Completing the triple of interviews with artists whose new music is released this Friday (March 11), we recently chatted to Drake White about his new full-length album THE OPTIMYSTIC.
Drake co-wrote 12 of the 14 songs on the new project, teaming up with writers including Chris DeStefano, Randy Montana and Eric Paslay; and he was also involved in producing all but one of the songs, working closely with The Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston.
Many of the tracks will already be familiar to Drake’s fans, coming off the back of the artist’s Wednesday Night Therapy (WNT) sessions throughout lockdown at Whitewood Hollow, the event venue he and wife Alex have built at their Tennessee home.
He says THE OPTIMYSTIC is “the action of keeping that glass half full and finding faith, hope and joy in the circus of this thing we call life” and indeed, songs like Hurts The Healing and Power of a Woman have already become anthems for strength, loving life and family.
Drake will be in the UK this August at Millport Country Music Festival and The Long Road but in the meantime, Alison Dewar finds out more about his latest music.
AD: I have already had the privilege of listening to THE OPTIMYSTIC and would describe it as a love letter to life – and Alex.
DW: Cool. I like that, I can get into that. I wrote earlier today: five years, six brain surgeries, two record deals, one pandemic, one record. THE OPTIMYSTIC – the spelling is because now it is the act of keeping your glass half full through all of the challenges that life throws at ya. Even though that may sound a little homogenised (I haven’t ironed that out yet), that’s the definition of THE OPTIMYSTIC.
It’s pretty easy to stay optimistic when everything is going good, you’ve got all the money in the bank, you’ve got your health and all that stuff, but the true test is staying optimistic and staying faithful that good days are going to come tomorrow. Through not being able to walk; not being able to understand why you got dropped; why a record deal didn’t work out; or why a management deal didn’t work out.
Just understanding and having faith that you were built to do this and you were made of the most high God and you’re going to come back and you’re going to do this. And that’s what me and Alex did when nobody – nobody – really believed.
My fans did, I always had my fans, but it’s as I say in Hurts the Healing, it’s in those 12.30am sweats, it’s me conquering the battle between my ears and saying I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to go write, because that’s what I’m put on earth to do, I’m going to write these songs and produce them and sing them and I’m going to put hope, faith and passion back into a world that needs it and then I’m going to tell the story. What are you going through? How are you going through it? ‘Cos this is how I went through it.
It’s easy for somebody to say that ain’t been through that shit, but if you’ve been through what me and Alex have been through now, it comes with an authoritative thing, people seem to listen a bit more. So we’ve grown up a little bit, I’m 38-years-old now, this music has still got my rambunctiousness in songs like Can’t Have My Dog and Pawn Shop Rings and Double Wide Dreams. I like fun John Prine-ish like songs; but then there’s songs like Giants and Hurts the Healing and It Takes Time that man, it’s a little bit deeper than the bath tub and you have to go there, because we went there in life. And it sucked for a second, but we didn’t sit in that shit, we got out of it and that’s what this record is about.
AD: Hurts the Healing is such a powerful anthem
DW: Yeah it is. First when we wrote it, I thought it was going to be a slow thing, but it proved to me in the studio that it wanted to be an anthem, to yell to the heavens that sometimes the hurt’s the healing because it was a victory that we got out of that.
AD: Talk to me about Power of a Woman, Alex was a key part of that idea and campaign, when you look at the video and all the pictures that came from people – you need a box of tissues by the end of it don’t you.
DW: There’s a lot of strong women out there that are the backbones of the families, which turn into the backbones of the countries and the backbones of the world. I see all these great stories of ladies that are carrying everything on their back, they are so strong, and I thought culturally it was just a shot to the heart of ‘look at this, look at what some of these ladies are doing’.
And then I was just concentrating on Alex, she can beat me at cards, she knows how to work on a car and build a fire, and I just kind of put all that stuff in there and I feel that song is that Muscle Shoals homage to soul, that’s how we recorded it and that’s how my music is – it’s cosmic soul country.
AD: You played a lot of new music during your Wednesday Night Therapy sessions, was that an opportunity to gain the momentum as to which songs you felt were really the standout ones.
DW: There’s no doubt, I built the record by coming into my barn when everybody had to stop. I wasn’t doing it for the fans, I was doing it because I needed it, I needed somewhere to go and something to do.
Shit, I loved doing it and I would write a song and play it and I would look at the comments and say ‘that needs to be on the record’. The pandemic, the stroke and WNT built this record.
AD: Some songs on the track list we’re not so familiar with, American Thunder, Rainbow State of Mind – where did those come from?
DW: Oh man, American Thunder is my live show, that swagger of James Brown and that swagger of 50 Years Too Late. That is that southern rock, I call it Kravitz country in reference to Lenny Kravitz. It’s the power of a woman, that confident woman in a tight dress and high heels that comes out and every guy goes ‘holy f**k look at that woman’.
That is the power, I’ve seen that in European women, southern women, that just came across to me as I love rock and roll music. We just caught a buzz, me and Randy Montana, we hit on American Thunder – that song needs to be on Saturday morning football or Nascar or even, it’s just a big song and I love it. It’s one of my favourites and it’s the fun song in the gumbo – like in the soup it is the spice.
Yes, this record’s serious but I’m a fun guy and I like to play music to have fun. It’s the backflip off the diving board.
AD: We all wish we could do one of those! The very last song, track 14, Amazing Grace – tell me about it, was that your grandfather?
DW: It’s actually my grandmother singing too, she just passed away. I grew up in church and that is homage to my creator, my Mum, my Dad. My Dad is the guy singing, my grandfather is the guy that’s preaching and talking. That is my whole family in the Baptist Church – I don’t think I’m alive yet, that’s 1978/79.
I dug it out of the attic on some tapes and I digitised it and brought it up in a session, put some spice on it and that’s what we got.
It’s a really cool thing and I didn’t want 13 songs on the record – ‘cos of being unlucky – so that’s the 14th song.
THE OPTIMYSTIC is available to pre-order and will be streaming from this Friday.
DRAKE WHITE – THE OPTIMYSTIC Track List
1. “50 Years Too Late” (Drake White, Leith Loftin)^
2. “American Thunder” (Drake White, Erik Dylan, Randy Montana)*
3. “Rainbow State of Mind (Feat. The Woods)” (Drake White, Dan O’Rourke)*
4. “Pawn Shop Rings and Double Wide Dreams” (Drake White, Allison Veltz Cruz, Jonathan Singleton)^
5. “Giants” (Drake White, Allison Veltz Cruz, Phil O’Donnell)^
6. “Hurts the Healing” (Drake White, Aaron Chafin, Allison Veltz Cruz)^
7. “It Takes Time” (Drake White, Chris DeStefano)+
8. “Power of a Woman” (Drake White, Lindsey Hinkle, Kelli Johnson)^
9. “Legends Never Die” (Drake White, Jeremy Bussey, Adam Sanders, Ron Womack)^
10. “Can’t Have My Dog” (Drake White, Kelli Johnson, Ava Paige)^
11. “Angel Side of You” (Drake White, Allison Veltz Cruz, Eric Paslay)^
12. “Free” (Allison Veltz Cruz, Connie Harrington, Zach Kale)^
13. “The Optimystic” (Drake White, Kelli Johnson, Lauren Weintraub)^
14. “Amazing Grace”
* produced by Drake White
^ produced by Drake White and Jaren Johnston
+ produced by Jaren Johnston