Drake Jensen began rounding up loyal fans in 2011 with his debut album On Finding My Way to Finding You. Charting at number 16 on the European Country Music Association's top 100, Jensen quickly proved an openly gay artist could succeed in country music. If anything, Jensen said he's got the most pushback from gay fans, and he looks forward to when we learn better how to "unite and come together."
Now, Jensen aims to expand his fan base further with today's release of his sophomore album, OUTlaw, featuring the lead single "When It Hurts Like That." On the eve of the album's release, the talented singer-songwriter sat down with The Advocate to talk about his decision to come out, why some gay men haven't been so accepting, and the inspiring stories he's heard from fans.
The Advocate: You've been open about your sexuality since your music career began. Were you worried people knowing you were gay would have a negative effect on your success? Drake Jensen: Absolutely. Anybody who says they wouldn't be scared entering the music business at all is lying, let alone coming out as a country artist. But I think denying who I was ever again in my life wasn't an option. Besides, I knew I was going to make a quality product and no one was going to scare me away from the genre, because I was coming into it standing for something and I knew people would be attracted to that. So that helped balance my apprehension.
Have you experienced much backlash from fans of the country genre since you came out as a gay artist? Interestingly, the greatest criticism I've gotten has been from the LGBT community rather than the straight community. Don't get me wrong, about 80% of my fans are gay men who are wonderful, but I've been told my music is too heterosexual and called some ridiculous names by gay people in the past. However, I think most of that comes from people who want [gay artists] to be a certain way, but I've got to be who I'm meant to be and who I'm comfortable being. As far as the country music scene overall though, I'm not really getting any backlash and if I am people are talking behind closed doors because I don't hear it.
It seems strange that people would criticize you for not embracing the LGBT community enough in your music. From recording the duet "Stand By Your Man" with Drag Race alum Willam to having your bear claw tattoo featured prominently in your music videos, you're obviously very comfortable with being an out artist. I'm really proud of who I am and I love our community. What would this world be without the LGBT community? I think we really enhance society and I think the one thing we need to learn to do better is unite and come together. Because once we learn how to love ourselves and to work with one another then we're going to be unstoppable. I do think that's beginning to happen now, but it's just going to take a while.
Willam would certainly be a difficult act to follow, but if you could pick any artist to work with on a future track, who would it be? Pink. She's so inspiring because she's stood up in her own way as a woman. She cuts her hair the way she wants. She wears her clothes the ways she wants. She says what she wants. She sings what she wants. She is of her pure self and when someone is their pure self I think people are very attracted to them. Plus she's incredibly talented as a musician and that's very important to me as an artist these days because so many things are manufactured, but she's an artist who is very real.
Speaking of sharing your pure self with the world, your new album OUTlaw contains several personal tracks you wrote. Do you have a favorite? I would have to say the eleventh track on the album, "Be" is my personal favorite. It's interesting because I had a song on the last album called "I Found Me" and "Be" is about that progression after finding yourself. It's like when you move into a new house and you're very excited, but it takes a while to settle in. When I wrote "Be" I was in that transitional stage of getting comfortable with the person I've become and for me that journey has been very long.
Being an out country artist, you've undoubtedly helped a number of LGBT people on their journeys as well. Have you heard stories from fans who've told you how much your visibility and music have impacted them positively? Yes. In fact, I once got an email from a guy who said watching my video "On My Way to Finding You" kept him from killing himself. The video featured my husband and me, and it was about how we reunite in the end. People often say gay relationships are hard to keep together, but what a lot of people don't realize is that before anything else you must be best friends. Because there's always something to fight about, but in the end if you're best friends, it lasts. I think that idea was so sincere in that video and that guy who was so lonely that night watching the video, he really got it and realized there was hope for that. Inspiring someone like that was very moving for me.
Is there a tour in the works after OUTlaw drops? I've got some dates lined up. I've got Sugar Bear Weekend in Montreal coming up and in September we'll be in the U.S. for the whole month. We'll be in Georgia, Ohio, Vermont, and we're in talks for San Francisco, San Diego, and L.A. as well as Texas. One of the best parts about not being signed to a label and being independent is getting to perform in the spots where people really want you.