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Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors Interview

The Nashville native reveals his love for California and Led Zeppelin

Drew Holcomb’s newest album Souvenir is set to be released on March 24th and he says it is his most musical record to date. The Americana band Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors have been together for the past decade, allowing them to become super comfortable with each other on and off stage. 

“When I’m left to my own devices, I’m more of a classic singer-songwriter. Bringing in the band brought in some of these amazing influences. There is more of a Beatles-type sound on the record. We did things I would never think to do on my own,” frontman Drew comments on the creative process for Souvenir. After the last album Medicine, Drew knew he needed help. 

From including his band mates in the writing process to not worrying about the live performance aspect, the album took Drew and The Neighbors in a new direction. “The final result is a great record for us and is in line with things we’ve always done but has a new horizon. From a song perspective and musical perspective,” Drew says of the end product. 

We sat down with this Nashville native to discuss the album’s inspiration, his love of California and the artist he spent $700 on in high school.

What was it like bringing in your band mates to help write this record?

I’ve written most of my records by myself. This one, I invited my band mates to write with me. I’ve spent ten years with these two guys on the road together. We’ve been through everything. They were at my wedding and I was in some of their weddings. We’ve been together for the hard times, the emotional fights on the road and we understand touring lifestyle.

In a way, there is a blood kinship between these guys and myself. I’ve tried writing with strangers who are supposedly great writers. They are great writers but not when you don’t know have that vulnerability. That’s why I invited my guys in. We have so much trust between one another and that’s a huge deal for me.

What inspired you to bring them into your process for this album?

We had toured brutally for the Medicine album. In 18 months, we played over 200 shows. Medicine was also an incredibly personal and raw album for me. Emotionally, I had given everything to it. After the Good Light record, my wife Ellie left the band and I felt this pressure to make the best album we could. A lot of our fans were disappointed with Ellie’s departure. I had to prove to them that they should stick around, so I slaved on that record. When it came to start writing songs for the new record, I kept hitting a wall. One night I told my band mates that I needed help. I needed fresh eyes and fresh ears. We started writing together and it worked.

Do you have any favorite songs or lyrics off of Souvenir?

There’s a fun line that I’m really proud of in the song called “California.” I love California; it’s one of my favorite places. There’s a song about Los Angeles that says, “The worst first impressions in your life happen here.” That’s how I feel about L.A. The first time you go there you think it’s the worst place. Then you spend some time there and you just fall in love. 

There’s another line in that song I like that says, “Once a stranger, now a friend. Always wondered where the sunset ends.” I feel like as a boy from Tennessee you always hear about the west coast and once you go, you’re amazed. 

Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors
Photo by Ashtin Paige

How have your fans evolved with you over the past ten years?

I think the bulk of our fans have been with us for a while. We’ve definitely been picking people up along the way though. I started doing this when I was 21 years old and I’m 34 now. When we first started out, all of our fans were young, fellow hipsters and now it’s people in their late 20s to early 30s. One of my favorite things is when people send me Facebook videos of their kids singing our music. It makes me think that maybe someday it will be like me listening to Van Morrison. I wasn’t around when he was making music but my dad used to play me those great records when I was a kid and I could appreciate it. 

We got into this business to make music, not to get famous. We love making music. To see our fan base developing and changing with a core group that’s been with us for so long makes us feel good. 

How do you translate your studio records into live performances?

That was one of the main differences between making this record compared to the last one. For the last one I wanted to be able to pull off anything we do in the studio in the live performances. It made the record very stark, musically. From day one for Souvenir we knew we wanted to have fun while making the record and not think about the live performance aspect until the time came. 

Most modern bands will run tracks in the background to make up for the sounds they can’t make on stage, but we’ve taken a stand against doing that. We’ve been rehearsing a lot for the tour, trying to reinterpret the album and it can get intense sometimes.

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco once said something about how at the end of the day, in order for a band to succeed, it can’t be a democracy. I let the guys argue it out and try to convince each other to do certain things and if they don’t, I come in and make an executive decision.

You do a request portion during your live shows. Have you ever had a request you refused?

There are some songs that I don’t like anymore and don’t want to play. There’s one called “Nothing Like a Woman” that feels too much like a bar-band song. There will be a fan adamant about requesting it and finally I have to yell back that I’m not playing it. Or sometimes I have to succumb and play it. 

We play a lot of shows in the south and you know that inevitably, some idiot is going to yell “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. In those instances I take a page from Steve Earle’s book. At one of his shows, someone yelled “Free Bird” and he flipped them off and said “There’s your free bird.”

Drew Holcomb
Photo by Eric Ryan Anderson

What is a band or an artist that you listen to that fans would be surprised to hear?

I’m a big fan of Led Zeppelin and Radiohead. My music sounds nothing like that stuff but it means a lot to me. I can put on Zeppelin and go back to when I was 17, driving around in my Jeep and there’s nothing else associated with it. In high school I probably spent like $700 on Zeppelin music and $700 was all I had.