Get To Know: Drake Milligan [Exclusive Interview]

Milligan's debut EP might be one of the best releases of the year...

Written by Jeremy Chua
Get To Know: Drake Milligan [Exclusive Interview]
Drake Milligan; Photo credit: Jay Blakesberg

A Texas native who possesses George Strait’s storytelling prowess, Elvis Presley’s charm and a deep reverence for the genre’s forefathers and the trail they’ve blazed. That, perhaps, is one way to describe rising singer/songwriter, Drake Milligan. 

The newly-signed BBR Music Group artist recently released his self-titled debut EP, and it is one that finds him proudly embracing the warm nostalgia of good ol’ traditional country music.

From start to end, Milligan’s project cohesively captures the heart and soul of country music, both lyrically and sonically. After all, when sheer talent is paired with the impeccable production work of Brandon Hood and the legendary, award-winning Tony Brown (Strait, Reba, Vince Gill), its amalgamating product is bound to be nothing short of perfection.

The tight five-song sampler features plenty of fiddle and steel guitar, with Milligan’s rich baritone melodically narrating each cut. It boasts raw twang, potent instrumentation, and an organic sound that takes listeners back to the yesteryears of country. 

“Sounds Like Something I’d Do” is a rollicking anthem that drips with 80’s and 90’s country swagger, while the feel-good “Kiss Goodbye All Night” fleshes out the influence Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn and Presley have had on Milligan’s artistry. Elsewhere on the EP, the 23-year-old also pays homage to Roy Orbison, Dwight Yoakam and Strait on “Don’t Look Down” and “She”- two romantic ballads that display his more tender, romantic side. 

The EP’s strongest track however, is “Over Drinkin’ Under Thinkin’.” Coming in at just over three minutes, this infectious, throwback country song is a standout that will hook listeners on their first listen—and has the makings of a bonafide hit single. 

With Milligan’s authenticity breathing new life into the familiar high lonesome sound, this debut collection arrives as one of the finest offerings from a newcomer yet. 

Sounds Like Nashville got to have an in-depth chat with the talented newcomer about his journey to Nashville, influences, creating the debut EP, working with Tony Brown, and much more.

Introducing the next artist you have to “Get to Know”: Drake Milligan

SLN: We’re so excited to get to know your story, Drake! So, to start, what was your life like growing up in Fort Worth, Texas? Did you listen to a lot of country music?

Drake Milligan: I grew up with both of my parents’ music. My dad runs a scrap metal recycling yard and my mom’s a veterinarian. We had all the George Jones, Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson and George Strait CDs. One of my first loves in music were George Strait’s CDs, which [my dad] always had in his car. My mom was cool too. She had all the Waylon Jennings and outlaw stuff that she loved. And then when I was about 7 or 8, I discovered Elvis and just thought he was the coolest thing ever. I tried to find everything I could about Elvis, researched all of his movies, songs and dance moves, which grew into me trying to sing like him throughout high school. That was my gig- traveling as an Elvis tribute artist. But all the while, I was playing traditional country songs as well. And then I got into [acting on] CMT’s Sun Records. I was lucky enough to be part of that and figured after the show, I’d move to Nashville to try to make my way as a songwriter and a singer. So, here I am!

Who are your biggest musical influences?

George Strait and Elvis Presley are two of my main influences. Especially being from Texas, George Strait is the man, the guy and the king of country! With the king [of country] and the king [of Rock ‘n’ Roll], you can’t go wrong! So, if I had two guys to aim toward, I wanna be somewhere in between them.

Was there a moment in your life that made you certain you wanted to become a country singer?

I have always loved singing those George Jones and Alan Jackson songs. That’s where my heart is. Some of my favorite stuff from Elvis are his gospel hits and country songs. They were always my favorite Elvis songs to sing. So, country has always been what I gravitated towards. But it wasn’t until after Sun Records that I decided I wanted to [be a country artist]. That’s when I made the move to Nashville, threw myself into songwriting and, in the process of being in the studio, learned my own style of music as well.

