Having came across a few hints that Nashville-based songwriter Drew Holcomb (of Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors) had a thing for bourbon, I decided to take him to the Brandy Library in TriBeCa to sit down and talk about music, his new album, fashion, Elvis, murder ballads and TV shows. We went all in for the occasion and each ordered the “bourbon sampler,” allowing us six different taste experiences and, of course, a convo that gets more entertaining as we go from drink #1 to the mystery drink #6 (p.s. we totally forgot to ask what the mystery drink was, damn). The latest album, Good Light, was released earlier this week and — no surprise to us — shot to #1 debut on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart. This record, which began as 40 tracks and was narrowed down to 12 masterpieces, contains a final selection that is Americana at its best.

Good Light is hometown. It’s you on the front porch with sweet tea. It’s good listening with southern charm. But most of all, it’s Drew Holcomb up close and personal (and you’re about to learn why). The band has a massive tour kicking off — yay! — so be sure to check the dates below after you read this awesome interview between myself and the guy with the rad belt buckles.

Interviewed by RACHEL ELEANOR SUTTON

Jump into conversation, we’re on drink #1 and the topic kicks off with magazines. 

RACHEL: Now it’s kind of like, well there’s so many, hard to follow them all… Do you read any magazines?

DREW: Oh yea

RACHEL: You have that line in one of your songs… What is it? “You’re a novel in a sea of magazines.”

DREW: Oh yeah, novel in the sea of magazines. I’m actually a magazine junkie, which is ironic a lot of the time… but I subscribe to probably about six or seven magazines. The Atlantic, Gardening and Gun… ever heard of that?

RACHEL: No.

DREW: It’s kind of like a southern lifestyle.

RACHEL: What would you compare it to?

DREW: It’s like high end like a Town & Country.

RACHEL: It’s not like, cheesy…

DREW: A lot of the really famous southern authors have written rag and written for the Times and stuff… A really great magazine that we get is The Smithsonian, or Rolling Stone. We used to get Paste, before they went… I mean they’re still operating, but not on a print level.

RACHEL: I liked Paste! They had those compilation mixes. I loved those.

DREW: Yeah there was always something, a great way to get new music.

RACHEL: They should still do that online, like download the compilations.

DREW: Yea, but there’s just something about getting it in the mail. You’re more likely to pop it on.

RACHEL: Yeah, there’s like a tangible effect… even with CDs. I remember when MP3s came out I was like “No, I want to see them and touch them…” Now you have records for that. So all of your mass music you just put on your iPhone, but then the stuff you really like, you’re gonna buy on vinyl and collect it.

DREW: That’s what Ellie [Drew’s wife] gave me. Ellie gave me a record player the day before we got married, and so then we went on to San Francisco on our honeymoon, to Legal Records, and probably, we spent like 300 bucks on vinyl, so much that we were like, Ok we can’t even get this home, we had to ship it out. It was like, great. Another habit.

RACHEL: How did the two of you meet?

DREW: We met at University at Tennessee through some mutual friends. We just met as two random students and really our friendship kind of hit it off because of music. We started going to shows together. We went to Ryan Adams together, we saw Damien Rice, we saw the Creek, a band called Jumble the children… We started being people that tried to get people to come out to shows with us.

RACHEL: You we’re friends, but did you like her at all?

DREW: I did, but I had to keep it to myself because I kinda knew she wasn’t into me. You know you have your spies when you’re in college. It’s kind of funny. I always had a high view of relationships because my parents are pretty awesome and they created a really healthy childhood and view of marriage for us, so I was always looking for a girl. Not just to date, but somebody I could spend the rest of my life with.

RACHEL: Ahhh, like a best friend?

DREW: Yeah and Ellie had those qualities. She was really easy to get along with, fun, she didn’t hold grudges. She wasn’t one of those people you’d catch talking about her friends. Pretty special. And, she was gorgeous and then I heard her sing and I was like “Oh. Shit.” But then she — long story — she almost married another guy years later. I’d moved to Scotland to study abroad and started writing songs, and while I was there, that’s when I started drinking whiskey, scotch first and then back home I got into Bourbon. Then when I got back from Scotland, she had this really serious boyfriend, it was kind of over for us. Then a year and a half later I started to play and record my first record and they broke up our friendship got rekindled.

