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Maxim chats to Country star Drake White about his new album, manifestation, and what he learned from the scariest moment of his life.
I watched your TEDx talk about the aftermath of your on-stage stroke in 2019. You said that a key part of your recovery process was imagining yourself in the future being able to walk again and focussing on the hope that brought. How do you balance the drive to make tomorrow better whilst also being content with today?
It’s not an easy thing to do. There’s a constant push and pull of gratitude and drive with me. That’s what the injury put in perspective - it helped me focus on what I do have, and how to make the best out of that. I know it sounds very cliche. But when you’ve been through a near death experience, and you’ve managed to maintain an optimistic attitude even though you’re learning how to walk again at 36, then it gives you the authority to speak about this. We need to learn from people that have had experiences that we haven’t. By the same token, we need to be mindful of our elders and quit glorifying youth so much. Being young and being in the moment is great - but the Instagram-quick lifestyle is not what life’s about.
You touch on this idea in ‘50 Years Too Late’. There’s something appealing about looking back to a simpler time and the nostalgia that comes with that, especially given the pace of the world today. If you could re-introduce just one aspect of ‘the good ol' days’ into modern life, what would that be?
Picking up the phone and actually talking to each other. When you have the thought of ‘I wonder how mom’s doing’ or ‘I wonder how my buddy’s doing’, you pick up the phone and ask them. Also, when a pressured situation comes up and you need to make a call, don’t dance around that with technology. Just picking up the phone or knocking on their front door is so much easier. I miss that about the old cowboy ways where you didn’t really have to guess what somebody thought - they would tell you! I think life is a lot easier when you know what the truth is, and today the truth is getting harder to decipher. As great as social media is - and I do see the benefits of it - it’s making it more difficult to depict reality. Discernment takes observation and actually listening to somebody and forming the opinion on your own, and not letting somebody else speak for you. This is what the pandemic decimated. That connection is exactly what humans - introverted or extroverted - need to survive: communication and conversations are what make us human. There’s something I’m drawn to about the old days. A lot of us run from difficult conversations, I understand that - nobody wants that. But I do feel like I’m pretty good at picking up the damn phone and saying ‘What's our problem, how can we solve this’, and ending the conversation with love, respect and dignity.
I love ‘Rainbow State of Mind’, especially how we get this peaceful, mellow vibe following straight on from the intensity of ‘American Thunder’. How did this song come about, and what does it mean to have a ‘Rainbow State of Mind’?
I love the juxtaposition of that two-song stretch on the album. What is a rainbow? In my belief, a rainbow is God’s way of telling us that everything’s going to be alright. It is something bigger than you - it is a sign, it is a symbol. I wrote that with Dan O’Roarke. The sonic vibe it puts you in is Muscle Shoals meets a soulful 60s/70s sound. You might go through hell, but just know there’s always a rainbow on the other side. Keep that faith and that heart. Sonically, it’s one of my favourites on the record. And it’s hard to keep a rainbow state of mind. Some days you don’t want to hear some dude on a motivational podcast, you don’t want to get up and stretch, you don’t want to do anything to better yourself. But you have to. I went through the hardest thing I’ve ever been through with the stroke, but it produced a record. Am I glad the stroke happened? Yeah, I’m glad it happened. I wouldn’t be the person I am today and I wouldn’t have made this project without it. That’s the rainbow state of mind, man.
You’ve spoken about the relentless faith that kept you going through the aftermath of your stroke. You defied your doctor’s diagnosis that you’d never perform again with the sheer strength of your belief. Was that drive something you’ve always had, or is that something that you were forced to dig into and develop when you had the stroke?
