by Cindy Emch
Drew Beckman is a revelation of a country musician. With story songs that hit you right in the heart, love letter songs that capture the imagination, and a voice that takes you right home, his music has a universality and connectedness that sticks around and may make his new EP one of your favorite new releases of 2020.
His new video for “Blue Ridge Mountain Boy” was shot in the DC National Arboretum and Shenandoah National Park, near the Blue Ridge Mountains. The video is about Drew walking through nature, remembering his past love and the time he spent in those mountains.
I sat down over email with Drew recently to ask him all of the questions that flooded my mind while I was falling in love with his new record. Here’s a bit of what he had to say.
Emchy: So – you have a pretty dramatic story of coming into being a country musician that I read over in the Washington Post – that you were a non-profit office worker and after you wrote one song it was like a dam burst and suddenly you had 60! Is that about accurate?
Drew: Yes! I had moved to Washington DC after living in South Dakota and working as a newspaper reporter. I was processing my experience living out west in near isolation – and that is the genesis of the music project. I began to fantasize about this queer cowboy figure traveling west – and all the trouble he could get into! Once I wrote my first song – on a whim – I was addicted to this new creative outlet. Once I started performing my songs for people – just singing a capella – and the response was positive, it really encouraged me to keep writing and pushing the boundaries of the stories I was telling.
E: How long was your transition – in terms of your own sense of self – from day jobber with a music habit to musician with a day job?
D: It’s been a gradual process from the early days of writing songs just for myself and friends, to going to open mics and performing, to getting a band together to flesh out the music, to performing small gigs, to finally selling out venues in DC. I’m luck that I have flexibility in my day-job where I can still spend a lot of time developing my music while still paying the bills. My focus right now is to continue writing and developing the best songs possible and be ready for when big opportunities arise.
E: What was your path like? Did you start with open mics playing solo, or get a band together, or- ?
D: I went from singing my songs a capella to friends – because I never learned to play guitar – to going to open-mics and finding like-minded people interested in my vision. Putting the band together has been the biggest game changer for sure. These guys – Sean Hopkins, Dylan Fitchett, Patrick Gunning, and Reed Doherty – are incredible musicians in their own right and elevate my songs to places I couldn’t have imagined. Once we got the band together we started playing small shows at dive bars. Building a small following. Over the course of a year we had sold-out a local venue and played the main stage at the Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival. Doors continue to open, so it’s an exciting time.
E: At what point in your journey did you decide to be an out country singer – or was that given all along?
D: The concept was always to tell the story of a queer cowboy. I couldn’t approach this genre in any other way. It’s the whole inspiration for the music to begin with. It is very important to my musical identity that the lyrics and persona be explicitly queer.
E: You’ve featured some gorgeous nature and beauty in your new video. Is nature a part of what inspires you and your songwriting?
D: Nature and feelings are my two touchstones with every song. When you limit yourself to only nature and feelings as song permitters, you get some pretty great folk tunes! Isolation is also an important concept for me, and the connection with being alone, yet surrounded by nature, is always an interesting concept to explore.
E: What is your songwriting process like?
D: I’m usually working on a song in my head most of the time. It’s like trying to solve a puzzle. Once I’ve developed an initial melody and lyrics I take it to one or two members of the band to help develop the chords and sound. Then we bring it to the full band to finish. It’s an incredibly fun and fulfilling process, especially the collaboration with the boys.
E: What are some of your musical goals for this year?
D: Release another EP! We would also love to tour outside DC and meet new folks around the country.
E: Your new EP is coming out in January 2020– are you excited? What can fans expect?
D: Yes! This is our debut EP, so it reflects some of the earlier songs I developed. I’m very proud of the emotion and vulnerability in each song – paired with the amazing musical development from The Boundary Boys and production from Dylan Fitchett. This is an honest and heartbreaking look into the life of a queer cowboy – all alone on the range. Get into the fantasy!
E: What is one takeaway you want folks to have from your music or your story?
D: Queer people have always existed. We have always had stories to tell – in every part of the world and during every time period. It is part of my mission to tell those stories and it’s an exciting time because there is finally an audience out there craving this content. I’m happy to be a small part in letting the world know we exist and we have important stories to tell.
E: Who are your biggest influences?
E: What other queer country folks should Country Queer be talking to?
D: Che Apalache! They are a Argentinian bluegrass band with the queer lead singer/songwriter. They were just nominated for a Grammy! We played with them at the folk festival last summer. The band/person “His Hem” makes amazing queer folk tunes on harp. Based in Tampa. We have performed together – and he is fantastic!!
E: Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
D: Stream my EP Blue Horses! Support local music. Buy merch!
E: Thank you so much for your time and congrats on the new EP!