Never Shout Never’s Christofer Drew talks new album, Joplin relief effort

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

For ages, teenage alterna-pop wunderkind Christofer Drew was content to write, record and produce his own music, chiming self-explanatory releases like “The Summer EP.” Then, his talent was discovered by Reprise Records, who snapped him up, spent big bucks pairing him in the studio with top-flight producers like Butch Walker (“What Is Love?”) and Butch Vig (“Harmony”). But now that he’s hit a wise old 20, the kid has had enough of corporate boardroom decisions. The DIY solo artist has formed an actual band, jumped off the Next Big Thing conveyor belt, and self-produced a brilliant new third album called “Time Travel,” full of neo-psychedelic experiments like “Awful,” “Lost At Sea,” and “Simplistic Trance-Like Getaway,” and plush, multitracked vocals inspired by one of his favorite bands, Queen. It seems to be working. To date, Drew has amassed 2.5 million Facebook fans, 50 million MySpace profile views and over 157 million song plays. He also launched a fundraising campaign for his tornado-ravaged hometown of Joplin, Mo. Fans can text JOMO to 50555 to donate $10 to immediate/long-term relief for the city. Never Shout Never plays San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom tonight.
So you still live in Joplin, right?
Well, I’ve been renting places here and there and living in different cities for a bit, just to feel the vibe out and make some new friends. But Joplin’s definitely my home turf. That’s where I own a bit of property and wanna kinda stay as my home base, probably forever. I’ve got my house there, I’m working on getting another house, and also this little shopping center — it’s gonna be my studio, office and then a little practice space. We’ll store all our merch there and start recording the next album there, too. And it’s all gonna be in the podunk town of Joplin, which is so classic. Because nothing is in Joplin, really.
But you love the town enough to go to the mat for it. Where were you when the tornado hit this May?
I was in Springfield, an hour east of Joplin, and we were in the final days of mixing “Time Travel.” I got this call from my mom, and she was crying and telling me goodbye and my sisters were screaming in the background. I was mortified, so I started driving home with my ex-girlfriend. I had no idea what was going on, but about halfway home we saw the tornado ripping down the highway, so we get off the highway in a really small town and go into the basement of this church and wait it out for a couple of hours with total strangers. Which was really weird and cool at the same time. Then I got home, and I couldn’t get a hold of my mom, so I drove by her place, and her apartments were completely wrecked — half of the apartment buildings were completely destroyed, but luckily on hers, only the third floor had been ripped off, and her place was on the second floor. So she was alright, but she was terrified. So I let my mom stay at my old apartment.
And the next day, you got a camera and started filming to make your fundraising video for United Way, right?

Yeah. I got my camera, and I only had a superwide fish-eye lens, and I got kicked out of a whole bunch of places, too — there was military everywhere, probably at least 150 AK-47s on the streets of Joplin. It was nuts, and kinda scary. I remember going to certain places and three people with AK-47s coming up to me going “You need to get the hell outta here!” And I was like “Oh, God!” But I saw some pretty gnarly stuff. When I got home, it was dark, and the power was pretty much out in 75 percent of the city. And I saw people walking down the main streets of Joplin, all bloodied. My friends were in one of the areas that got hit really bad — their house got destroyed — and they walked out of their basement to see this guy who had an entire tree limb impaled through his chest. It was insane stuff — there were people just dead on the street. But the next day, they got all the priority stuff taken care of, like people dying, people buried underneath the rubble taken out. But it was still scary. You’d be walking by a house and hear people yelling for help, and other people would be running up, trying to help them get out.
What made you instantly decide to help your fellow citizens?
Well, it was definitely apparent that if we set up a little text-message thing and maybe put a T-shirt or two online that went directly to the cause that we’d raise a little bit of money. So we set something up with United Way that went directly to Joplin. I didn’t wanna get in people’s faces about it, because there’s so much nasty stuff going on in the world right now. I just wanted the people that are the forefront of our fan base to help out, if they could — I didn’t wanna take advantage of the situation. So I think we’ve raised about $30,000 in T-shirts so far, and about $20,000 in text-messaging things. And then we’ve also been doing little donation drives at our shows, and we’ve probably raised a coupla grand through that. So I think it’s definitely helped out.
You’ve been through two Butches now — two of the best producers around — and it looked like your momentum was unstoppable. But it seems like you’ve deliberately derailed your own fame train to do things your own way again with “Time Travel.”
Yes. Exactly. This record was completely different than anything else we’ve done, even stuff I did in the past. And I hadn’t made any money from “Harmony” and “What Is Love?”, just because the records cost $350,000 to make, and we haven’t been able to recoup them yet. So I had a little conference call with Warners, and I said “Yo — this next record? I’m doing it on my own, you guys aren’t gonna know s— until the record is done, it’s gonna cost about $10,000, and you’re gonna love it.” And they were like “Uhh … OK, I guess.” So we actually took a coupla months on this one — we’d take more than my usual one day on a song. We were like “Let’s take a week on every song and actually go for it — let’s put in 100 vocal tracks and see what happens!” So we just really got to experiment and go all out on this one. So I’ve been having way more fun with this whole thing than I ever have, and I’ve been taking it a lot less seriously and just going for it. Now we’re totally stoked to start recording the next album!

artsChristofer DrewMissouriPop Music & JazzSan Francisco

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