Drake White on His Soulful Style: ‘I Can’t Rein It In’
Drake White's wicked, foot-pounding, growling brew of country-blues and bluegrass is molded by fire — literally — but supported by the strongest, most refined voice the genre doesn't know about yet. He draws comparisons to Eric Church onstage, but Chief's contortions and guttural roars seem inspired by anger.
White's feel born from exorcism. He'll literally make you say "God da--!"
You need to see it to believe it. Yep,that phrase is as overworked as a pickup truck, but it's not misused here. “It just is who I am," White tells Taste of Country. "It’s just engrained in my soul, so I can’t really rein it in.”
There are certain parts of the song where he had to be like, ‘You know, that’s just how you talk,’” he says. “Because if you shaved anymore off of it, it wouldn’t come across as authentic.
A minute into a short set for an industry crowd and White seems set on pounding a worn black boot through the stage floor. He's disappeared into a groove, yet he remains omnipresent on stage. To date the Hokes Bluff, Ala., native has notched one Top 40 hit in three tries, although the current single "Livin' the Dream" seems built for success. Power is a problem, White concedes. He's been told by friends and fans to tone it down, and songs like "The Simple Life" and "It Feels Good" may have simply been too imposing for listeners to lean into softly. Both refuse to be background music, a soundtrack for a no replay workday.
But he can't tone it down. It's not how he was raised.
“My mom was a cosmologist for years, and she had a little shop in her garage," White recalls when asked who urged him to go for broke musically. "She used to get backed up and she’d be like, ‘Hey, come out here and help me talk to the women while they wait.’ And I ended up just learning how to talk and learning how to talk to women.”
While she schooled him on Ray Charles and country greats, his grandfather made sure he found religion. He was a preacher, so as a boy White had a front pew seat waiting for him. All of his influences come forward quickly when the music begins.
Mom and an uncle were constantly reinforcing his confidence and urging him to "follow your bliss." At age seven or eight he wanted to wear a certain pair of sandals that his peers deemed uncool. Mom convinced him they were wrong, which as any parent knows isn't easy. Yes, he was made fun of. Yes, he kept wearing them ... His signature hat suddenly seems perfect instead of out of place among a red carpet full of ball caps and Stetsons.
Church, Amos Lee and Joe Cocker are three artists White is compared to often, and indeed his stage show is reminiscent of the classic rocker singing "With a Little Help From My Friends" at Woodstock in 1969. "Livin' the Dream" is simpler. White starts softer and doesn't dig deep into his roots, yet the song also demands he find a lower register than ever before, so one can hardly claim he's compromised for the sake of airplay. That said, he understands it's important as a country artist to be understood.
“I did need to rein that vocal in a little bit to pronounce it," White says, "to make sure people understood what I was saying instead of kind of Joe Cocker over it.”
“There are certain parts of the song where he had to be like, ‘You know, that’s just how you talk,’” he said. “Because if you shaved anymore off of it it wouldn’t come across as authentic.”
A set at Country Jam Colorado in June and Zac Brown Band's Southern Ground Music Festival in April loom large on a 2016 calendar full of fair and festival dates. White and Brown are friends and duck hunting buddies, but the superstar has also been something of a mentor to him. He finds inspiration in the success of Chris Stapleton, as well. Fans and critics like to compare the two singers — few bring the same power night after night, song after song. When White watched the "Nobody to Blame" singer clean up at the 2015 CMA Awards he was blown away ... and a little jealous.
“There’s a good kind of competitiveness," White admits. "I’m not talking about the vindictive kind … but I’m passionate. I want that opportunity. I love Stapleton. He’s one of the best singers of all time in my opinion, and that is a perfect example of when preparation meets opportunity."
"I want that opportunity.”
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