Sleep is overrated. Just ask Drake White.
The up-and-coming country music singer got a jarring 4:40 a.m. wake-up call to make a flight from Missouri to New York Thursday morning for his sold-out headlining show at the Gramercy Theatre that night.
“Four forty is a highway that goes around Nashville, not a wake-up call,” he says, sipping a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer backstage.
But while that time may be early, White says he’s a morning person who’s up every day around 7 a.m. answering e-mails, working with sponsors and doing all he can to advance his career.
“I like the morning,” he says. “I like writing in the morning and working on the different angles to build my brand.”
So far, so good — as evidenced by the crowd that packed the Gramercy Theatre to see his headlining show with his longtime band, The Big Fire.
Playing to a room that full was a far cry from his early days on the road. “We played to a lot of empty bars,” he recalls. So seeing his name in lights on the billboard of the theater with “Sold Out” underneath was humbling.
“I’m so thankful and grateful,” White says, giving special callouts to his wife and parents for encouraging him to chase his dream.
White may have been born in the small town of Hokes Bluff, Ala., but his rich, gravelly voice is closer to Ray Charles than Hank Williams.
It’s that soulful, bluesy sound that has captured the attention of the country music community.
White’s first album, “Spark,” made its debut at number one on the iTunes Top Country Albums chart on its release last summer. He had a top 15 hit with “Livin’ the Dream” and his new single, “Makin’ Me Look Good Again,” a love song he wrote for his wife, is climbing the charts.
Accolades include CBS.com’s Grammy Artist of Tomorrow, Entertainment Weekly’s New Artists Who Will Rule 2017, Rolling Stone’s 10 Country Artists You Need to Know and Billboard’s Hot New Country Artists to Watch. His song, “Heartbeat,” is even used in a national campaign for Geico that features Dallas Cowboys’ tight end Jason Witten.
This newfound success could be a little overwhelming, but White is “ecstatic and emotional” that his work over the past nine years is finally being recognized.
The turning point, he believes, is “having some success at radio” with “Livin’ the Dream” but more so from being able to tour with the Zac Brown Band, where he’s had the opportunity to play for 30,000 people a night at 60 shows around the country.
Although he got his start singing in church like many country artists, White’s influences are not as traditional. “Old School singers” like Ray Charles are his favorites, along with artists Chris Stapleton, T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne, Maren Morris and even Demi Lovato, John Legend and Rihanna. “I like a soulful singer,” he says, “who has that spirit and let it go” and whose music “flows out of their hearts.”
Not only is his music distinctive, so is his personal style.
“My mom is a cosmetologist and so is my sister. She and my aunts are all blonde-headed and really loud. My mom looks 35 and she’s around 60. She doesn’t even go to the store without makeup on.”
As a result, White became conscious of his appearance at an early age. “I’ve always enjoyed snappy clothes,” he says, pointing to his worn jeans, vintage Wrangler shirt, blue vest and suede boots. “It’s so fun because we can go on these video shoots and I can afford [to buy something now]. I love well-made boots and shoes and pants and jeans and vintage clothes. I might have a fox tail hanging off my belt one day and the next day I might have a suit on. I call it Appalachian chic.”
He enjoys vintage shopping and scouring markets for unique pieces such as the handcrafted beaded necklace he picked up in Tulum, Mexico.
But while his apparel choices may vary, White is never seen without his trademark hat. “I really like hats,” he says, pointing to the weathered brown leather model from Gunner Foxx in Hollywood that he wore for the New York show. Other favorites include Hatwrks in Nashville and Nick Fouquet in Los Angeles.
“I love it all — what I see when I look in the mirror, that’s the needle.”