Interview: Drake White

Drake White has been making music for a decade and has garnered four Top 40 Country hits, multiple national tours, and award-winning albums over the years. He has toured nationally with Willie Nelson, Zac Brown Band and Dierks Bentley just to name a few. His song “Making Me Look Good Again” is one of my all-time country song favorites. Drake released his latest EP Stars on Friday and it debuted #1 on the iTunes Country Chart and in the Top 10 in the All Genres chart.

During his summer tour in August 2019, Drake collapsed on stage performing because of an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) in his brain. As he has made his way toward a full recovery, he also put the finishing touches on Whitewood Hollow, the rustic event space that Drake co-designed with his wife, Alexis White an artisan chef and event planner. 

We caught up with Drake recently to discuss his road to recovery, his new music, Wednesday “Therapy Sessions” and off the beaten path travel destinations. Checkout our interview with Drake from his home in Whitewood Hollow.

Hi Drake, I first met you in 2011 on a Kid Rock Cruise.

Oh wow. What was I doing? My goodness. That trip changed my life. I remember getting off that boat and praying to God saying, “God I have to do something different” and that pushed me and the band into this diet, the Hollywood Physique Diet and I lost 25-30 pounds and transformed my mindset because we absolutely went for it on that cruise.

Yeah that place is not the healthiest but it was a lot of fun.

Now Bobby is my neighbor and he has chilled out in his older age and we now hang out and drink coffee. We get after it every now and then but it is nothing like how that cruise was.

So, you are quarantining in Tennessee?

We are in Tennessee and have about 15 acres we have deemed Whitewood Hollow with a barn and the dogs. I have got the tractors and mowers. I am just recovering and continuing to heal. In a way it is a weird blessing for me because I am just getting better and ready for when we do jump back in the deep end and get back in the swing of things doing four or five shows a week.

You did have a large medical issue last year. I thought that this “stay at home” situation might actually help you because it gives you a little more time to not to push yourself and help with the healing process.

You are spot on. Everybody is in quarantine now and it puts everybody on the same level and staying home. Even though nobody knows what we are going through right now. It is nuts. Having the hemorrhagic stroke on stage on August 15th and just working on my mindset, working on my body, on my left side getting it back to life, learning how to walk, learning how to play the guitar and connecting those neurotransmitters in the brain has been my full-time job. 

This situation right now slowed down the world because the world was going so fast. You can bet your ass there was a lot of that in my mind where I was thinking I was going to get left behind. I know that’s not true, nobody at the end of the day is going to leave you behind if you focus on your work and what you are passionate about. In a weird way this has slowed the world down and given me more time to kind of observe and knock my Peloton out and keep on working and keep on grinding so I will be in a healthier state when this is all lifted and we are all together in a big sweaty venue playing shows.

I got a Peloton the day we went into quarantine and it has saved my sanity.

Aren’t they the best? It is part of my regimen. You get on it for 30-45 minutes, whatever you decide to do. When you finish, you are finished, you are off and feel better.

You grew up singing in church and had a religious family. How did that prepare you for where you are now?

It is everything. I like to say a spiritual family because my grandfather was a preacher, my dad is a fantastic singer and so is my mom. There was always music in the household to grab onto the faith. I never lost it, but you go up and down like a roller coaster through college, but I had a grounded group of friends that were faith driven believers who loved Jesus. Alex (my wife) is a studier and she is a giver and a servant and we start every morning with that time together and it slows everything down and makes you focus on what you are really grateful for and it gets me closer to God. 

I think there is a revival coming. You’ll hear it in the music. You’ll hear it in my happiness, in my joy, in my soul. You don’t have any choice when you have a near death experience. It is very real.

It is a scary time for people. Even after everything you have been through the last year, you have had a really positive attitude. Can you give advice to people at home that may be struggling?

