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Drake Jensen - Across The Gay Divide

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Drake Jensen - Across The Gay Divide
Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Drake Jensen truly is a sui generis. First met him on the occasion of his coming out as Canada first openly gay country artist, striding into classic East Side diner Detroit Eatery , cowboyed all to hell from boots to Stetson, big of voice and personality. That was 2011 and since then, the ‘other’ Drake has upped his musical game both live and recorded, and assumed the position of social gadfly in the LGBQT community.

As an activist and community watchdog, this voice isn’t the warm and amiable baritone of just out new album, Sideshow. It’s a voice that’s both supportive and challenging of the LGBTQ community and he’s not shy about calling out its failings.

“The thing that’s often overlooked by the mainstream is that gays are people. That means that there are wonderful gays that are supportive and helpful and you have gays that bully and exploit other gays. We have the same range of behaviours as the mainstream, maybe a shade more inclusive, but sexual preference doesn’t alter behaviour that much.”

“Are there issues of ageism and racism? Yes. Is the community looking for solutions? For the most part. The ageist issue comes from a lack of respect we see from the young gays who were born into the modern gay world, and forget the sacrifices made and the hurts suffered by those who made the changes they now enjoy.”

The man’s crusading stance is matched by staunch actions to make a difference. He dedicated the video of his single, the title track to his album "On My Way to Finding You", to the memory of Ottawa teenager Jamie Hubley, who committed suicide after having been severely bullied.

In April 2012, Jensen released "Scars", written by Toronto singer/songwriter Don Graham and co-writer Zita DaSilva, and donated the proceeds of digital download sales of this song to Bullying.org. On account of popular demand, the song was included on Jensen's sophomore album, OUTlaw.In 2014 he was given Montreal's Fondation Émergence annual Coup de Chapeau (Hats Off) Awardin recognition of his contribution to the fight against homophobia. To date, ‘Scars’ has logged 263, 435 views.

Inclusivity is big for Drake and he laments the times he’s had to step up and challenge his community on that very issue.

“I think it’s important that you live the inclusivity that we all speak of. And yet, there’s this attitude in some quarters that leads to me being accused of being not gay enough. As I don’t base my artistry on what the community needs to see, what I’m hearing is some sort of obligation to make every song just the gayest thing.

“I’ve been around so I’m able to shake it off but how inclusive does that sound to a young gay artist who doesn’t want to fit any template with his music?”

Five albums deep into his career and with performances across the land, Drake Jensen isn’t getting the respect he feels is deserved. He remains shunned by the Canadian country mainstream, yet to receive an award nomination or play a CCMA sponsored event. Likewise, mainstream country radio continues to resist the Jensen musical charms, although he does admit of late that CBC Radio is coming around.

Even when he catches a break, things can go weirdly wrong.

“World Pride Day, with the eyes of the world on Toronto, I snagged a spot on the mainstage bill. Only to find to my horror that the Pride committee had banned the police from walking in the parade, even as it hired 50 of them to work security. Many of the people they were banning were members of the police LGBTQ liaison committee that worked with the gay community. I was furious, tore up the contract and haven’t been asked back since.”

The irony here is that Jensen works in a musical genre that is possibly popular cultures least inclusive. Most country music fans are white and straight and that determines who gets in or stays out. Drake is having to deal with the fact that country is regressive,that part of his audience may share attitudes he abhors.

“It had not occurred to me that gay people don’t necessarily feel comfortable at country music shows. So I’m feeling like a mole standing in front of this mountain. How do I reconcile the situation? I can build bridges, small ones but bridges between different types of country fans and the music. That is becoming a big part of my current songwriting.”

“Then there’s FACTOR. If you go on factor website, you’ll find boxes for almost every ethnic minority around. However, there are no LGBTQ or Gay boxes. Inclusive, right?

“Just recently, this happened. The people behind Guelph Pride are producing a music festival, the application for which had more to do with how I identified sexually as a person. The application was long and all about sexuality, with scant attention to the musical background. As one of the leading LGBTQ artists in Canada I was declined. I don’t think there is much more to say on this one!! I don’t think it is about the music.”

Jensen carries on the inclusivity even unto the way he creates his music. He is that rare artist who revels in creating with others, the bulk of his catalogue being collaborations.

“Getting in a room to write is making musical love with another blind date where it can work or not. I was in Nashville checking out the formula writing approach and it didn’t work for me. With a collaborator, you get more ideas and you get access toanother approach. When we wrote “On My Way To Finding You” with Tia McGraff, it was the most perfect synchronicity I’ve found.

“I usually write with two different people over the year; now people are coming around saying ‘I want to work with you.’  I plan on checking out all the opportunities, I like co-writing but it has to work right from the start.

“I look for a positive vibe and an intimate “Ideal” connection in a co-writer. I need to feel connected!!

“My producer (and multi-instrumentalist) Jonathan Edwards and I write really well together and that’s big for me. Basically, how a song comes together, its riff, chord progression, melody then lyrics for me.”

“Go Your Own Way” carries the strong and positive message to do just as the title suggests; to grow up as you are and be who you want to be. I enlisted Vancouver gay Canadian country music artist Patrick Masse to bring the song and their community together.

Written by Kevin Fisher, Tia McGraff, and Tommy Parham, Jensen tells how the song made its way to him; “‘Go Your Own Way’ came my way by Tia McGraff. Tia and her husband Tommy Parham went on down to LA and wrote the tune with Kevin Fischer. The lyrics directed the song my way shortly after Tia cut the demo. Tia and Tommy said it was a Drake Jensen song.

“Patrick Masse and I had been friends for a few years, and always said we wanted to work on something together. So when a song came by with a message as powerful as this it was an obvious path for us. Having Canada’s two LGBTQ male country artists’ together makes a bit of history to us.”

With four full-length CD's and nearly a dozen music videos to his credit, Drake is gearing up for his latest release, a compilation of some of his most memorable songs, titled "Sideshow, " due April.30.

The album also contains two new tracks.“Which Way Does The River Run” is a Lennie Gallant tune and “Talk Me Down”is from Nashville writerMatt Ullman. Sideshow is a compilation of my versionsof some country songs we all grew up with. It a ‘best of ‘what we loved from my catalogue.”

Standout on the album include “Go Your Own Way” currently charting in New Zealand. The voice has taken on a new depth and resonance which works especially well on this one. “Which Way Does The River Run you could call country folk, a gentle stroll of a song down reminiscing roads. The video comes with great footage of New Brunswick, Jensen’s home prov.  Duran Duran’s “Beautiful Colour” is just a fine run at the song, and Dance Country has never sounded better.“Talk Me Down” is an intense, deep dive on the subject of hanging on the edge. The songwriting is stellar and dude is singing at his upper register and really making it work.

“The take away from this record is 8 years of songs that really have helped define me as a person and define me sonically as an artist. I feel that as an artist, if you do good work, it’ll find its audience, it’ll find a home.

“I want to be remembered as an innovator. I put the queer in Canadian country and I do covers of Canadian music that is often overlooked. I’m getting deeper into the songwriting, looking to make an impact on country music. Looking to bring elements from other forms into my country. Got a dance track in the works and working on an album of all originals.”

“My advice to an up and comer, Do the work, grow a thick skin and believe in yourself.”