Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors Return to Knoxville

Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors | Photo by Dillion Jordan

Back for another year, Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors will join Knoxville for an evening of musical storytelling and good vibes at The Mill & Mine on April 4. We caught up with Drew this March to learn more about what Knoxville can expect for the band’s return and about this new album that seems to have everybody dancing.

Cityview Magazine: We’re looking forward to your return to East Tennessee. Tell us a little bit about the tour and what Knoxville can expect.

Drew Holcomb: Well, we did the first half of this tour in the fall, and then we took a little break for the holidays. Ellie and I did an acoustic tour in February. And so Knoxville will actually be show number two out of 31 shows. This album [Strangers No More] seems to have really connected with our fans. I mean, we’ve got “Find Your People,” our first song to go number one, and then we’ve had “Dance With Everybody” that has been used now in the March Madness commercial. And so it’s just been a really fun tour because a lot of these songs are sort of big, great songs for a real fun night. It’s one of the reasons that we chose to play some of these standing room clubs, just because there’s a lot of energy to this record. It’s been one of probably my favorite tours we’ve ever done.

CV: It seems you’ve been getting some different kind of momentum with this album, Strangers No More. What’s different?

DH: I think we allowed ourselves musically to be a little more expansive with songs like “All the Money in the World,” which kind of brought in some of that Memphis soul roots. Then songs like “Dance with Everybody” was sort of a big multi-instrumental, Paul Simon Graceland kind of vibe. We just allowed ourselves to explore in the studio and not be limited to “Oh, we’re just a singer-songwriter band, and we need to kind of keep it simple.” While we did do that on other songs, like “Fly”, “Troubles,” and a few others, we also allowed ourselves to expand the sonic tools that we have at our disposal. So it just made for a really exciting and different recording time for us, and I think that the record shows that. I think it’s brought in a new audience in a way and given our old audience something new to chew on.

CV: With its big sound, “Dance with Everybody” has spread like wildfire. How did it feel to produce something like that?

DH: We all hate talking about or even hearing the word pandemic, but a lot of these songs were sort of written in the wake of this strange season that we’d had. And I wrote that song with my friend Ketch Secor, the lead singer of Old Crow Medicine Show and the writer of historic songs like “Wagon Wheel”. It was around Thanksgiving of 2021 when we wrote the song. We both started touring again, coming out of the pandemic, and we were just commiserating on how much better it was to play our songs in front of a live audience than it was to play live streams, which we both did a lot of during the pandemic. And so we just started writing a song that was an ode to the audience. It’s a weird thing when you think about it. You sell tickets to a room full of people to hear the songs in a venue, and I’ve been doing it for 20 years, probably averaged 100 shows a year, so let’s call it 2,000 plus times I’ve done this thing. And every single night is different. There’s a different magic because of the room because of the new songs mixed with the old songs. There’s always new songs. And whoever’s in the room is always different. You have people that have seen us 15 times and then you have people who’ve never heard a single song of ours that came with a friend. It’s an opportunity for magic.

That song is about what happens in a room full of strangers. That’s also where the album title came from, Strangers No More, because that’s what happens in those rooms. Once you say, for instance, “I saw the David Gray Alison Krauss show at the Ryman” back in, whatever year it was, say 2012, then all sudden we have something to share. We have memories of that experience. And I think that’s what music does. That’s why it’s powerful and important, especially in our sort of isolated and divided times. And I love that about it. I’ll never stop doing it if people keep coming.

CV: You can tell how important storytelling is to you. How does that play a role in how you write your songs, produce your music, and approach your tours?

DH: I come from a long line of storytellers and mythmakers. I’m one of 28 grandkids. My father, my mother, my grandfather, my grandmother, my great grandmother, we’re all storytellers. They wanted to tell you about where they grew up, who they are, where they came from, what their childhood was like, and the highs and the lows. My great grandmother was widowed at age 28 with three daughters. She worked until she was 80 years old to pay for them in her own life. So there’s a lot of resilience and narrative and possibility in those stories—and tragedy, obviously. I think in all of those, there’s that sort of mixture of joy and sorrow that we all have in our lives. Everybody has those stories. I think music is what helps us tell those stories and helps us give a framework for what our lives mean and what our relationships are. Music was that for me. It’s given me this palette to paint on. In a lot of ways, storytelling is a family tradition, so I’m just carrying that on in my unique way.

CV: You’re coming off of an acoustic tour with Ellie. What’s that transition like?

DH: It’s very different. I like them both a lot. I love obviously being on stage with my wife and playing songs together. The crowd has to be a little more imaginative in that setting because they’re not hearing what they’ve heard on the records with the drums and the guitars and the bass and piano. And the challenge with doing the show with the band is to not just do it like the record, it’s to build an actual show and to give people a different version of songs while keeping them familiar. I think there’s the sort of epic nature of the show with The Neighbors, which is not something that happens with the tour with Ellie. And I like that piece. I miss it when I’m with Ellie, but I’ll obviously miss her and miss our family when we’re out with the band. I love them both. I’ve been making records and touring with these guys for almost 20 years, and our ability to communicate musically onstage is—outside of my family, being a husband and a father—probably my favorite thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. And so it’s incredibly special to me. It takes a lot of hard work and preparation which we’ve put in but it also is really an ensemble show. Everybody sings, everybody plays on this new record. So it’s really an ensemble, collaborative effort that has been 20 years in the making, and it’s very musically satisfying for all of us.

CV: Outside of the tour, what else do you have coming up for 2024?

DH: The big surprise is that Strangers No More is not an 11-song record—it’s a 21-song record. And we are releasing the next 10 songs over the next few months leading up to them all coming out in September. The first one that came out is a song called “Suffering”. That’s a big rock-and-roll song. We’ll be playing a handful of new songs on the tour as well to sort of get people prepped for that release. And then once this tour is over, we’ve got all sorts of festivals for the summer and fall that we’ll be announcing. We’re going to stay busy but not go 90 in the left lane. We’re going to kind of slow it down to the speed limit a little bit, but we’ve still got lots of new music on the horizon.

For tickets to The Mill & Mine show, visit themillandmine.com.

To learn more about Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors, visit drewholcomb.com.

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