Q&A with Drew Holcomb
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors
By Julie Wenger Watson
Nashville-based Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors bring their “Find Your People” Tour to Cain’s Ballroom Thursday, October 19. Indie-folk band Josiah and the Bonnevilles open the show. DHATN, which features Holcomb and his longtime bandmates Nathan Dugger (guitar), Rich Brinsfield (bass), Will Sayles (drums), and Ian Miller (keys), are on tour in support of their latest studio album, Strangers No More. We caught up with Drew Holcomb for a quick Q & A about the album, his writing process, his nonprofit work and bourbon.
Your eighth album, Dragons, was released in 2019, prior to the pandemic. Strangers No More was released in June. How was the new album influenced by the pandemic and the general world upheaval that existed during the time you were working on it?
Honestly, I took a long time away from writing at the beginning of the pandemic. I was in shell shock like everybody else, just trying to keep it all together. Coming out of it, I think what the pandemic did for me was to create a lot of introspection, and this record is way more introspective than Dragons. Dragons was very much a record about external relationships – a song about my grandfather, a song about my family, a song about my wife, a song about my kids, etc. Whereas this one’s more introspective and universal in outlook – songs about the passing of time, songs about friendship. It changed my focus from external to internal.
You have a large body of work. I know your fans will be excited to hear your new songs at Cain’s Ballroom. Will you also be including some of your older tunes in your setlist?
That’s the great puzzle of live touring. As the artist, you’re excited to play your new songs, but people come expecting certain old songs, which is great. The set’s about 25 to 28 songs. There are eight or so from the new record, and then we play songs from every other record. I make sure with every setlist that there’s a song from every one of our records.
You have several co-writes on this album. Is there a particular process when you write songs with other artists?
Everybody I wrote with on this record is a friend. I don’t really write with random strangers like a lot of people do in Nashville. These are folks I know and trust and love. My favorite story of how the songs came together was when I was dropping my kids off at school, and I ran into my friend Ketch Secor from Old Crow Medicine Show. Ketch said, “Hey man, what are you doing today? Let’s go write some songs.” So we did. Over the next two days, we wrote “Dance With Everybody” and “Gratitude.” It’s pretty organic how I decide to write with people and get together with them – artists getting together to hang out and see what happens.
Cain’s Ballroom is turning 100 in 2024, and it continues to operate as a locally-owned, family-run independent venue. What role do you think independent venues like Cain’s play in the music ecosystem?
One hundred years is absolutely insane. That’s got to be a record of some sort. I think independent venues are the heartbeat of local music scenes and national touring scenes. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer as they get consolidated by the big promoters, so playing them feels very special. It feels like you’re a part of history. Cain’s is especially like that. You hear people talk about the first time they saw a show at Cain’s or they saw so-and-so at Cain’s. I think it’s our second time to headline it, and it’s been quite a long time, so we are thrilled to come to Cain’s. I’ve had it circled on the calendar. Every time we book a tour, there are always five or six shows that I circle as ones I’m really looking forward to, and Cain’s is definitely on that list.
Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement in Sweetens Cove Bourbon Whiskey?
I won this scholarship in college to the University of Tennessee called the “Peyton Manning Scholarship,” and no, it was not for athletics, obviously. To his credit, he [Manning] kept up with my career all these years, and as adults we became friendly. Manning and some other friends through golf, including former tennis star, Andy Roddick, found this nine-hole golf course in Tennessee where I had been going for years, and they bought into it. Then they decided to make a bourbon. They said they were looking for a Tennessean, who’s a musician, who loves golf, and who loves bourbon to join them, and for that, I am the bullseye. It’s been really fun to be a part of that.
You have been involved in a number of nonprofits. Is there anything you’d like to share about those?
We’ve done a lot of really cool things over the years. One of my favorites was a tour years ago. We did a merch thing called “Love Your Neighbors,” where we had a special shirt. Fifty percent of the proceeds from every shirt sold went to a local food bank. In general, my philosophy on philanthropy and nonprofits is that people should find things that are near and dear to their hearts, that pull at their senses of justice, and then dig in and give what you can – give money, give time, give your talents, introducing people, relationships. That’s been a very joyous part of my life. My parents were very clear in my childhood, “to whom much is given; much is expected,” and that’s how I think about giving.