Every once in a while you catch an opening act that rivals
the headliner. You know it when you find yourself doing research on
the band, looking them up on YouTube, downloading their music,
humming their songs and thinking about them days after the show.
Well, now is one of those times for me and Drew Holcomb & the
Neighbors is the band. I must not be the only one that feels this
way, as they will be headlining a national tour of their own this
fall for Good Light, their just-released fourth album. Live
versions of the new songs should not be missed, nor should music from their previous albums
like Chasing Someday. That album that includes "Fire and
Dynamite" and "Live Forever," two of my new favorites.
If you are looking for the typical love-gone-wrong songs,
you won't find much of that here. There is a more positive and
hopeful message in much of the group's music and lyrics. While life
is not perfect, with good friends, family and good neighbors things
will be okay. There is a lot of that upbeat feeling in their songs.
Along with their inspiring music, they also have a fun and
compelling energy on stage. It makes them as much fun to watch as
they are to listen to. Holcomb and the Neighbors have a mellow sound
with great harmonics, combining Drew's soulful rock sound and his
wife Ellie's raspy and charming voice. But make no mistake about it,
they can really rock out.
Speaking with Drew reinforced my feeling that he and the
Neighbors would be good people. Both in conversation and on stage he
gives off a warm and comfortable energy and a genuine kindness;
almost like they are your friends or people you would love to have
as your neighbors. And these Neighbors just might restore a
little hopefulness to your love and life.
you're Drew Holcomb, but tell me about the Neighbors. How did that
name come to be?
I grew up in
Memphis and moved to Knoxville for college. [I] moved back to
Memphis after school and started pursuing a music career. It's all
encompassing. It was there that I met Nathan [Dugger], our guitar
player. He was in high school at the time. I was 22 and he was five
years younger than me. He was kind of a musical prodigy. He started
playing guitar and piano in little local bands I put together. It
wasn't quite the Neighbors yet. It was just me putting together a
random smattering of players. Ellie had been an old friend from
college who I'd always had a thing for, but never had quite the
opportunity to do anything about it. Shortly after I graduated our
friendship turned into something more, so I moved back to Knoxville.
Nathan moved to Nashville to go to Belmont University, which is a
well-known music school. Ellie and I had shared a love for music in
our friendship through college. I was already beginning a tour and
she was an eighth-grade English teacher. We decided to get married.
We moved to Nashville and I was still playing music with Nathan
whenever possible. I convinced her to quit her teaching job and go
on the road full time. It was around the same time that we met Rich
[Brinsfield] who was a friend of Nathan's from Belmont. That's the
short version of it. We've been playing music now, the four of us,
for eight years.
So you just decided to call yourselves the Neighbors then?
Oh, yeah. yeah. At the time when we first started playing with
everybody, it was more like a side man kind of thing. It was just me
and they were hired guns. One of the things I didn't like about
Nashville was that there was such a singer/songwriter-centric thing
that felt like the players were often treated like just cogs in a
wheel. For me, Nathan and Rich on the musical side and Ellie on the
songwriting side were really integral. Not just to our live show but
really to my formation as an artist. So we were trying to come up
with a band name because I wanted it to be a band, not just them
backing me up. At the time we all lived in the same neighborhood.
It's called East Nashville. So we thought: why not the Neighbors? It
Band names are such a strange phenomenon. I remember John Mayer in
an article he wrote for a music column in Esquire magazine.
[He] was talking about band names. He said if you take the music of
My Chemical Romance and Death Cab for Cutie, they should totally
switch band names. Band names are such a strange thing. You have to
figure something to call yourselves. Some of my favorite band names
were Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals,
something that just doesn't get in the way of the music.
I like it. It works. We saw you open for Needtobreathe and loved
the show. It was great how you all came out at the end and did
"Stand By Me" in the finale together with NTB. I think it was Bear
Rinehart [NTB's lead singer] who kept referring to all of you as
friends. Is that a genuine friendship that formed prior to touring
together or did that evolve while touring together?
It's both. We met through some mutual friends who passed my music on
to them years ago. Probably three years ago. I met Bo [Rinehart, the
guitarist] first at a radio conference we were both performing at.