RACHEL: I think that’s probably the best way to do it, no?

DREW: Yea.

RACHEL: Friends first. Figure all that out later.

DRINK #2… 

DREW: I never planned on doing music. I had plans for graduate school.

RACHEL: I read somewhere that you didn’t grow up in a musical family.

DREW: Yeah, not really. I mean the only real exposure I had to music was my mom. She played the piano a little bit. She had like four or five gospel song hymns that she would wake us up in the morning to. That was our alarm clock.

RACHEL: That’s nice.

DREW: Yeah, That was really it. I took piano lessons and quit when I was a kid. I sang in the choir and then quit. So there was no, like, trajectory to musician. But I did get introduced to pretty good music at a young age. My dad was huge a Dylan fan and loved Motown. So, we traveled a lot. I saw 46 states before I graduated high school. We had a conversion van, there were four of us. The reason we had a conversion van was my younger brother Jay was in a wheel chair, so we had this big, hawking wheelchair van we used to drive around the country in every summer. It was something. We listened to Dylan, Al Green, Motown, but it was never like an encouragement towards something. And then in high school, I just got. I don’t know, music became a big part of my life. It was a great town [Nashville] to be a music fan in the mid-late ’90s, Radio Head, Pearl Jam and Nirvana. And eventually, that led me to great song people.

RACHEL: When did you start playing?

DREW: I got my first guitar in 7th grade, I didn’t start taking it seriously until 9th grade and then I started playing quite a bit with a friend of mine who was way better than I was, but he would teach me songs and we would, quote-on-quote, “jam,” like you do when you’re in 9th grade. And then slowly, got good enough to kind of play camp fire style, then college led me to Scotland, where I started writing songs for myself.

RACHEL: Why did you go to Scotland?

DREW: I was a history major and I had been to Scotland on a school trip in high school.

[Kaitlin the photographer comes in… we order another sampler. Naturally.]

KAITLIN: So where are you from?

DREW: Memphis.

KAITLIN: Oh, I’ve been to Memphis. Yeah, I went to Elvis’s house, it was more fun for my dad. It was like a parent in Disney World with, like, a really excited child.

DREW: Next time you go to Memphis, you have to go to Graceland 2. There is this psychotic super fan who has this house close to Memphis and the house is decorated on the front just like Graceland, and on the inside, he has like mounds and mounds, like hoarders of all Elvis’ memorabilia. He sleeps on the couch by the front door 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s just 5 bucks. You knock on the door anytime of the year, any hour, — obviously the most fun time to go is like 2 a.m. — and you knock on the door and he’ll get up and say, “Hey, welcome to Graceland,” while wearing an Elvis T-shirt and he’ll have some piece of memorabilia that looks like junk and he’ll say it’s worth $10,000. And you’re just like… No, it’s not. And his son is an Elvis impersonator; literally the house is so overwhelming. All the walls are covered in newspaper clippings of him.

RACHEL: [Laughs] I need to be there. Pronto.

DRINK #3… Now we’re on “NYC” talk, which led to the train talk.

RACHEL: The train is where manners go to die. The city should have a manner campaign.

DREW: One of the things I love about here is that I kind of love the anonymity of just, like, the mass of people. And, I like the friendliness of home too.

RACHEL: So you grew up in Memphis, but you live in Nashville now?

DREW: Yep. I went to school in Knoxville so I’ve been in all quadrants of the state.

RACHEL: Nashville is so much fun. My cousins went to Vanderbilt and I visited often. The first time I, we went to the Tin Roof, I wasn’t 21 yet so my brother-in-law paid the door guy to let me in and they just put giant X’s on my hands, which of course I went to the bathroom and immediately washed off. I loved it. Such a great aura of underground music there.

DREW: Oh, so many. I don’t know how long it has been in the making, but definitely in the last six years, since I’ve been there, you have acts like Jack White and The Black Keys and even people like Sheryl Crow and Peter Frampton. A lot of these older people with these big careers are settling in Nashville.

RACHEL: Do you watch that show Nashville?

DREW: Yes! Parts of it I love. I love all the parts about music and the city, some of the mellow drama is kind of like…

RACHEL: I just love Connie Britton.

DREW: She’s so good. Do you watch Friday Night Lights?

