Drew McIvor is one of the first artists that really inspired me to create Route 26. He has it all: he’s a great singer-songwriter; he grew up and still lives in South Georgian Bay; he works with so many other great artists in the area; and he happens to be the nicest guy in the world. I first heard him at the Bruce Wine Bar open mic (which he hosts every Wednesday) last Fall. I was not expecting to hear that caliber of musicianship at an open mic. He played some of his own tunes that evening, and played some stuff with Jayden Grahlman (who also had me hooked immediately). Since then I’ve understood that Drew is truly one of the major players in the regional music scene.
I sat down with Drew to talk about how he got started, and about his new album Through the Tangle of Trees. So where did it all begin? “I got my first Snoopy guitar, which I can still remember the face of, when I was 3 or 4 I think, for Christmas,” he told me. “It had four strings, it didn’t really do much, but I knew I was into it. [And] I had a cousin, and he and I would just sit around the piano every time we got together, we’d just go hang out by the piano. While the rest watched the Grey Cup or whatever, we would just work on, like, Beatles songs.” You can hear that Drew still loves The Beatles in his homage to “Strawberry Fields Forever” with the song “Intoxicated” on the new album. But beyond The Beatles, his musical tastes were all over the map. He remembers, “When I was in high school, I tried to get people to listen to Frank Sinatra, while they were listening to Oasis, stuff like that. I was like ‘Come on! You gotta listen to this stuff! It’s gold.' I listened to everything as a kid. I listened to the soundtrack to Grease…Oscar Peterson. …My Dad had a pretty good music collection, …[and] I had the classic older brother with the turntable, you know, and the crate of albums, so I listened to Led Zeppelin, and Boston, and Cheap Trick, all that stuff.”
But it wasn’t until university that Drew really start to perform with a band. It was a “college pop” band, as he calls it, that would "try to get people on the dance floor” through hip hop songs, ska, and mambo (which was the big thing at the time). That band had a revolving door of 8 or 9 players, involving keys, horns, guitar, and drums–which introduced Drew to full band atmospheres and relationships. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that he started to craft his own songs. “I’m such a mimic,” he confesses, “I like listening to and [seeing] what other people do. It took me a while to figure out what it was that I wanted to offer to the mix.” I think that’s the sign of a good songwriter: someone who listens, emulates what they like, then innovates with their own approach. He started out songwriting on piano: “I used to write from the piano all the time, because I was primarily a piano player before. My inspiration was from the piano, like Joe Jackson, and Paul McCartney, and Elton John, Supertramp, stuff like that. So that’s what I was affected by.” At this time he was focusing more on the instrumental side of the music. When he moved to writing with guitar, he started focusing more on the words and lyrics alongside the instrumentals.
Drew’s last album, Porchlight, has a beautiful, laid back, pop feel with lots of elements of world rhythms and rock influences. You might be familiar with this great track, “45’s and 33’s” feat. Coco Love Alcorn, Tara Mackenzie, and Wayne Smythe:
Some of the tracks on Through the Tangle of Trees have a similar lightheartedness, but it’s really a whole different beast. Right off the bat—it’s a fantastic album. Each song seems to stand alone and bring something different to the table. There are elements of pop and world rhythms as in the past, but also old school blues rock, roots folk, and R&B. And he’s brought in a ton of incredible musicians, including Steenika Gilbert, Lydia Persaud, Marie Goudi, and Tyler Wagler. Craig Smith, who produced and recorded the album at his studio, is also the drummer for the album. Drew was thrilled to work with Craig to bring a more Americana, live-off-the-floor, and sophisticated sound to his recordings. “He's great,” he explained, “We have a really good dynamic. And, he’s funny. So we share lots of jokes.”
I asked Drew if there were any songs that he felt stood out above the others, but he said he thinks it changes from listener to listener. “Hopefully it works out that everyone has their favourite song, and what’s somebody’s favourite song, is someone else’s least favourite, and that person likes something else, for different reasons.” Listening to the album, I totally get what he means. Personally, my sensitive soul is torn between “Marmora Blue” and “Rainy Day Lullabye (feat. Lydia Persaud)” for favourites. I guess you could consider Through the Tangle of Trees as a “tangle through” Drew’s experiences and influences in the most recent chapter of his life. He explains, “It’s just where I am at this point.”
Check out Through the Tangle of Trees on Spotify here:
(album also available on Apple Music and CD Baby)
Drew’s connection to the Georgian Bay area is strong and, like his music network in this area, always growing. Take the Bruce Wine Bar open mic for example, which Drew crafted almost 2 years ago with restaurant/venue owner Steve Vipond. “Wednesday nights has been really interactive,” he says of the crowd, “all the chairs get turned towards the stage, people listen, they want to get involved.” Comparing it to other open mic experiences, he continues, “This is more like an original, improvised, acoustic, listening room where you can try different things and maybe be a little bit more “off the map”, and…in fact, usually the stranger it is, the better reception it gets.” It’s been a great way to connect creative spirits in an intimate setting. Drew loves that this area has such a wide palette of talented performers. “It’s not too far from the city, but it’s its own thing. I came from Guelph before this, which was sort of a little bit more bedroomy, so it’s not quite it’s own thing. It’s got its college-town vibe. But here it’s like, you’re just distanced away enough that we can sort of be like, it’s our own little pond, you know, we can kind of shine up here.”
Drew's album release party is happening on Thursday, September 28th at Heartwood Hall in Owen Sound, Ontario, with special guest opener Luke Martin. More info here: http://heartwoodhall.ca/?events=drew-mcivor-cd-release .
Find out more about Drew McIvor's music at https://www.drewmcivor.com/