up and coming establishment. The fellas spent a large portion of their youth down by the river, walking the train tracks into town and later picking up guitars, banjos and harmonicas, basically any instrument they could get their hands on. Well folks, all of the hard work perfecting their craft has paid off. In this age of instant gratification, we sometimes carelessly overlook great music when scrolling through our handy Spotify playlists. I assure you this is most definitely not the case when listening to the musical talent of 49 Winchester. This group of musicians are truly a force to be reckoned with displaying melodic (yet hypnotic) slide guitars, catchy vocal hooks and a deep sonic foundation laid down by the rhythm section. I must stress, this music isn’t all about sappy ballads focusing on love gone awry, or tales of uncle Jimmy getting drunk at the local watering hole. The listener is taken on a spiritual journey embracing the delicacy of John Prine, the rasp of Chris Stapleton, and the chutzpah of The Black Crowes and The Allman Brothers Band. I had the pleasure of sitting down with 49 Winchester bassist Chase Chafin, an inspiring conversation that has led me into becoming a huge fan and admirer up here in New England, way above the Mason-Dixon line. The guys will be releasing their third full length album in early October entitled 49 Winchester III. My personal favorite stand-out track is the moody trance like feel of “Raleigh”; a song featuring piano stabs and organ nuances (reminiscent of early Pink Floyd) crossbred with well crafted & tasty guitar solos that will forever stay encoded in your consciousness. A big ol’ two thumbs up, 49 Winchester seriously pack a punch and deliver the goods 110%! Make sure you show your support by purchasing the album through their website.
Joe Burcaw (JB): Welcome Chase, and thank you for sitting done with us to talk all things 49 Winchester.
Chase Chafin (CC): My pleasure, glad to be here.
JB: Talk to me about your current live shows. Are you playing a lot of songs off of the new record, and how are you approaching performances under the whole COVID situation?
CC: Yes, we’ve been playing a few of the newer songs and throwing them into the setlist. Right now it has been mostly livestreaming events for us.
JB: I was digging into your video backlog and noticed a “No Contact” concert you performed back in July (2020), correct? Tell me about that experience of playing to an empty room without a live audience.
CC: Ohh yeah, that was really cool actually. It was held at a big old warehouse that was basically like filming a really hip music video. But yes, it's interesting you know, it definitely felt different not having a valid interaction with fans, but it was just like a video shoot. It was entirely live, as we were playing people were watching from home.
JB: It was a great performance. The cinematography and audio were really well done. There aren’t a lot of streaming services right now that offer quality professional video & audio.
CC: You know, you have to be careful what you get yourself involved with. But that was a really nice experience.
JB: Let's talk about your upcoming third album 49 Winchester III’s release. Is it safe to say you will be putting it out independently on your own without label support?
CC: Yeah, we are completely independent and all of our previous releases have been independent. We have an EP that was a digital-only release but yes, this will be our third full-length album. We are not signed and not particularly looking but you never know what will happen. Honestly, we really enjoy being that DIY band. We've gotten all of our own bookings up until about a year ago, when we started working with Stone Fly booking out of Richmond, which is another independent company. We really like the whole DIY approach to everything.
JB: I completely get that. How do you gain your fanbase, is through the use of social media or word of mouth from your shows and consistent touring schedule?
CC: I think it's a mix of both. We started back in 2013 and worked steadily. Isaac and I had just gotten out of high school two months before we started the band. So we started in 2013 after school, and pretty much played regularly. These last couple of years we've been really busy playing all over the east (VA). I think we're like most social media focused bands, it definitely can help anyone. That's really it, you have to get yourself involved and put yourself out there and not worry about putting up content 24/7, which not everybody wants to do. That's like another full-time job, but I generally try to stay pretty active on there, even through this whole year.
JB: I don't want to assume, but is Isaac the chief songwriter of the band?
CC: Yes, he is the songwriter and also plays guitar. We started the band on acoustic guitars, the banjo and harmonica. It wasn’t really Bluegrass but kind of an acoustic approach for the first eight months or so leading to Isaac solely writing the music.
JB: You grew up together?
CC: Yeah, we grew up together. Now I live in Junction City and everybody else still lives in Castlewood, Virginia with a population of 2000 people. We never really had local places to play and always had to travel to cities like Bristol for gigs. We’re both over an hour away from Nashville, and have always had to travel to play.
JB: Are you ready to make it up north, or are you just trying to remain concentrated in one southern region and then eventually branch out?
CC: Yeah, we definitely want to, we had shows as far north as Michigan scheduled for this past summer but nothing off the coast. We played in Ohio but nothing beyond that, we'd love to get up north, I think it's just having the right timing. It would have happened sometime this year but......
JB: Thanks to COVID-19.
CC: Yeah, this past March and April we had thirteen or fourteen shows booked. Then the pandemic and we were like, alright what's gonna happen?
JB: It’s a very sad state of affairs for musicians around the world trying to navigate around losing gigs for the entire year. Changing gears, I am a bass player who admires players that carry the ‘less is more’ ethic in their playing. It’s great to hear a guy or gal grinding in and focusing on the kick drum yet paying attention to what the singer is doing too. I noticed when you’re on stage your eye contact is on Isaac quite a bit. Is that because you're looking at him for cues? Please get into the foundation of your musical relationship with him.
