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The Balancing Act of Drew Holcomb

The Balancing Act of Drew Holcomb

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Drew Holcomb feels like he’s on a rollercoaster.

“That’s just how life goes, right?” the folk-rock singer asked. “We can have days and weeks where we experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows in the same, small period of time. There’s a certain beauty in the tension of the way our lives actually work.”

He’s not upset or frustrated about being on a rollercoaster. Sure, he admits, life would be easier if it was one smooth ride. But as he’s getting older, he’s learning to embrace the twists, turns and loops that get thrown at him. And he’s inviting others to join him on the ride.

At least, that’s the message behind Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors’ new album, Strangers No More. The band’s eighth studio album invites listeners to embark on the up and down intricacies of the human experience. In a world that often seeks to neatly compartmentalize emotions, experiences and music genres, Strangers No More blends themes, feelings and sounds into one cohesive album.

“I didn’t want to make a record that was just a fun, hope-filled, live-show record,” Holcomb explained. “But I also didn’t want to just put out a quiet, ‘life is so hard’ record either. Because those two things are both real and they interact. I wanted them to interact with each other.”

Holcomb wrote the album along with a team of collaborators — his bandmates, The Highwomen’s Natalie Hemby and Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor — over the course of nearly two years. He took the time to dig deeper and get philosophical, something that was new for him, he admitted.

“This record is more of me looking at myself and the world and sort of coming out of the cave with some sort of general thoughts about getting older, friendship, expressing gratitude and other things like that,” Holcomb said. “On previous albums I would say I’ve always been more personal, but there’s a lot of bigger ideas explored on this record that aren’t necessarily tied to specific people and narratives in my life.”

Holcomb said that turning 40 led him to an introspective and retrospective place. He began processing different parts of his past while planning out what he wanted his future to look like.

It’s easy to see the tension Holcomb wrestles with throughout the album: finding the right community, expressing gratitude, processing a global pandemic while growing older and feeling like a failure and a success all at the same time. Holcomb weaves together an album that doesn’t leave you feeling unsettled, but does leave you thinking about, well, everything.

Take “Troubles,” for example. Holcomb works through the heaviness of wanting to hide from the violence and pain of division we all live through day in and day out. It was written right after the Uvalde Elementary School shooting in May 2022.

But by the next song, “That’s On You, That’s On Me,” the rock song focuses on the way we mythologize ourselves and hype ourselves up. The feeling that, despite everything going on in the world around us, there’s plenty of things happening in us that are worth acknowledging and even celebrating.

“To me, I find those topics to be importantly interchangeable,” Holcomb explained. “You can’t really have joy without sorrow. They go hand in hand. As I’ve gotten older, learning to be present and available to yourself and to your world and to your friends while holding those two things in tension is a very important part of maturing and becoming self-aware.”

Holcomb tosses back and forth between light and heavy experiences and emotions throughout the album. It was important to him to not have too much of one emotion; he wanted the full gamut of humanity represented.

“Gratitude” is perhaps the best example of Holcomb figuring out exactly how to balance that tension. The song is about acknowledging the struggle in front of you, but choosing to find the light in your situation instead. Holcomb sings, “Try and hold on to your hands in the garden, the smile of a child, swimming in the river, walking the last sweet mile, the first crack of thunder, the heavenly rain, all that gets taken and all that remains.”

“While I was making this album, I kept thinking you can’t really be grateful for the good if you don’t know what the bad is like,” Holcomb said. “You can’t find the light unless you also know what it’s like to have something taken from you, or to have something lost. And you don’t know what light is until you’ve experienced darkness. In my experience, you can’t really hold onto hope until you’ve faced the reality of despair.

“I tend to be a personality that’s going to look the hardest thing in the eye, and I’m going to grieve whatever that thing has taken from me, but then I’m not going to let it knock me over and win,” he continued. “And I think for me, music has been a big part of that. Some of the ways that I’ve been able to chase the light has been because of other people’s music. I just think that there’s a lot in music to help people sort of unwrap that tension of hope, despair, light, darkness, joy, sorrow. And that’s why I wanted to do this in the first place, to be a part of that conversation.”

Holcomb really comes alive when he talks about his love for music. Whether it’s discussing his favorite albums that have influenced each of his own records — Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run or Tom Petty’s Wildflowers — or how music gives him the ability to create new stories, it’s clear Holcomb is in the right business.

“There’s so many beautiful ingredients in music that connect with everybody in different ways,” he said. “There’s so many different bands that connect with different people and everybody’s got their own experience. But in this beautiful way, music brings people from all ways of life together.”

That idea of community, of connectedness, is central to Strangers No More. Through all the ups and downs of life, community is, ideally, the one constant a person has in life. Holcomb hopes that when fans listen to his music or show up to his shows, they feel connected to one another. By listening to his music together, they’re no longer strangers, they’re friends.

“The name of the album comes from the song, ‘Dance With Everybody,’” Holcomb said. “The song is completely an ode to the audience.”

Holcomb shared the song is about the “smorgasbord of people” that make up an audience — a room that’s like a sea full of strangers crashing on the rungs. But by the end of the night when the band finishes playing, they’re all strangers no more. “We’re at a really scary time in our lives,” Holcomb said, “but I think if we can just remember that there are good things in the world, like good music and good people, we’re going to make it out alright in the end.”

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