Yes. Take time to embrace it. I think a couple nights ago, last Tuesday was the supermoon, when the moon was closest to the Earth. Alex an I went out in the front yard, it was a little cloudy and my mind goes, let’s go in and watch Ozark or whatever we were watching at the time. Then I said No, we are going to sit out here and have a glass of wine and let the conversation lead us. We went out there and threw a blanket down and watched the supermoon. Our persistence was rewarded when the clouds broke and it broke us into this conversation about being children around a fire, being children under the stars and really sitting there with our grand-dads and uncles. It was a cool conversation that lasted like two hours and we came in and went to bed and got eight hours of sleep. 

I think my advice for people is to embrace the hard times, embrace the things we are going through. If you handle this by being calm, going to your higher power whatever you choose, whether it is the universe or God. Go try to do something new, read a book instead of watching Netflix for ten minutes. Jump on the Peloton and do that hard 60 minute or hour and a half ride you never thought you would do or go to 60 on your resistance instead of 40. Whatever it is, just crank it up a little bit, sink into it, my buddy would say “Embrace the suck.”

I think on the other side of this, it is like when you quit drinking for a second, when you quit drinking for two weeks, you know how good that glass of wine is two weeks after not drinking one or that first beer. It is phenomenal. It is really good and that’s what I think shows, baseball games, picnics, potlucks, and camaraderie are going to feel like after this. Put yourself in that position. Meditate. Do something you wouldn’t normally do in this time and take the time to really sink in. Organize your damn closet. Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

I want to talk about Whitewood Hollow. You and your wife built it on your property in Tennessee. What is it, the purpose and how can people take advantage in the future?

We had a dream that we had talked about for years. We got married six years ago on June 8th. We had talked about building a barn. I had grown up around barns. I grew up working in them. I grew up getting into mischief in them. I grew up starting bands in them. They are a staple of my life. I was going to build a barn anyway to house my Bronco and my boat and tractors and stuff like that. Alex is as passionate about cooking and food and serving people as I am about music, love, and serving people. We wanted to find a way to enrich our lives and the people around us so we built this place and ended up calling it Whitewood Hollow after a visit to Cheekwood. There is a huge White Oak at the front of the property you have to go past to get to the barn. 

We just started jotting ideas down, what we wanted and manifested it into fruition through will and determination. Alex was like, let’s put my kitchen in it, so when we have a family and start to have kids I can walk outside and go straight into the kitchen.

The real reason we built the place and we prayed for God to protect that place and the Holy Spirit to surround it is because we want to bring people in there and have a place for community. Of course there will be weddings in it, we are going to do as many weddings as we can because they are awesome and lucrative. But we feel like this place has turned into this magical thing that we are going to be able to sit down, break bread with people, share stories, play a Bluebird type show, almost a Live at Daryl’s House type situation. We have booked it for photo shoots and corporate events. I have played multiple shows inside.  I’m doing Wednesday Night Therapy every Wednesday Night in the barn. 

It is a magical place and it has exceeded our expectations. I love to build and have always been a builder at heart. I had a general contractor, I didn’t swing hammers everyday but we put a lot of work on it and put a lot of time and thought into how the building is turned, which way the sun is coming up, how it is going to be heated and cooled, and how it feels when you walk in, you can tell there’s Poplar on the ceilings and walls and huge cathedral ceilings. It feels kind of spiritual, it definitely has a spirit to it. We have had a couple events there and they have been just magical. We are going to feed that good time spirit and continue to love on people and serve people through it.

So, people can reserve time for basically events of all kinds there.

Whitewoodhollow.com has everything you need to know about reserving it. Whatever you want to do. Alex is like kindergarten teacher superhuman, she is way more organized than I am. You can turnkey it. I am going to get ordained. It sounds silly but my grandfather was a preacher and I love that spirit. I feel like marriage is the greatest thing I ever done. It is the hardest thing but I just feel really close to that covenant. I am going to get ordained so I can perform ceremonies. I just started a record label called Rev White Records. It is going to be a church in a sense. 

