While many artists these days spend half their records trying to convince you just how country they are, it is refreshing when an artist comes along who knows exactly who he is. Drake Jensen, who releases his second studio album “OUTlaw” March 12, is that artist.
Growing up in Canada, Jensen was immersed in country music. “I was raised on Merle Haggard, George Strait, John Conlee, Ronnie Milsap and Charlie Pride,” Jensen said. “A lot of my singing style was adapted from my early days of listening to that kind of music.”
As a child, Jensen experienced extensive bullying. “My experience with bullying was pretty grave,” Jensen admitted. “No one intervened and I basically left school in grade 8 -- it was that bad.”
“The one thing I’ve wanted to do with my music is incorporate that and help people. I want people to know that beyond what happens to you that it doesn’t have to affect the rest of your life. I have a song called ‘Scars’ on the new album that is probably one of the most riveting things I’ve ever done. It sums up my childhood. When you listen to it, you’ll hear this incredible emotion embedded in the vocal.”
While Jensen admits to getting over childhood bullying and jokes about the 5 years of therapy to prove it, he is quick to point out that bullying is not exclusive to children. “The music business is the most brutal business in the world and I’ve put myself out there at 43 years old in this business. I want to expose the fact that bullying is existent everywhere and people try to bully me and tell me ‘I can’t sing’ or that ‘I’m ugly’ or ‘my songs are terrible’.”
Jensen laments that most of the criticism he receives comes from the GLBT community. “I want people to know that our community is not all rainbows and ice cream scoops. I will be the one that stands up and fights against this. I’ve grown strong from this experience. I ran away once but I’m not going to run away again.”
That strength is evident in several of the songs on Jensen’s forthcoming record. The first single from that album, “When It Hurts Like That,” is reminiscent of 90s country radio. There is an authenticity in the lyrics and the vocal delivery that leaves the listener feeling like they too are sitting there with Jenson on a Friday night getting that drunken phone call. The exploding,soaring chorus is sure to leave listeners matching Jensen’s gusto note for note.
“Checotah, Oklahoma” may be Jensen’s favorite track on the album. “I think it’s probably one of the first ever gay country songs. It came over a good bottle wine one night.” The tracks opens with the verse “Every cowboy’s got a story and a secret he’s learned to hide/Maybe he’s tough in chaps and leather with a different kind of pride,” before unfolding into an emotional chorus about maintaining identity in a town where no one knows who you truly are. Due in part to Jensen’s lyrics and in part to his uncanny ability to interpret lyrics, the track will definitely be a highlight on the album for GLBT fans.
While both of those tracks showcase a serious side, Jensen knows how to get loose and have a good time. Jensen has a special affection for drag queens. “I love a good drag show. It’s an integral part to our community.” Jensen references teaming up with Willam from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to cover Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man”. Yes, that Tammy Wynette.
“From the get-go I thought people are either going to take this the right way or the wrong way,” Jensen said. “We all know that’s an iconic song but I reasoned with myself that Tammy Wynette was a hairdresser and chances are she knew an awful lot of gay men and had a good sense of humor.”
“This was a great LGBT interpretation of the song. It was camp but it has a very serious undertone … we need to stand by each other. It’s the one thing we need to learn how to do in the LGBT community. No matter who we are, we have to put our differences aside and stand together.” Jensen’s fears were assuaged when the son of the Wynette family lawyer contacted him and told him that they loved the version and Tammy would too is she were alive.
As Jensen gears up for record release, he hopes to come back to Nashville during Pride and perform. “I loved my time in Nashville and the people there. I’ll be back.” And we’ll be front row to see the OUTlaw perform.