Get to know the Martin Showcase class of 2024: Drayton Farley

Get to know the Martin Showcase class of 2024: Drayton Farley

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Drayton Farley is part of Martin’s Showcase class of 2024: find out more about the Showcase programme at, and in this year’s Martin Journal.
Drayton Farley makes uncompromising and raw Americana, inspired by the greats such as John Prine and James McMurtry. After releasing a few EPs, Drayton’s first album A Hard Up Life was written while he worked on an assembly line, and recorded with just one microphone and one guitar in his bedroom.
With such a raw sound, his expressive songwriting voice was on full display, and so it’s maybe no surprise that its tenser, more frustrated songs such as American Dream and Pitchin’ Fits resonated with listeners and found Drayton an audience, to the point where he could quit his day-job and do music full time.
His second album expanded on his sound. Produced by the 400 Unit’s Sadler Vaden, Drayton is joined by a full band on Twenty On High – but despite the fuller production, Drayton’s songwriting kept its unflinching impact, buoyed along by his expressive voice and deft guitar playing.
We spoke to Drayton about his unconventional journey into the world of Americana, breaking out with his self-recorded debut and, of course, the value of sad country songs.
What started your journey with music and the guitar?
When I was 10 years old, my older sister got one of those cheap classical guitars that come in a bundle off an infomercial and started teaching herself how to play. She was a little older than me, so she was going out with boyfriends and things like that – when she would leave, I would sneak into her room and play that guitar.
I had taught myself a little more than she knew, you know, and eventually I let her know that I had been sneaking into her room and playing her guitar. She was a little mad that I was going through her stuff – but she ended up giving me the guitar. I kept playing and learning chords, just getting familiar with the neck.
Eventually I graduated to a better guitar, a steel-string one – and after four years of really horrible Nirvana covers, I got my first electric guitar, and discovered metal and hard rock – bands like Chevelle and A Day To Remember. That morphed into this love for metalcore and hardcore. And so I got a nicer electric guitar, and started a few bands in high school – just playing metal.
Guitar was always just that thing that was mine that no one else could have. I could let other people into that world, but I didn’t have to – it was the bedroom door that no one could tell me I couldn’t lock. I would go to school and just think about getting home to play guitar. All of my friends, they would play baseball and football after school – I would go home, shut myself in my room and just play guitar for the rest of the day.
When did you discover Americana music?
I was almost graduating high school, and hadn’t really touched acoustic guitar in a long time just because I was so infatuated with metal. And then I suddenly discovered the world that I now exist in professionally: the singer songwriter, country-folk Americana world. Artists like John Prine, Jason, Isbell and James McMurtry. That all really turned me back around to the acoustic guitar – I didn’t own an electric guitar for four or five years.
After that, I just started writing songs and going out to perform. I’m from the Birmingham, Alabama area, but I grew up in a town called Woodstock – 30 minutes west of Birmingham. And it’s very country, it’s not city at all. But I’m just a kid out of school, I didn’t have a car, so I couldn’t exactly get to the city to play bar gigs.

So I ended up taking a job working for the railroad, which allowed me to travel on a weekly basis, and so after work, I would just find open mics, or find bands playing in bars and ask to play when they took a break. I was just playing these songs that I’d been writing in hotel rooms.
I eventually quit that job and moved back home. The traveling got tiring – I got married pretty young, so it was a little stressful just not seeing my wife. So when I moved home, I took another job that would keep me at home every day.
But at this point in my life, I’m a grown man. Now, I have a car and I can drive and go do gigs and go to bars, and so I started booking these three or four-hour long bar gigs – just playing in the corner with a TV showing sports above me. Bars, breweries, restaurants: pretty much anywhere that would pay me a hundred dollars to sit in the corner for four hours and play music.
Eventually I’d written enough songs and became confident enough as a songwriter that I just recorded and released my own album by myself, A Hard Up Life. That was Just me and my acoustic guitar. I’d done two EPs the same way, but nothing had really happened with them. But when I released the album, given that I was an independent artist that literally no one knew, there were a few songs from it that were very successful.
They’re not like, gold or platinum or anything like that – but they did well enough to take me from this day job. Now, my day job is music, I’m a touring musician and have another record out. I’ve had a lot of really really cool things happen in the last few years that have helped me validate where I’m at, and reach a whole lot of people.
Your song Pitchin’ Fits is a particular success story from that album – why do you think it resonated with people?
It was a really tense climate in America in 2021. It didn’t matter where you went, there was just this sense of dread that blanketed things. But that’s also something every person feels at some point, regardless of where they are or who they are. It’s a human being thing.
I mean, it wasn’t anything I did intentionally – that song was really just me venting. I was throwing my thoughts onto a piece of paper, writing to get them out of my head. When I sat down to record and figure out how to deliver it, I wanted it to come across in this angsty way. It’s super thrashy strumming, and I’m practically screaming the song rather than singing it. Really, the song was just this culmination of where we were at, with everything going on in the world – everything was this new level of stress.