RACHEL: Duh! That’s why I started watching Nashville. Although, I will admit, Friday Night Lights makes me want to take over the world.

… Drew’s manager/friend walks in …

RACHEL: How long have you guys been working together?

DREW: About a year, we’ve been friends for four… It’s all because of whiskey, we got drunk together.

RACHEL: Are you in the whiskey club too? [earlier Drew had told me about a lil’ whiskey club him and some guys had in Nashville.]

RACHEL: [Subject change] So, I’m dying to talk about the new album.

DREW: Well, talking about family, the “Tennessee” song is a good place to launch. I’ve been doing this for about 10 years and I think for a lot of that time it’s been a slow and steady growth of building fans and feeling that the music has been becoming something  you know, but always feeling like, I’m trying hard to create something. But with this record, It felt like I really dug in. I wrote 40 songs, because I just thought, I’m older now. I want to make a record with music I want to make.

It’s a much more personal record, like the “Tennessee” song, is a song about how we all come from some place. We can’t escape who we are: good, bad and ugly. You are in some ways defined by where you are from. Even if you run away from it, you’re kind of always going to hear the reality of what you grew up in. To me, that song is a great example of a song that tells the “story of me” doing the music thing. I think geography matters. I think where we come from matters. Like the song “Like the wine we drink,” a lot of the earlier songs — like the love songs — were a little bit aided through the surface of romantic notions of what a relationship is like. Now that I’ve been married for almost seven years and experienced the struggle of choosing to build a relationship with somebody, it’s like, oh this isn’t “oh this is sweet.” It’s not the honeymoon anymore. It’s a life together and the song “Wine We Drink” is like the sweet moments of sitting on the couch everyday drinking wine. There’s some really personal lines in there, the first line of the song is “I have a tendency to laugh at all the wrong moments.” It’s such a thing for us.

“Good Light”

RACHEL: You figure it out.

RACHEL: You and your wife and your band all work together, but you write the songs. How much input do they have in that process?

DREW: I call our band a benevolent monarchy, you know like everybody has a say but I’m going to make the decision and once the decisions made, it’s made. I think for us at least, especially since I’m the one writing the songs, I totally respect what they have to say because they’re way more musical than I am, especially Nathan and Rich, our guitar player and bass player, I mean they’re knowledge of all things musical is light years beyond mine, so I’d be a fool not to encourage them to participate, but then when it comes down to it, if I have to make a decision, I pull the trigger and say this is how we’re gonna record the song. This is the tempo. I’m not changing the lyrics. It’s mine, but thank you for your input.

RACHEL: Was your daughter born before or after you started writing?

DREW: Ellie was pregnant while I was writing most of the record.

RACHEL: So that’s a big proponent, no?

DREW: Yea certainly, I think “Good Light” more than any other song on the record, at least the chorus was from me to her, and knowing that, kind of the same things I was saying for “Wine We Drink” is life is really difficult and it’s very disappointing. Ya know? Things happen and we go, “That’s just not what I was dreaming about…” But, there’s still something that’s worth pursuing the next day, that’s worth getting up the next morning and try again.

RACHEL: Are you so excited for her to get older?

DREW: Yeah, I’m excited. We’re taking her on the road this spring

… Now, we’re chatting about moonshine.

DREW:… Yeah we’ve got Jack Daniels down the road [in Nashville], which is great. There’s a new, legal moonshine. It’s the new thing in Tennessee, it’s basically a moon on the open market, it’s branded that way, but it’s made the same way — the same distilling methods. And, I’ve got apple moonshine in my garage that was made in a guy’s garage.

MANAGER: It’s delicious.

…. enter LOTS of moonshine chatter…

RACHEL: So, I hear you’re doing murder songs? Is that tomorrow?

DREW: Tomorrow, yeah.

RACHEL: I need hear more about this. All I was told was, he’s doing murder ballads tomorrow and I’m really curious as to what the hell that means.