CC: Okay. Isaac and I grew up on the same street, we've known each other since we were babies and lived next door to each other. Originally, I was playing banjo in the band. It's an accompanist instrument. That’s definitely my role playing bass too, it kind of hides in the background a lot of the time. But yeah, I'm always looking for cues in case he plays a solo somewhere unexpected.
JB: Is it by default you chose to play bass?
CC: I've always loved bass and just think it makes the most sense. As I mentioned earlier, I originally played banjo and guitar before we had drums or anything else.
JB: When did you incorporate drums into your music?
CC: We've had the same drummer, Dylan, since 2014. We also had an older guy playing bass before I made the switch. After a while it felt like it was going in the direction of me taking over the bass duties. We've always loved Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and all that heavy Rock music too. We just settled into Country music because it’s our roots and we love it. We've always been a Rock’n’Roll band who happen to play Country music.
JB: Isaac has that Chris Stapleton rasp quality to his voice, which is hip. I think another thing that really caught my ear are the catchy melodies. There are so many hooks in a really well-crafted track like “Raleigh”, the chorus just gets stuck in your head all day.
CC: I'm really excited about the new stuff and having people hear most of the songs. I would say about half we play live and other five or so we haven't really played live yet. Yeah, we haven't been together a whole lot, it’s another obstacle trying to find a time and place to record under the quarantine. I think back in February we had a couple of days in the studio and then throughout the year we went in once or twice a month.
JB: What does it look like when you go into the studio, is it the full band tracking live? Do you record the rhythm section first and then overdub, what is the method to your madness?
CC: For this album almost all of the songs Isaac played acoustic just singing and playing guitar. Then in the other room we had Dylan playing drums recording with me on bass. So yes, we record the rhythm section to a scratch vocal and then build from there.
JB: I heard piano and organ on the track “Raleigh”, did you hire someone to play those parts?
CC: Not really hire, his name is Donnie from Bristol. He plays with really big people in the Gospel and Christian music world. His playing makes the album sound so much prettier, I love it!
JB: Any plans taking a keyboard player out on the road?
CC: I think it would be really cool and maybe one day, but we're not in a huge rush to do that, but if it becomes a viable thing I would really like to use keys live.
JB: What are your musical influences, and who are your “go to” players if you were to list somebody who has influenced you the most?
CC: I would have to say Waylon Jennings and that super hard driving Country feel with the bouncy rhythms.
JB: How about the musical relationship with your drummer Dylan, talk to me about that bond.
CC: Yes, we have a totally unspoken language between us. I think Dylan and I have a lot of similar interests in music and really love to play drums and bass within this band. It’s kind of like walking, we’ve played these songs so many times it’s second nature to us.
JB: When you went in to record “Why Else Would I Call You”, was it the type of thing where the two of you said all right let's just do more of a 12-bar Bluesy feel as opposed to a slow tempo ballad or were you directed by Isaac, what was that conversation like?
CC: I think that song in particular has that John Prine kind of vibe. I don't even know if there was a conversation. We pretty much know what it needs before we record it because Isaac will play the song on acoustic guitar for references. Then we're like, all right and it comes together and falls into place really quickly.
JB: Do you guys have the freedom to interpret Isaac's tunes the way you hear them, or does he kind of have a sketch of what he hears in his head?
CC: He usually has the song written with lyrics, but it's usually pretty open and they'll come together in a live show by hashing out the ideas. All of the lead guitar stuff happens in the moment.
JB: That was going to be my next question. Is there room for improvisation when playing live, and have you stretched out during breakdowns or solos?
CC: Yeah, we'll play off of Isaac. There are certain songs that he has never played guitar solos on and then he'll kind of just give us the look and then stretch out. He plays lead guitar and honestly, it’s always evolving.
JB: Do you mix up your setlist and call out audibles, or is it kind of the same group of songs from night to night?
CC: We definitely call a lot of audibles. We’ll usually start with one setlist, but very often it gets shuffled around based on whatever we're feeling off of the crowd. Our shows have very big dynamic volume changes, which kind of keeps the energy moving, almost like Heavy Metal.
JB: What kind of gear are you using, firstly your bass of choice is?
CC: A Fender P-Bass, I guess it's my go to for sure. I also just recently got a Big Bang guitar(made in Bristol) and also play a Telecaster bass which goes with the whole Country kind of thing. I use Ampeg amps but love Aguilar tone hammers too. I have the Aguilar phaser which is real subtle. But if you have a really great sound system, especially the big outdoor festivals it's really cool and never catches your ear.
JB: Please tell the people about the release date of your new album, and where they can connect with you guys on your social media handles?
CC: 49winchester.com has all of our social media handles listed, and you can order the album through the website.
JB: Thanks again for your time Chase, and looking forward meeting you in person once life normalizes for us, and once you can hit the road once again!
CC: Thanks so much and see you sometime next year.
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