Sitting backstage at the O2 Ritz in Manchester, strumming his guitar and serenading us as we enter the room, Drake White is the picture of cool and confident. Drake made a huge impact on his UK debut at the Country 2 Country festival earlier this year and soon intimated how desperate he was to get back over to our shores to carry on the buzz. When we speak to him he is on the second night of his UK tour supporting Kip Moore and seems every bit as relaxed as you’d expect the Alabama boy with a voice as big as the state itself to be. The opening night in Birmingham was met with more rave reviews; Drake is clearly not a man to worry about perceptions and just wants to be himself – something that is obvious from entering the room. We sat down as Drake continued strumming away on his guitar and chatted about the tour, a new record and what had been a dark week for music…
Welcome back to the UK Drake. It’s your second time this year. How excited are you to be back in the UK?
I feel like last time we came over here we really laid the foundation. We had some great opportunities over there at C2C and with that songwriters deal and really saw how the UK fans really took to the music and took to the writing side of it, the kind of organic soulful side, which just made things… it really felt like a spark, you know? It’s exciting to be back over here, this is something that I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve always thought of myself as kind of a nomadic person and somebody that wanted to stand out past the States. It’s a big world.
Your first visit back in March was at the Country 2 Country festival where you went down an absolute storm. Did you expect it to go so well?
I don’t know, I mean, we’ve played a lot. There’s a lot of different ways to get to the same destination. I feel like we’ve put the time in and we’ve got the tenacity and the drive to do it. We’ve put a lot of damn time in this shit! If this is our path and this is our way then, yeah, I expect it because we’ve put a lot of work into it! We could be doctors of music if the ten thousand hour mark is what it takes to be a master of something, I mean, God forbid I’d be a master of it! Yeah… you don’t really ever expect it, am I making sense? You just get out there and do what you do and take everything as it comes but expectations… I quit having them a long time a go! (laughs)
How soon after leaving did you decide that you needed to come back?
Immediately! We knew when I left! I could tell by the crowds and the people that were so passionate about it. Obviously we live in a world of social media where my socials were inundated with UK fans and we were kind of scurrying around trying to find the next opportunity out here.
You’re on this tour with Kip Moore which is a real treat for the fans and something that brings you together with an artist who has already established himself with a couple of UK tours under his belt. How was the first night in Birmingham last night?
It was amazing! For a Monday night it started off packed and they were in it from the get-go!
Going back to your roots a little bit you were raised in Alabama and it seems that you had an upbringing that hinged on the outdoors and freedom. Do you think that is reflected in your music and songwriting?
Yeah. Alabama is a very historic and kind of rich place to grow up, you know, the outdoors, the farming communities, the religious backgrounds and it’s just hard work. As far as musically the history just goes back so far to soul and bluegrass and rhythm and blues and it’s a very deep history in terms of one hundred and fifty to two hundred years – which is nothing to you UK folk! When you think about the whole oppression of slavery and that’s where the blues came from and when you get there you can feel the outdoors and the trees and forest and all of the folk tales start coming alive. It’s very spiritual.
Your debut album ‘Spark’ has that amazing quality of transporting the listener to a different time and place with it’s music. A song like ‘Makin’ Me Look Good Again’ could be sung to your partner by the campfire or ‘Waitin’ On The Whiskey To Work’ could be a cowboy heartbreak song from some smoky bar. How much of a window into your world and life is the record?
That’s funny that you mention the campfire – I think that a campfire was the worlds first social network! If you think about cavemen or way-back-when people would gather around the fire to talk about the weather or talk about wildlife and their crops, I mean, they’ve been doing it for centuries. When you think of our brand I want you to think of that campfire and think of that glow because that’s where I learned how to play and some of my favourite music is acoustic. I play this guitar every day. I love the studio and the produced stuff but I’m a sucker for an acoustic guitar and I think you guys are too.
One of the interesting things on the album, and I’m sure you’ve been asked about this hundreds of times, are the snippets of your grandfather which are between some songs. What was the meaning of this and the thinking behind their placement?
I was a big fan of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ and if you listen to that record there’s all kinds of background noise in it. My grandfather was such an influence on me and the way he spoke was in such a Southern United States dialect, I mean, he was from the Deep South! You can hear my accent now that I mean speaking with well his was thicker than mine! He was a great preacher and he had a really awesome way of talking to common men. He gave everything that he had away and he was just really special. He died when I was just fifteen years old. He taught me how to fish and sing and entertain and sing the old hymns. I had some cassette tapes and I digitally re-mastered them and put reverb and delay on them and then kind of spliced them into the record. It just adds that personal touch of who he is.
Speaking of ‘Spark’ after the album was released last year how did you find the reaction to it?
It was great man! I still feel like that record has got a lot of life in it! People are discovering it every day. We’re already working on the second one and we’re going to release that the first part of next year (spoiler: as we were chatting after the interview Drake mentioned that there was a strong Muscle Shoals Motown vibe to the next record!). Songs like ‘Live Some’ and ‘Back To Free’ and ‘Story’ – last night the people in Birmingham went crazy for story because it’s that folky kind of song – so I think it’s still got some life in it. The reaction was amazing, I mean, no it wasn’t this triple platinum selling thing but I feel like as far as impact to my fans and the culture that I’m building it has definitely made its spot in history. Can you call ‘Spark’ a breakout record? I think you can. It didn’t go gold or platinum but it was exactly what it was supposed to be. I made it carefully and I’m proud as shit of it!
Is it a hard market to break into for you considering you have perhaps a more rootsy sound than a lot of the mainstream country?
