Between the Lines with Heath McNease

Between the Lines with Heath McNease
Heath McNease might as well call the studio his second home. His latest release, “The Weight of Glory” is already his 7th full album to come out since 2010. His unique style blurs the lines of hip-hop and folk music has attracted an audience both young and old around the country.

“The Weight of Glory” is a concept album written from the inspiration of the author C.S. Lewis. Books like “Mere Christianity”, “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and numorous writings from his 64 year life have inspired generations of people. In this interview, we sat down with Heath to get some insight into how Lewis’ writings gave birth to this new album.

Your new album “The Weight of Glory” just came out on August 14th. Was it intimidating putting together a concept album that tackles the great catalog of work from C.S. Lewis?

Without a doubt, man. This freaking guy. I remember hearing this Charles Stanley sermon where he talks about the old testament, “seeing men walking as trees” story. That’s who he is to me. Just a giant. Barely human, you know? But he knew how to stoop down to my level and communicate complex truths. We will never have another mind like his, and I was scared stiff at the thought of other enthusiasts of his dissecting my work. It’s like a fanboy at Comic Con going to see a comic book adaptation. “They BETTER get this right!” It was intimidating for sure.

When putting together this album, how much time did you devote to reading the writings that inspired the album?

There was definitely a lot of revisiting. I underlined a lot of the books of his when something stood out. The issue is…it turns out there’s only like 6 words in the book that don’t get underlined. Haha. But it was also cool reading “Til We Have Faces” and “Surprised by Joy” because I honestly never had. But I definitely had some heavy time with Mr. Staples.

Which song was the toughest to put together for the album?

The answer to both is “The Problem of Pain”. I wrote “A Grief Observed” early on, and I needed to make sure it wasn’t tackling the same lyrical or musical ideas. I honestly would’ve never figured it out had I not written the song on the ukulele. Just playing it on that little instrument took the edge off of the “importance” of the sonic palette. We just decided to do it on the piano last second. It was absolutely the right move. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. That book is just a lot to absorb. So tying it together was a daunting task for sure.

You can tell from your music that you’re a fan of literature. How do pull the themes and ideas from these writings and make them relevant to the audience that is going to buy your album?

Haha. I don’t know if I’ve ever done that successfully. I just only know how to do what I’m already inclined to do. What was great about this project was that it felt like I was adapting a book into a screenplay. It’s impossible to capture the minutia of everything the author is writing. So the importance is to just try to capture the spirit of it. That’s why Lord of the Ring worked so well. It really honored the books even though it left a million things out as well as modified stories and characters. It still preserved the intent. That’s all I tried to do. Preserve the writer’s intentions.

On the song “Mere Christianity” you went with a more raw and heavier sound then on the rest of the album. Was there something in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity that inspired this sound?

Honestly no. Mere Christianity could have been a little lighter if someone else had written it or if I had written it on a different day. But once I decided I wanted to focus on the Lewis Trilemma of “Liar, Lord, or Lunatic” I knew it could go a little darker. I planned on it being bluesy slide guitar. But once you get into the studio…those plans go out the window sometimes. You just start chasing other sounds. I’m very proud of myself for not sticking to a formula with the actual recording of these songs. And I owe most of that to my homey Greg Lafolette. We were the only 2 dudes in the studio. So our communication was key. He was great.

If you had to suggest one piece of work from C.S. Lewis’ writings to someone, what would it be?

I think I have to recommend “The Screwtape Letters” first. Mainly because it was the first book of his that I read, and it changed my life. So that’s the first. I think his most heartbreaking is “A Grief Observed” and his most triumphant is “The Weight of Glory” which is why I decided that would be the title of the album.

Is there a plan to take some of this new music on tour in the Fall of 2012?

I would like to have the opportunity for that. But I do so many rap shows…it’s hard to make that happen. I’ve played “A Grief Observed” a few times already. I’m hoping to find an avenue for that. I’d love to go out with a full band at some point. But I will probably have to see how well the album does first.

You can download Heath’s new album today at www.heathmcnease.bandcamp.com. Be sure to check out the full review for this album by clicking here.
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    • About the Author
    • avatar
    • Ryan Gutowski
    • Husband, Dad, artist and lover of the hot wing. Ryan and his wife Erin founded Collision in 2008 as a ministry for twentysomethings who felt left behind by the church. You can reach him at ryan@collisioncm.com

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