Drew Kennedy is a Texas transplant. Originally from Virginia, his booming voice and colorful songwriting have been gaining him new fans and respect throughout the region. He’s seen a lot in his young years and the songs on his debut EP Hillbilly Pilgrim display his world weary soul. Get to know this thoughtful troubadour in this edition of 20 Questions.
1. What’s new and exciting with Drew Kennedy?
Well, I have new management, new booking, and a new publishing deal… but I assume you’re talking about the exciting things. My life is very exciting. For instance, I mowed the lawn yesterday, and washed the dishes.
2. Talk about transitioning from the beginnings of a music career in Virginia and Maryland to joining the crowded fray down here in Texas. Why’d you move? Has the scene embraced you? What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Well, in all honesty, there weren’t many places that were willing to have live and original music on a regular basis. As long as I was living there, I didn’t feel like I could turn my music into a viable profession, it always felt like a hobby up there, and that wasn’t a direction that I was willing to take. As far as the scene embracing me, if you mean the fans that come out to hear live music, then I feel that they have welcomed me into the fray with open arms and open ears. The biggest challenge has been trying to get to as many venues as possible all across the state. But, luckily I’ve had some help from my friends with that.
3. Name association:
-Randy Rogers- Hottest ticket in town!
-Wade Bowen-Great voice.
-Mando Saenz- The best songwriter you’ve never heard.
-Ryan Bingham- John Wayne meets John Prine.
-Stoney LaRue- Multi-talented
-Josh Grider- Has a voice all his own.
-Ryan Adams- One of my biggest influences and the greatest I’ve ever heard at borrowing the best things from everyone else’s best songs.
4. Is it true that in the end the love me make is equal to the love we take?
Uh, no, I don’t think that’s true. I think Einstein would agree with me, since energy can neither be created nor destroyed. The amount of love we make is infinitely larger than the amount of love we take. In other words, I have no idea.
5. Pat Green took your band out on the road and has let y’all open a few big shows. Talk about that experience and the contrast of those shows from your normal gigs.
It was a blast…an absolute blast. You learn more about yourself and your band when you are opening for someone as big as Pat, especially when they were some of the first gigs that we had played together in the current lineup. I’ve always felt that you perform up or down to the level of those around you, and in our case, we had to step up to meet the challenge.
6. What’s your writing process like generally? Are you a melody guy, a lyric guy…what comes first for you?
The idea has to come first… and once I come across something I think I’d like to write about, I usually shape the lyrics and melody around each other at the same time. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I’m most comfortable when I have the chance to write that way. I’ve always valued lyrics more than melody in the music I listen to and the music that I write.
7. Is living in Texas what you thought it would be culture wise? How does it differ from your hometown and how is it similar?
It’s been everything I’ve wanted it to be and more. When I graduated from college I moved to Houston and aside from the baseball and football games, it was a shaky start for me. I’m not much of an overcrowded city kind of guy, so now that Holly and I are in New Braunfels, I’ve found the Texas that I thought I was moving to when I got to Houston. In all honestly, the biggest differences between my hometown and New Braunfels are geographical- the rivers, the landscape, and the temperature.
8. If you could have your beloved Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series two times in a row or have a big star cut one of your songs and make you rich and famous, which one do you pick?
I’ve always wanted to see my team win a World Series. They were so close in 1993. Just winning once would be enough. Can I pick one World Championship and maybe a moderate hit?
9. What cd’s are in your case that would surprise your fans?
I’m a Ben Folds nut. I think he’s one of the most underrated songwriters in modern music. Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys is a timeless one. And probably Rage Against The Machine’s first one… I love that album.
10. You named your band Whistlepig. What’s the story behind that?
That’s what the old folks call Ground Hogs at home. I said it as a joke, but it got stuck in my head.
11. Favorite memory from the following towns/clubs:
-Dallas- Playing at Smirnoff this year with everyone.
-Austin- Opening for Pat at Stubbs with Peter Dawson on the day that Lucky Ones came out.
-Nashville- Playing at 3rd and Lindsley (laughs) or not playing at Brown’s Diner because it caught on fire the day before our show. We were wondering why they wouldn’t answer their phone so that we could advance the show.
-Kerrville- Inn of the Hills. Mondays are a great night to play to an appreciative audience.
-College Station- Bourbon Street Bar and Grill
-White Elephant- My first Clubhouse Concert series date with Rodney Hayden.
-John T. Floore’s Country Store- Getting to headline at Floore’s was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It’s my favorite music venue, by far.
-Poor David’s- Three man song swap between Peter Dawson, Jason Boland and myself. It must have been two years ago. Taking the edge off with half a bottle of Jaeger before the show was not a good idea. I’ll refund anyone’s money that came to that show. We all managed to finish it out…(laughs)…but it wasn’t pretty. I don’t know why I always have to learn things the hard way.
12. Do you think OJ Simpson will ever find the real killers?
In his mind, I’m sure he already has. He seems like a really swell guy.
13. You and your good friend Peter Dawson play a weekly show every Tuesday at River Road Icehouse in New Braunfels. Tell us about those shows. Who’s been your favorite guest? Funniest story?
Those shows are great. They’re laid back and just a ton of fun to play. Robert Henry and a host of other weirdo’s showed up one night all wearing costumes. And by costumes I mean stuff like rabbit suits and giraffe suits and things like that. I don’t think I had ever forgotten that I was singing a song while performing it prior to their entry. I believe it was part of their infamous “First Freeze” celebration. I sang an entire song wearing a huge Whinne the Pooh head. I mean, who wouldn’t do that if they had the chance?
