Q&A: Drew Holcomb

At 8 p.m. Sunday at Common Grounds, Drew Holcomb will be playing songs from his new album, “Medicine.” Sharing the stage that night will be Austin-based performers Penny & Sparrow. Photo credit: Courtesy of Eric Ryan Anderson

By Sarah Jennings, Reporter

Drew Holcomb, singer and songwriter of the folk rock band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, spoke with the Baylor Lariat about his Medicine Fall Tour and the meaning behind the music. He will be performing with Penny and Sparrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at Common Grounds.

You recently introduced the VIP experience to your tour. What was your idea behind this?

I started it with some of my good friends, NEEDTOBREATHE. They did a VIP thing on the tour we did all together. It was really fun and also a way for fans who wanted an extra experience to be more up-close and personal. I’ve always thought, “If I could buy a ticket to see one of my favorite bands, what would I want to pay to do extra?” Ours is going to have a Q&A, a couple of acoustic songs, unplugged, and a time for meet and greet. At this level in our career, I don’t have the physical stamina to go out every night and do it with everyone who comes to our show. But we can do it with a smaller group of people.

After coming off a whole summer with “Tour de Compadres,” what do you hope to bring to the Medicine Fall Tour?

It’s really great to be on a tour like that and to play to large crowds. But, you have four bands on a bill, so you’re really managing your time and your musical scope. Doing a headline run is a lot more comfortable for us. It’s more intimate and comfortable. We can stretch out and play more songs, take requests and tell more stories. We can interact more and make the crowd feel more connected to us. We’ve been headlining a lot for years, and we would prefer to headline. But every once and a while, it’s fun to play on a tour with friends like NEEDTOBREATHE and Ben Rector, to pair up and do something different like that.

Since you’ve played Common Grounds and Baylor before, what can we expect this time?

We’ve got this really cool, old-school part of our set where we all play our instruments around one old-school radio microphone. There will definitely be some collaboration with Penny and Sparrow. These will really be one time experiences for this tour. And like you said, we’ve been in Waco before. It’s such a great venue and always a great crowd. It will probably be one of the most fun shows on the tour.

So you’ve been performing with Penny and Sparrow. How do you think they complement your show?

Well, our show is kind of interesting. It’s mellow at times. It’s also got a lot of energy at times. It’s really important that the opening act has the music for that. It’s the icing on the cake that they’re good friends of ours. They’re great guys. There’s a lot of mutual respect. Even the way I heard their music is pretty cool. I had a friend in Nashville, who called me and asked, “Are you home? I need to bring you a CD.” He came in, and said, “This band, I just heard them, and you’ve got to check them out.” I said, “Okay, I’ll listen to them.” He said, “No, you’re gonna listen while I’m sitting here.” He wanted to watch me listen to them. So we sat down and I put their album in. It was their EP actually, their first EP. I listened to their first song and was just floored. These guys are incredible. Then we met them somewhere down the road. And you know, we don’t have to convince our audience to like them. They’ve already got their own fans.

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At 8 p.m. Sunday at Common Grounds, Drew Holcomb will be playing songs from his new album, “Medicine.” Sharing the stage that night will be Austin-based performers Penny & Sparrow. Photo credit: Rebecca Flannery

In a previous interview, you stated that Medicine was the first album you’ve written by yourself. How do you think it’s evolved from earlier work? What makes you proud of this album?

Well, I’m incredibly proud of each album and think each one has merit. But there’s always kind of a sense of youthful ambition, of trying to figure it out. This album is the first one that feels like a total expression of my maturity into adulthood: having kids, settling down, being comfortable with who I am as an artist—not trying to be all things to all people, and being comfortable with making the music the band and I love to make. Also it was stretching limits. The way we recorded it was very old-school. We didn’t go back and fix things or record things, we just tracked it live. It was in the moment. So for those reasons, it feels like the first record, that was, “Oh yeah, this is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do.”

What kind of messages and themes do you want to convey through this album? It’s more diverse, I think, than your past work in that you have different themes of life in it?

If I had a theme, it’d be that “Life is hard. Life can be full of great joy, and we need each other to experience both of those things.” You can’t do it alone. There’s a lot in there. In “Ain’t Nobody Got It Easy,” the song talks about how no matter what anybody’s walking through. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. And I think for me, I’m throwing my music out there as a way to help others. Music has helped me a lot in my life to help make sense of things. That’s what I’m trying to do with this record.

Would you say Ellie and your family influenced this record?

Oh yes. The song, “You’ll Always Be My Girl,” was for Ellie, my wife, and for my daughter. When things do get hard, I know no matter what, they’ll be there. Family themes are big for me. I come from a family—where, well, every family’s got their issues—but there’s a lot of loyalty, a lot of courage that we have for each other. That rubs off on my songwriting.

Does your band come into that family feel too? You’ve been together a while.

Oh yeah, yeah. Especially Nathan and Rich, the guitar players, they’ve been playing with me for almost 10 years. That’s a long time. I’ve been in both of their weddings, and they’ve got kids. Rich has a couple kids. We’re all just trying to take care of each other’s families and keep an eye on each other. We really get along; that’s a key thing. It’s important to me that music is secondary to the relationships.

With playing over 150 shows a year, what makes it all worthwhile?

At the end of the day, life is just about balancing different parts. You’ve got your family, your friends, your community, your job. And for me, I have the neatest thing, in that my job is creating and working with human experience and emotion. The fact that I’m able to be in a job where I can articulate and put words and music to those experiences—and that means something to people—gets me out of bed in the morning. And the great thing is, when we’re not on tour, we’re fully present at home. There’s definitely sacrifice, but there’s also a lot of benefits. When they get us, they get our full attention.

One last question. “American Beauty” is currently the top song on your Spotify page. I really loved the music video. Can you tell me a little bit about how this song came about?

That guitar riff is something I’ve been playing over and over again for years, yet I just never quite sat down and wrote a song to it. Then there was this lyric that I’d saved separate from that. It was the first two lines to the song: “She was a good companion, eyes like the Grand Canyon.” I was just playing that riff while looking through a notebook I keep of words and catchphrases that would be good in a song. The idea formulated around the thought that everyone has that someone who got away. You know, the love that never really happened but that you thought was a sure thing. It’s like a black and white photograph, looking at that summer from years ago. It’s something that pop culture has sort of whacked off as summer love and not important. But Ellie and I both have those people, who we fell in love with really young. Not each other, this was before we knew each other. In a way, it’s easy as a an adult to say, “That’s just young love; it doesn’t mean anything.” So that song was about validating, for myself and everyone else, that first taste of thinking you found that person to share your life with. Even for just a short time, it’s such a drug. I mean that not necessarily as a bad thing. It haunts you. There’s an interesting thing about that song, it’s what I love about songs. That song was released early because it was picked up by Dick’s Sporting Goods to be in their Christmas commercial. The commercial was all about a father and daughter, so I got all of these emails, texts and tweets saying, “I loved that song you wrote for dads and daughters”. But that wasn’t at all the intention of the song. I love that songs take on their own life. That’s one of my favorite things about touring. Songs are living and breathing things that are always meaningful to people in different ways.