Friday, April 12, 2024

Casting a wider net: Drew Holcomb talks latest release ahead of GLA show

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors will perform at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on April 9, touring in support of their summer 2023 release, “Strangers No More.” (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors glide into focus with “Strangers No More,” an airy, anthemic album threaded with uplift and strength, released last summer. Far from giving into a fear of the time we have left, Holcomb and the Neighbors instead concentrate on the goodness and virtue still readily available to those who seek it, especially together. 

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The Memphis Americana band — comprising front man Holcomb, guitarist Nathan Dugger, bassist Rich Brinsfield, drummer Will Sayles, and keyboardist Ian Miller — will make a stop at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on April 9.

“We got back on stage together in the spring of ’21,” Holcomb said in a recent interview, referring to music festivals and some socially distanced shows still in place post pandemic. “It was still a weird time, but we were out there doing it.”

Holcomb said the band was agreeing to whatever shows came there way after a few years of missing the highway miles accumulated as a band.

“I think having 18 months of playing together taken from us created a lot of anticipation and joy, so when we got back on stage, it was some of the best performances we’d ever done together,” he said. “Something happened to me as well in that time where I became very keenly aware that this is my life’s work and that I don’t wanna do anything else.”

The group’s previous effort, 2019’s “Dragons,” found the Tennessee native exploring closer-to-home notions of his children and wife — singer-songwriter (and enduring Neighbor) Ellie Holcomb — and immediate family. The title track is about his grandfather. It moves beyond familial tropes, too.

“‘End Of The World’ was a song about the ways we’re divided and how the other side always tells you, ‘If we follow your path, it’s all coming to an end!’” Holcomb said.

“Strangers No More” widens the aperture to allow for a grander, more inclusive picture.

“I think this record, I was able to write more introspectively but also more universally,” he said. 

Recorded with Cason Cooley at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, North Carolina, the album opens with the softly thumbed “Fly” where Holcomb sings, “I am an orchard at the start of spring.”

It’s a song he is proud of and came together rather quickly, he said.

“I’d had that little guitar riff for a long time, and I sat down one day and was feeling sort of heavy but satisfied about getting older,” he recalled. “I wrote the song in about 30 minutes and I knew it was going to be an anchor for this project.”

Channeling the angst of the 2020 lockdown into a rejuvenating tonic, “Find Your People” stomps and claps underneath Dugger’s rolling banjo. The song is about friendship, while “Dance With Everybody” is an ode to the audience. Holcomb said the album “casts a wider net.”

“There’s still a we’re-in-this-thing-together mentality that I try to hold to in my writing,” he said. “But I’m particularly proud, especially sonically, of this record. I think we’ve put some music and sound and voices to that in a way that we haven’t done before.”

“Dance With Everybody” recalls Bruce Springsteen’s “Promised Land” with a splash of Caribbean flavor and unabashed optimism in the face of the dust cloud. Written with Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor, it’s a good-timing tune with deeper conviction.

“We live in a really divided time where we’re sort of trained via social media and regular media,” Holcomb said. “I don’t know whether it’s an algorithm or they just know what drives profit margins, but there’s a lot of value on division and isolation.”

But Holcomb said regardless of “sociological factors happening at once,” he concentrates on humanity.

“That’s still worth fighting for,” he said. “Some of these songs are my punches.”

Shifting from footwork, “Troubles” sneaks in a deceptively sweet but shuddering bodyblow inspired by the May 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Holcomb wrote it within 48 hours of a former 17-year-old student shooting up the school and taking the lives of 19 students and two teachers, leaving 17 more injured.

“I got to a point where I felt like I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “I found myself a couple nights out of that week after Uvalde just weeping and overwhelmed, so I wrote that song about wanting to escape.”

In the wake of the Covenant School shooting in March 2023 in Nashville, Holcomb and his wife Ellie engaged legislators and fellow citizens of their home state in an attempt to find common ground while initiating meaningful change. Grassroots efforts are still taking place.

“We had a meeting last week of about 60 dads at my house just trying to speak the language,” he said. “The majority of legislators in Tennessee are male, so trying to speak in a language that would maybe be more sympathetic. There’s a lot of strategy and nuance involved.”

Being more mindful of how the issue is presented began three years ago after Holcomb took to social media to criticize leadership. His manager offered some advice:

“He said, ‘I understand this need to say something, but if you say it like this, I think you forfeit your opportunity to have a conversation,’” Holcomb detailed. “I took that to heart this time around. Instead of going on and retweeting all of the things that people are saying or all of the things they’re doing that I don’t agree with, I’ve just started calling them to see if I can get meetings to share Ellie’s and my point of view. And what was amazing is, we didn’t have a single person say no to a meeting.”

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors are in the midst of a spring tour, playing clubs and amphitheaters, the latter of which have proven well-suited to the group’s more epic material. Holcomb said they’re the perfect setting for more anthemic tracks released in recent years: “Ring The Bells,” “End Of The World,” “Family,” “Find Your People” and “All The Money In The World”

“I’ve always been a fan of that kind of music, but I think because we weren’t playing those type of [places], I sort of limited myself to the more mid-tempo, singer-songwriter stuff. And while I still love that as well, I think we’ve broken out of that box,” Holcomb said.

Tickets to the April 9 show at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater are on sale here.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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