Word has it that you’re a country music history buff as well? That’s somewhat rare for a young guy like you! What sparked that interest? 

Well, I’ve always been into history. In school, my favorite subject was history. So I’ve always gravitated toward that. But I think more than anything, once I moved to Nashville, I wanted to learn everything about what I was throwing myself into. I wanted to know who came before me. It became really fun for me to be working with these studio musicians who played on some of my favorite records. I never knew who they were until I moved to Nashville. So, that kinda opened the door for me to look behind the scenes of my favorite songs and artists. For every one artist, there are maybe 50 people behind the scenes, as far as songwriters, musicians and other people go. It’s become a passion of mine recently to find out everything I can about these older studio musicians, who played on my favorite records, who produced it, and who is the A&R at the record label that made this. (laughs) 

Now, how did you end up signing a record deal with BBR Music Group? 

When I first moved into town, someone knew Sarah Knabe (VP of A&R) at BBR Music Group. I went in and played a couple songs for them. They were very generous to take my meeting and I guess they saw something in me, kinda like “He needs to do a lot of work, but something’s there.” We had stayed in contact and maybe six months to a year later, I had come back with more songs I’d been writing and working with Brandon [Hood] on. We’d been writing a bunch of stuff and demo-ing these songs, trying to do all the pre-work for a record. So I went in there, played the songs for them, they loved it, and I got offered and signed a development deal. They’ve been awesome to work with. They really let me, Brandon and Tony take the reins on finding songs. We looked for a ton of songs and I was lucky to find out that my songs were unique and good enough [for the record]. 

Speaking of Tony Brown, you got to work with the legendary producer for your debut EP! How did the two of you even cross paths?

Tony had watched me on Sun Records and loved my performance on the show. He contacted me shortly after that and wanted to get together in Nashville to just meet, which we did. When I eventually moved to town, I told him, “Hey Tony, do you mind if I come in and play you some of my country stuff?” So I did and he loved it and said, “Man we got a lot of work to do, but let’s work together and try to make a record.” I just learned a ton from Tony. He’s one of these guys, like I said, when I was a kid, I never knew who Tony was. He had obviously impacted my life when he produced all those George Strait records that I loved. He also produced Steve Earle, and Vince Gill and played with Elvis. He was somebody I had been, in a way, influenced by all of my life. 

How has it been like working with him? 

I just love hanging out with Tony! His experiences are really invaluable to me because he’s lived it. He’s been an A&R guy, been a producer and been a player. He’s so respected by all these musicians, so it’s cool to see. I think the magic of Tony and his success is being able to recognize really good hit songs and making an impact. Not just making hit records, but making records that really change country music and music. There’s some kind of force about Tony that’s just infectious! It’s also cool to see him totally excited about my stuff and think what I’m doing is great. Working with Tony has definitely been a confidence booster.

Was there a vision you had in mind as you recorded this EP?

I wanted to pay homage to some of my favorite artists like Elvis, George Strait, Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam by combining those influences and making [it my own]. There are some things I showcased with my [vocal] range and what I can do on songs like “Don’t Look Down” and “She,” which are ballads with nice melodies. I also wanted to show my Texas side, especially growing up in Billy Bob’s Texas, going to honky-tonks and listening to honky-tonk music. Songs like “Over Drinkin, Under Thinkin’” is my homage to Texas and growing up in those honky-tonks, listening to guys like Gary Stewart. “Sounds Like Somethin’ I’d Do” is a rockin’ song and the perfect bookend. You can either open or close a show with it. With “Kiss Goodbye All Night,” really, I just wanted to make a Shania Twain song. (laughs) I love those Shania records! Me and [my producer] Brandon used those shuffles since we’re big Shania fans as well. With this EP, I wanted to incorporate a little bit of everything and give everybody a taste of all that I can bring to the table.

The EP opens with a straight-up rollicking traditional-leaning song called “Over Drinkin’ Under Thinkin’.” Would you talk about co-writing that one? Was it intentionally set as the opening track?

