Like many artists, 2020 was a time of reconfiguration. Off the road and back into life with their family, being creative was an afterthought. Eventually, Drew and Ellie Holcomb got back out on the road, exploring Tennessee, and were inspired to write again—Ellie for her third album Canyon in 2021, and dozens of more songs written by Drew for his band Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors. Together, the couple also wrote and collected songs for Coming Home: A Collection of Songs (Magnolia Music).
Coming Home is a return to the familiar, and the life the pair have built together around their three children Emmylou, Huck, and Rivers, their 15 years of marriage, and music. Featuring the new single “Coming Home,” the album also includes their rendition of Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again,” and a newer version of “Hung The Moon,” which the couple previously recorded for the 2009 release A Million Miles Away when Ellie was still with Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors.
“I wrote ‘Hung the Moon’ after a long season of listening to a lot of Lucinda Williams,” Ellie tells American Songwriter of the track. “It’s always been a song that’s felt like home to me. Drew was playing these chords around the kitchen one day, and I promptly stole them and wrote a love song about him.”
Coming Home also features two songs released in 2021, written around the couples’ road trip as part of a Tennessee tourism campaign, including the ballad “Feels Like Home” and the more uptempo “Hey Rivers,” an homage to the energy of their youngest son.
Now ready to hit the road again, family in tow, for The You and Me Tour: An Evening with Drew & Ellie Holcomb, named after the couple’s first single, “You and Me,” in 2018, the Holcombs are set to play two months-worth of dates in major cities throughout the U.S. and make new music.
Drew and Ellie spoke to American Songwriter about collecting the songs for Coming Home, writing together again, revisiting “Hung the Moon” with a “new voice,” and the fine art of balancing three kids and music.
American Songwriter: The past three years really provided all the pieces of Coming Home: A Collection of Songs. Though all of the songs were made at different points in time, what is it that threads these nine songs together?
Drew Holcomb: In 2018, I realized that we had not toured together in almost five or six years, since we had gone our separate ways, creatively, between those years, so we said “let’s go do an acoustic tour kind of thing.” When we decided to do a tour, we also started writing a couple of new songs and in the first year we had “You and Me,” and then we wrote “Fields of Gold,” and a couple more like “Electricity” and “Love Anyway” and [covered] “On the Road Again.” We just had like this pile of songs that we put out the streaming services. We never put them out on actual physical copies.
We also had the song “Hung the Moon,” which Ellie’s been begging us to re-record for years. It’s been a fan favorite, and it was recorded when she was still part of the band [Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors]. Everything was recorded over different periods of time. It’s not a record, per se, but more of a compilation, a collection of songs over time.
Ellie Holcomb: It’s a scrapbook. Drew and I have both been artists in our own right and for a lot of years, we had this sort of wide orbit that crossed over, mainly at home. It’s a beautiful soundtrack to our musical journeys coming back together that overlaps with not only the home that we know and made together. It’s the soundtrack of what it sounded like to come together again, musically. It’s our snapshot of the years when this was happening.
AS: You revisited “Hung the Moon” after more than a decade. Is that a song that still resonates with you both, especially since you’ve had this longer journey now, together with The Neighbors and as individual artists?
EH: It really does. It’s one of the first songs that I wrote on my own that we released, where I was taking the lead vocal. When I listen back to that song, it still holds pretty well from the day that I wrote it, so I’m grateful for that. It’s one of those songs that our fans over the years have come to really love. So many people have used it as their first dance. We didn’t attend their wedding, but we were kind of there via the music, so it’s a beautiful thing to rerecord that. When I first listened back to it, it sounded like the baby version of myself as a singer, so it’s really nice, vocally, to catch up to where I am today, which is a little bit more mature. I’ve had a lot of hours of singing since then, so it’s a fresh take on an old favorite.
AS: Did your family road trip through Tennessee have any lasting effects on your music, or how you want to approach things all moving forward?
DH: It was certainly a highlight during a very weird time. These songs are my favorite thing that we have to carry with us from that. We had a great time with our family, but these two songs, especially “Feels Like Home” have become a fan favorite. “Hey Rivers” was certainly a moment in time, and is about our youngest, who is kind of a wild man.
EH: He requests that song more than anyone in our family.
AS: How do you balance full music careers and three children?
