Drayton Farley
Harley Gjertsen

Drayton Farley Navigates the Highs & Lows of Being a Young Adult on ‘Twenty On High’

The youngest of five kids, Drayton Farley wasn't brought up in a family of players but ended up discovering music as his destiny nonetheless. A product of Woodstock, Ala., Farley recalls being introduced to gospel and contemporary Christian music from his sisters, hard rock from his brother, classic rock from his dad and country radio from his mom during his formative years. 

Throughout his teen years Farley became enamored with bands like System of a Down, Chevelle and Breaking Benjamin, even going so far as to collect copies of Guitar World Magazine in order to learn all of the chords hidden inside. However, it would be a completely different band that would start him down a new path a few years later. 

During his junior year of high school a friend of Farley's told him about Jason Isbell and his record breaking out at the time, Southeastern. After not falling for it at first, Farley says something finally clicked with him about the music on his third listen through, specifically on the song "Yvette," ultimately sending him down an alt-country rabbit hole uncovering the music of not only Isbell, but John Prine, Tyler Childers, Sturgill Simpson and James McMurtry as well.

"I listened to nothing but them for the next few years and started taking my own songwriting more seriously because of them," Farley tells Wide Open Country. "I knew I could play guitar, I knew I could sing and I had been writing songs, but I didn't know that you could write songs about the things they were singing about. It felt like I'd discovered this secret world of underground country similar to how I had with metal a few years prior."

The melting pot of those influences can be heard and felt throughout Twenty On High, Farley's third album and first featuring a full band behind him. Each vignette is contained within vast soundscapes curated by producer and guitarist for Isbell's 400 Unit, Sadler Vaden (Morgan Wade), who even recruited his bandmates Jimbo Hart (bass) and Chad Gamble (drums) to hold down the rhythm section in the studio. As a result Twenty On High takes on a distinctly Isbell vibe, a comparison that Farley can't help but grin about.

"There's so many artists I could be compared to that would come as an insult, but Jason Isbell is not one of them," says Farley. "His music has had a profound impact on my life, so that's something I'll always take as a compliment."

Despite the comparisons, it's evident from the start of Twenty On High that Farley's ingenuity and honesty as a songwriter stands tall on its own. It's 10 songs tackling the highs and lows of the 27 year old's past decade of life including his time working on the railroad ("Norfolk Blues"), mental health struggles ("Something Wrong (Inside My Head)"), missing home ("Alabama Moon") and longing for time you can't get back ("Stop The Clock", "Wasted Youth"). 

Although most of the focus rests on his 20's, two songs in particular — "Stop The Clock" and "Wasted Youth" — focus on the time preceding it. Each looks back on his youth from varying, albeit similar perspectives, with "Stop The Clock" exhibiting the artist's yearning to revisit his youth prior to responsibility consuming his life and "Wasted Youth" exploring his disdain for being in a rush to grow up. The latter was largely spurred on by the various jobs Farley began working straight out of high school including a grocery store, sawmill and for Norfolk Southern Railroad that wore him down, which he addresses directly when he sings:

"Wasted my time on trying to get by
Sold it all away to the company line
Now I'm feeling like a fool
All the freedom I lost
All of my youth was all that it cost"

"For the first time I felt like I really had something to write about," says Farley. "While out working on the railroad I'd always be searching for open mics nearby to play at. I'd write songs in my hotel room before workshopping them at the bar later that same night. I was getting desperate and felt like it was now or never."

Rather than allowing the monotonous nature of the work to break him, Farley instead used it as motivation to pursue his dream of music more than ever before. After being coerced by his wife to download TikTok, a video of his song "American Dream" went viral, catapulting his Spotify listeners from 49 to over 60,000 and leading to him recording the 14 song A Hard Up Life from the foot of his hotel bed while out working the railroad. Farley watched his music continue to build momentum while clocking into work for the next six months before deciding to finally take the leap and focus all of his energy into chasing a career in music. 

All that glitters ain't gold though, as he found out and put to song on "Something Wrong (Inside My Head)". A straightforward tale of conflicting emotions, the song describes the overcoming feeling of depression and dread filling Farley's head one afternoon during a drive on a self-described perfect day. Throughout it, he tries reassuring and shaking his feelings of doubt by reminding himself that he no longer has the shackles of a corporate job holding him back, but only his own thoughts.

The opposite of this can be felt on "How To Feel Again", a hopeful waterfall of emotion coalescing around overcoming life's constant hurdles and growing stronger from them. This is exemplified when Farley rallies both himself and those listening, singing:

"This life is not easy
It'll kick you around
Keep your heart a little heavy
And your ear to the ground
Life swings you swing harder
Don't ever back down
Every day that we've lost
Another day we have found"

The sacrifice, highs and lows documented within Twenty On High culminate on "Alabama Moon." Written about the time away from home — first on the railroad and now as a touring musician — leaves him longing to return to his family in the Yellowhammer State, Farley says the song was one of the easiest ones to manifest that he's ever written. 

In a late twist of events, the song also received an assist from fellow Alabamian Katie Crutchfield. According to Farley, the Waxahatchee bandleader was recruited to contribute harmony vocals for the song's chorus by Vaden while she was out on the road opening shows for Isbell. Unable to access a proper studio while out on the road, Crutchfield's vocals were instead recorded from the back of her tour bus, unsettling Farley at first.

"We were a bit nervous to record her that way due to most of the record being tracked in a live setting, but it ended up being a natural fit," says Farley, who still has yet to meet Crutchfield. "It sounds like she was in the same room recording as we were."

Although the stories within are deeply personal, Twenty On High serves as a reminder to us all of how to break away from what's not meant for ourselves to search for and pursue what is. Through 10 no-skip tracks Farley lays out an autobiographical footprint of his journey complete with the obstacles and triumphs within it, in turn providing hope to anyone listening that they too can do the same.

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