Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors give songs a second life on the road

Tennessee band performs Sunday at Roots N Blues.
Portrait of singer Drew Holcomb. Courtesy of Drew Holcomb

When Drew Holcomb hits the road, his band’s music takes on a new life. His Tennessee band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors will certainly transform their heartfelt and personal songs into new shapes Sept. 27 at Roots N Blues N BBQ.

“That’s the fun thing about music – it’s a living and breathing thing,” Holcomb says over the phone.

Columbia’s annual Americana fest is part of the Neighbors’ fall tour in support of their latest album, “Medicine,” released in January. Holcomb says that this album, the first he’s ever written by himself, has been the band’s best record to date.

“This record was a culmination of a musical vision,” Holcomb says.

Holcomb wrote “Medicine” as a follow up to 2013’s “Good Light.” Holcomb’s wife Ellie stepped away from the band at this time. Subsequently, Holcomb sought stories from his fans. He wanted to focus particularly on the songwriting and on adding an organic, live vibe to the work. The latter aspect was accentuated by how the band recorded “Medicine” within an eight-day period at a studio in Nashville.

The end result is an earnest record that expertly transitions from the rock-driven “Shine Like Lightning,” to the sincere “You’ll Always Be My Girl.” The spectrum of songs on “Medicine” reflects a range of emotions, ultimately proving how music can be a backdrop to our lives and can heal us at any time.

Holcomb says that there is more confidence about this record because they focused less on commercial success and more on writing what they want to write.

The evolution of the Neighbors can be attributed to their bond over the last decade. Their trust has continued to build, and they understand to leave egos at the door.

The band’s trust in one another has led to Holcomb taking the role as the main songwriter while the other members contribute to remaining elements of the music. Holcomb will typically approach the band with a song he’s written on acoustic guitar.

“The song is the raw ingredient; (The band members are) the chefs,” Holcomb says. “We arrange it, change the tempo, put the meat in the skillet.”

“Medicine” has marked Holcomb’s own growth as a musician.

“When I was younger, I didn’t think of myself as a singer,” Holcomb says. “(I was) more of a songwriter.”

Holcomb became more and more comfortable with his own voice by looking to his favorite artists, whose voices serve as an anchor in their music. These artists include John Prine, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Amos Lee, Patty Griffin and Ray LaMontagne.

Now that Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors have released “Medicine,” the band has watched new interpretations arise. Before the record even hit shelves, the sentimental song “American Beauty” was picked up by Dick’s Sporting Goods for a Christmas commercial that revolved around a father and daughter’s relationship, though Holcomb originally wrote the song about a lost love.

“Every time you write a song and release it to the public, you don’t have control over how it’s interpreted,” Holcomb says.

New interpretations will float through the air at Stephens Lake Park as Holcomb expects new listeners to wander over to the stage due to the festival atmosphere. Although a festival is less intimate than, say, a theatre performance, Holcomb says they have to “embrace the strangers in the audience.” Holcomb also says to “be true to your art. Give the audience something they can grasp onto.”

Holcomb says the band plans to stick around to check out other acts on the Missouri Lottery Stage, like the Punch Brothers and Brandi Carlile.

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors are slated to perform at 3:15 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27 on the Missouri Lottery Stage.

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