Don’t bother building a box for Drake White. He won’t fit.
With a sound that’s blue collar, instantly comfortable and both familiar and current, Dot Records’ first signing embraces the new multifaceted nature of modern country music.
“We play soul music,” White says in a mid-tempo Alabama drawl. “We play country music. We play rock. Then we’ll strip it down to bluegrass. I play music that makes you happy and makes you feel something. I want the people out there in the audience to forget about their troubles and feel the spirit of music for the night.”
White’s sound is equal parts his father’s record collection, his mother’s love of Ray Charles, the choir in his grandfather’s Southern Baptist church and the musically infused geography around the tiny town of Hokes Bluff, population 4,300, in northern Alabama where he grew up.
Everyone’s familiar with the long history of hits streaming out of the region that includes Muscle Shoals. It’s a living history, and the 31-year-old is part of a new renaissance of roots-minded artists in the format.
“I think our music is in the geography,” White said. “It’s in the pine trees. It’s in the way the wind blows through those pine trees. It’s in the crickets and the way they talk. It’s in the boring dog days of summer. It’s in the water, in the muddy rivers.. It’s in the weather, the changes of the season. The people are influenced by that, their moods, their hurts, their hang ups, their happiness, it’s all in the geography. It’s literally a spirit.”
A mix of electric and acoustic guitar, bass laying the groove, a drummer with a gear shift, mandolin flitting through the air and organ hovering above it all like the high harmony of a gospel choir. White’s sound is both familiar and modern, building on the successful band model laid down by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Allman Brothers Band and country trailblazers Eric Church and Zac Brown Band.
Like those groups, White’s been honing his sound on the road for years with his own band, The Big Fire. Made up of five like-minded Southerners, White says his chemistry with The Big Fire is essential to the diversity and high energy of his sound.
That camaraderie on the road has been paying off. Named one of Billboard Magazine’s 10 hot country artists to watch in 2015 and dubbed “an electric performer with a gospel howl” by Rolling Stone Country _ the group made RS’ list of the “37 Best Things We Saw at CMA Fest 2014” _ White has opened for a number of outlaws, outsiders and like-minded edge-dwellers who’ve helped him grow his audience, including Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Toby Keith, Brantley Gilbert, Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
An opening slot for that last act at historic Ryman Auditorium led to White’s current deal with Dot Records, the iconic Nashville record label brought back to life by Scott Borchetta under the Big Machine Label Group umbrella in a partnership with Republic Records. Borchetta and future Dot Records General Manager Chris Stacey were in the audience this night, White said, “and we just crushed it.”
““Wathcing Drake White perform is like going to church,” Stacey said. “He is one of the most dynamic performers in the country format. He is quite literally undeniable.”
White’s spent the months since signing the deal in June 2014 working to capture the vibe of nights like those in the writing room and the studio. Coming off the success of his 2013 Top 40 hit “The Simple Life” (MCA/ATV), White wrote or co-wrote –with talent from his publisher, Sony/ATV- 60 songs in preparation for his first Dot recording sessions in the fall of 2014.
The plan is to have new music out early in 2015 and an album out by mid-year.
“Our live show’s intense, and that intensity is going to be recorded in a studio album,” White said. “I think we have those songs that are colorful, that talk about life for a 22-year-old, a 17-year-old because you pull a lot from your experiences. This music’s just a fun party.”