Exclusive Interview with Country Artist Drew Powell
Having grown up in North Vancouver, BC, country artist Drew Powell cut his teeth playing locally in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland of BC. While attending Capilano University, he quickly found himself an in demand freelance drummer where he played in an early iteration of Carly Rae Jepsen’s band. After completing his degree at Berklee College of Music, Drew set out for Nashville to follow his passion for songwriting. After years of paying his dues in the bars of Broadway with artists and cover bands, Drew felt ready to dive head first into writing and performing. Now, he has his sights set on success as an artist and just released his first single, “If You’re Up”.
I got the chance to talk to Drew about how he got started making and performing music, the Canadian country scene, the songwriting process for “If You’re Up” and so much more! Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
I started playing classical piano at age 7 and drums at 12 and by 13 I was playing in rock bands and high school jazz band. Studying the Royal Conservatory Institute method for piano, I was required to play lots of piano recitals in front of 1-2 person panels which was probably my first real experience playing in front of someone other than my parents. My band would play shows at local rec/youth centers for friends which was always a lot more fun. As for writing, I used to make up instrumental only piano pieces as a kid and that grew into experimenting with more full orchestrations when I discovered Logic and software instruments.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
I don’t think there was one specific moment. Music has just always been the main focus my entire life. I went from playing music privately to studying it at the post secondary level at CapilanoU and Berklee College of Music and can honestly say there’s never been another profession I’ve ever thought about or wanted to pursue.
You grew up in North Vancouver, BC. It seems like the Canadian country scene is hotter than ever right now. From your experience, what’s the country scene in Canada like?
I’m brand new to the Canadian country scene as I’ve spent the majority of my time in the US for the last 8 years so it’s hard for me to gauge. I remember there being a pretty small scene in lower mainland Vancouver when I was living there with one country bar (The Bourbon) but I think it’s since closed. There’s a lot of really great talent coming out of Canada and the Vancouver area specifically (Chad Brownlee, Shawn Austin, Sons of Daughters, Jojo Mason) and I’d have to say I think the scene is certainly healthy and growing – it’s exciting to be a part of it.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. Your current sound would generally be classified as country, but if you had to describe it without using genre names, how would you describe it?
I would describe my music as joyful, lyrically conversational, hook driven feel-good songwriting. Many songwriters will tell you they’re either stronger melodic writers or more lyrically driven. I tend to gravitate more towards memorable and ear-wormy melodies and whatever feels best. Feel and vibe are king.
Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
Having grown up playing and listening to so many different styles of music, my list of influences is very long and my palate is all over the place. One minute, I’ll be listening to Zapp and Roger, then Mahavishnu Orchestra, then Fleetwood Mac and onto Brooks and Dunn. There’s not really a type of music I can’t enjoy or learn something new/interesting from. Music rocks!
Let’s talk about your newest single, “If You’re Up”. I know this is your first big release as an artist after being a touring drummer. What made now the right time to take this leap and start putting out your own music?
I’d been writing and playing music in Nashville for around 4 years and had built up a substantial catalog of songs. I sent a few to an old friend from college who was working at a label and he asked me what I wanted to do with them. My initial plan was to get a publishing deal and write songs for other people. I was making a living in the support role as a drummer for various touring bands, playing late night cover gigs, and writing songs in the daytime so when he told me he wanted to release the songs under my name I was pleasantly shocked and surprised. I signed with them and we were off to the races! It’s really exciting for me to play my music from the front of the stage and to give these songs the life they deserve. I’m learning a ton and just enjoying the whole thing as it unfolds.
What inspired “If You’re Up”?
I wanted to write an easy listening, feel-good catchy country pop song about putting yourself out there and taking a chance on love. Who can’t relate to that?!
What was the songwriting process like for this song specifically?
“If You’re Up” was written with my friend Joe Fox and it was actually one of the first songs I wrote upon moving to Nashville. From what I can remember, I brought in a loose chorus melody (no words yet) and chord structure that I played on a piano and we came up with the rest of the song together. As you can imagine, there are a lot of songs out there about love and I remember searching through many different hook ideas until we landed on the phrase “If you’re up, I’m down”. The whole song took 2 writing sessions I think.
Something I’ve always been curious with songwriting is how topics come to mind. Did you know you wanted to write about going into the song session that birthed “If You’re Up” or did it just come about organically?
For me, almost all of the songs I write/co-write start with a hook idea. In Nashville, a lot of writers keep a “hook book” (note pad or phone document) filled with words, phrases, popular sayings, etc. We bounce a few off each other, see which one we all like and move forward. From there I tend to think of it like story boarding a movie. The plot can still change but laying it out gives initial direction and helps clarify where to start and what to write about. That being said, “If You’re Up” was an exception to this way of writing because we began with a melodic structure and no words. I think this was because I was new to town and not used to the style of writing I’ve since come to adopt and love.
Was there any major changes to “If You’re Up” that happened once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
I worked with an incredible producer and 2 time back to back winner of CCMA’s producer of the year award Jeff “Diesel” Dalziel. Jeff liked the song and my initial production, but thought it was missing a competitive edge for contemporary radio. He was right. He rearranged the verse and chorus structure to be much more catchy and impactful, added call and response lines which helped reinforce the main lyrical hook (‘if you’re up, I’m down”), and gave the song a much needed shiny production paint job. Jeff rocks!
You’re relatively new to the music game. What are some music industry-related goals or benchmarks that you’re aiming to reach in the next couple of years?
That’s a question I always find myself revisiting and reevaluating. I don’t think I’m alone when I say the goals I want to accomplish in this industry are constantly evolving. When I first moved to Nashville, my goal was just to be able to support myself playing music. By the time I got to that level, what I wanted shifted to learning guitar and playing my songs at writer’s rounds. Then I wanted a publishing deal, etc. Having a publisher/label that believes in my music and wants to release it to the world is already a massive benchmark for me. I think my immediate short term goal would be for “If You’re Up” to chart but I’m already blown away by the response it’s received. As far as the next couple of years are concerned, I just want to keep writing and releasing music I’m proud of.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
It’s hard to pick just one thing I’m nerding out on at any given time but I’d have to say leatherwork has claimed the largest slice of my nerd pie chart for the last 9 months. I went down the YouTube rabbit hole of DIY maker videos earlier last year and in Jan 2019 I dove in head first buying all the tools and materials. I think it compliments making music really well. You pour so much creative energy into writing a song and that creativity is so rarely rewarded (in ways other than the satisfaction you get of making something out of nothing). With leatherwork, the creative energy I put into crafting has a tangible, functional, and not to mention amazing smelling end result that I can use right away! I think it’s the instant gratification that I find so appealing. Instant gratification rocks!
Make sure you follow Drew on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.