So I think it was the rawness that made it really easy for people to believe the song. It’s as raw as you can get – just me, a guitar and one mic. You put reverb on the vocals, you put it on the guitar, too!
You’ve got an early song that kind of predicts that appetite for rawer, bleaker music – Make Country Music Sad Again
Historically country music has been a more somber thing, it came straight from the blues, you know. I’m not actually saying “don’t make happy country music” – do what you wanna do. The root for me as an artist, the way that I approach it, I definitely find more inspiration in the negatives. That’s where I feel like the best art is created from. I was talking to a friend the other day about a Tanya Tucker song – and he said that the best songs are written from “one person’s broken heart”. And I was like “that’s it!”. Because sometimes you can see 12 songwriters on one song these days.
How did you keep the spirit of that raw approach when expanding your sound to a full band on Twenty On High?
Writing the album, I wrote it in the same way I’d written every song I’d ever written before. I’d just go about my day and get an idea and write it down. I probably wrote that record over the span of a year.
When I spoke to Sadler Vaden about producing, I only had one stipulation, and that was we didn’t change what I wrote. I wanted to be 100 percent the songwriter. I didn’t want to change the melodies. I didn’t want to change the lyrics. I just wanted to work with what I had. And the band would just be playing to elevate the song.
What was it like working with the band in the studio?
I didn’t know any of the guys personally before going in. Along with Sadler, Matt Ross-Spang engineered, Jimbo Hart played bass, Chad Gamble was on drums, Peter Levin was on keys and Kristin Weber played fiddle. At some point or another during the process, they all told me they were there to serve my song – so I felt extremely comfortable with that.
And I trust Sadler as a producer, too. I just wanted to bring my songs and my voice to the studio – I let him take more control and decide what he thought would sound best in terms of layers. There were some things where we tweaked things, you know, took a couple verses out of a few songs because they were too long, and another needed another verse – so I just wrote one in the studio.
That was my first experience being in a studio and, it was – I really don’t know another way to put it – just magical. I’ll never forget the moment, like having the headphones on and hearing those songs of mine being played with a full band, in real time, for the very first time.
Do you think that your time playing metal influenced your acoustic playing?
I’m not really sure what influence it has had. I guess, to me, metal guitar is all in the picking hand, the gallops and so on. So it leaves the left hand free in my head to go off and do weird things. I do know that if you just strum the guitar all the time it’s going to get boring quick. I certainly try to decorate a lot of the space in between the chord progressions, especially if it’s going to be a slower song. Most of the time that means just playing off of whatever chord it is, adding some delicate little slide or hammer on or pull off.
One thing that ties the music that I’m into together is lyrics. I want to call myself a songwriter before I want to call myself a guitar player or a singer. So when I listen to metal, it is this different, vast world – but bands like Kublai Khan, Gideon, Knocked Loose – I’m into them for the lyrical content. I could almost take any of their songs and make it a folk song. That’s my link between those two worlds.
About Martin’s Spotlight programme
Artists are the lifeblood of Martin Guitar. From Johnny Cash to Joan Baez, countless influential musicians helped make Martin what it is today. Now, Martin has set its sights on the next generation of musicians with the new Artist Showcase. The program aims to celebrate artists who are making waves in the industry, and serves as a platform to connect the artists with Martin’s global audience.
Six artists are kicking off the Spotlight for 2024. They are Drayton Farley, Devon Gilfillian, Ian Munsick, Joy Oldakun, Nate Smith and Hailey Whitters, and together they represent the wide span of music being made on Martin guitars: from soulful vintage R&B to eclectically-influenced pop, and from uplifting country rock to raw, unflinching Americana. In this series of interviews, sits down with the six artists that make up the class of 2024.
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