Tennessee band, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors played Track 29 last week. Penny and Sparrow opened the show. Following is an interview with Mr. Holcomb.
Your new album, Medicine, came out in January, how long did it take to make?
Songwriting always takes years, but the actual recording process was only about nine days which is really fast. I think the songs were all somewhere between brand new at recording or two to three years old. So we did it in nine days, we tracked it all live, in our neighborhood in East Nashville, and just had a lot of fun. The writing part was where I kind of did the bleeding, if you will. The recording felt the opposite of that, just a bunch of guys that love music getting together.
What were your expectations and the response for the new album?
I think anytime you make something you want people to respond and say that it meant something to them or that they like the songs and want to listen to them. I’ve always had a goal of making records that people want to listen to start to finish and that definitely seems to be the feedback we’re getting on this album. So that’s a huge thing. Just professionally, this album got us to play places – like headline the Ryman in Nashville, and open at Red Rocks, and we did our first late night TV performance with Jimmy Kimmel this year – it’s been a bucket list year.
What are some pros and cons to touring?
The pros are you’re getting to see different parts of the world. You’re getting to play to new faces and new ears every night and you’re getting to take your music to these places and present a live show.
And every night is like a once-in-a-lifetime thing, because every show is different, every crowd is different and you’re never going to relive that moment again.
The cons for me are pretty practical. I have kids and I like my kids a lot and I miss them. I miss being home, and the rhythm of a life at home. It’s something I’ve never really known since I started doing this eleven years ago. As I get older, that starts to wear and tear a little more, but we’re finally going to take a slowdown after this.
How has touring changed since you’ve started headlining?
Headlining is great because you know everyone is there in some connection to you and is excited to hear your set. When you’re opening, you don’t know if anyone knows you or not, so you feel like you kind of have to prove yourself. When you’re headlining you get to settle into the show, and take requests, and engage the crowd in a more comfortable, familiar way.
Your music has been described as Americana, do you agree?
Well, it’s a catchall, so it’s great. It’s a catchall for any kind of real instrument music that doesn’t sound like it’s on country radio. So, I’ll take it. It can take that country, but also bands that are a little more pop but have an organic sensibility in their recordings, bands like Wilco. It’s a big tent, and I’m not against being in it.
Has there ever been a particular sound you’re after?
I think honestly you’re always chasing that. Medicine has been the closest we’ve ever gotten to it. So many of the records that I love, you find out that it’s just really good musicians in a room tracking live and really good songs and I felt like we got really close to that on this record. I listen back to it and I’m really proud of that. There’s certainly those moments where you’re like maybe we should’ve done this differently, but perfection is a myth. So you record and you do the best you can and at some point you just have to say stop. The live shows are where you can revisit some of that, though.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
I mean there are a million of them, but the obvious ones would be Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, David Gray, Patty Griffin, Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney, the classics for me.
If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
Probably Dolly Parton. I love her voice and she’s another proud Tennessean, I think that would be kind of a hoot to get in the studio with her.
If someone didn’t know anything about your music, how would you describe yourself?
Honestly, I’d rather just say here’s two tickets to a show, come out next weekend.
How did you decide to start playing music?
I was a senior at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and I was starting to write songs. I booked myself at a couple of bar gigs and people came and people told me “these are good, you should try this.” So I got a job at a studio in Memphis, kind of as the gopher just running errands all day. But I got to record some stuff and got a regular bar gig there, and played college campuses and it just grew from there. It was definitely not the intentions of what I was going to do with my life, but eleven, twelve years later I’m really glad that it is.
What was your back up plan?
I was going to go get a Ph.D. in History and try to teach college kids about U.S. History.
How is Medicine different from your past albums?
I think it’s a lot more confident, it’s more focused. The songwriting is a little more diverse. As I’ve gotten older I’ve thought less about pleasing people and just writing music that I love and hope it lands on the right people’s ears. That’s a fun growth because it’s not just professional, it’s personal. It allows you to be a better friend, hopefully a better husband and dad, and a better fan of other music without always living in the envy.
How much thought do you put into a setlist or tracklist?
A lot. This is the first tour where about 75 percent into the show we start taking requests, so each set looks a little different. That’s been cool because you feel like you get a lot of buy-in from the crowd. You think about the setlist a lot, but it’s been a lot of fun to let the curveballs fly this year.
If you could become a member of any other band, which would it be?
My favorite band is Wilco, so being a part of that band would be a blast. I don’t know where I would jump in, cause they’ve kind of got all their bases covered, but Wilco would be a band I would be incredibly thrilled to be on stage with.
What was the last song stuck in your head?
It’s gotta be something from Disney, because I have a daughter that sings Frozen songs all the time so it’s probably “Let It Go.”
What’s your songwriting process like?
It’s typically music first, lyrics second for me. I don’t try to force a meaning on a song. But there’s sometimes a thought I want a song to convey. On the song, “Ain’t Nobody Got It Easy,” I started with that line, because I was talking with a guy that was struggling to pay his bills and was just wondering what life is all about. Two hours later I’m talking with a friend who is very wealthy and his marriage is falling apart and he’s wondering what’s life all about. It’s just this idea that you’re always looking at someone else’s life like if I only had that and it’s just not true. So that song started with a clear idea I wanted to portray.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
My dad told me when I was trying to date my wife, that love has no ultimatums. I was trying to convince her to date me and I think that advice goes for a lot of different things, but you can’t force somebody to love you, you have to love them first and wait it out.