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In Harmony with the Holcombs

Drew and Ellie Holcomb have made a career in music by staying true to themselves, each other, and their community.

For Drew and Ellie Holcomb, everything comes down to relationships. Whether it's with their kids, their friends, their community, or each other, the ties that bind them all together are what’s influenced their music the most. Both Drew and Ellie have thriving music careers. Drew and his band “The Neighbors,” are regularly touring while his song “Find Your People” continues to blow up. Ellie’s album “All of My Days,” leans more into giving music to scripture and the prose from her book “Fighting Words,” a collection of aphorisms and modes of positive thinking.

For all their well-earned successes though, a force of gratitude grounds them through everyday life raising three kids—who regularly tour with them. Catching up with the Holcombs in between show dates and travel plans is no easy task, which made the sit-down even more special.

Y’all just got back from Colorado, how was the trip?

Drew Holcomb: It was so fun. I grew up skiing, so I always dreamed of a time when all my kids could ski. We’d been there a few times before, but our youngest didn’t really take to it. This was the first trip he did. 

And you drove out from Nashville? Is that the longest car ride you’ve all done together?

DH: The longest we’ve done in one go. Our kids have grown up on the road. It was great though. A lot of movies. The kids love to read too, so we were listening to Harry Potter on Audible. 

Ellie Holcomb: I think our kids have all hit the age where they can go, which is awesome. Skiing is a great family activity. We had an absolute blast, and there was a blizzard that hit Colorado at the very end of it. We booked flights to fly home just in case, but they were like, “Please let us ride in the car.” We loved it. 

He always said, "You're not going to have much of an inheritance, but we have put a lot of money in the memory bank."

You travel a lot with the family for work, but did you grow up traveling much? Is it something that’s always been a part of your life?

DH: By the time I graduated high school, I had been to 46 states. My dad loves to travel, my mom tolerates my dad's love of travel, and we had a conversion van. I had a brother who was in a wheelchair, and so we had this big conversion van with a lift on it. We do about 30,000 miles a year driving all over. He loved to see the world, and that stuck with me. It created a ton of curiosity in me and Ellie. 

EH: His dad had a motto that he lived by. He always said, “You're not going to have much of an inheritance, but we have put a lot of money in the memory bank.” My mom says as a kid, I was always like, “What's our plan? Where are we going?” She'd say, “We are all here.” My dad was a producer and was in the studio. We had a very vibrant, playful, musical, creative family. So home was really fun. We were the house where everyone was in and out. Everyone was welcome and had open-door policy, which was great. But I think in the sense of being a little bit more sedentary, there was a desire in me to travel. 

Were there trips that really stood out once you started traveling with the family?

DH: During COVID we went to Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Tetons, and climbed the Grand Teton, which was kind of insane—it was really fun. Touring is actually not as exciting because you get there in the morning, you have like four or 5 hours maybe, and then you have to go to work. So you spend most of your time in the venue. And Ellie only tours with me about 20% of the time. The rest of the time, I'm with the band. 

How do you hold onto all those travel memories?

DH: We love to go and collect. My dad had this thing when we would travel where he would give us a budget for trinkets. If we were on a ten-day trip, he'd say, alright, you got $100. He would always encourage us to buy something “real.” I remember when I was eight years old, we went to Mesa Verde and saw a bunch of famous Native American sites, and I bought an actual tomahawk. I still have it. I’m 42 years old and still have lots of these things in my life. The only thing is we have to be careful not to make our house a museum.

It’s the memories that take you back. Billy’s like that too. He’s a “treasure” person. 

DH: I have one of the OG Florence hats. It’s kind of an heirloom. One of my favorite shirts is the Yellowhammer shirt you guys put out a few years ago. The clothes are all really generational. 

For all the traveling you’ve done though, you’ve also been in Nashville for nearly 20 years. For a guy who’s band is literally, “The Neighbors,” what does home mean to you?

DH: I think our home is a gathering place for friends and family. Ellie has a gift for hospitality. I also love hosting. We grew up in homes where there was a lot of activity. So there's that fine balance of home as a place where you go to rest, especially for us after being on the road. But it's the place where there's a lot of action. We have three children, so there's always something literally and metaphorically bouncing off the walls. A lot of people love to have their house, and it's their space. Those lines are a little blurry in a neighborhood like East Nashville because you live close to people. We walked to dinner last night, we walked down the street to this restaurant on the corner, and we rode our bikes to school to drop our kids off. We go to the park, but the smaller yards, more park is sort of the vibe of this area. It also sets the tone for the communal way of being. 