DREW: Yeah, I’m performing a few. On that, Obviously folk music has a lot of those murder ballads in it and they took the idea over, one of the songs, a song called Tom Dooly. I remember singing it in third grade in public school music class. It’s so random. It’s this really sad song about a guy basically getting capital punishment, executed, for killing his wife. There’s like all these pop songs that are basically these really intense murder ballads. Dave Matthews did one called “Long Bite Bills,” a Johnny Cash song, about this woman whose husband gets murdered by her lover and the lover is singing the song… But yeah, so I’m playing a couple of ’em and gonna perform a few of them, one of them is a Johnny Cash song and actually Elvis did it too. It was a pretty big sized hit with Elvis called “Frankie and Johnny” and one called “Where’d You Sleep Last Night,” which is an old blues song that Nirvana did in the ’90s, it was on one of their records. It was like all this kind of long history with it, some of them have relationships with the civil rights movement. Billy Holiday did a song called “Strange Fruit,” which is a really intense song about lynching. Like strange fruit hanging from a tree, like bleeding down the root. Super intense. Real heavy. But the guy who wrote the song eventually got into trouble for his association with the communist party. He disassociated himself with that and then when the Rosenbergs’ got executed for communism in 1953, the guy who wrote that song 20 years earlier had adopted the Rosenbergs’ two kids. Like total second story to that. That’s just a really fascinating piece of American history.

RACHEL: Awesome. So from bourbon to whiskey to murder ballads.

DREW: Yeah, it’s appropriate right?

… The tape gets a little noisy, not sure how we ended up speaking about France, but here it is.

DREW: Son of God! I wish I spoke French. That would really be something in my bio. I got really close to speaking Spanish. I did it all the way through high school and college, and then I just dropped it.

RACHEL: You have to go there. I’ve never been to France and mastered it, but you really have to take the time and go for it.

DREW: Yeah, that’s true. Certainly I did not. You liking #3?

RACHEL: I really like #3.

DREW: So another fun story about a particular song, “Nothing But Trouble,” it’s a fun song in terms of talking about song writing because I started that song about four years ago. The arrangement is way different. It’s kind of like a country folk song sort of having a little groove to it. But basically, all the little images in the song like California is where we went on our honeymoon, East of Eden is our favorite novel that we both really love, wild flower, all the little snippet words, wild flower is a Tom Petty album that we listen to all the time on vinyl, it’s like our record. Do you know the record I’m talking about? It’s got like “Let’s get to the point, roll the joint.”

RACHEL: Yeah! [totally no idea].

DREW: The song we love is the “You belong lonely wild flower / You belong in a boat out at sea.” That song is beautiful. It’s totally my wife, just out in the clouds. I just remember before we were dating we would walk around campus and she’d literally be enjoying the day, and I’d be like “Who are you?” because that’s not my personality at all.

RACHEL: It took four years to finally date, but now you’re…

DREW: Now we’re good. We’re seven in on the marriage front.

DREW: For our five-year anniversary we did a, speaking of France, we did a 120-mile hike in the French Alps.

RACHEL: That’s cool! So, when does the tour start for this new album?

DREW: Right. Feb. 19th on I-tunes, we’re doing like a one week exclusive with I-tunes. The first show is on Valentine’s Day, which was an accident.

DREW: Are we ready for #4?

RACHEL: Almost.

DREW: I’m going too fast. I better slow down. I’m gonna’ go with number two as my favorite so far.

RACHEL: I like number 3 so far.

DREW: Number 4 is Tennessee. It’s basically bourbon, but you don’t want to call itbourbon, because bourbon county in Kentucky is always a pride thing.

Drink Number #4.

RACHEL: Something we were just talking about reminded me something I wanted to ask you, about… I want to say… Youth Nation?

DREW: Young Life.

RACHEL: OK. What is that?

DREW: It’s an organization that is youth mission work, well, mission works not the right word. Kids come in the summer at camps, and so, we’re involved with that. My parents have been involved since I was a kid. It’s a really neat organization where … I’ve really met a lot of fans and kids from around the country

RACHEL: There’s a similar one here in NYC. I read about it WWD once.

DREW: WWD, what’s that?

RACHEL: It’s a fashion newspaper. It’s like the New York Times for fashion.

DREW: Are you familiar with Billy Reed, the designer?

RACHEL: I am. Yes. So you’re interested in fashion?

DREW: My grandfather wore tweed coats and wellington boots and had like spaniels and pointers… But now it’s like the thing that everybody’s taking fashion cues from, which is great. I’ve always loved this style. I hope it’ll last a while. It’s what I’ve always been wearing.