DH: It’s a tag-team effort. We’re a classic example of what “it takes a village” does for everything.
EH: It does take a village for everything: the music, the childcare. None of us are meant to do life alone. We just happen to be on the stage, reminding people of that day in and day out.
AS: As songwriters, do you feel like songs still come to you in the same way, individually and together?
DH: We obviously have different answers, but Ellie just put out a record [Canyon] that came from a very fruitful time of writing for her. At the beginning of COVID, I had a really hard time. I love playing in front of an audience, so having that taken away was pretty demotivating. As we started getting back out, it wasn’t our normal, regular touring, but just getting outdoors in the summer and some shows in the fall , I started writing again. I’m on a heater for sure. I’ve been writing more and just booked a bunch of studio time, so I’m hoping to get as many songs recorded as possible.
Obviously with kids and all those mid-career responsibilities, I think both of us really have to make time for songwriting. Collecting and gathering ideas without actually having time to put together a song requires an actual blocking of time and being intentional with schedules. I don’t want to speak for both of us, but I think as we get older my confidence is at an all-time high, not in an arrogant sense. I’ve been doing this a long time. I love it, and COVID reminded me how much I love doing it. It’s a confidence, more than I’ve had in a long time.
EH: And you can hear that, and it’s really beautiful. Writing for me feels like breathing. I’m going to do it, whether I have time or not. It spills out on plane rides and car trips, or in the kitchen while I’m cooking, and the kids are running around. In a lot of my voice memos, you’ll hear phones and chaos in the background, because that’s sort of what real life is, this chaos of community and children and work. I always call myself a selfish songwriter, because I just write to process my own pain and joy. That’s what happened with my last record. I was allowing myself to grieve and lament, which isn’t my go-to, but there was a lot of healing that came as I allowed myself to do that. That record is a sonic version of healing and hope, even in the midst of a lot of grief. It felt like a triumphant thing to write and to record those songs in the midst of a year of a lot of loss and sorrow.
Writing together happens, but it’s probably the most rare because we both have our own artist’s instincts. We write separately a lot, but we really have to be intentional to write together.
I was just asking Drew for a songwriting date.
AS: I know the pandemic affected you both creatively. Coming out of this, has it impacted the kind of songs you’re gravitating towards now?
EH: I feel like I can answer this better than he can [laughs].
DH: Can Ellie answer for me?
AS: Yes, of course.
EH: I think that the songs that he’s writing now are literally being birthed and written out of this deep well of gratitude. We’ve wondered, like so many artists, are we ever going to get to play in front of people again. Obviously, you can still write songs, but there’s deep gratitude for what we do because this life that we lead is crazy. It’s a little chaotic. We’re ships in the night sometimes. At times, we’re in a different city every night, so I think sometimes that just feels chaotic. But when it was taken from us, we realized how much we really love it and are grateful for what we do, so his songs are grounded in deep gratitude.
AS: “Coming Home” seems to cover everything we’ve talking about, the balancing acts.
DH: Our [The Neighbors] guitar player Nathan [Dugger] wrote that song. Very rarely do we cut songs that we didn’t write. He only really writes with me or Ellie’s voice in mind, like a direct sort of conduit to us. We’ve cut a few of his songs in the past. When he played that song for me, I said “please let us record that.” It felt like he wrote it for us.
EH: It’s funny because they actually recorded the song with just Drew, and when I heard it, I loved it so much.
DH: She muscled her way onto the song.
EH: I love it so much, and it resonates really deeply with me and coming out of the year, when we really got to be home more than we’ve ever been before. I realized that we have this beautiful home with each other and with our kids, as well as in our music, so it’s like a meeting place, a gathering place, from our living room to every stage that we haven’t played.
DH: When you have to start from scratch, meaning you don’t have all this touring, and you get back to writing, you just don’t want to play by the rules as much. Some of my most recent songs like “Family” and “Without a Light” [both released in 2021], none of them match the chorus. The single off my last record “End of the World” starts with the chorus. I completely embrace the mentality that changing up songs is okay. Starting with the chorus is okay. I have a wide swath of genre influence and fully embrace that. I’m planning to record 25 to 30 songs. Me and my band, we’re firing on all cylinders again, off this gratitude of getting back on stage.
EH: It seems like you’re having more fun than ever… and we weren’t having a bad time before.
Photos: Ashtin Paige