Drew Clausen is down-to-earth, country-inspired, and taking the Chicagoland area (and soon, songwriting) by storm.
If you know me personally, you know I’m pretty blunt, say what’s on my mind, and am constantly battling my RBF (the long, drawn out medical term is technically “resting bitch face”). So when my dad and I were hanging out at Nobel House on a Thursday night and I saw Drew Clausen grab a seat at the bar after his set, I tried to wipe off the RBF as much as possible and struck up a conversation. A few minutes in, I told him he really needed to consider sitting down with me for my blog, and lucky for me, he agreed! My dad, Drew, and I chatted for an hour or so, exchanged business cards, and set a future date to meet. I haven’t featured a local musical talent yet, so I was super excited about the opportunity.
Drew had an upcoming set at Vintage 53 (which I LOVE – you can read more about it here), so I thought it’d be great to reach out to owner Mario Grado to see if we could grab a few shots inside. Mario was all about it, so Drew and I met to chat about his story and snag some photos for this post.
Usually people are a little uncomfortable with getting their picture taken, but if Drew felt awkward, I sure didn’t notice. I wanted to capture Drew in his element and explained to him what type of shots I was going for. He got right to it – opened his red velvet lined guitar case, pushed aside his set lists, grabbed a pick, and started strumming away. Talk about a natural!
He laughed as he was choosing a pick from the metal tin he keeps his stash in. Drew explained he was checking out at Trader Joe’s one day, saw the tin of ginger mints, and thought it would make a great case for picks. The mints didn’t turn out all that great, but the idea for the tin’s future purpose stuck – he’s been using it ever since! It might be random, but it is memorable.
Drew’s story of music started back when he was just a kid. With three older brothers, Drew had a lot to live and look up to! He followed their footsteps in football and baseball, and when one of his brothers showed musical talent, Drew set out to do the same. He started out on the family piano, teaching himself how to play by sound alone and without any formal training. When high school hit, he switched gears and picked up his older brother Greg’s trombone. Drew had zero experience with this instrument, so the music teacher essentially put him in a room alone for six months to practice on his own since he was so far behind. Many kids would give up or feel self-conscious, but Drew worked hard learning quarter notes and basic skills and found himself in the head chair in no time! His passion for music continued all throughout high school.
When college came, Drew opted to study music at the University of Illinois. During his first year he played with their jazz band and formed an acapella group with his fraternity brothers. Soon, though, he struggled with the thought of being a starving artist and hunting for sporadic work for years to come. He opted to switch his major, pursue a career in architecture and sales, and save music as a passion project along the way.
From there, life happened (as it does to us all) and Drew soon found himself enjoying a wonderful family and coaching his daughters’ soccer teams. His schedule was full, so music took a backseat for a bit. When he could, Drew hooked up a keyboard to his computer and spent as much time as possible creating music. His schedule became more flexible when his daughters hit high school, and Drew took advantage of the extra free time by rediscovering some of his talents.
Sure, Drew loved creating new sounds on the keyboard, but every time he wanted to play he had a ton of wires to connect, monitors to start up, etc. This little annoyance drove him to explore the guitar more often. He loved that he could take it out and play right away – anywhere! It is easy for him to play at home, visit a park on a Sunday, or take it to his latest show. There’s always something new for him to learn on the guitar, and finds playing to be soothing and therapeutic.
It wasn’t until he was out walking one night in downtown Geneva that the thought of solo performances seriously came to mind. He heard music sounding from a local spot, stopped in, and ended up watching local artist Dennis O’Brien play his set. Drew was impressed by the performance and thought to himself, “I wonder if I could do this, too!” He struck up a conversation with the artist after the set and became inspired to give performing a shot. The desire to play live in front of an audience had been brewing for a while, but Drew felt this “aha” moment was what really pushed him forward.
Drew wanted to venture away from the local area to try out this new idea (he didn’t tell any family or friends at first), so he did a quick Google search and found a spot in Chicago with an open mic night. He made his way to the little listening room in the back of the restaurant and took a deep breath. Some people were there covering songs by popular artists, while others were showcasing their own songwriting skills. He was nervous, but knew he could do it!
Drew explained he pretty much blacked out his entire experience on stage due to nerves, but got the anxiety out of his system and soon graduated to performing at Bally Doyle in Downers Grove (this time in front of friends). From there, he began playing at other local open mic nights, accepting invitations to open for bands, and connecting with other musicians. He was constantly learning new songs, developing his country style, and pushing his own limits. He found it challenging and rewarding, and knew it was something he wanted to pursue further.
Drew knew he had to get out and find chances to play in order to do this. He has spent most of his day-job career in sales, so he really doesn’t have any problem talking to new people. Sure, it was a little intimidating pounding the pavement and asking to book shows at first, but he applied his marketing experience and quickly scored opportunities to play at many of the local spots. Now, when he plays, he often has people approach him after his set with a chance to play at a new venue.
Drew says he is constantly surprised by his audience. The guy he thought wasn’t enjoying his performance ends up shaking his hand at the end of the night and tipping him, and he’s even had someone approach him to play at an upcoming wedding. He loves meeting people organically in this way, and feels connected to the community when he talks with local residents after shows.
Pulling inspiration from artists such as Brett Eldredge, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, and Dan + Shay, Drew designs his set lists by choosing songs that sound great on the guitar, without all the fuss of a large band and electronics behind them. He likes putting his twist on songs like “Raise ‘Em Up” by Eric Church and Keith Urban, and is aiming to tackle the world of songwriting next. In fact, he’s headed to a songwriting convention in Nashville soon! Beyond that, Drew hopes to add new venues to his list, score opportunities to open for well-known artists, and share his music as often as possible.
You can find Drew playing at plenty of local spots, such as Vintage 53. Be sure to visit his website for a list of his upcoming shows and chat him up while he's enjoying his favorite drink after a performance. If you have a special event you'd like to book him for, shoot him a message via Facebook or his site - he'll get back to you right away.
A big thanks to Drew for sharing his story and being game for my blog idea! I can't wait to hear him play at one of my favorite spots again soon!