Big Machine’s Drake White just released a new EP called Pieces, and just like with any of his prior music, he continues to march to the beat of his own drummer.
He likes that description of the new music. “I’ve always tried to go out there and do what was in my gut,” he tells Billboard. “I don’t think this is rocket science. It’s music, and you go out there and put it out there. You say ‘One, two, ready, go!’ You just do it. You don’t ask any questions. You just go with what makes you happy and what you love listening to as a kid sitting in your dad’s old truck. Rock it. Don’t overthink yourself. God knows I’ve done that before. The music just made me feel good. [Producer] Busbee made me feel good, and the players made me feel good. It wasn’t any harder than that.”
As always, the music of the Alabama native touches on country, rock and blues. If that seems like a wide mix, that’s the way he prefers it as a music lover. “In 2018, we are in a beautiful world,” he surmises. “We have an amazing opportunity to dial up anything we want to listen to immediately. I can listen to Randy Travis right now. I can tell Siri or Alexa to play him, and it’s that quick. Or I can listen to some kind of abstract Asian music that I’ve gotten into lately — or any kind of random stuff. I can do that with just a simple command. I think that being baptized into so many different genres and so many different things, the availability of it is crazy.”
For the first time, White worked with Busbee steering the musical ship. What did he bring to the project? “Honesty. That’s kind of a joke, but kind of not. He is a producer that is not afraid of creative tension. We’re from the South, where you have the hospitality where you say, ‘Yeah, that sounds good. That sounds amazing,’ and for the most part, that’s how I live my life,” said White, allowing that with Busbee, that wasn’t exactly the case.
“He’s very cut-and-dry, where he will say, ‘Hey, man. You need to hit this melody. This is how we wrote this song, and this is what you said you wanted.’ He was very different in the way he would push me to different bounds. I was uncomfortable some of the time — not in a bad way. I was pushing myself to another level. His training and his ears are so phenomenal. He was an asshole sometimes, but I love working with him because he was so honest,” White said with a laugh. “With him, it’s all about the music. It’s about what sounds good…and what feels good. And, that’s where I want to be.”
White only wrote two of the five songs on the album — a new direction for the singer. But what he found in accepting outside material for the first time is that some other writers’ lyrics fit him like a glove.
“When I agreed to let those floodgates open, and people pitch me songs, I was hesitant because I love writing. I don’t think I could have one without the other. I have to be able to write as an outlet. When I got ‘Girl in Pieces,’ I listened to the line ‘That green in your eyes is all over the floor,’ and my wife Alex has green eyes. She was married before we started dating. She was a little bit still in pieces, I guess you would say. I listened to it, and couldn’t believe that I didn’t write it. I thought, ‘I can definitely put my personal touch to this and go with it’ — and that’s what you want as an artist.”
White gets to show his Muscle Shoals influence on “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight,” another outside song. “That was one of those things that my mom and dad have said for years when they would tell me to be in at 11. It’s what they would call belly-rubbing music,” he says sheepishly. “It feels like soul music to me. It’s genuine. I can’t really name my favorite, but I would say that’s pretty close to the top of the list.”
Ever the road warrior, White plans to hit the road this summer and fall with a vengeance. “We just finished up in Canada with Kip Moore on the Plead the Fifth tour. We’re going to continue through the spring and summer with our fairs and festivals. We are concentrating on all of these places that we visited with Eric Church and Zac Brown to go back into those markets and play the 700- to 800-seat venues, super serving the fan, and promoting the music,” he says, stressing that he has one other goal during the Southern summer heat. “I’m also trying to get to the lake as much as I can.”
That time being onstage is what drives White — and it’s been that way since he can remember. “I grew up in church. My mom and my dad were singing. I was always comfortable onstage. For however long I’m onstage, that’s my therapy, to be on that stage with those fans. Twenty-three hours out of the day, it’s my time, and I’m doing what I do. But that one hour is about the fans. It’s like a pill. It’s like a drug. I don’t think of anything except that audience that is in front of me. The live entity is what we’ve been building for the last seven or eight years, and we will continue to build it. I love live music and the imperfection of it. I think it’s perfect.”