Today we’d like to introduce you to Jamie Drake.
Jamie, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I’m mostly from Michigan but was born in Van Wert, a small town in Ohio. My first home was a trailer on my grandpa’s farm. My first memory is from that trailer: me, toddling down the hallway toward my mother’s record player, playing the Hallelujah Chorus. I remember walking through the corn fields with my older brother, Josh, making mud pies, and our above-ground pool that blew away in a tornado. My dad sang and wrote songs on his guitar and my brother and I would sit and sing with him while he played. I remember the moment I discovered the sound of what I would later come to know as harmony, falling out of my mouth, when I was very young. I remember this discovery being the most magical human experience I had ever known. Then came the sounds that would float down into my mind – as if they were tiny, sweet gifts from God – little melodies I would hum, find the notes on a nearby piano, or whistle once I knew how. These melodies, slowly cultivated over many years, still pleasantly haunt me and ask to be turned into song.
To say my family moved around a lot is an understatement. I changed elementary schools 9 times before the 5th grade across five different states – (OH -> FL -> AK -> OH -> SC -> MI) which is why I sometimes joke that I was raised by wolves, or gypsies. My parents both had an unsettled way about them that kept them searching, which made my brother and me well acquainted with always being the “new kids.” Making friends that I would never see again became the norm, and I learned to adapt with constant change. My brother was my best (and only) friend for awhile – aside from my imagination, which was always there to guild and help me survive. When my parents divorced, my mom, brother and I returned to Ohio my 1st grade year. My mother told me that it was a fresh start, so I went by my middle name, Elizabeth, that year (I changed it back the next year when I changed schools again). My mom remarried and we moved to South Carolina for my 4th grade year and I immediately took up a southern accent. Moving around as a kid taught me a lot of valuable lessons. For one, I became highly adaptable; which has effected me greatly as an artist and can be seen and heard in the music I’ve created over the years.
We settled in Sturgis, MI, when I was in the 5th grade. This was a much needed change of pace that provided stability and was a place to plant roots and grow. My mom and stepdad had three more children over the years, and I became an older sister / second mom figure. Admittedly, this was a hard adjustment, but I adored my younger sisters and I was glad to stay in one place for awhile. Our family piano settled in our home and though I never took lessons, it was my favorite place to sit and come up with little tunes after school. I was able to get involved with musical programs once we settled there. I took up the coronet and for most of my middle and high school years, I played in the marching band and was also a part of madrigal choir. One fateful year I discovered the musical theater program and it became my foundation for learning how to perform on stage with a personal sense of play – which is something I love about performing to date. Up until that point I had loved Hollywood musicals like “Singing in the Rain” and “Meet Me In St. Louis,” but never dreamed of being given the opportunity to goof off on stage myself; something younger kids tend to be exposed to when their parents are trying to cultivate their gifts. Because my family was poor and we were always moving, it made opportunities like piano or guitar lessons virtually impossible, let alone theater programs. I was in high school, and all of my musical talents were untapped, unformed, natural abilities, just waiting to have some pixie dust sprinkled on them.
The family piano fell off a moving truck one year. Although this was literally the worst day of my life at the time, that tragedy led me to taking up the guitar years later, when a friend’s boyfriend showed me a few chords. I went to the local pawn shop and found a beautiful, old Kay guitar that looked like a Gibson Blondie, bought it for $200 and wrote my first song. It was called, “A Million Tears” (a country song) and won me $100 two years in a row at the school talent show. Around the same time I was given the opportunity to play Miss Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls.” This experience made me feel like a flower, opening into bloom. I continued to pursue musical theater playing more leading roles like Annie, in “Annie,” in Annie, Get Your Gun” my senior year. The love I had for these musical moments propelled me to New York City to attend musical theater school at AMDA, where I shared a tiny dorm that had a tiny fridge and a tiny hot plate with a roommate who claimed to be a witch, which was something I had never heard of before in Sturgis, MI. AMDA was wonderful in many ways. I had my first and only experience working with a vocal coach who informed me I wasn’t an alto 2; I was a mezzo soprano with a three octave or more range — so I began singing a little higher. I found AMDA to be jarring for my introverted personality as well. Students were acting, singing and dancing 100% of the time, and it overwhelmed me. I spent most of my time holed up in my dorm writing songs and missing home. The next year I dropped out, moved to the east village, and fell into the position of worship leader for a church in Cooper Square, and found myself practicing freshly penned songs in the subway for grocery money.
It was in the east village that I met a man, got married after knowing him for 9 months, and moved to Los Angeles at the beginning of 2001, six months before the towers fell. My twenties were hard.. like being in the desert (literally and figuratively because: LA). My husband and I made things work for years though neither of us had ever seemed suited for one another. During that time I helped him pursue his dreams of becoming a director and we started our own production company. I even did wardrobe for his music videos – all the while wishing I was making my own. After a lot of therapy, a 9-month separation, and many tears, we ended our marriage amicably – giving each other a second chance at life – which I can now say is the best gift he ever gave. We were married 8 years.
Somehow I’d always been a late-bloomer. Starting yet another new chapter thousands of miles away from family, and still totally unprepared for life as an adult, I made my way as a single, 29 year old woman who didn’t know how to pay my bills, open a bank account or date. I had so much joy at this time though that I didn’t notice or worry about it (until life caught up with me and I had to pretend to know how to bartend to pay the bills). Divorce had become the catalyst my personality needed to push me into my real-life purpose. My life hadn’t been a waste; it was just beginning. Life had given me so much suffering – in childhood and adulthood – and I needed to commit myself to finding a purpose for all of the pain. Music had always been with me, brought me joy and helped me survive, but it wasn’t until I lost everything that I had the guts to pursue it in a way that could possibly turn it into a career. Since I had nothing to lose and only more to gain, I set out to make my first record before turning 30, with wild ambition, and I loved the pursuit so much, I’ve never looked back.
