Keeping Up With Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors
by Danielle Speiss
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 are 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.
So Drew, 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 stuck.