When Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors began tracking their new album Medicine in an East Nashville recording studio, the band only had one rule: everything had to be played on a real instrument.
“Lately, it feels like we’re almost in the middle of a second disco era, especially in pop music,” says Holcomb, who formed the genre-jumping Americana outfit nearly a decade ago. “We’ve steered away from synthesizers and computerized loops. That’s just not what we do.”
Holcomb has lived in Nashville since 2006, when he left his native Memphis and headed east with a handful of songs that blurred the lines between folk, pop and California country-rock. In a town whose music scene often thrives on tradition, he bucked the system by finding success as an independent artist. Most of the legwork was done on the road, where Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors — a group of longtime friends, former neighbors and, until recently, Holcomb’s own wife, contemporary Christian artist Ellie Holcomb — carved out an identity as roots-rock road warriors whose music mixed the boozy thrill of Saturday nights with the sweeping uplight of Sunday mornings.
Due out January 27th, Medicine marks the band’s biggest release to date. Next month, the group will headline a weekend show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, an historic venue whose 2015 schedule includes shows by Diana Ross, Willie Nelson and Vince Gill. Before that, they’ll spend some time in Europe, playing 10 shows in 11 days.
“At the beginning of our career, we were an independent out of necessity,” Holcomb says. “A lot of labels thought we were a square peg in a round hole. The biggest reason we’ve stayed indie is to have creative control over what we do. There’s more of a responsibility to our fans, too, because I know our relationship with them is what drives the continued success of the band. You have to think about the kind of music you make, and what makes people latch on to it, and how you can push that envelope while staying true to what made you successful. You dance with the girl that brought you, basically.”
On “Avalanche,” one of Medicine‘s most nostalgic tracks, the band brews up a tribute to 1970s California, with harmonies that sweep like waves and a breezy chorus that could make Jackson Browne doctor his eyes. It’s a cosmic country song transformed into a slow dance. [Listen to the song below.]
“We tracked it mostly live,” Holcomb remembers. “We’re not a jam band at all, but we have musicians in the band who are incredibly thoughtful and proficient, and I like moments on our records when those guys have the chance to really open up. This song left room for that. It has this Seventies California vibe to it. The guitar leads and piano parts were nailed in single takes. It only took us about six hours, from start to finish.”