It sounds like the neighborhood really influences your work.

DH: Yeah, literally two minutes ago, while we were sitting here, I got a text from my next-door neighbor. “Hey, I didn't know you dropped a new song. I know now I'm not on social media, but it popped up on my Apple Music. Love it. See you later today!” 

Did you always know you were going to pursue music—hell or high water—or did you have other plans from other interests of yours?

DH: I wasn't sure what I was going to do. But I loved school. I loved reading. I loved narrative nonfiction writing. I thought my path to that was going to be through academics. I was planning on getting some sort of PhD in history or religious studies or something like that, with the hope of writing. And I was playing music on the side. I didn't really even start writing songs until I was a junior in college. My dad just basically told me, go to school and learn how to learn and study something you love, and you can do anything.

As far as collected treasures go, I know books are really important to you. Do you have a favorite? 

DH: My favorite book is East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. I have a first edition. I try to mark key celebrations by buying first editions. For instance, the first time I sold out the Ryman, I bought a first edition of C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When my record Souvenir came out, I bought a signed first edition of Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides. The John Steinbeck one was when our song “Find Your People” went number one on Americana radio, which is our first number one. 

Do you have any favorite things in your home tied to memories like that?

EH: When we first got married, I wanted all the same pottery: all the same cups, and mugs, and plates. My family was very much that way. But I think what I love about Drew and his family is that they’re also like this. My parents also had this art collection that I know we both wanted. 

Do you have any favorite paintings?

EH: One of my favorite paintings I'm looking at now is by an artist in town. His kids went to our kids' school. So he was a fellow parent there, and talking to him one day, I said, “Tell me about what you do.” And he said, “I'm an artist.” And I found out that he makes these beautiful works.

DH: I knew we wanted to buy one thing on our honeymoon that we could have forever to celebrate. We were 23 and 24 and had absolutely no money. We had no idea how expensive the paintings were. We fell in love with all these paintings that were like $4,000, $5,000. Then, we went into this shop and saw one of an old man. It's called Warrior King

It was a study for what was going to be a really enormous, large format painting that never came to be. The gallery owner just got to talking to him about art, and he told us his story. He had moved from Israel, from Tel Aviv, when he was 18 to get in the art world as an artist, but also as a dealer. He said he slept on a mattress on the floor, and he spent all of his money on art. He told us that if you really love art, you’ve got to suffer for it. He said, “Listen, if you'll put $400 down, I'll hold the painting for you, and you can pay it off over time and you need it for your honeymoon. You can always have this thing.” The painting captured how both Ellie and I see things. It started a habit of buying art. Some of the art we have is, like, $5 that we found at whatever, and some of it’s really expensive gallery art. It's all about what you love and what tells your story, and that's sort of how that all began for us. 

Who, in your mind, are “The Holcombs?”

DH: We are fast-paced, hospitable travel junkies who love their friends, who love their family, who try to say yes to as much as we can. We're sort of doers and dreamers, which is a fun combo, because a lot of people do have lots of dreams and don't do anything. I think we try to live, like, an intentional life while holding space for trying to be empathetic. We know that we live a very privileged life because of our music and because of the fact that we grew up with intact, loving families. We're holding on for dear life a lot of times with all the demands of our work and demands of having three kids and lots of relationships. But we really love the life that we have. I would say the one driving word of our existence is “gratitude.”

Tell me a bit about how you and Ellie started dating?

DH: We had become friends for many years. I studied abroad in Scotland, and I came back to Knoxville as a senior. When I got back, Ellie was dating this guy. But my first show as a performer was at a restaurant called Lucille's, and I had Ellie come up and play or sing with me on a couple of songs—much to the chagrin of her boyfriend at the time. That's sort of the backstory. 

And how did you two get together? 

DH: When they didn't work out, I was, needless to say, pretty excited about that. I basically told her, “I know you're not ready to date anybody, but when you are, we've been friends for years. I feel like I've earned the first shot.”

