Drew Holcomb Interview

Tennesse natives Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors have a heart of gratitude that surpasses most active musicians performing today. This is evident on their 2023 release, ‘Strangers No More’ (which even has a song that is appropriately titled “Gratitude.”) Holcomb and Co. have been actively recording music and touring for nearly two decades, delivering their unique blend of folk-pop/Americana music to an ever-growing audience.

After a summer spent supporting former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker on tour, Holcomb is excited to hit the road for a headlining tour that will include markets (::cough cough:: Cleveland, that the band hasn’t headlined in a while!)

While Drew and the guys have made a splash on the indie charts and had some TV/Film placements for some of their tunes, they have widely relied on their grass roots/word of mouth efforts and earning new fans with stellar live shows.

Ahead of the upcoming September 15 show at Cleveland’s House of Blues, Holcomb phoned CleveRock to discuss the band’s latest album release, ‘Strangers No More,’ finding a silver lining during the dark times of the pandemic, and their recently-renewed sense of gratitude.

Delaney Canfield (CleveRock): I wanted to talk a little bit about what it means for you guys to be back out on the road because the last album was released in 2019 and obviously tours were cut short. What does it mean for you and the guys to be back out on the road?

Drew Holcomb: It means a lot. It’s such a weird time. We’ve always been sort of a hard-touring band. We’ve been playing 80-plus shows a year for 15 years. And so, when the pandemic happened, it was definitely sort of a shock to our way of life and our way of doing things. But, you know, in a lot of ways, I think we learned a lot.

For me, having something you love taken from you, like touring and playing in front of a live audience, it actually made me really appreciate it and have a lot of gratitude for the work and the job. I wasn’t exactly jaded going into the pandemic, but there were always times like, ‘Man, I’m doing this.’ This is just like so much time away.

Taking 18 months off the road really ignited some perspective, and some fresh creativity, and a lot of self-reflection. This album has a lot of fruit of that, even in the writing and the recording process. I’m just really grateful for my band and the music that we make together. getting to take that on the road – I’m leaving and I’m going from this call to our first day of rehearsals and we’ve been touring all summer with Darius [Rucker], but obviously, putting on headline shows is quite a bit different.

There’s this great nervous energy of putting together a great show that we’re going to be really proud of. A lot of these new songs, for whatever reason, have really connected on a broad level. What’s interesting is we haven’t been to Cleveland in like seven or eight years and we sold like three times more tickets than we did the last time we were there. There’s clearly a great energy with the new music and that’s fun. That makes it an exciting show and we’re thrilled to be back out there doing what we do.

Delaney Canfield (CleveRock): You mentioned the word “gratitude.” I feel like that is a huge theme on your new album, ‘Strangers No More.’ Speaking as a listener, that is one of the reasons that I loved it. Was that an intentional theme of the album when you began the writing process?

Drew Holcomb: That’s been sort of a morning wake-up mantra for me for about the last six years, even pre-pandemic. We just live in such a chaotic, isolated, and divided time. It’s really easy, for me and for a lot of people to wake up just feeling a sense of sort of dread and malaise, you know? I know for me, it’s good to sort of wake up and think about the good things that exist, even in light of the tough things about life. And “Gratitude,” that song sort of encapsulates that. It’s kind of a lens for the rest of the record.

But, I didn’t intentionally write the record from that perspective. It just kind of happened to sort of land in that place. It deals with sort of the heaviness on songs like “Troubles” and “Free.” Also, it’s very celebratory on songs like “Find Your People” and “Dance With Everybody,” which are songs about community, friendship, and sort of all the things that got put on hold for this weird period of time. And, I think I’ve got more perspective for them now than I did before about this record.

Delaney Canfield (CleveRock): You have a lengthy career with nine albums in your discography. Do you find that themes and things have changed over time because of all your shared experiences, or is this something you have wanted to write about for a while?

Drew Holcomb: I think it’s always been there. It’s just a matter of the harvest and it feels like something about age and the time that we’re in. And, you know, I turned 40 in 2022. My kids are getting older and maturing so it just feels like this record has been like a bottle of wine we’ve been aging for a long time, and it finally hit its ripe time and it’s time to crack it open and share it with everybody…I don’t know. That just came to me on the spot.

Delaney Canfield (CleveRock): That was a good one! Everyone is excited to taste the fruits of the labor you’ve put in. It’s been really fun listening to this album and I’m excited to get to hear it live. One of the things I’ve heard you say in other interviews is that this album “has a lot of freedom.” Can you talk a little about what that means and what that looked like in the writing and recording process?

Drew Holcomb: There’s a song on the record called, “That’s On You, That’s On Me” which is this line, “We all make our own mythology.” I think for me, over the years, you make these records, you do press interviews, and you sort of start to corner yourself and box yourself into a certain style of music, a certain way of presenting yourself, and also the story becomes true because it’s what you sort of operated under. The way that that sort of limited us was in the studio, we would have a song like, “Oh that’s not really what we do, you know?” We would sideline a song, or sideline an idea, or sideline an instrument, or sideline a way of recording, or a style of song.

A lot of my music over the years, like ‘Dragons’ (2019), the whole record is very confessional, family, like very particular to my own story. I was like, “Well, that’s what I do.” On this record, we kind of broke that away. I started to write a little bit more from a universal perspective. Songs about ideas like gratitude or friendship; like-minded people. And not necessarily filling those songs with characters from my own life, but more just sort of preaching to myself about life in general.

Also, in the studio, a song like “All The Money In The World,” we probably would have shied away from that song in the past because it’s sort of stylistically different than anything we’ve ever done that we’ve ever recorded. But it’s in me, I mean I wrote the song… and we recorded as a band, the same players who just allowed ourselves a little more of an expansive palette, both from a writing standpoint, but also from a recording standpoint. Even simple things like on the live show, I’ve almost always had a guitar in my hand. Now, I started to do more and more where I was singing and kind of working the crowd a little bit more and less hiding behind the mic and the guitar; just taking myself a little less seriously in a sense of taking the work as seriously as ever, but taking myself less seriously as an artist and allowing myself to expand what we do, and it’s been really fun. Like you said, there’s been a lot of freedom in that.

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