Every musician has a personal story. Somewhere within the overarching story of their life is a second smaller anecdote about how they found themselves enamored with the idea of writing and/or performing music for others. Despite the fact that a lot of the songs artists write to describe these creative realizations can end up looking much the same from a distance, there are always finer details of a person’s upbringing, individual beliefs, ever-changing goals tucked between the lines that make these musical stories more unique than they seem.
Country songwriter and active artist, Drew Parker, presents a perfect example of all these dynamics with the arrival of his new single, “While You’re Gone,” which premieres today with American Songwriter and is the first piece from a forthcoming EP, due out this fall.
Though Parker has been a resident of Music City (from the approximately 6600 populated town of Stewart, Georgia) for about five years, and been a part of RiverHouse / WarnerChappell Records for the last three – quickly getting noticed in Nashville’s musician-loaded metropolis with both self-driven songs and music he wrote for other artists like Luke Combs and Jake Owen – “While Your Gone” is in some ways, a starting point for Parker. Certainly, it’s an interesting moment to choose for stepping out more broadly onto the country scene.
On the one hand, “While You’re Gone” is a strong songwriter’s outing. A clear theme, catchy chorus, and a tried-and-true song structure of verse-verse-chorus, are nestled within dynamically bold and smooth production that lets glimmers of country music timbre – slide guitar, delicate harmonic tones, and classic acoustic rhythm strums –sine through. At the same time, from a narrative standpoint, “While You’re Gone” is the story of a man waiting on, and hoping for, a woman who’s long since left town to go on an individual-oriented path in life, reflects just the emotional opposite of the song’s sonic sturdiness. It’s a curious contrasting set for such a pivotal moment.“I grew up on 90s country music. That’s what I’ve always loved. So I’ve always loved a song that tells a story and (“While You’re Gone”) has a lot of my personality in it. I love writing songs with stories;` I love listening to songs with stories. But at the same time, I like to think of myself as a funny guy and this has a comical side of it, even though it sounds a little, I don’t want to say sad but, (the music) puts you in the mood of the song more,” says Parker.
“It’s comical that this guy,” Parker continues, “he’s convinced that this girl is gonna come back. Although if you listen to the song, it’s funny to me that he thinks she’s coming back when really, everybody that listens knows that she’s not. It was a fun song to write; it was a fun story to tell. There are time when I write break up songs or sad songs, that are really sad but I love being able to write somewhat of a sad song but have that kind of element in it that takes a little bit of the sadness away and for a minute can be something to laugh about.”
Perhaps even more intriguing than the rather straightforward set of opposites with regard to “While You’re Gone’s” sonic versus storytelling presentation however, are the thought processes, inspirations, and motivations behind Parker’s chosen lyricism in the song itself. A man with first hand experience and long-held empathy for the nitty gritty aspects of living in small population, rural Georgia, Parker isn’t without legitimacy for some of the elements in his song. The contrast between the “big city lights” where his lost love has gone and the comfort and closely-knit nature of (small town) “main street,” are a prime example of understandable real life reference but while situated among a chorus describing someone sitting in a truck, drinking a beer, thinking about a woman, some of Parker’s nuanced sincerity risks getting lost in tropes of modern country rock. Still in all, Parker has his reasons for writing this way and they ultimately make a lot of sense.
“I’ve always been a firm believer in (the idea that) everyone listens to a song differently,” says Parker. “For me, growing up, I always found a way to relate whatever song I was listening to, to me, and sometimes you don’t relate. Sometimes you just like the melody – that kind of thing. But I think everybody can listen to a song and hear it in a totally different way.
That’s also what’s cool to me about (“While You’re Gone”),” Parker adds. “You can listen to it and totally be in the position of like, maybe you are sitting around waiting for her to come back. But in the case of me writing it, it was more like, ‘Oh…she’s coming back! …Oh, no she’s not!” It’s kind this internal battle with the guy. He never tells anybody she’s not coming back. He’s telling himself that she is. But I think anybody could listen to it and they could take it that way or they could take it (more literally) like, she’s definitely coming back or, she’s definitely not. When I write songs, I’m okay with however someone takes it because I think everybody’s going through a different situation that any song could relate to,” he says.
Knowing “While Your Gone” is only another single step on a long and hopefully fruitful journey through the music world, there’s definitely plenty more to learn about Drew Parker as a person, his writing style as a composer, and the everyday places and people with which he presently, and will eventually, interact. In that sense, given that Nashville has already become such an integral part of Parker’s story, and understanding that it never hurts to find a new way to stand out as an artist, one has to wonder if future music from the country artist might reflect the changing paradigm of what “country” looks and feels like, since Nashville – the very city known for country music – isn’t exactly the kind of cozy town reflected in the established profile of today’s country pop and rock.
“I think for me, it goes back to when I said I loved 90s country music. I think, moving from a small town to Nashville, like I chase, like everything is very nostalgic. So anything that I feel some nostalgia in, I chase that,” Parker says. “I think going from the smaller town to a bigger city––if you can dig into those nostalgic places and dig back into the past, that’s what allows you to write these angles and that kind of thing.”
Though Parker acknowledges the flexibility of creativity in one’s mindset that songwriters can possess – particularly ones who give their songs to others like he does – his personal drive is rooted in his own well of experiences of the past, rather than the slowly unfolding identity of Nashville in the present and future.
“I go to a place of what I grew up on,” Parker explains. “As a songwriter, I can get out of that (headspace) but if I’m writing something that I want to write, I’m digging from that place. What would Keith Whitley or Travis Tritt – how would they do this (song)? If they were going to record this today, how would they do it? Because those are the things I grew up on, those are the things I still hear in my head.
Everything that I do is from something that happened years ago for me or a feeling I had years ago. Say, I listened to a song 10 or 15 years ago, whatever that feeling was, that’s what I chase and things that I write about today. And the fact that I heard those songs 10, 15 years ago, I heard them in a small town so I didn’t hear them in the city,” says Parker.
It’s understandable, as what matters most right now for Parker of course, is the moment he’s in right here and now. “While You’re Gone” might be about waiting with unabated hope in one’s heart for an outcome that’s only one of a few possible futures. Yet, for all of the woeful sentimentality of the song, Parker is hardly in a place of regret or uncertainty – at least not the kind that will leave him downing a bunch of beers alone in his backyard. If anything, the Georgia-to-Nashville songwriter sees his future looking as bright as the possible endings for “While You’re Gone” are numerous.
“I hope (listeners) come away how ever they want to come away, honestly.” says Parker. “That’s a weird answer but, I don’t want––I mean, I guess it’s fine with me if people listen to (“While You’re Gone”) and wonder, ‘I wonder what he was thinking when he wrote this or, what kind of place he was at in life?’ I would challenge them to listen and find a place where it relates to them because that’s what I do when I listen to a song. And if you can’t find that, then maybe (ask), ‘Man, what was he going through when he wrote this?,’ that kind of thing.
“I just hope people can listen to (the song) and if it fits a nostalgia for them, and reminds them of them being a small town, that would be a win for me, you know?,” Parker says. “Like, for it to be able to take them back to a place and think, ‘Aw yeah dude, this feels like riding down whatever-road in the middle of nowhere, with my high school buddies, just blasting the radio.’ It’s like a full circle thing,” he adds, “I grew up on this (older country) music, and then I moved to (Nashville) to write back on those (old) times, and now I’m singing to remind (other) people of those times that they’ve had as well.”
Pre-save “While You’re Gone” now on Spotify.