They were the headliner. I was one of many nobodies there. [I]
introduced myself to him. He had gotten our record before and he did
not put two and two together at the time. Then a few weeks later,
maybe even a couple months, he tweeted at me: "Hey enjoyed meeting
you in Colorado. Really love your record. It's one of my favorites
of the year." I responded to that with a thank you, etc. When they
were on tour at the beginning of this record cycle, right after the
Taylor Swift Tour, they were playing at First Avenue in Minneapolis
which is a very famous kind of warehouse rock & roll room. There's a
smaller room there called the Seventh Street Entry. We happened to
be booked in the smaller room on the exact same night. Long story
short, we played earlier so that we could go to the show. They
invited us and let all of our people come into their show, even
though it was sold out. It was just pretty cool. They invited us on
stage to sing and play. That just began a longer friendship. Yeah,
they're absolutely genuine friends. We stay in touch and text and
try to see each other when we're in town. That's the thing that I
love about touring with them, honestly. Their fans know that they
handpick the opening band. The opening band has their stamp of
approval, so their fans show up on time. They give you the benefit
of the doubt. That's not really common in the music world. Usually
the opening band gets treated like second-class citizens. I commend
the NTB guys for rising and stepping up above that.
Are you still touring right now with them or is the tour
The tour with them has finished. They are in the studio now
finishing their new record. We are in festival season. We just
played the Hangout Festival [in Gulf Shores, AL] and we're going to
be at Bonnaroo [in Manchester, TN] in two weeks. Pretty much every
weekend we have some kind of festival. Then we'll do a headlining
tour in the fall.
Yeah, you mentioned on stage that you would be back in
Philadelphia, was it September?
I think it's October. Oddly enough I think it's Halloween night.
[ed. note: It is, they play on Oct. 31.]
I won't go trick or treating then. I'll be there. I think it's at
the World Café Live?
(Laughs) Yes, it is.
How do you categorize your music?
I think the understanding of genres moves quicker than our
transition as a band. I'd say that right now we probably fit under
the Americana tag as much as anything else. We've been given the
heartland rock tag. We've been given the folk rock singer-songwriter
tag. All those in some ways are appropriate, but Americana is
probably the broadest and most all encompassing of those categories.
Is that how you want your fans to see you?
You know, I do and don't. It's an apt tag for the music we make. I
do think that it sometimes conjures up an image of music that we
don't make. It could isolate us from a broader and younger
demographic who actually tend to enjoy our music. If we have to be
tagged, sure, that's a fine tag. My wife Ellie always jokes. When
people ask us what kind of music we make, she says, "Hopefully good
music." We don't let the tags define what kind of music we make. We
just make the music we make and let other people decide what they
want to call it.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? Does being married and
on the road together affect your songwriting... the trials and
tribulations of being a married couple?
(Laughs) Yeah sure, definitely that's part of the story. On
this album the songs "The Wine We Drink" and "What Would I Do
Without You?" are the most closely connected to that aspect of my
life. There are other songs. "Good Light" was really a fly-by of a
lot of different friends and relationships. Packing them into one
song. People going through hard things and finding identity and
value amidst the trouble and the chaos. "Nothing But Trouble" is
another marriage song. That one's fun because it's got all the
little things like East of Eden which Ellie and I both love.
John Steinbeck. And California is where we went on our honeymoon. On
"I've Got Nothing But Trouble," I'm more of the troublemaker in the
marriage and she most of the time is always down for whatever
adventure. She's not very uptight. "Can't Take It With You" is
inspired by a Cormac McCarthy short story called "Sunset Limited."