You can rent it out for a yoga studio. You can rent it out to get married. You can rent it out to have a party. We just had the guys from King and Country come in and give their grandfather an 80th birthday party. It is multi-functional and all laid out on the website and it has been a blessing. We can’t wait to jump into it.

I know your wife loves to cook and she is a wonderful cook. What is your favorite item she makes?

She experiments with me. I love her lasagna. She really puts a lot of time in the cheeses, she puts a lot of time in that. She uses local beef. Everything is local. We have a circle friends around White’s Creek where the farm is located. When you are eating one of these meals from Milk and Honey or Whitewood Hollow, the meat and vegetables usually come from a guy right down the road from local farms. There are five farms on our road. When you eat a fresh tomato that was raised down the road that was watered by the water that comes from the side of the mountain it is just a different taste, a different explosion of nutrients you get and Alex really breathes into that. Her lasagna is one of my favorites. Her briskets are also amazing. We teamed up with Traeger grills and she is smoking like 25 Boston Butts right now for nine hours. She is crushing it. She is taking orders and delivering 15 meals. She is just putting her bandana around her face and delivering these people her home cooked meals.

I want to talk a little bit about the new music. You have this EP coming out April 24th. You have been in recovery. What has been your process to write and put together these songs while you have had to stay home and go through therapy and recovery?

We are doing a lot of Zoom calls right now. Literally the new music was me sitting in the hospital bed and calling Jaren Josten. We recorded that new music in May. The songs took on a whole new meaning after my injury. All my songs have a new meaning with my fight, with this battle, with this choice to be a victor not a victim mentality and go for it. I want to use this story to be vulnerable and share the story of the brain injury and share that my left hand isn’t working. 

So many blessings have come out of it but the music has just deepened the meaning of the words. I have always had that relentless optimistic spirit. I literally started working while I was in the hospital, as early as September 1st right when I was able to get cognitively back where I could think. I had to get back to my music. Because the music is what fuels everything in my life. It is like these organic meals, the nutrients. It is not a choice, it is what I wake up thinking about, go to bed thinking about. I have been blessed to make my vocation my passion. I just started calling Jaren to get to work.

We are playing shows again. We played a show at the end of February in San Antonio. The fans are literally going to see how music heals. My booking agent asked if I was prepared to go out there less than 100%. I thought about that statement and I made a speech about it. My answer is Hell Yeah. I have got to go out there because I want my fans to see a redemptive story, see a fight, see how they helped me through healing and how music truly heals and how they are going to help me play guitar and jump around like Eddie Vedder again. 

I want them to see that I am going to put my new 100% out on the stage every day. This is not a linear thing that is constantly going up. That does not define success for me anymore. What defines success to me is getting your ass out there and speaking your truth and being vulnerable in the eyes of 1000s of people and helping them. What fulfills me is helping them get to the next day, from serving them a good meal to playing them a great song that invokes feeling and helps them through a cancer treatment or a dog passing away or a parent going through cancer. If you can help someone through that it is super fulfilling to me. That is what this injury put me in the face of. When I die and go up to the pearly gates, I want to hear well done. Through Alex’s help and a lot of training and meditation, it has got me ready to be stronger for my fans, for my future kids. I just started working from the hospital bed and now I am continuing to grind in and seek new innovation. I have a muse for the rest of my life.

“Making Me Look Again” is one of my favorite songs of the last 18 months. What is your favorite song to play on the new EP?

 “Mix ‘Em with Whiskey” hands down.

I heard that on your Wednesday session a few weeks ago, you played that and it was the first time I heard it. That’s a great song.

I love whiskey. I love the craftsmanship in it. I love that it is called spirits. The song is a party. The song is about camaraderie and about craftsmanship and having fun with everybody. Whiskey can be a crutch or it can be a comrade to get you through something. It could also be a party, which that is what it is most of the time for people. You go in and have a drink with somebody and have a good conversation. We have been playing it live and before the second chorus people are singing along. 

