Heath McNease is on his way to earning himself the title of “the hardest working man in the world.” With more albums in the past 12 months than most artists have in their entire career, I chatted with “Mr. McNasty” once again about his latest project. This time around, McNease has released a different sort of project based around the timeless writings of one of the greatest minds in the last century of humankind. Read on to find out what inspired a C. S. Lewis themed album and what you can do to get Heath to write and record a song specifically for you.
So, I just checked, and it’s only been 4 months since we last talked with you when you were just releasing your last album… and here we are with you releasing another album! How do you do it man?
Haha. Well…I’m not sure I have much of a choice. Music is my job, you know? People never ask a guy or girl who works a 9 to 5 or goes to college, “How do you do it?” It’s just their job. It’s the choice they’ve made. And music is the choice I’ve made. So in order to sustain a living as a musician…I don’t have the luxury of waiting 18 months between releases. I have to constantly channel my creativity, so that I can keep current listeners happy as well as find new ones. Plus if I TRULY want to buy the kinda jeans that make my butt look desirable…that costs money.
So tell me about the heart behind this project? What made you choose to do a concept album over C. S. Lewis’s writings?
I never really intended to make a concept album or anything remotely like that. I was just listening to this rare recording of Lewis reading “The Four Loves” and I thought it’d be a dope idea for a song. So “The Four Loves” was the first song I wrote. After that I just thought that it might be a cool idea to try to make an ep out of my favorite Lewis books. It just ballooned from there…as most of my ideas tend to. I thought it might be a rap album at first…or maybe a mixture of the two. But it just lent itself to less rap.
What’s your favorite book or writing of Lewis’?
The Screwtape Letters will always be my favorite just because it was the first book of his that I read that wasn’t strictly fiction. It completely changed the way I view my prayer life. The idea that there is this detailed and intense battle going on not only for our souls…but for our every thought, that was mind blowing for me. It was so jarring to think about how he talks about the road to Hell being a “gentle slope”. Our compromises and failures can be so gradual that sometimes we don’t even notice how far we’ve fallen. That was eye opening for me.
So many artists use Lewis as one of their big inspirations, from Sixpence None the Richer to Switchfoot and on and on. Why do you think Lewis has had such a lasting impact on the worlds of literature, art, and poetry?
I don’t know if I could speak for how or why he inspires other people. But for me it has just always been refreshing to read the God-inspired thoughts of a guy who was both staggeringly intelligent, endlessly witty, hilarious, and often times irreverent in his approach. He could invert things apologetically in a way that was both practical and revolutionary. He was also just a guy who loved his wife. And when she died…he revealed a level of vulnerability that is rarely seen. There’s just nothing he couldn’t do as a writer.
What did you have to do to get in the right frame of mind as you wrote/recorded these songs?
It honestly never felt like there was a need to do that. I just really tried to talk this one through with other people who love his writings. And sometimes I’d talk with people who’d never read his works in order to hear how their thoughts would sometimes mirror or dispute the things Lewis said. But my approach wasn’t forced. I was writing this album while I was in the middle of a million other things, so diving into one of his books and writing songs about it was actually like a mini vacation.
Did you have to get into a different frame of mind, as Lewis famously talked about, when recording “The Screwtape Letters?”
Not at all. It was a tough one to write, because I have such reverence for that book. But it was easy to write once I knew that I wanted it to show glimpses into how the character that Screwtape and Wormwood were attacking might have reacted if he’d been given his chance to speak in the book. I knew Lewis said that his soul felt like a “dry and dusty place” after writing that book. So I just wanted to touch on it without going “method”. haha
What factors decided which writings (or characters, in the case of “Edmund”) would end up as songs?
Well I was trying to be extremely intentional about not simply summarizing the books. I didn’t want the songs to be mere recaps of his work. I wanted them to have their own life and interpretations. So with a song like “Edmund”…I didn’t want to talk about the obvious religious imagery of Aslan as Jesus in the Narnia series. I just always found Edmund’s character to be an interesting mixture of Jacob and Esau and Judas. He reminds me of both stories. Selfish, weak. Not even evil. Just selfish. So that’s where I focused the song, and then it took on it’s own life.
Talk a little about the differences in sitting down to write and record a concept album v.s. writing whatever is on your heart at the time?
I didn’t look at this as a concept album. I look at as a concept album as one unifying theme or story that is essentially evolving throughout the album. This was more of an exploration into his works…almost a tribute. So I actually enjoyed the process of just adapting his work. I wasn’t creating the stories, but I was interpreting them in a completely different medium. That was a blast. And honestly a lot of my songs come from the same place. I’m usually trying to just interpret a thought, painting, poem, tv show, commercial, conversation, etc into a song.
Now that you’ve tackled the Nintendo sound, C. S. Lewis’ writings, and thrift store Jesus-es, what can fans expect coming round the bend?
Haha. I’d love to just get some money from this project and just sleep for 3 months. That’d be fantastic.
If you’re into the idea of helping Heath McNease get a few nights sleep, be sure to head over to his site and check out The Weight of Glory. While you’re there, be sure to check out Heath’s other recent releases and pitch him a few bucks (or much more if you’re in to getting lots of other cool stuff, such as a personal song written by Heath McNease directly for you) for all his hard work.
Be sure to sound off in the comments section with what you think about the new album and how C. S. Lewis’s writings have impacted your own life and artistry.