[It] has been turned into a movie with Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy
Lee Jones that I happened upon one night on HBO. There's a variety
of things that all meld together. I do this thing when I write. I
keep a journal. Well, I don't keep journal entries but it's
physically a journal that I collect words and phrases in. I do that
on the left side of the page. Then I write from those words and
phrases on the right side of the page. Songs can come really out of
It seems like
your songs tend to be very upbeat as far as relationships versus the
typical break up songs. It's nice to know that your relationship
Part of it for
me is that Ellie and I both laugh [that] relationally we were both
born on third base. That starts long before that speaking, without
regard to our marriage. I come from a family that's really close. My
parents were really supportive of my career choice and same with her
family. Her siblings are pretty close and same with me. So the
hopefulness isn't just based on the fact that we really enjoy being
married to each other. I just got off the phone with my brother who
lives in Rwanda. He's coming home for three weeks. He and I are
planning a four day motorcycle trip through the Smoky Mountains.
That's pretty par for the course for the families that we were both
in. Our music tends to be reflective of that. It's not always so
rosy. It's easy to act like everybody is happy but some people have
a good family and some people don't. It's just the luck of the draw.
My dad comes from tough, tough stock. Tough background, alcoholic
parents. He made a choice when he was in high school after dating my
mom... I'm giving you too much information.
awesome. It shows why you are where you are and where your strength
Yeah, well she
was from this really amazing family. Her dad was really kind to my
dad when he was just a boyfriend. He just thought to himself, "I'm
going to be more like him. I want to be a man like that and have a
family like that." I guess I'm the product of wise, thoughtful,
courageous choices by other people in a lot of ways. I want to carry
We could see
it when you were on stage, honestly. You really connect with your
audience and your genuineness really comes through.
artists have an influence on your musical style? Who did you like to
and dozens. I was a typical 90's middle school and high school kid
who was inundated with Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Then your best
friend's older brother's record collection [teaches you] of U2 and
The Cure and everything else. As I got into my later teens, I got
into things like David Gray and Dylan and Springsteen and Patty
Griffin. That led to the early 70's LA scene with James Taylor,
Carole King and all that stuff. So yeah the singer-songwriter genre
as a fan is what I mostly listen to. In the last few five years,
probably my favorite artists are Ray LaMontagne and Amos Lee. A lot
of artists want to act like they're not influenced by the people
that are making music and putting out records at the same time. But
I would be a fool not to act like I don't reference an Amos Lee
recording every now and then.
Did Ellie ever
do Gospel as a solo? I heard some things on Youtube that she did but
I don't know if it's on your previous albums. I only have the
She has put
out an EP. That is those songs. She is in the process of working on
a full length in that space. She and I write separately almost all
the time. Every once in a while we'll write together. We used to try
to force writing together, but her heart lies in making music more
in that space, so we just give each other room to be creative.
That's where she is right now. She's out writing songs with friends
while I'm just taking care of the baby.
Now will you
do that project together or did you say that will be just Ellie?
It will be
separate. It will be her own thing in her own name. Because it's in
that space it will be kept pretty separate. The music that I make is
definitely not intended to be proselytizing or anything to do with
that nature. You have to be pretty careful with that. You don't want
anybody to feel like you're trying to manipulate them. That's
certainly not my music playing in bars and stuff. Ellie's music is
not that either. It's going to be more like – hey this is what this
Take it or
Yeah, take it or leave it. Exactly.
play a lot of different instruments? I noticed she was playing the
keyboard a little.
Yup. She plays
a little bit of guitar. Mandolin is probably the thing she plays the
most. And she writes a little on the piano, as well.
Do you prefer
the larger venues or smaller venues?
It depends on
the crowd. If the crowd is paying attention and there's 3,500 to
5,000 people – sure, I'll take that. If there's 100 people that are
paying attention versus the 5,000 that aren't, I'll take the 100
What would you
do if you couldn't perform?
Oh, I would
probably find myself teaching and writing in some way.
I guess Ellie
would be doing the same since you drug her from that?
difficult to tour while being married and have the baby with you on
adventure. It's not easy but it's very rewarding. We're really glad
that we're doing it.
How does the
baby like your music?
She loves it
actually. Embarrassingly so. Our new record is the one thing that
will calm her down when she's upset. I think it has to do with the
fact that we made the record and wrote the songs while Ellie was
Is she good on
the tour bus?
great. She's probably getting tired of sleeping in a car seat,
married and now have a baby on tour with you, you probably have a
couple different buses for the members right?
we're all on the same one. It's a family affair.