I’d love to speak to something I feel very fortunate to have been given in this pursuit: vitality. Somewhere in my mid-thirties I felt I had to “make up for lost time” when I saw my first gray hair and realized I was getting older. I let the anxiety of lost time discourage me for a good moment – and though it was agonizing – by some miracle, it passed. I was able to get over that hump and realize that I had been believing a lie we are fed by society and culture: that we have to be young and beautiful to be acceptable or successful. This lie was something I had bought into early on, even. When I was 19 I felt old because Brittney Spears was 14, singing bubble gum pop songs and who was going to want to listen to me play folk music? It’s a disease that has nothing to do with the truth in which I have come to believe — that we can do anything at any age as long as we love it. Since love has nothing to do with age, the possibilities can be limitless.
Along the way I have made records with different side projects and have found many, talented collaborators and peers. AJ Minette and I found each other 8 years ago and began working on music and learning how to record ourselves in his bedroom. We co-wrote and co-produced Nobel, (2014) and he also produced my newest album, Everything’s Fine, set to release this Spring. I was in an Americana trio called Dear Lemon Trees with Leslie Stevens and Kathleen Grace. and we released an EP in 2017. Being a part of different musical collaborations over the years has helped me hone in on what I really wanted for myself and my solo work. I’m happy to share that I’ve begun releasing some of this music and you can find it under my name, Jamie Drake. It feels like a dream to finally be releasing music I’ve only been able to hear in my imagination to this point and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.
Listen now to Jamie’s singles Everything’s Fine and Wonder here: https://open.spotify.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I sing and write songs about my personal experiences in life. It started out slowly – as an expression of my own process – like journaling. I grew up around a lot of trauma and singing was therapy for me. I was a closet singer / songwriter all throughout my twenties and at the right time, I started sharing myself and my stories with others when I felt ready.
I hear melodies that I record into voice memos. I take these inspirations down with the hopes of them turning into a fully realized song. There are too many melodies to finish, and the process of finishing one I find to be pretty miraculous. The process of writing the song always begins with a melody I have been given. I record it, then I figure out what chords sound right with it on my guitar, and I begin writing lyrics. The most exhilarating songs come through me like a message and I have the distinct feeling I am some kind of vessel. Most songs are miracles however when they are given the right amount of attention and time from me, when I am in the right mood, and can sit down and work it out. Sometimes I have to fight with an idea for months or years in order to capture it. It’s kind of like the experience of loving someone in that way. It captures you unexpectedly, or you have to work really hard and commit yourself to it and never give up. Those songs I feel the most pride in because I had to work really hard for them.
I have encountered a spectrum of beautiful challenges, heartbreaks and struggles with love, faith, and the meaning of life, and like many artists before me, I feel compelled to write and sing about it. The main purpose for sharing my music is to help others heal. Many people do not have the ability to express the hurt they have experienced. I have experienced a lot of pain and hope that it can be used to heal and encourage others. It’s the deeper part of the work that I do that gives me an inner joy and excitement; the other successes along the way are extremely exciting as well, but icing on the cake.
What do you think it takes to be successful as an artist?
For me success looks like someone who knows who they are and is committed to excellence in whatever it is that only they can bring into the world. It doesn’t always equal fame or fortune, but sometimes those things come along when this perspective is mastered.
The artist temperament can get anxious and often times compares itself with what others do. It’s human nature to do this, but it robs everyone involved if it becomes someone’s mode of operation. I believe as people that we are meant to connect and cheer each other on in our prospective journeys. If our insecurities and jealous thoughts are always driving the car, not only are we not honoring the uniqueness of ourselves and what we can bring, we are unable to truly see and honor others and their work, and as a result we break the connection we could have if we weren’t busy comparing, criticizing, or coveting someone else’s perceived success. Connection is impossible with someone when we are regarding them merely as competition and not as a unique soul that has something to teach us in return. When you know and understand that there truly is no competition, you can be liberated and alleviated from emotions and actions that damage connection as well as experience the most exciting, creative liberties you could dream of in your own journey.
Another important element of this is realizing you have your own process, and you need to honor it and take it seriously. Everyone gets their turn to harvest something at some point, but often times you are standing over the ground waiting for a seed you planted to turn into something, and that can be incredibly frustrating. We need to be patient with ourselves at whatever stage we are at and wait for things to turn because they always do as long as you are nurturing whatever it is you are working on.
So, to any artists out there struggling with looking at other peoples’ harvest time, feeling conflicted, I’d love to say, “Look at your own beautiful garden and tend to it. What does it need? At the right time you will get to harvest what you have poured into that hallowed ground.”
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
My next live performance in Los Angeles will be on Sunday, February 24th, at The Bootleg Theater. Following on instagram and/or facebook is the best way to stay in tune with what’s going on with me. My music can be found on my website, jamiedrakemusic.com
- Website: http://www.jamiedrakemusic.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @jamiethedrake
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jamiedrakemusic/
- Twitter: @jamiethedrake
- Other: http://www.youtube.com/jamieedrake
Kathryna Hancock, Elli Lauren, Madeline Zieker, Abby Shoot, Matt Hopper
Main photo: Kimberly Willming
Styling: Micah Clasper-Torch