In the spotlight: DrEw

DrEw is an unsigned, independent musician, originally from Manchester (UK). He now lives by the sea on the southeast coast, where he writes and records his music in his garden cabin-cum-studio.

“I come to releasing music from a perhaps unusual place: I am 45 years old and have spent the last 20 years as an academic – I have a PhD in political theory and have been teaching and writing about politics for the best part of 2 decades. This is partly where my artist name comes from too: my full name is Andrew, known as Andy in the academic world, so when it came to wanting an artist name, I wanted something to separate me from that. And, all my old undergrad friends always called me Drew, so Drew it was. I decided to write it as DrEw (pronounced Drew, as normal) as a nod to my PhD as it emphasised the Dr! Though I was changing direction, the PhD was a big part of my life, so I thought I would leave a little something of it in there.”

What got you into music? When did you start singing / playing?

“I can remember loving music right from the very off as a kid – some of my earliest memories are listening to my grandad’s vinyl on his old stereogram, and then later, playing guitar with my old man. I was writing by the age of 11 or 12. I have an old cassette somewhere of an ‘album’ I made when I was 11, that has 5 songs on each side, written before I could play an instrument, of me just singing these little songs I wrote. I think I even called the album ‘Overnight Success’, which is ironic in so many ways: it would take me 30 odd years before I would even release as single or anyone to hear! ;-)”

“Later on, I played in all sorts of bands. In my late teens I was in bands in Manchester, in the early ‘90s, as it was all kicking off everywhere, and I was convinced of impending musical success. But then, as with so many kids, arguments happened, dreams soured, and I went off to university to follow the other great passion of my life: political theory/philosophy.”

“But this is the thing with music, I now understand: if you have the bug to play, and especially to write, it never leaves you, you can’t shake it off! In fact, the urge just grows and grows. So as I was working on my academic career, I always told myself I could always just do music for the fun of it. But, as the years passed, the music just got stronger and stronger: I was playing in more and more bands, writing more and more each year, until we get to 2019 and I was spending all of my time writing and playing, and if not writing and playing, spending all my time thinking about writing and playing. I was becoming obsessed! At this point, I quit my job and took some time out to focus on music.”

What are your fondest musical memories? 

“So many, but the biggest ones are those that have somehow pushed forward your understanding of the world. So that first time you play in a band, and the 3 or 4 of you create this thing that is bigger than all of you. Musicians will know this: the first few times it happens, you can do nothing but laugh hysterically (laugh to stave of the tears I now think). The power of playing music.”

“But other memories are of course about the power of listening to other people’s music: the first Stone Roses album stopped me and all of my friends in our tracks (a mate of mine actually had to get off his bike and sit down on his way back from Woolworths, having bought the album and playing it on his Walkman cycling home!). A U2 gig at the GMex in Manchester in ‘92, as they unveiled Achtung Baby – this is the gig where I met my first girlfriend, learnt about life, and a gig that changed my life in ways I am still learning about. Radiohead in Manchester on their OK Computer tour a few years later.”

“Later, it would be these very special moments writing and playing with others, the little things that happen in the process: harmonising with my brother, working out guitar part with friends, the nuts and bolts of musical creation that are so enjoyable.”

Who are your main musical influences? Have your musical tastes changed over the years?

“It’s not fashionable to admit to these days, but U2’s The Joshua Tree came out when I was 12, and it had such a major impact on me – again, one of those moments where a new world opens up to you. And I think your first musical love is like your first love love – it never, ever leaves you, so no matter what that first music love does afterwards, you are in for the long haul!”

“The whole Madchester scene was a huge influence too: The Roses, The Mondays, and although earlier, the equally as important The Smiths; Morrissey’s solo career too – a crucial lesson in doing your own thing, finding your own voice (let’s not talk about his politics!). Later, I would fall head over heels in love with Belle and Sebastian: again, a band who just did what they did – a real authenticity to their sound. Plus, I love lots of contemporary stuff: Fontaines DC are right up there for me at the minute, as is Arlo Parks, SAULT.”

“This is not to mention all the wonderful unsigned stuff that is out there right now: as
you know, there are so many great artists around, and actually, a great community of these artist on places like Twitter – @cooltop20 does a superb job of curating and promoting some of this stuff!”

“Underpinning all of this is the classics of course, The Beatles, Hendrix, CSNY – I personally wouldn’t be able to do what I do, music-wise, without these foundational understandings of popular music.”

Do you have any hobbies that contribute to your musicality?

“Beyond listening to and collecting other peoples’ music, my big thing is reading about this ridiculous thing that is the human condition, so works on philosophy, politics, spirituality. It’s the root of my career in academia, and in truth, it is really the same root that leads to writing music for me: to simplify it, they are both based on one central question: what the hell are we all doing here and why do we feel this way?! I love music and writing that somehow explores this question, whether it does so explicitly or not! And there should be nothing elitists or intellectually snobbish about this either: the world of academia often makes it seem this way, but I think the 3-minute pop song can answer this question just as well as the weighty 500-page book. Thinking and writing about these things doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult or boring: it should be fun and open to everyone.”

