Interview: Drake White Drops ‘Stars’ EP With Renewed Gratitude and Drive
Drake White emanates positivity, gratitude and drive. It's nothing new -- onstage, in his music and in interviews, the singer and songwriter has always tried to look on the bright side and make the most of even a bad situation -- but these days, his words feel especially honest, and his lyrics, he reflects, have an added layer of meaning.
"I don't mean to be all sunshine and rainbows, 'cause this has been hard as hell," White tells The Boot via video chat, alluding not to the fact that we're unable to meet in person because we're quarantined due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but to the personal medical issues he's dealt with over the past year.
In early 2019, White was diagnosed with and began undergoing treatment for an arteriovenous malformation, a tangle of arteries and veins in his brain that was disrupting blood flow. He kept the news quiet and continued to work until, in August, he collapsed onstage during a show on Roanoke, Va.
Throughout 2019, White was undergoing a series of embolization procedures, but began experiencing terrible headaches and numbness, like what happened onstage in Virginia. Bleeding in his brain led to temporary paralysis on the left side of his body.
"I found my passion; I was one of those lucky ones to find my passion, my fanbase, my people, my music," White reflects of his life and career to that point. "When that gets pulled out from under you, you really have to dig down deep."
"I found my passion; I was one of those lucky ones to find my passion, my fanbase, my people, my music. When that gets pulled out from under you, you really have to dig down deep."
Doctors told White, he recounts, that they didn't believe he'd ever be able to move his left hand again: news that would be a major blow for anyone, but especially for a guitarist.
"I just kind of denied that right off the bat," White admits. He refused to let that diagnosis become a reality; after all, his voice and cognitive abilities weren't affected.
White remembers what chords look and sound like, but he's having to re-train his left hand to actually play them. He estimates that he's "about 65-70 percent, and on my way to 100 percent, for sure," and his job, in addition to writing and recording music, has been rehab.
When he was able to get back onstage post-August collapse but pre-quarantine, he owned his temporary inabilities. He kept his guitar on, "like a shield," but instead played tambourine and harmonica, and wandered around singing and performing his heart out.
"[I'm] just just getting this left hand a little better each day until the day I [can] grab my guitar and I'm back, you know, [can] play it full on. I mean, I play a little bit now, but it's not like what it was," White shares. "I'm being vulnerable ... The show is powerful because of the story the plot has taken."
White says he's lucky to have a "great" group of supportive family members and friends surrounding him as he works his way back to full strength, but his medical journey has also provided a new jolt of inspiration. "I joke, like, I found a muse there. I have a muse for the rest of my life now," he says.
On Friday (April 24), White released a new, five-song EP, Stars. Featuring the work of White and songwriters Josh Kerr, Ryan Beaver, Adam Hambrick, Ross Ellis and others on songs including "Luckiest Man," "Eat, Drink & Dream" and "All Would Be Right With the World," the project is the first in a series, White details. He says he plans to release a total of 20 songs throughout the year, with each EP produced by someone different, creating a larger musical galaxy.
White is releasing Stars via Reverend White Records, his own independent imprint, the name of which is a nod to his preacher grandfather. It's his first project following his separation from Big Machine Label Group, but as his producer, he enlisted a friend who's tied to the label: Jaren Johnston of the Cadillac Three.
"I knew he would get it ... and he was like, 'Dude, whatever you need, I'm in,'" White explains of his collaboration with Johnston, whose band is signed to BMLG. "And we just went for it."
While TC3 are with a major Nashville record label and promote their songs to country radio, they haven't yet a major hit, or even a Top 40 song since 2015. Johnston, however, is the writer behind well-known tracks from Jake Owen ("American Country Love Song"), Keith Urban ("You Gonna Fly") and others.
"That's the cool thing about Jaren: He is very knowledgeable ... and he's a brother," White reflects, noting that there are similarities between the Cadillac Three's music and his own. "He knows that I'm going to be a little cosmic cowboy ... a little psychedelic with the way I go about words."
It's that cosmic worldview that makes White's songs his own. Even before the discovery of his brain AVM, he always seemed to understand, and be able to articulate, that we are all but tiny bits of the whole universe -- and with that mindset, even the biggest of problems seem rather small.
"There's always the good there to look at. There's always the bad there, for sure, and it's really easy to look at the bad, but ...," White muses. "All I can control is my own mindset. That's it, and I've decided this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to use this to be a voice for people that may need help ...
"It's almost like God gave me this to live through it so I can be a voice and help people," he adds, "and that makes me one of the lucky ones, you know?"
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