In a dim, nearly empty corner of the Knitting Factory in Spokane, Washington, a few moments before soundcheck, Drew Holcomb sits down to chat about his new album, Souvenir. Holcomb’s brand of Americana is an effortless blend of folk, country and rock, but when he describes his music, Holcomb can’t resist making a joke. “I don’t know. It’s mine, how about that? It’s mine and everyone else’s.”
Perhaps best known for radio and TV friendly songs like “What Would I Do Without You” and “American Beauty,” Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors have enjoyed a steady 12-year career in the music industry. Until recently, a mainstream crossover record had proven elusive, but their previous album, Medicine, peaked at No. 47 on the Billboard 200, offering an uncommon career boost for a group in its later phase of life.
Holcomb describes Souvenir—the band’s eighth studio record, 12th if you count live albums—as “about memory and the bittersweet passage of time. It’s about love in all of its different forms: romance, friendship, community.”
For Holcomb, the writing process was both collaborative and solitary. “I wrote with Nathan [Dugger] and Rich [Brinsfield] every Monday for a few months, and then also wrote quite a bit by myself,” he says. “It was very collaborative and great to do with people you love and trust.”
On Souvenir, the bright “California” is a summer anthem with a charming, upbeat vibe. “That song came out of the juxtaposition of being a southern kid from Memphis and having this sort of mythical, imaginative place that actually is real, and getting to fall in love with it all over again every time I go.”
Holcomb continues: “I had a brother that passed away and the last family vacation that we went on with him was to California. It was 10 days up and down the coast. It was just this magical family vacation. Then it’s where Ellie and I honeymooned and have gone back a lot over the years.”
“Postcard Memories” is a delicate, sorrowful song about longing that was written by Holcomb with Dugger and Brinsfield. “It really just came out of this idea of the loss of meaningful relationships, whether romantic or not, and the youthful search for it,” Holcomb explains. “It’s the universal feeling of the one that ran away that you still love. You know, the prodigal.”
For the Souvenir tour, the band launched the Love Your Neighbors campaign, donating 20 percent of T-shirt sales to a local charity in each city they perform. When researching charities, the band primarily focused on organizations that addressed poverty and provided services to children. In Spokane, it’s Second Harvest Inland Northwest that benefits.
The inspiration for the Love Your Neighbors campaign came from the current climate our country is facing. “It is a contentious moment we’re having as Americans—the divisive nature of the national conversation. One of the things I love about music is how it brings people together, regardless of point of view or creed. I thought, What could we do to continue to bridge the gap from one person to another? I [realized] most people love their homes and their communities.”
Earlier in the day, Holcomb visited Second Harvest’s distribution center. He met volunteers and even helped bag rice. “I was really blown away. They serve 55,000 people every week,” Holcomb says.
Later during his set, Holcomb shared more about the experience. He tells the story of Jane, 95 years old, who has been volunteering every Thursday for 28 years, an interaction that left behind a meaningful impression upon the Tennessee singer. Perhaps Holcomb hopes that sharing these stories will not only unite people in each city he visits, but shed a light on the often overlooked charity workers who consistently do good work in their communities.
It’s a message that transfers to Souvenir, best summed up in the song “Wild World:” “We all got the same blood running through our veins/ Whether or not you pray, black or white, straight or gay/ You still deserve the love of your neighbor.”
“Every night the crowd is different, the room is different,” Holcomb explains. “Like tonight, honestly, is going to be a very small crowd in a big room, and so it will require more of us to get in the moment. Other nights you have a packed-out crowd in a small place and it’s got this energy to it. You have to find a way to treat the audience like an extra member of the band.”
Come show time, the unassuming musician with a southern twang and welcoming presence I met earlier is dressed in a button-up shirt and a hat that pays homage to his Tennessee roots. Despite a modest turnout for the band’s first visit to Spokane, the mix of old and new songs and shared stories works like a charm.
Holcomb and the Neighbors might as well have been playing to a full house. The members rotated instruments throughout the set—upright bass, banjo, piano, acoustic and electric guitar, to name a few—while building off each other’s energies. The musical camaraderie comes from an unspoken trust earned after years of playing together and life on the road.
“90 to 100 minutes onstage is our time to let loose and have fun,” Holcomb explains. “It’s grueling to be away from home when you’ve got kiddos, but we’re grateful to get to do what we love.”
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