By Denise Dunbar | [email protected]
Nashville based husband-and-wife duo Drew and Ellie Holcomb bring their February family tour to The Birchmere on Feb. 6. In addition to performing together, the Holcombs both write and record songs individually, Drew with his band, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, and Ellie in the Christian genre. Their three young children are accompanying them for part of the tour.
The 2017 release by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, “Souvenir,” reached number three on the U.S. Indie charts, while Ellie’s last two albums, “As Sure as the Sun” in 2014 and “Red Sea Road” in 2017, reached numbers two and three, respectively, on the U.S. Christian charts.
The duo, who met while studying at the University of Tennessee in the early 2000s, have just released a three-song EP called “Electricity.” Times publisher and editor Denise Dunbar caught up with the Holcombs by phone last week.
Your music seems to cross genres, can you describe its breadth?
Drew: That is one of the great things about music today, you don’t have to choose your influences and pick [one] thing. … I grew up in Memphis listening to classic soul music and my parents, my dad especially, was a big Bob Dylan fan. You’ve got all these different influences and you can create your own music. You know the genre of quote unquote “Americana” kind of encompasses country and folk and blues and soul and there’s all sorts of stuff that fits in that category. … Ellie and I can get up there and sing a really folkie song and then follow it up with a [pop/rock] song.
Ellie, your solo albums have been more Christian oriented.
Ellie: They’ve done really great. It’s been a sweet thing for me. I’ve tried to work out my faith in songs for many years now. It’s been really fun to see some of those songs – working out doubt and fear and hope in the context of a song – connect with other people’s stories.
Who are your musical influences? Your oldest daughter is named “Emmylou,” so…
Ellie: Oh my goodness, we are long-time fans of Emmylou Harris. Drew actually asked me out for the first time at an Emmylou Harris concert. So her music has been a huge inspiration, but she’s also a personal part of our story.
What about Willie Nelson? You cover “On the Road Again” on your new EP.
Drew: We got the chance to tour with him about a year-and-a-half ago. It was just an absolute blast. Our kids were on tour and they got to meet Willie and hang out with him a little bit. He was just incredibly gracious and that song has kind of become a family anthem for us because we do a lot of travel, apart and together. We thought it’d be sort of a fun nod toward him and the influence he’s had on us both musically and personally.
Describe the other two songs on “Electricity.”
Drew: After a show one time, a guy told me, he was basically a promoter from a local college, … he shared his opinion that he didn’t like my love songs. And so, instead of letting that get in my head, I responded by writing another one, [the song “Electricity”] for Ellie. Which is kind of fun.
“Love Anyway” is a song I wrote about a friend who lives in Iraq and Syria who does front-line work in war-torn zones all over the world. There’s an article he wrote during the ISIS bombings for the Washington Post that’s called, “When the world is scary as hell, love anyway.” It’s basically just a song about how when the world is kind of crashing in all around you, the only thing left to do is keep loving your neighbor.
How do you balance recording careers together, solo careers and a growing family?
Ellie: I always tell people Drew is a logistical ninja. He’s highly capable in terms of scheduling child care and also working in some margin when we’re just all home together, like a regular family. … We have an amazing community who surrounds us and our kids and they really make that possible.
Artists aren’t compensated the way they used to be. How do you view that from a career financial perspective?
Drew: A lot of it is just touring. You’ve got to get out there and sell tickets. … But we’ve been fortunate as independent artists. We own our masters, so the income that does come off of that [streaming from Apple and Spotify] does come straight to us. But yes, it’s nothing like it used to be. I always say there’s never been a worse time to make a killing as a musician, but never been a better time to make a living.