That was bold!

DH: And she agreed, but it took her six months. But I had preemptively bought tickets to see Patty Griffin at the Ryman, and that was our first official date. So sort of set the tone for a musical life. 

What year is this anniversary?

DH: What number will this be? 18. It’s 18. I think one thing that we've learned how to do is really giving each other space to be our own people. Ellie leaves space for me to do the things that I love, and vice versa. We were talking earlier about playing golf, and she picked up gardening because she's like, “I want to do that. I need something else. I want something where you're outside for hours at a time.” 

Tell me about your garden. Is it a place for respite? Do you write out there? Do you grow dahlias? Veggies? Is it everything?

EH: I'm hoping to do more flowers. I had some dahlias last year. I’m planting Zinnias now, they’re my favorite. The more you cut them, the quicker they grow back, so you can give them away. I literally have a budget line item for vases or save every mason jar because my favorite thing is when somebody comes to my home for me to send them away with flowers. Zinnias are good for that. I'm actually working at writing out there too. I'm trying to get zinnias into one of the songs. There’s also veggies. The garden is literally my grounding place. 

Can you tell me a bit about your song All of My Days and what inspired it?

EH: With as many questions, and with as much mystery that surrounds scripture, it has always been a safe place and a comfort and a balm and a shelter that I've found respite and comfort in. 15 years ago I had a friend who was severely battling depression and realized there were a lot of lies and negative stories that she was believing. I realized that we maybe needed something stronger than the shadows to anchor down in. I started memorizing scripture with her and called them our fighting words. And that changed us. 

And did you find it helpful?

EH: We're not good at it. We're terrible at memorizing scripture, but I think what it did was give us solid ground to stand on and a shield in a safe place when the shame storms came rolling in. And it didn't take away my friend's depression, it didn't change everything, but it changed us from the inside out. I started on Instagram because there's so much noise as you scroll. What if for 6 seconds or 30 seconds, I could sing or share something that was bringing me quiet and peace? 

I call it “Fighting Words Friday.” I started singing it because it helps me hold it better. A melody is stickier than my brain sometimes. All of My Days is the culmination of me listening to mysterious promises that have brought me unexplainable peace for a lot of years in my life. And then listening to other people say, “Can you please put these on your record?”

That’s wonderful. Now, you both are about to work together again. That’s exciting!

EH: The song we're singing is one we've written for this new project. It's been really good for us. When I quit the band to be a stay-at-home mom, I accidentally started a music career. I just thought I was going to write for other people. I was going to release my own music. I'm so glad that I did. I love it. So we both work separately, but then also still come together twice a year at Christmas for a few shows or every February. We've only ever known working together. We used to say when we were married for five or ten years, we got double because we're together more than most couples ever. 

Drew, we’ve been loving your song, “Find Your People.” 

DH: Find Your People was written with a friend of mine named Kevin Rhodes, who came over to the house and we wrote on the piano in our writing space. It’s from the conversations that happen between friends that often lead to song ideas. And Nashville is a very collaborative, inviting, and welcoming place, especially if you've been here for a while and sort of paid your dues. 

What is your process like? 

DH: Yeah. I don't have a specific process for writing songs. It's sort of just a matter of collecting and organizing and doing the work. 

Is there anything next, musically, that you want to try that maybe you haven't done or anyone you would love to collaborate with next or just kind of what's next for you? 

DH: Yeah, we've got Strangers No More. Volume Two is coming out in September. We're starting to release those songs. One just came out yesterday called Suffering. It’s a big Tom Petty-esque rock song. There's a really cool collaboration happening on that with Vince Gill who is going to play on a song. Ellie and I are actually working on our first record together where it's not a Neighbors record, it's not an Ellie record. It's going to be the two of us together. 

That’s great.

DH: That's in the very early stages, but we are definitely going to do that. But honestly, right now we're just so focused on spring tours and summer festivals. 

Is there a greatest accomplishment in your eyes?

DH: Well, I think the fact that making music a career is such a long shot and requires so many lucky breaks and, that’s one. The fact that my kids like to read, that was a pretty good accomplishment. And then generally speaking, I think Ellie most days still likes me, so that's a pretty good accomplishment too.

The Holcomb Edit

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