Mando Saenz has been our best guest by far, with the exception of the aforementioned Whinnie the Pooh, we don’t see cultural icons in the Icehouse very often.
14. Struggling musicians often times have an array of awful day jobs. Talk about some you’ve had and the dynamic of holding down a “real” job along with playing music for a living.
I’ve worked in a management position at a printing company, inspected homes all over Maryland and most recently sold insurance. The inspection job was interesting, I used to go into some of the rougher neighborhoods in Balitmore where someone like me was either A) a cop or B) looking for crack. The first home I inspected was in the middle of a long row of homes, and every home had been condemned or was vacant except for the one that I was there to inspect. That job tested my nerves a time or two. The most important aspect of a job for me was its flexibility. The thing of it is, if it weren’t for the music, most of us wouldn’t subject ourselves to jobs like that. I think their flexibility comes as a direct result of no one else wanting to do that job…or the fact that you work for commission.
15. Stories behind the following songs:
-Goodnight Mississippi- I wrote it on the back of a bunch of business cards after a long night out on the town with some of my old buddies after moving back home from Houston. I woke up to find the cards scattered all over the floor next to my bed. It took me a while to figure out what order they went in…(laughs)…I don’t recommend this technique for writing songs.
-Cincinnati- A 100% true story about a trip I took with Holly before we were engaged, to see her cousin get married in, you guessed it, Cincinnati.
-I Do I hate that song.
-White Lightning- Written while in Houston, reflecting on my time in Virginia. You can tell this was one of my first songwriting attempts because I chose to rhyme the word “wood” with the word “woods.” I cringe every time I sing it now… (laughs)I should fix that.
-Down in Flames- I wrote this with my good friend Chris Kershaw, who is originally from Lake Charles, LA. We wrote it after he told me he was serious about giving up on dating. The next month he found true love, via the computer… waiting for him in Canada. (laughs) I’m happy to say that the couple is doing well in Vancouver some two years later.
-Living Or Dying- I have no experience with murder or drug smuggling, so I made some up.
-Long Highway- A song about wanting to leave the town in which I had grown up.
-Goodbye- A new one, probably the best song I’ve written. I wrote it from the perspective of a guy leaving his girlfriend or wife or whatever because he recognized that he was the problem in the relationship, not her.
-Travis County Heartbreak- Wrote it with Peter Dawson. We finished a song that he and Jason Boland had been talking about for a while when we were in Oklahoma City. That was the first day I had met Peter.
16. You only have $20 to your name. What do you buy? Why?
Guitar strings. Can’t play a guitar without guitar strings. But then I guess I’d have $20 and a guitar to my name and that wasn’t the question.
17. Rapid fire:
-Steve Earle or Gram Parsons- Steve Earle in a heartbreaker.
-Mustard or Mayo- Spicy Brown Mustard
-Ashlee Simpson or Jessica Simpson- Does my wife know you’re asking me this question?
-Tim McGraw or Tug McGraw- Tug McGraw because he threw the clincher in the 1980 Series.
-What’s worse: Rascal Flats or Lonestar? I’d be happy to help either one rise above their last efforts.
18. You set out to make the ultimate road trip cd mix. What songs go on it?
1. Jacksonville Skyline, Whiskeytown (Pneumonia)
2. Down the Road Tonight, Hayes Carll (Little Rock)
3. Earthbound, Rodney Crowell (Fate’s Right Hand)
4. Folsom Prison Blues (live), Johnny Cash (Live at Folsom Prison)
5. Cherry Lane, Ryan Adams (Cold Roses)
6. Shotgun Willie, Willie Nelson (Shotgun Willie)
7. Nashville, David Mead (Indiana)
8. State Trooper (live), Steve Earle (Guitar Town)
9. The Way, Scott Miller and the Commonwealth (Upside Downside)
10. Not The Same (live), Ben Folds (Ben Folds Live)
11. Gold in the Sunset, Bob Schneider (I’m Good Now)
12. It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Me, Chris Knight (Chris Knight)
13. Raining in Baltimore, Counting Crows (August and Everything After)
14. This Ain’t Living, G. Love & Special Sauce (G. Love & Special Sauce)
15. Cash & Tobacco, Nathan Hamilton and No Deal (Live at Floore’s)
16. Taneytown, Steve Earle (El Corazon)
17. Broke (live), Todd Snider (Near Truths and Hotel Rooms)
18. Clarity, John Mayer (Heavier Things)
19. Heartbroke (live), Guy Clark (Keepers)
20. Songs About Rain, Gary Allan (See If I Care)
19. This is normally the George Strait question. But since you’re from Virginia. What’s your favorite Dave Matthews song?
“The Fireman” for George Strait. And “#41” from the DMB. I love that band.
20. Compare/contrast the music being made by independent Americana/Country artists with most of the stuff being pushed by major labels.
None of the music down here is insulting to its general listening audience. How a song about a stay at home dad in his upper 30’s can reach the top of the charts is beyond me. Maybe I’m giving music listeners out there too much credit, but I don’t think so. I think you can write a smart song and still appeal to the masses. That’s the biggest difference. If the average level of education in America is on the rise, why do some people still feel that they need to pander us with comparatively unintelligent music? Americana is the thinking man’s Country music and I’m looking forward to the time when program directors realize that their audience is smarter than he or she is giving them credit for.