You have toured all over the world. Are there any hidden gems you have come across in your travels?

For an Alabama guy growing up going to the river in the land of milk and honey in Appalachia, I have always had a nomadic spirit. When I saw The Lord of The Rings I said I was going to New Zealand where it was filmed. I went to New Zealand and stayed for five months. I ended up living there on an avocado orchard going and hitchhiking around the whole South Island by myself with a backpack. When I got back, I got a record deal and a publishing deal. I think everything flowed out of the freedom of that trip. 

The hidden gem for me would be the Middle East. We went to Bahrain last year for a USO type tour. There is almost a fear associated with that part of the world but it was an amazing place. Go to a place in the world where people may not believe what you believe, where people do not speak the same language and get in that uncomfortable place. Travelling into places that are against the grain is important. Go there instead of somewhere familiar.

Charleston is phenomenal. Panama City Beach is amazing. Savannah, I got engaged in Savannah, Georgia. But spend a little bit of time in Christchurch in New Zealand, but then go to the smallest sheep herding community way off the beaten path and spend some time with people and you will find yourself breaking bread with these people, spending the night with these people, really learning the culture. That is my tip on travel. 

As far as specific places, New Zealand is still one of my favorites but that Middle East blew my mind how culturally diverse it was. Stay in the big city for a day but then go where nobody else wants to go and walk up into a bar somewhere and make connections with people.

I totally agree. I tell people to travel outside their comfort zone to travel to places where they don’t feel comfortable and it will change you. There are wonderful people everywhere in the world. 

That is great. I always say in my shows, you know what, there are more good people than bad out there. I have travelled the world. I consider myself to be a world traveler. I never waited more than 15 minutes in New Zealand for a ride when I was hitchhiking. Even in Bahrain, the Iraqi people came into Bahrain to party at night and they were so nice to us. It is about how far are you willing to go.

In the quarantine, we are really uncomfortable right now. Imagine what is going to happen after this, when we really appreciate sitting around having that meal with your family, setting around listening to music, all the shows are going to be sold out, all the baseball games are going to be sold out, all the pizza is going to be sold off the block. The economy is going to recover. People are going to be healthy. It’s going to be awesome.

You are doing an online concert series on Wednesday nights called “Therapy Sessions.” You started out trying to help your musician friends and raising money. Why has that been important to you and how can people help?

Wednesday Night Therapy started a long time ago in the foothills of Appalachia where I was born in North Alabama. Wednesday Night Therapy was started where my Uncle Ron lived, the Vietnam Vet. A group of my college friends would gather around that fire on Wednesday night and we would congratulate each other for making it through another week, a spirit pick me up, and it turned into overindulging a lot. It was one of those things where I got to sing some songs and tell some stories and that became the therapy in it. It gave us something mid-week to look forward to. I feel we are drawn toward community. I know we are. 

Wednesday Night Therapy was reborn to give those fans something to grasp onto. When you think of Drake White and the culture we have built, it is really that sitting around the fire with your favorite flannel on and listening to stories of years ago, listening to songs, listening to jokes, learning the craftsmanship of telling that story and playing that guitar. 

We do it at the barn and we do different covers. We do different setlists every Wednesday and we will continue doing this in and out of quarantine because of the opportunity we have now with social media to connect with fans. I will say the fire was the world’s first social media. Gathering around the fire, hunters and gatherers telling stories around the fire, that was the first social media. That was the first place people told the stories of the day. That is what we are doing. The donations have been amazing because I have been able to pay my band, pay my mortgage quite frankly because this comes on top of a six-month hiatus because of the injury. Through the merch sales and the innovation of my team, we have been able to sustain through this crazy time through the generosity of our fans. It is a big community. It is our fifth Wednesday in a row we have done it and we hope to do it 50, 100, 200 more times.

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