The man behind the music

In a time when alt. country borders on formulaic, Drew Vass offers a dose of homegrown originality. His simple playing style speaks of country roots, while his improvisations whisper jazz. Meanwhile, his lyrics figuratively place Bible and whiskey, fact and fiction side by side.

Vass describes himself as a bit of a “sophisticated country boy,” admitting that you might find him on an old tractor, or splitting wood, but most likely in (dirt-stained) kakis and a button-down shirt, which he suggests more or less sums up his personality. He holds a degree in English and is on newsstands nationwide as a professional writer and journalist, but says you’re more likely to catch him listening to Willie Nelson on vinyl than delving into a literary classic.

Vass’s musical background spans more than 25 years, ranging from banging on his childhood guitar to studying music theory. He started out by playing saxophone and learning to read and write music, before his creative instincts shifted him toward self-learning and improvisation, most notably on bass guitar and guitar.

“I started out in what I guess you’d call the right way, but my early experiences with jazz shifted me toward a new approach to music – one that feels more natural and instinctive for me,” he says.

Vass’s lyrics are tightly laced with country living (he grew up on a small horse farm in rural Virginia) and the early influences of southern Baptist culture, but those elements are set free by double entendre and improvisation. His father was an avid horseman and a successful business man, who Vass says “never stopped working.” His mother came from the hills of southwest Virginia, where he says, “You killed it, grew it, or you didn’t get to eat it,” then moved to the city with one month’s rent in her pocket.

Released in January 2010, Vass’s initial album, “rudimentary,” reflects life experiences through a collection of what he describes as “half-baked and roughly finished song ideas,” meant to fling him into the songwriting arena. His recordings include everything from acoustic guitar, bass and drums, to a vintage tenor saxophone – all played by the songwriter himself. In his 30s, he says life came full circle, when he married his high school sweetheart, moved back to rural Virginia and became the proud father of two, concluding that, “For the most part, my song remains the same.”