You’ve released 4 singles, ‘In the End‘ is currently in our chart. What inspired that song?

“In The End is really a song about the conflicted feelings I had at the end of my academic career: in my last job, I had met a group of people who on the surface of things, ticked all the boxes for successful, professional people: salary, houses, families, well-respected jobs. And yet, these things in no way reflected who they really were as people, and what they really wanted, myself included. Underneath all of these things for all of us, there were other lives, struggling to be born, striving for the light. Oftentimes though, society’s norms and rules would prevent these lives from emerging, so all of the desires and wants from these secret lives would find expressions in songs, in weekends away at festivals, or even in a night in the pub, and the myths of our ‘professional lives’ would continue.”

You’ve also released a new single ‘These Depths‘ recently. What can you tell me about that song?

“‘These Depths’ is really about something else altogether! The short story here is that after I left my job and started to focus full-time on music, studying it at university and writing and recording, I fell seriously ill at the end of 2019. Eventually, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer, and in January 2020 I had emergency surgery followed by 6 months of chemotherapy. Of course, this was all in the middle of the pandemic too, which is not a good time to be having chemotherapy! And yet, in the midst of all of this madness, I was enjoying my music more than ever. In fact, my first two singles were recorded and released whilst I was still having treatment. Not sure now how I managed that, beyond it being another example of the power of music I mentioned above. As such, ‘These Depths’ is about my 2020, and ultimately about how there is light in the darkness, even in the deepest of darkness.”

Do you plan your music releases, or do you finish a song and release it?

“It’s 50/50 really. I have quite a backlog of songs, a handful of which are recorded and ready to go. But then, often, another track will pop up – a new one – and if it feels right, I will bump that up the schedule. ‘These Depths’ happened that way.”

The songs you’ve released all have a different vibe. Regarding your music, is there anything different that you would like to explore?  

“Yeah, there are different vibes on there. I think this stems from the fact that I am not too interested in or aware of genres – I don’t try and write to one for example. This isn’t because of any lofty principle on my part – I just don’t think I have the ability to do it even if I wanted to! So, I just write what I write, and try to do justice to whatever comes out.”

“In terms of what I’d like to explore, then variations on writing style – I’d like to try writing from different perspectives a little more, using different characters. Also, more instrumentation, bringing in different musicians. Would love to co-write more.”

I was really intrigued by your artwork, a mandala with several guitars, keys and drums that you’ve used for all of your releases. Also your signature with the bass clef is very clever. Who came up with the idea for the artwork and the signature?

“Yeah, I love the artwork! It was created by a brilliant indie graphic designer, Simone
Haworth, who is available for work should anyone be looking for cover art btw. (She’s on Twitter @shgraphicd3sign.) The mandala comes from some of the reading I mentioned above: in Buddhism, a mandala is used in many ways, but for me, the most interesting is the wheel of life, which depicts the journey through life and the potential journey to overcome suffering and reach enlightenment/happiness. So I knew I wanted a mandala, and working with Simone, we came up with the idea that in my life, the journey through suffering has always been with music, hence the music theme.”

“The signature and the bass clef was again worked up with Simone – the clef stems from the fact that I have often played bass in bands, either as a vocalist or sometimes as a standalone bass player, and the fact I love a killer bass line!”

What are you most proud of to date? What do you enjoy most as a musician? 

“I can’t help but be super proud of my first release, ‘The Story‘ – something which I have always wanted to do and something I managed to do under the craziest of circumstances. On top of that, the production on ‘These Depths’: I basically taught myself how to record and mix from scratch in 2020…it could be a lot better, but I am pleased with my progress so far, and I enjoy this side of it too, though I do enjoy writing the most.”

What’s next? What are your plans for 2021? 

“I have a few more singles lined-up for release – including a deep house remix of ‘These Depths’ with the brilliant DJ Marcus Damon, which is a totally different thing for me, but it sounds great! – and then I am recording an album. I have the material written, it is now about how to record it, where, and with whom.”

What’s your favourite song in the Cool Top 20?

So many great songs! Do I have to just chose one? I love ‘Sea Salt’ by Sophie Dorsten which has rightly been up at the top for a while. I love The Unknown Brother’s track, ‘All For Show‘, but if I had to choose my favourite today, it would be ‘Happy‘, by Erol Oz – I love this track!

What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?

“Perhaps the one indie track I have listened to more than any other over recent months is ‘Fiesta‘, by Oliver Beardmore. Just such a full song, is so many ways…and like all great song, in ways you can’t quite explain!

Want to learn even more about DrEw? You can follow him on:

Twitter
Soundcloud
Instagram
Bandcamp

Published by leancool20

Drinks tea, not coffee. Usually dressed in black.

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