RACHEL: It will. Every guy that I meet, that’s fashionable in kind of in their own way and not necessarily obvious about it, is always like, “Well my grandpa…” It’s great. It’s like they’re not trying to be fashionable, but they always are in their own sense.

DREW: My dad loves clothes… he has kind of like this old English vibe, fancy kind of stuff. So we grew up, kinda because of my dad kind, liking clothes. Not to some ridiculous degree, but just to the point of I knew what stuff was. He loves watches. We go on vacation and he wants to go to the watch store and just look at stuff. Like, we came to NY when I was a kid and he wanted to go to the Ralph Lauren store to check out the way it was decorated. He was always really into that. I don’t know a lot about fashion, hardly at all, but I can tell when somebody is taking care of themselves. And my dad has very strict rules about dressing, he says unless you went to the naval academy, only one ring.

RACHEL: [Laughs]

DREW: Yeah, he’s always telling me… like, “Yeah. You can get an earring. Just know that when you walk in the house, I’m going to pull it out of your ear.” He wasn’t kidding.

… When I told my grandma I got a tattoo, she was pretty upset and I lied to her and said it says, “I love mama Lou” on it and she goes, “well that would be pretty good I guess.”

RACHEL: I haven’t told my grandma that I got a tattoo, yet. I’m waiting for someone to just rat me out.

DREW: My grandmother is very southern. When she’s appalled by something or surprised in a negative way, she goes “Oh horror.” It’s like Downton Abbey. They had a lady that cooked for her until 1970. It was that whole thing, which was pretty common in the south. One time, she was somewhere with my mother and Ellie shopping, and this girl comes out with a low slung dress. And my grandma said it looked really cute. Then, the girl turned around, she had a big back tattoo, and my grandma said really loud “Oh horror,” plenty loud enough for the girl to hear it.

Drink Number 5.

DREW: I’m flying to Miami to do a song writing thing on a cruise, it’s kind of a long story. So we’re playing on this thing called the Rock Boat, it’s about 20-35 bands or artists, and four of us they’re sending on a blue grass cruise to write for four days and then hopefully — if it goes well — we’ll play those songs on the Rock Boat, it’s kind of an exercise. Like a collaboration.

RACHEL: Lucky!

DREW: If you could hear someone play in their living room, anybody, who would it be?

RACHEL: I have a really cheesy answer to that question, but, I’ve been listening to them since I was little. The Rolling Stones, definitely. And it’s funny because I used to have a friend who worked for Keith Richards. And he has no idea how big of a fan I am… But I’d always be like, “So, how was Keith today?” It was awesome. I’m just so fascinated about that lifestyle. They were just like, “We didn’t know heroin was bad for us. No one ever told us.”

DREW: Charlie Watson is the best-dressed man in Rock n’ Roll.

RACHEL: What about that question for you? If you could have anyone play in your living room, who would it be?

DREW: Um, I would probably say, either be Springsteen or Patti Griffin. I mean I think I would be so nervous if it were Springsteen. I probably wouldn’t be able to engage, which is probably why I’ll never get to meet him because I’m too big of a fan. Yeah, he has five of my top 15 favorite songs.

RACHEL: Who would be the other top four, or five guitar players?

DREW: David Gray. Tom Waits. Springsteen. Patti Griffin. Bill Withers.

RACHEL: OK. Tell me your three animals you wish you could be, in order and why.

DREW: Elephant, because, from what I can tell, they’re incredibly intelligent. They like to roam all over the place and I’ve always been fascinated by elephants.

Then it would be a dog, owned by a really great owner because then you can just sit around and do whatever you want all the time.

And three, what guy doesn’t want to be a lion? Because they’re the king of the jungle, everyone looks at you and they’re like “Wow, look at that guy.”

RACHEL: OK… So. The first animal is what you want to be. The second animal is what you are. And the third animal is what you’d look for in a mate. That seems pretty dead on.

DREW: … Ask me a question that’s pretty out of the blue that doesn’t have a psychological secret to it.

RACHEL: What’d you eat for breakfast?

DREW: I was at the airport so I had a cliff bar and a cappuccino.