I have a
question about the song "Live Forever." Looking at the video, is
that about anybody? Is there a personal meaning to the song? I see a
name on a memorial.
Yes, well it's
part of the video that's possibly confusing. The song was actually
written about my sister's kids, who are the kids in the video. Those
are my nieces and nephew. I wrote the song about them years ago when
they moved. My sister, her husband and her family, they moved to
Central America for a really cool teaching job that he got down
there. That song was written in a melancholy state about how much I
was going to miss them. Just wanting [to impart] that uncle advice
to them. The song became a whole lot more than that. It became a
song about family, a fairly nostalgic but hopeful song about how
much we need each other. I did lose a brother when I was in high
school. That's that memorial in the video. For me it was more about
what I was trying to communicate in the video. We had this family
fun in the video in slow motion, but there's always going to be this
missing piece for us. Even my nieces and nephew that never knew
their uncle, today they still know about him and refer to him in the
first person. It was just a piece of the story that I wanted to make
sure was told. It was not necessarily written with that in mind.
I'll just ask
a just few more, since I don't hear a baby crying yet.
asleep. I got her down right when you called.
favorite song to perform?
Oh, it changes
a lot. I'd say consistently over the years "Fire and Dynamite." It's
the one we closed with. On the tour it's a big rock & roll song.
Do you bring a
nanny with you on tour?
don't have much down time on tour. You probably go to bed as soon as
you get back on the bus. But do you have a favorite thing to do when
you hit a new city?
If there's a
spare moment we definitely love to find a park or something nearby
and get outside and catch a little bit of sunshine. I'm a bookstore
lover, so if there's a good local bookstore I like to find a little
quiet and solitude there.
Did you get a
chance to do that in Philadelphia?
We did. Well I
didn't go to a bookstore, but we actually walked on the other side
of the interstate and walked around Independence Hall.
Did you walk
Yeah. We had a
little bite to eat out there on the lawn.
Was that your
first time in Philly?
First time in
a while. We played at World Café one time about a year ago, but we
literally pulled into town, played and left. We had some radio
commitments the next morning. I have not gotten to spend a
significant amount of time there in a while.
Have you ever
done a show outside the US?
We just played
in Canada with NTB. We hit Toronto about four days before we saw you
guys. We're working on a 2014 [tour] of UK, France, Europe, but it's
not confirmed. We're still working on it.
That will be a
headline tour or with someone else?
will be a mixture of both. There's quite a singer-songwriter scene
over there. People who come to these small kind of folk clubs
regardless of who's playing. So we're trying to get into that world.
anybody that you would like to collaborate with?
Oh gosh, lots
of people. Probably the one I'd like to collaborate with the most is
someone most people don't know of. His name is Jay Bellerose. He is
the drummer, percussionist for Ray LaMontagne's band. But his main
thing is he's a studio guy that works on pretty much everything that
T-Bone Burnett produces. To me there's such a necessary rhythmic
soul to a song. He is my favorite drummer, who does that in a way
that I love it so. I think that's a feasible goal. Hopefully that
one will come true.
You have had
some music on TV show's like
How I Met Your
Mother and also on House.
We did, we
were the season finale commercial I guess about a year ago.
That must be
pretty exciting to hear your music on TV.
Yeah that was
Do you watch
I Met Your Mother?
Well, we've seen a few episodes. Not our favorite show but...
involved with your fans on social media? Do you interact with them?
Oh yeah. I'm
on Twitter. We have a very active email list. My favorite thing to
do is about once every six to eight weeks I'll do a Q & A on Twitter
and try to respond to everything within a 30 to 45 minute block.
We're really engaged on that.
Where do you
see yourselves in the next five years?
further along down the road we're on. We hope to continue making
records. We'd love to establish ourselves in the bigger-listening
venues around the country. Continue to be able to write music that
gets used in TV and film. We love playing live. We just hope to
continue to tour, hit festivals, get to open [for] and collaborate
with other artists we love.
you would like to share?
No, I think
you got it.
THE MUSIC VIDEO FOR DREW HOLCOMB AND THE NEIGHBOR'S "GOOD
us Let us know what you