It was once we had that song. I wrote it with two of my favorite writers in town, Brett Beavers and Brice Long. They had brought in the idea and the hook of “over drinkin’ under thinkin’” and I was like, “I love it, let’s go for it. Let’s not hold back, let’s go full country!” I always loved that when Brooks & Dunn first came out, they came out with “I saw the light, I’ve been baptised” on “Brand New Man,” which started with the chorus. It’s like, “Here we are, and here’s what we have to bring to the table.” I just wanted to do that with “Over Drinkin Under Thinkin’.” It starts with the chorus and you’re like, “OK, this guy is obviously probably from Texas, loves country music and wants to make a country record.” Once we had that song, we figured it would be a great one to lead off with. 

“Don’t Look Down” is just a beautiful romantic ballad that draws heavily on that traditional country influence. It reminds me of Dwight Yoakam, Clint Back, and even a bit of Buck Owens. I’d imagine it as a perfect fit in an old western movie. Could you talk about co-writing that as well?

I went in with John Pierce and Brandon Hood, who co-produced this EP. John came in with the idea for “Don’t Look Down.” Brandon and I have this thing where he knows my influences and I know his, so he knows what direction I’d love to go. When he started with a little bit of that Roy Orbison melody, it was game on! It was a pretty quick song to write and it’s just one of my favorites to sing. It’s got that melody in the chorus that brings you up and brings you back down. It’s more of a homage to guys like you said—Dwight Yoakam or even Elvis, where it has that very cool, thematic thing to it. It’s probably one of my favorites to sing on stage.

The final song on the EP, “Sounds Like Somethin’ I’d Do,” is a fun, up-tempo country anthem. It would sound so amazing live! Are you excited about that one and just playing it live out on the road?

We did a few shows in Vegas because I’ve been chompin’ to bits to play these songs for people. We recorded them last year, but I haven’t been able to play them live to get a reaction. We played all these in Vegas a couple weeks ago and it was cool to see that by the last verse, people were singing along to some of these songs. “Sounds Like Somethin’ I’d Do” was our closer. It’s definitely another one of my favorites to play live. I wrote it with Brett Beavers and Terry McBride, and Brett did all those early Dierks Bentley records that I loved. I wanted to pay homage to some of that and pull some out of Brett and he definitely brought it. It was cool to finally see that reaction that you hope to have, and I’m ready to get out there and play for more people! 

Now, speaking of Dwight Yoakam, I know you have some shows opening up for him soon. How excited are you about that?

Well, it’s so cool because he’s obviously an influence [of mine]! There are so many songs on this record that you can look and go, “Wow, it’s kinda like a Dwight Yoakam thing!” It’s cool to be able to be a part of that. It can be a little daunting as you try to go in there and impress him, but more than anything, I think the crowd’s gonna be perfect for my stuff, because people still do want that sound in country music. I’m really looking forward to getting in front of his crowd, seeing their reaction and trying to win their approval!

What else can fans expect from you for the rest of the year?

I’m getting out there on the road, that’s for sure! I’m like a tiger in a cage, just ready to get out. (laughs) I’ve got a great band put together with some amazing guys. I just want to be able to get out there and play as many shows as possible. Any time I’m back in Nashville, I’m writing tons of songs. We got some songs in the shoot to release. I just can’t wait to get out there and play more of these songs for people. I hope this EP does well enough to where we can make another one and keep on going!

Just as a fun bonus question before we wrap things up: what country song, not of yours, would you say best encompasses who you are in a nutshell?

Probably Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old!” (laughs) Nah, I’m kidding! Well, it would probably be a George Strait song. I’ve always loved “Cowboys Like Us.” It’s always been one of my favorites. 

Lastly, if there is one thing you want fans to know about Drake Milligan both as a person and an artist, what would it be?

Well, I just love country music! The more I’m actively involved in it, the more I love it. The more I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I get to be around all these musicians and songwriters all day,” and being in a town where all this history is, the more I love it.

Fans can keep up with Milligan on Instagram here and stream his new self-titled debut EP below.