Drink #6… The Mystery drink… Rambling on the tape deck. Ending up here:

RACHEL: Duck hunting? What other hobbies do you have? Vinyl collecting!

DREW: Collecting whiskey, I have a lot. Fatherhood is my new hobby. Ellie loves putting her in hats.

…. More static on the tape recorder…

RACHEL: Your NBA thing? I Googled it… Such! A tear jerker.

DREW: I like basketball as much as the next guy, I don’t watch it.

RACHEL: That was very interesting to me. Usually it’s like Black Eyed Peas. It’s a very great promo though!

DREW: It’s a pretty funny and long story, too.

RACHEL: Did they just come to you and say, “I want to use this song?”

DREW: No, it was an unlicensed use. Eventually, we had to have a long dialogue and conversation that ended in a mutually agreeable way and they won an Emmy for it.

RACHEL: So what happened to you in the mix of all of that?

DREW: I got an Emmy.

RACHEL: That’s really cool. So… wait… Did that commercial just happen and you were like wait a second that’s my song?

DREW: It was Christmas morning, about two years ago and all of the sudden my phone starts lighting up with text messages. I was just hanging out with my in laws and everybody was like “That’s so great,” “I love that commercial” and I was thinking to myself… What are they talking about? So I tweeted “Hey, I don’t know what happened, can somebody send me a link” and it was already on YouTube in like 10 minutes. So we watched it on the TV and the whole family was just, like, speechless. My first emotion was that’s amazing, what a great use of our song! My second emotion was like, did anybody ask if they could do that? I need to make some phone calls.

RACHEL: Isn’t licensing like the next stage in music?

DREW: We’ve had a lot of success with licensing. We’ve been on Parenthood, Deadliest Catch, How I Met Your Mother.

RACHEL: It’s recognition. We watch a lot of the same shows, that’s really funny.

DREW: Well, actually, a lot of those shows have the same producer.

RACHEL: Really cool belt buckle.

DREW: My grandpa gave it to me when I was 17.

CATCH THE LIVE ACT

2/14/13 – Jackson, MS – Duling Hall*

2/15/13 – Oxford, MS – Proud Larry’s*

2/16/13 – Athens, GA – 40 Watt*

2/23/13 – Jacksonville, FL – Murray Hill Theatre*

2/24/13 – Miami, FL – Rock Boat*

3/7/13 – Little Rock, AR – Juanita’s*

3/8/13 – Oklahoma City, OK – VZD’s*

3/9/13 – Fayetteville, AR – George’s Majestic Lounge*

3/20/13 – Milwaukee, WI – Shank Hall*

3/21/13 – Grand Rapids – The Intersection*

3/22/13 – Columbus, OH – The Basement *

4/2/13 – Memphis, TN – Orpheum**

4/3/13 – Knoxville, TN – Tennessee Theatre**

4/4/13 – Knoxville, TN – Tennessee Theatre**

4/5/13 – Birmingham, AL – Boutwell Auditorium**

4/6/13 – Greenville, SC – Timmons Arena**

4/10/13 – Durham, NC – Durham PAC**

4/12/13 – Atlanta, GA – Fox Theater**

4/13/13 – Charlotte, NC – Time Warner Amphitheatre**

4/17/13 – Indianapolis, IN – Murat Theatre**

4/18/13 – Louisville, KY – Brown Theatre**

4/22/13 – Lawrence, KS – Liberty Hall**

4/23/13 – Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre**

4/24/13 – Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre

4/26/13 – Houston, TX – House of Blues**

4/27/13 – Dallas, TX – Palladium**

4/28/13 – Austin, TX – Stubbs**

4/29/13 – Tulsa, OK – Brady Theatre**

5/1/13 – Minneapolis, MN – State Theatre**

5/2/13 – Chicago, IL – Riviera Theatre**

5/3/13 – Detroit, MI – Royal Oak**

5/4/13 – Toronto, ON – Kool Haus**

5/6/13 – Rockwood Music Hall – NYC*

5/7/13 – Boston, MA – House of Blues**

5/8/13 – Philadelphia, PA – Electric Factory**

5/9/13 – Charlottesville, VA – Charlottesville Pavilion**

5/10/13 – Jammin Java, Vienna, VA (DC)*

5/11/13 – Charleston, SC – Charleston Tennis**

 

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