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One of the Ballincollig Winter Music Festival’s signature elements is the pairing of the headline concerts between well established Irish acts with comparable but lesser known touring artists, the case on Sunday 26 January will be Cork favourite Mick Flannery who will be sharing the stage with Drew Holcomb. He spoke with Ronan Leonard from his home in Nashville the night before he flew across the Atlantic to begin his European tour.
Drew and his band The Neighbors has been making waves in the American music industry over the last 10 years, in which time he has played over 1500 gigs and released 8 albums, the most recent of which 2013’s ‘Good Light’ has featured in over 40 television shows, such as ‘House’, ‘How I Met Your Mother’, ‘One Tree Hill’ and aptly enough ‘Nashville’. Drew speaks very highly of what comes with such opportunity, “we are always impressed by how many new fans that exposure brings us. Every night we meet folks who got into our music through the TV shows.”
Describing his sound is hard to pinpoint but Drew is easy going about it, “singer-storyteller / folk / Americana, somewhere in that area works”. Since he has released a Tom Wait cover, perhaps he would be a reference point, “I’ve been a big fan since I was introduced to his music by a friend, he is a serious influence. I love the way he uses his voice as a narrator and the emotive humour and sadness he employs on his recordings. I saw him perform and was amazed at the command he has of the stage. There is no one like him.” However while it’s one thing to record a cover, Drew spent a lot more time in regard to another song writing legend, “I did a Masters degree in Divinity from Scotland’s University of St Andrews, and my dissertation was on ‘Springsteen and American Redemptive Imagination’.”
Drew’s music certainly also have a strong sense of redemption and withstanding adversity, I wondered if it spawned from any particular moment, “I grew up in a family that tried to enjoy life and each other no matter what was happening in the reality of struggling and suffering. I was born into a loving home that also was dealt a tough hand with tragedy. My younger brother was handicapped and in wheelchair bound, he passed away when he was 13 (I was 17), so we learned to celebrate life because you never know how long you have.”
Drew is also a recent father for the first time, “having a daughter has brought a new weight and new joy to being alive. Every day she does something new, and it reminds me what a waste of time cynicism is.”
Drew balances life at home with his young family and as a professional touring musician, but also finds time to be regularly involved with Nashville YoungLife, a non-denominational Christian ministry that reaches out to adolescents through volunteering, community meetings, and camps, “I was involved with YoungLife in my youth and just stayed connected. Having interaction with young people keeps you aware of what they care about and how they see the world, it keeps me on my toes.”
Drew also credits moving city with inspiring him as a person and musician, “while Memphis is a wonderful city with a rich history, leaving there has been important, East Nashville has a very current vibrant music scene unlike anywhere I have been besides Austin perhaps. Living here has opened me up to lots of other peers who are artists, we challenge and encourage each other to make better music, work harder at song writing.”
Despite all those community and geographical factors Drew is crystal clear about what factor has been the single most reason for his success so far, “when I started there was no iTunes, Spotify, Facebook or Twitter. The pace of technological change has been at light speed, but one thing that has not changed, and never will, is that no matter the technological boundaries, good songs and good recordings are what people want from music.
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors play with Mick Flannery on Sunday 26 January at 8pm and then play a free show afterwards to close the festival. Tickets available via http://www.whitehorse.ie