Everyday Icons: The Singer/Songwriter

Read our interview with singer/songwriter Ellie Holcomb for a refreshing perspective on perfection, romance and work/life balance.

ellie holcomb interview

If you're a music buff, you've likely heard of Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, the Nashville-based indie band of four with lyrics of soul, hearts of gold and the purest harmony around. Today, we're pleased to introduce you to one quarter of the band and wife of Drew Holcomb, Ellie. Just months shy of releasing her first full length solo record, she took a few moments to share her inspired perspective on balance, imperfection and relationships...

Ellie, please tell us a bit about your path to becoming the musician you are now (you were once a teacher!!!). How has your creative path twisted and turned into what it is today?

I always knew that I would sing and write songs. It’s been sort of like breathing for me, a part of how I’ve processed life since I was in high school, but I never really thought that music would be my job. I got my masters in education and loved my job teaching Language Arts to 8th graders after college, but my husband was doing music full time, traveling for over half the year. So on our first Thanksgiving together, up in a deer blind in Texas, we decided that I would quit my teaching job to join Drew full time on the road after the school year finished. It was a hard decision, but I am so glad we jumped out into the unknown to pursue something we both love together. I think we thought we’d play music for a year or two and then go back to “real jobs,” but our career has slowly and steadily grown into something that would be hard to walk away from because we love it so much.

Speaking of a growing career, you have an incredibly rigorous touring schedule. How do you juggle this routine with your family? Do you place boundaries on work vs relaxation with Drew, or do the two kind of feed into one another?

I’ve learned to juggle our 200 days a year touring schedule by living with intentionality, one day at a time. When I look at our entire fall schedule, life starts to feel pretty overwhelming, so taking things a day at a time, and being intentional to love and to be thankful and to laugh and to enjoy what’s in front of me each day helps me enjoy the ride rather than stressing about how long the ride is.

It’s been a beautiful thing to get to work with my husband, but we have had to learn how to be intentional about getting time together that’s not on the clock. That might mean a long walk around whatever city we’re in before the show, or a coffee date, or even grabbing a free continental breakfast at the hotel together. Nothing like yogurt and hard boiled eggs to kick up the romance, right? In the same breath though, there are moments on stage that feel like we’re just enjoying each other’s company, and there happens to be a crowd watching us do that.

Gosh, it all sounds like such a glamorous job, but from the inside, I'm assuming it looks a bit different. How do you maintain a clear head and stay grounded in such a fast-paced industry?

I always tell people that touring is a lot of driving and gas station stops and unloading and loading, and then you get to sing a little along the way. For major recording artists, there is jet setting and catering and more of a glamour to life on the road, but I think the way we tour keeps us grounded. It’s not like we have a crew of guys who unload the van, set up the stage, and then take it all down for us each night. It’s just our band, all of us, working together to set up an opportunity to connect with people across the country each night while we play our songs.

People ask me if I feel famous when we get recognized at dinner, or in the airport, or at a coffee shop, but I think more than feeling famous, I feel honored that people have let our songs into their lives.

So tell us this - as a creator of content but also a consumer of media, how do you feel we can be good stewards of entertainment consumption? Do you place boundaries in this area in your own life?

I LOVE the idea of being a “good steward” of entertainment consumption. My mom used to make us go on week long breaks from t.v. and video games. When we complained about it, she’d just tell us that if we were bored, we could help her do chores around the house. So, we learned to play outside and use our imaginations to create our own entertainment.

While entertainment can inspire and speak into creativity , it can also suck the life out of me. You know, brain dead sitting on a couch just watching other people’s stories rather than living my own. Don’t get me wrong , that’s a glorious thing to do some days, especially when you’re worn out. I suppose my boundaries with media consumption are really more about balancing what I’m consuming with a good healthy dose of getting off my phone or my computer or my couch to play on the floor with my daughter, or write a song, or go to the farmers market, or catch up with a friend.

So let's say you're at the farmer's market on a sunny afternoon. How do you separate personal Ellie from professional Ellie? Are they one and the same?

As a songwriter, the personal and professional most definitely bleed into each other. Every night, you’re out there on a stage bearing your soul to a room full of strangers, and while that is your profession it is also intensely personal. I’m learning more about the professional Ellie though because I will be releasing my very first full length record in early 2014. This will be separate from our band, and I’m learning that at the end of the day, as an independent artist, you are the CEO of your company. At the end of the day, your songs, the way you carry yourself, the way you perform, the way you market your music all reflect your brand. So, I’m figuring out how to be assertive about what I want my brand to be.