I mean, hard is subjective, is it hard? Yeah, it’s not easy going in and setting a trend as opposed to playing into a trend but I try not to think about it. I think “this is what we do. We’re going to do this” and I tell the label and everybody knows this is who I am and I’m gonna truly represent myself every time I go on stage or record a song because that’s all I know how to do, man! I’m not trying to get a hit or a number one I’m just trying to make music that would make my grandfather proud or that I like to listen to! I love Van Morrison and I’m obviously on a big Tom Petty kicks right now, I mean, man it’s been a horrible couple of days but I’m not competing with country radio. I don’t really care. I love the Allman Brothers and I love George Strait, I love Zac Brown and I love Lady Antebellum but I’m honing in our sound and my bands sound and I’m growing every day with it. I’m trying to focus on our sound and my bands sound and what I want to do and we’re doing it every day.
You’ve spent years on the road perfecting your live show. How hard was it to translate the passion and energy of your live shows onto a record?
It’s challenging to record that passion but what I’ve learned is that when the red light goes off in studio it doesn’t matter. You just do your thing. You’ve got to just flip the switch and go there, you know? Put yourself in the song and put that song out there. I sometimes close my eyes and go to the actual inside of the song and into the story of it and put myself there singing it for the first time and that’s what I’ve done on the stage for years and have learned to do in the studio. It’s not about perfection, screw perfection; I couldn’t give two shits about it. It’s about honesty and getting that take that is honest to the song.
You’re obviously passionate about the live show. It seems like it’ll be only natural that fans will start asking for a live recording…
That’s all, I wont say by design because its just, we talked about the road and a lot of people have had a hit and not played that many live shows. They get a hit then find themselves on TV right off the bat and for us we’ve been all around the world and met all of these different people and, for some reason, we’ve taken eight years to the spot that we’re at right now. From my perspective that live show is our bread and butter and that’s what we’re going to go to the grave with. Can’t nobody stop me going out there and playing a hundred and fifty live shows a year! Hits are great though – we’re going to do the radio thing too and get everything going, it’s already going, we’ve been very successful on the radio in the States and we’re going to continue that and do it over here too. But yeah, that live show is my favourite thing to do and I love getting up there and growling and spitting and kicking, it’s just my thing!
I guess when you’re talking about tapping into the British market; a few artists have said this to me, that our definition of ‘country’ may be a little broader than in the States…
Let me think about that for a minute… I’m trying not to misunderstand you… Sam Hunt to Midland or Tim McGraw to Rascal Flatts that’s a broad spectrum and there’s a lot of country in Sam Hunt’s ‘Body Like A Back Road’ or ‘Livin’ The Dream’. I think country is international now. It’s how you live and how you feel. Is it a steel
guitar? Is it a whiny voice? Is it Waylon Jennings Sr? Or is it Aretha Franklin or Willie Nelson or Ray Charles? I don’t care! Country is whatever you say it is and whatever you think. It’s different for everybody and UK fans seem to like the more organic acoustic guitar driven folky type sound and that’s what they’re saying is their country. These people who are saying “that ain’t country!” need to check themselves! I love country whether its Waylon, Willie or Johnny Cash, I love that and that’s what I’m calling true country music but, if you listen to Sam Hunt’s ‘Body Like A Back Road’, he’s talking about growing up in the country in Cedartown, Georgia! More power to him man! That’s cool! For the UK and European fans its just a more organic sound as opposed to a poppy type sound.
Sure. I guess we don’t naturally feel like we have as much of a right to define country music because its such an American thing…
Do you hope to make the UK a regular spot for touring and head back with your own headline tour?
Oh yeah! That’s at the top of my list absolutely! We look to get back here multiple times a year for the next twenty years. My wife loves it over here, we love the speed of life, we love the people, I mean there’s a line wrapped around the venue here and we get out of the van and they’re right on us! It feels great to be making music here and we’re all people, it doesn’t matter to me, it could be China, the UK, Alabama, if people like music then I’ll be there playing it! We’re planning with my band and crew to frequent Europe and the UK for sure!
Is there anything, and it can be the most trivial thing, that you really look forward to when visiting the UK and Europe?
I look forward to the history. I love walking around. I love how you can walk into a bar and the bar might be four hundred years old! Our lineage and our accents draw people to ask where we’re from and the conversation is where my creativeness comes from! It’s not locking myself on a bus or a damn room – I look for experiences! We got up this morning and walked around Birmingham and came out and did the same thing here in Manchester. I love the architecture and the old churches and see how the old builders did it.
Finally, I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t speak about the terrible events in Las Vegas this weekend. As a performer how does it affect you seeing such atrocities happening at a place of celebration and love like a music concert? Does it make it harder the next time that you walk out on stage?
First of all it’s gut wrenching. I just hate it. I hate that we even have to talk about it now. I hate how, and I cannot fathom, somebody getting into that state of mind where they open fire on all of the innocent people. It makes you angry. It makes you angry because we were just there Friday and played to a wonderful crowd and had a great time with a bunch of friends. A lot of our friends were there and at the end of the day everybody wants to live their life and work hard and have a family. For me? I’m not going to let it affect me. I’m going to come out here and I’m going to play, I’m not going to play afraid, I go into each day knowing that I could die that day and your next breath is not guaranteed to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s from choking on an apple seed or a bullet or I get killed by a guitar upside my head. I’m going to go out there and do my thing and so is my band. Security is security but I will not be subject to one mans evil acts, or ten men, or fifty men and let it alter me going out and spread happiness playing music in this world. That’s what I was put on earth to do! God forbid it ever happens again but it’s not going to stop me and this band going out and doing what we do. Bring it on!