I think I’ve always been a glass-half-full person. But let me preface this by saying there were extremely, extremely hard days where I was not optimistic at all. I was very angry that I was going through what I was going through. You’re always going to have those days, and you have to get out of them - it may take a day, three days, it may take a week. But I had to rely on something bigger and believe, which takes faith. Why would God bring me through it otherwise? I could not have made it without my belief in God and my belief in prayer. Prayer works - I am living proof. I prayed every day to be able to hold my wife’s hand and to be able to get back on stage. This was a test with God saying, ‘You’ve always been optimistic, now you’ve got the chance to put your money where your mouth’s at’. I looked at it as an opportunity to show the world that, even though you can go through something as heartbreaking as being paralysed, you can still come out the other side better than you were before. I felt dead, but I kept chipping and kept going. I said to somebody the other day, ‘Keep hammering’, and they said, ‘But my hammer’s worn out!’ I said, ‘Well, you gotta forge a new one!’ You’ve got to find the strength to do that. It came from a higher power, it came from God, it came from Jesus. You have to realise that there is something bigger out there that is responsible for picking you up off the ground. Because I didn’t feel like getting off the ground, man. I didn’t. I had a great group around me - I know my purpose is songwriting, and my wife put the pen back in my hand at times like, ‘Hey, just write. Write your frustrations’. I encourage anybody out there to just go and listen to the birds, look at the sun, and write about it. If you’re not a writer, then go talk to somebody. If you’re not a talker, then go run. If you’re not a runner, find something that gives you fuel to keep going. You’ve got to find the point, and it is other people - it is witnessing and being a light to other people.
I think the album is epitomised by the message of ‘Hurts the Healing’, which is all about seeing our pain and struggles as being the experiences that teach us the most in life. Now that it’s been a couple of years since you had the stroke and you’ve recovered, now that life is back to ‘normal’, how easy is it to hold onto those lessons, and not slip back into the patterns that preceded that experience?
That’s a great question. It’s a daily challenge. I haven’t conquered life by any means, just because I went through this. I have to remind myself to stay in gratitude - you’re not entitled to anything. Everybody out there has problems. You were built to thrive, you were built to write songs, to love your wife, to tell the story. Don’t try to save the entire world, just go out and give the guy on the corner a dollar, you know? Go take the trash out. Do something for somebody else, get out of your head. Now I have the tools and a relentless muse that I can go back to, and I’m so thankful to be sitting here on this sunny day on my back porch listening to the birds, and that I’m able to pursue music. But it still creeps in - “Man, I wish I could run two miles”, “Man, I wish I could move my left leg as fluently as I used to”. It’s there, and it ain’t going nowhere, but I’ve learned to deal with those thoughts like traffic on a highway. I’m sitting up on a hill looking at it, but those thoughts are real, and that car is real. If you go down and step in front of it, you’re gonna get hit! So just stay up on that hill, just observe each negative thought, thank it for keeping you driven, and let it pass on by, man. Let the bad pass on by and take the good in. That takes a life’s worth of practice, and my ego does get the best of me sometimes. I want to win Grammys, pack out Madison Square Gardens - and I will. I believe that our dreams are God’s way of telling us the future. I’m manifesting it, because I’m saying it’s going to happen. If you keep saying it year after year, whether it’s 15, 20 or 50 years - keep saying it. There’s a reason that dream is there inside you. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing that can replace hard work, you can’t sit on your ass and just think of this stuff. I had to get up this morning at 5:30am and get to the gym, and I had to stretch for an hour first, and all that stuff sucks at 5:30am in the morning. But I do it because I haven’t had kids yet, and I know that if I’m going to be able to lift my kids over my head, then I need more strength than I got right now. As long as you have something to look forward to, then you have hope. Whether you’re at rock bottom or on top of the world, you’ve got to keep hold of that hope. My parents and God’s fingerprints are all over me, and I’m very blessed that I know my purpose.
You talked in a recent podcast about the power of manifestation, and how you’d literally visualise your nerve endings growing back during your recovery. How does this play into both your life and your new album, in terms of having an idea for a song, visualising it and seeing it through to the end?