Clementine Daily is a space for women who believe in embracing simple pleasures, setting realistic expectations and bettering their lives to better the lives around them. In your eyes, how do you fit in with that mission?

This mission resonates with the deepest parts of my soul. I spent a lot of my life trying to be perfect, which turns out to make you a really self-focused, self-critical, missing-out-on-the-simple-pleasures-of-life-because-you’re-too-worried-about-the-results kind of person. I used to be her. I don’t miss her. About 4 years ago, I landed myself in intensive counseling. I had spent years upon years of pursuing perfection, and I learned that where there is truth, there is freedom. And the truth about this crazy wonderful life we get to live is that none of us are perfect. So, realistic expectations are my jam! And when you really are bettering your life for the purpose of bettering the lives around you, life becomes less about how you perform and more about the community around you as you live and work and create and love. So three cheers for imperfection, simple pleasures, and becoming better so we can better love & serve those around us.

What an incredible perspective, Ellie! And while we're chatting about serving others, my gosh, your daughter, Emmy Lou. We love her. What values, traits or philosophies do you hope to instill in her as she grows older?

Oh how we love her! She’s the best thing that has ever happened to us. I want her to know, more than anything, that she is loved beyond measure, by her parents and by the God who made her. I hope to teach her how to have hope, love well, laugh often, and live life to the full each day. I pray for true friends, for a man one day who will treat her like the treasure she is, and for a life that will be marked with the kind of joy that comes from knowing in the deepest parts of her soul that she is deeply loved.

So beautiful. Can you sum up the life of a musician in one sentence? And what would your advice be to someone embarking on a career in the entertainment industry?

I’ll give you a sentence on what I hope our lives as musicians are: We sing through the joy and the ache of being human, hoping that our songs will offer hope & ease the pain.

I’d tell folks looking to begin a career in the entertainment industry that it is a roller coaster. The highs are high and the lows are low, so know who you are going into it all, and hang on to something solid that won’t shift around on you like everything in this industry does. Also, give it time and learn to celebrate along the way. My husband said this on twitter the other day, & I thought it was great advice to anyone pursuing a job in this industry.  “If you don’t learn how to celebrate, there is not much point in pursuing your dreams.” He’s a wise man who’s been pursuing his dreams for 10 years now, and I think we would both say that learning to be grateful along the way has made this journey a beautiful one.

Amen! So, just for fun - you can take three albums with you on a cross-country road trip. What do you choose?

Tom Petty- Wildflowers, Sara Groves- Add to the Beauty, Sara Bareilles- Kaleidoscope Heart

What is your personal motto or mantra?

These are all borrowed from other writers, but here they are:

Comparison is the thief of joy.
Perfection is the voice of the enemy.
The truth will set you free.
And love never fails.

What are five everyday items you can't bear to live without?

1. Dry Shampoo! You don’t always have time to wash your hair before every show, so dry shampoo or baby powder w/cornstarch is a MUST for me. My favorite dry shampoo not on a budget is Dry Bar’s Detox, but TRESemme's Fresh Start Volumizing Dry Shampoo is great, too!

2. A sound machine. As a traveling mom, this little guy goes with us everywhere. It’s a constant for my little sleeper as she falls asleep in different cities each night, and it attaches right to her stroller or car seat.

3. A scarf. No matter where you travel, it’s always a good idea to have a scarf. I never leave home without one. Scarves are a great way to make a tee and jeans look like an outfit, and they’re utilitarian too. My scarves have  served as a blanket, nursing cover, and window shade for our little girl on the road. I love FashionABLE scarves, besides the fact that they are gorgeous? They provide economic opportunity for women in Ethiopia. Each scarf is named after one of the women who works at FashionABLE. My current fall favorite is the Eden scarf.

4. Boots; they go with everything...skirts, dresses, over leggings or jeans. They’re easy to get on and off in the car, and my oh my they always look good. I always bring a pair of good boots on the road. I’ve found a few vintage, pre-loved gems over the course of our travels -  easy on the feet and the wallet.

5. A chambray shirt! Talk about a utilitarian wardrobe piece. My chambray shirt from Zara is a workhorse. It’s like a light jacket in the summer, a great top in the fall, and an incredible layering piece for the winter. I keep trying to see if I can pack for a trip without it, and I’ve yet to succeed.

Thank you, sweet Ellie! We're counting down the days until your next album release - go get 'em!

p.s. Hear from last week's Everyday Icon on the love she experienced from an online community as her boyfriend battled cancer.