By Johnny Cole
Photos by Stephen Anderson
How a great song comes to light can be both a fascinating and rewarding process that occasionally comes quickly, but more often takes a journey of its own with hopes of resonating with others.
The Gulf Coast has an amazing list of gifted and creative songwriters. Many of them have received widespread recognition for their original music. Several popular songwriters festivals that spotlight this incredible art form are annually held up and down the Gulf Coast and across this region of the country.
Recently, The Southland Music Line was able to talk with multiple songwriters at the Mississippi Songwriters Festival. One of those who we enjoyed visiting with was Drew Howard, a producer, arranger, singer-songwriter and proud Texan presently living in Fairhope, Alabama. Before performing at Murky Waters later that evening, we were able to visit with Drew and his manager, Jody Campbell, at several locations around Ocean Springs, Mississippi including Fort Maurepas Park and the historic train depot, while Stephen “Andy” Anderson took photos.
Top photo: Drew Howard at the historic Ocean Springs Depot; above photo: Drew Howard at Fort Maurepas Park overlooking Ocean Springs Beach.
We have known Drew for the past few years and have enjoyed seeing him perform at such places as Jack’s by the Tracks in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and his appearances at previous festivals. In 2023, Drew recorded his EP The First Step and The Waiting… at Andy Clonigar’s Dancing Dog Recording Studio in Daphne, AL (To be released soon).
In speaking about the origin of a song, Drew tells us, “Songs come about in different ways at different times. I might get the whole thing, lyric and melody all at once, or maybe just a phrase with a melody, or maybe just a phrase.”
This past spring when we first discussed doing an article about Drew and the upcoming EP, he enlightened us about some of his new songs. In the song “The Way,” he told us how the process developed. “I began by playing around with a particular chord and voicing, then the lyric and melody followed.” He added, “I have learned to not force an idea about what a song should be, so with this song, I simply let the words flow freely and very quickly recognized a theme. Of course, I romanticized a couple of verses, but it was a very natural flow.” Drew further told us that he took to heart some words of wisdom from the ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu, who said “Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
Drew Howard at Fort Maurepas Park
In his song “Hold On,” Drew shared with us how the writing of this song came about, too. “”Hold On” began with me playing around in open C tuning. I had just been through a divorce and was a devastated, depressed, and cynical, and these words started pouring out. I had verses and a chorus, but knew it needed a bridge, which was not coming, so I decided to set aside the song for a couple of years.” Drew later added, “One day while I was having a text conversation with a dear friend, I realized that this series of four or five texts between my friend and I was the bridge to the two-year-old song.”
“We are all broken, under revision, We are learning, souls in collision, And with a furious flap of wings love like ravens will fly.” – “Hold On”
While Drew was performing at the famous Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival in 2022, he met Bjorn Nilsen, the Norwegian singer-songwriter, musician, and originator of Nilsen’s Southern Harmony. After hearing one of Bjorn’s sets, Drew told his manager, “I want to write with him.” The festival organizers who encourage co-writes and collaborations, recognize how magic often happens, and with Drew and Bjorn it did. The beautiful result of one of their collaborations, along with Campbell (Drew’s manager), was the song “Everything.”
Drew describes the writing of the song this way: “We talked about a cloud with an angel’s wings in it; we discussed death and transitions. Thr Vietnamese monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hahn, describes death as simply a continuation of a new form…the cloud doesn’t die, it becomes rain…you don’t die, you become a song….”
This gifted songwriter obviously delves into the process of songwriting in a very unique and well-thought-out manner. It’s a pleasure learning about his songwriting methods which are equally interesting and original.
Drew enjoyed the recent Mississippi Songwriters Festival and is now looking forward to performing at another Frank Brown Festival, too. For the past year, he has been part of the faculty at Baldwin County’s Studio for Performing Arts Education in Daphne, Alabama. His love for music has also led him to teach free community guitar and songwriting lessons at Page and Palette in nearby Fairhope.
For many years, Drew has worked with numerous award-winning and accomplished musicians from all over the world. As well as writing, producing, and performing his own songs. It has been a joy getting to know Drew and The Southland Music Line is looking forward to hearing more from him in the coming months and years.
Page Designed & Edited by Johnny Cole
Additional editing by Deborah Chatham
© The Southland Music Line. 2023.
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