This is one of my favourite subjects - intention. When I couldn’t walk, I would sit there and imagine myself running. If I couldn't move my toes, I would take my hand and move my toes and see what that felt like. I would imagine myself holding kids, holding Grammys, and I did that with good intention, with good music, things that made me think good thoughts. I would get my phone and play wind chimes that reminded me of my Grandma’s porch. In your phone, you have the biggest library in the world. Then, all of a sudden, I’m standing up - well, that’s progress. Now, I’m taking a step with my right foot. I can’t quite move my left foot yet. Ten, twelve weeks go by, and I start to see my left foot move a little. I imagined becoming muscular again, and then, I found something I could do - a rowing machine. I do it for three, four months. It’s not easy, you will quit, your nervous system tells you to quit. But that’s what you’ve got to push into, and that’s what this record is. There are a lot of fun songs on the record, but the heart of it is pushing into something that is life-threatening and spinning it on its back, and it’s the most life-giving thing that’s happened to me. That’s the ultimate victory for me. Dude, I’ve just started. I’m sure when I pack out Madison Square Gardens, I’ll want to pack out Wembley stadium. But my happiness doesn’t lie in those achievements, my happiness lies in knowing that tomorrow is going to be better than today, and knowing that I’m doing something today to make sure that happens. We can’t control much of anything in this world, but we can control that. I can pick up that piece of paper on the sidewalk and throw it away. I can help the old lady across the street. I can not lash out at my wife for asking me to move my tennis shoes for the fiftieth time. I just want to be better than I was yesterday, and I want to be better for the people around me. If you don’t have those people around you, then that’s where your faith comes in. If you have nothing to grab onto and live for, then the only thing that’s left is God - you’ve got to grasp something that gives you hope.
You started the brilliant Power of a Woman campaign, which spotlights inspirational women and is based on your song of the same name. What inspired you to found this, and how special was it creating this with your wife?
It was very special. The song started as just my wife, Alex, helping me so much during my recovery. It was crazy what she had to give up so that I could do this. We were just sitting around in a Diner one day and I was watching the women work. We had written the song, and Alex said, “What if we just ask your fans to start turning in stories about women that are powerful in their lives, and what their strength, tenacity and drive has meant to them?” We got thousands of submissions - entrepreneurs, helicopter pilots, preachers, engineers, women from all walks of life. They would go something like, ‘Ruth has battled cancer three times, she has nine kids and she’s adopted five more’. This is the perspective shift I was talking about - yes, I had a stroke, but there is somebody out there that has battled the same thing. After the pandemic, it gave me this hope for mankind - we’re all going through this life together, and it’s hard, but it’s a lot easier and more fun together. Through all these stories, it makes you realise that there are more good people than bad, and that’s just the truth.
We’re excited to see you over in the UK this year at The Long Road Fest! What’s your favourite thing about the UK? I’m sure it’s not the weather…!
I love coming over there, my wife loves being over there. I consider myself a nomadic spirit. Every time I’m there I feel this innate vitality, I feel alive because I’m travelling - being well-travelled is education, and education is fulfilment, and fulfilment is joy. It makes me happy to go over there and talk to people from different walks of life. I love the camaraderie over there of ‘Let’s sit down and have a drink.’ I think a lot of people over here in America are striving and everything is built to make money - Europeans have that too, and we’re all the same at the end of the day. But there is this sense of the old country over there, you guys know how to sit down and have a chat over a drink. It’s very endearing and I miss it. I can’t wait to get back over. This world is much bigger than one country or two countries, and this music has blessed me with the opportunity to look in every single nook and cranny of it.
What are your favourite three songs that have a theme of mental wellbeing?
Three Little Birds - Bob Marley
Rescue - Lauren Daigle
Lord I Hope This Day Is Good - Don Williams
All photos by Zack Knudsen
Drake White's new album, 'The Optimystic' is available on all platforms now, and UK fans can catch him at The Long Road Fest this August
Buy print editions of Mindful Melody Issue 12 below!