Chase McBride Taps Into A Background In Fine Arts To Top Spotify Charts
Chase McBride’s breakout album, the traditional folk COLD WATER, was released this year to wide success, topping the charts on the streaming service Spotify, besting the likes of John Mayer and Ed Sheeran. But this is not a freshman effort; Cold Water comes after three previous albums and Chase working for ten years on not just his music, but also painting and design.
In fact, it wasn’t even the original plan. Having studied painting in graduate school, Chase fully expected to go into teaching fine arts at the college level. “I approach things from a painter's viewpoint. So that applies to music and design and any kind of creative problem-solving project that I'm working on,” he says, speaking over the phone from his current home city, San Francisco – quite a leap from his upbringing in Montana.
“I was taught in my undergrad to imagine what you wanted the audience to experience through a song or a painting or a piece of writing or whatever you're producing and start from the point of how you want to affect the audience,” he explains. “Do you want to make them feel nostalgic? Or do you want to challenge them personally or maybe politically? Or if you want to remind them of a good feeling or a bad feeling? You start from that goal and then work backward to find the solution to that problem.”
The gift of making different kinds of art means that his creative energy has a unique flexibility. “I guess the line between all of those creative modes has been blurred,” he explains. “Meaning, I oscillate between all of them almost constantly and I think for me that's healthy.” Whenever Chase gets a block in music or fine art or design, he can switch over and refresh his creativity. “The goals for design and music in my case are pretty disparate most of the time,” he says. “There's a lot stricter format around the process of design. For me that can be a kind of respite because it requires less of the chaos that's needed in songwriting. And in painting it's a lot cleaner and step by step. I work on a lot of the design that I use for my music releases. They all overlap and influence each other.”
“For music, I go through phases. The last album I did was about this breakup I had gone through so I was trying to elicit empathetic responses to a sadness or a heartache in the audience.” But his new album? “I'm in a much different place in my life than I was when I was working on the last album. I'm mulling over or ruminating on the ideas of nostalgia and feelings and experiences I had when I was really young.”
In fact, he says, he’s been specifically drawing inspiration from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. “He talks a lot about the wealth of inspiration that comes from childhood and from your youth and that wide-eyed naiveté that existed, for me at least, during that time.”
His inspiration is tied to his motivation with making art. “I've been helped so much by other people's artwork, whether that's music or a poem or a painting, I've noticed that I've had some profound, redemptive experiences listening to a song or viewing a painting. I think that the reason for that is when you create something beautiful and hopeful out of something bad other people can look at that and it gives them an empathetic response, meaning, "Okay, someone else has felt this way too."”
Chase’s influences also have a wide range – he cites painters and writers as well as musicians. In fact, the primary musician he mentions is in his own family. “My grandpa was a pretty well-known jazz trombone player and so the family I grew up in it was a prerequisite that you pick an instrument and get good enough for my grandpa not to suggest that you should take lessons. From a really young age I was playing music and we had a family band. I was encouraged to write my own material and perform it, which at the time pretty awful,” he says, laughing. “but I enjoyed doing it anyways. So yeah, I've always been playing music and when I got to college in California I was just playing my guitar around dorm rooms and playing open mic nights.”
His childhood is similarly ripe with inspiration. “One of my favorite artists was a young Van Morrison before he became the late night casino strip circuit guy, he wrote a couple albums when he was really young. One of them is called Astral Weeks. I was listening to that because I’ve had the record for, I don't know, 15 years? And it still feels as fresh as it did the first time I listened to it. That's been a huge inspiration of mine for a long time.” He also cites Joni Mitchell, especially considering her “terrific output” over her entire life.
Not to mention abstract expressionist painters Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell, who he admires for their work despite working in an art market run by, as Chase describes it, “alcoholic white dudes who were paid because they had horrible lives essentially.”
When it comes to writers, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation were important but so was a final Joan – Joan Didion, the renowned essayist, journalist, and writer. “She wrote a lot about California and the California coast in the middle of the century. So being able to live here, it's cool to be able to read her interpretation of the city that I wake up in every day.”
Finally, while it was a breakup that inspired his latest album, Chase talks about how important his girlfriend has been in influencing his art. “My girlfriend Heather Day is this powerhouse painter and creator so I get to watch her and all of her friends who are killing it in the art world,” he says, speaking with admiration. “It's great to have somebody that you trust from a critical standpoint, who isn't just going to tell you, "Yeah, sure that's nice. That sounds great." There's more of a thoughtful response when I have questions about a song or she has questions about a painting. It's interesting to navigate that dynamic between romantic partner as well as creative peer.”