The storytelling spirit is as old and deep as Appalachia itself, and as a child of the West Virginia hills perhaps it was inevitable that Drew Cable would become the natural born storyteller of the songs on his debut EP, The Devil Ain’t Done. It’s also not surprising that his own musical journey has had its own twists and turns along the way.
Exposed early to musicals like Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the soaring melodies and chiseled lyrics of these classics fanned the flames of Drew’s creative spirit. He was brought up playing music and started taking piano lessons at the age of eight. While he ultimately chafed at the confining structure that the lessons imposed, this experience left Drew hungry to create music of his own.
Even as his interests turned to sports in high school (and later at West Virginia State) Drew’s passion for music never waned. He taught himself guitar and began dabbling in lyric writing during these formative years. After being sidelined by an injury, Drew focused his attention on music with a feverish intensity, and at 21 wrote “Lifestyle,” the lead off track of The Devil Ain’t Done.
Influenced by a wide-ranging palette of artists including The Beatles, Willis Alan Ramsey, Leon Russell, The Rolling Stones, and Waylon Jennings, Drew’s own songs fall somewhere in the crosshairs between indie rock and outlaw country. Not surprisingly his new 6 song EP weaves a sweeping range of styles (anything from psychedelia to folk and everything in between) with Drew’s indelible stories of his native hills.
Drew is joined on the album by a who’s-who of Appalachian musicians: Rod Elkins (Tyler Childers) on drums, Chris Justice (Wayne Graham, John R. Miller) on bass, Bobby Withers (Sugarcreek) on guitar, and John Borchard (Cutler Station) on pedal steel and sitar guitar. Producer/engineer Eddie Ashworth (Sublime/Pennywise/Long Beach Dub Allstars/Ben Davis Jr) contributed mandolin, and the ep was recorded at the Oxide Shed on Coolville Ridge in Athens County, OH.
There’s a universality to the concept of a piece of art being “homespun.” For many creators and writers, their art begins at home. For West Virginia songwriter Drew Cable, songwriting is a way to illuminate the struggles of joys of holler communities. And his newest single, “1921,” which is premiering on Glide today, reflects on life in West Virginia through historical references and fingerpicked acoustic guitar.
“1921” reaches into the past to discuss the present. In the video, we see historical photographs of miners alongside footage of Cable playing and singing in some historical downtown. As a reflection of our ever-increasing distrust of news and media, Cable sings, “The papers round here just keep printing stories.” It feels true to today’s outlook as it likely did to the folks who lived a hundred years ago. As the swirling pedal-steel and the shambling snare drum wrap around his voice, you can’t help but feel that Cable and the folks he sings about are just looking for some answers. And, if you’re honest with yourself, ain’t that all you’re looking for as well?
There’s a simplicity to this song that allows Cable’s lyrics to really shine. With a few chords and an acoustic guitar, Cable shines a light on some of the most fundamentally human questions.
Watch the video for “1921” and read our chat with Cable below…
You’re playing with a star-studded cast of West Virginia and Ohio musicians. How’d you meet and form the lineup for this EP?
As difficult as CV19 has been, one of the best parts of it was the fact that we were able to get Chris Justice and Rodney Elkins. Neither were touring at the time so Eddie called up Chris and had him listen to the tunes. Chris liked it enough to play so I was thrilled, but when he told Eddie that he would bring Rod in, for me it was a blessing. Rod and Chris really drive this record in spots, and they play off one another so well throughout all the pieces. However they were just the tip of the iceberg. Bobby Withers of “sugar creek” did lead, rhythm and BGV. Bobby is probably the most versatile musician I have ever had the pleasure of playing with. His approach is so unique, he has ample knowledge of music theory and has such great style. It’s rare to find someone who can do so much for a record. John Borchard, the yoda of earth, was a perfect cherry on top. John’s played with Stevie Ray which is a personal hero of mine musically, so picking his brain, watching him work was truly outer-worldly. He did a number of different things from playing slide and dobro, to the incredible sitar solo on lifestyle. Eddie Ashworth played as well strumming the mandolin, and also helped me to finish writing the ending to Jessie and Ray. Eddie gave me a great chord progression that we just ran with, I sent him lyrics within an hour. All of these guys are better people than they are musicians, which should speak volumes after listening to the record.
You talk a lot about the storytelling tradition of your past. How did that play a role in the songs on The Devil Ain’t Done?
When I write I do my best to create a narrative that takes a listener from where they are, and get them as close to touching the story as you can. These songs are detailed so it may take a couple of listens to get the lyrics and the music. It’s an overload of phenomenal music with lyrics that you can follow chronologically. I think stories for me personally have always been more interesting. It’s like a book on tape, you can see it happening in your own imagination as you listen.
Where did you find the historical photos you used in the video for “1921?”
I worked very closely with my former history teacher at WVSU Dr. Billy Joe Peyton, and one of my good friends mothers, Emily Neff. They saw my passion, understood my vision and took a lot of time out of what they were doing for this vidoe. It meant a lot to me because I wanted to do something unique to highlight Coal and it’s impact on the region. I think we often forget our past and where we come from so I found it imperative to evoke as much emotion as I could.
What does it mean to you to be an artist from Appalachia?
I think the Appalachia Region produces some of the most brilliantly talented musicians in our world, and to be a small piece of that is humbling. But I don’t want my region to define what I am as an artist, I want to push the boundaries of what music is now. Continue to do things and write lyrics that are true to me, and to life on our planet. The soul of the region is what sticks most with me, it’s all love. Hard working people who take pride in values of kindness and compassion. I’m proud to be from a region with so many breathtaking views, and kind people.