By Johnny Griffith
There is a fairly established stereotype of what a drifter is. Webster’s defines it as “one that travels or moves about aimlessly.” We’ve all seen a movie based on someone who drifts from town to town, with no purpose in most cases, just sort of trying to find their way in life. Well, you can take that image of a drifter and toss it out the window when it comes to the Hotel Drifters. They definitely have a purpose, and that’s to try to leave every audience with a bit of themselves and in a better place than when they walked in.
The brainchild of Jessica and Shane Smith, Hotel Drifters falls into the Americana category and has a solid foundation in a lot of classics, with a strong helping of country and roots music thrown in the mix. You’ll find a blend of influences in their originals, with a solid leaning towards country; and the covers run the gamut with everything from classic Rod Stewart, Waylon Jennings, and Stevie Nicks to Dwight Yoakam, Chris Stapleton, and even some Lady Gaga in the mix.
Their excitement for the music is evident from the first note and their presence on stage is engaging, with powerful vocals, raw and bluesy guitar licks, and a rock solid rhythm section. As an added bonus, they are one of the few bands to actually have a steel guitar on stage, which adds an extra dimension to a lot of classic songs, not to mention the cool factor it brings.
I was able to catch up with Jessica Smith this month and had the chance to ask a few questions so we could get to know the band better:
Johnny: What is the current lineup of the Hotel Drifters?
Jessica: The Hotel Drifters are currently Shane & Jessica Smith lead vocals and guitar, Charles Pierce on bass guitar, Clark Stone is our drummer, and Scott Akers is on electric and steel guitar.
Johnny: How did the band meet?
Jessica: Shane & I met in high school when we were both 15 and then we married in 2008. In 2010 we decided to start a band. We took a break during the birth of our first son and then formed a new band after that with most of the current members.
Johnny: Are you all local or are there some transplants to the area?
Jessica: Yes, the entire band is local to the East Texas area. Shane and I are from Chandler, a little town just outside of Tyler.
Johnny: Have there been any unexpected challenges that come from being in a band with your spouse?
Jessica: There hasn’t really been anything too challenging because we’ve been married almost 12 years now, so we’ve already fought about everything there is to fight about, which is rare, but I think the most challenging part since we’ve become parents has to be leaving our son to play a show.
Johnny: What do you feel some of the strengths of the band are?
Jessica: The energy! Music moves us, so when we really get into the groove it draws the crowd in and they get into it as well!
Johnny: What about the name? Where did Hotel Drifters come from?
Jessica: Well it’s kind of a long story but most working bands will drift from one hotel to the next. In some cases you want to pocket the most money you can so they can be gross, cheap motels, so when people ask us this question we just simply say “we like the doors on the inside not the outside.”
Johnny: What first got you into music individually?
Jessica: For me I’ve always known singing was something I wanted to do for as far back as I can remember, and I started singing in church as a kid. Shane had the music bug from the day he was born. His dad had a band and he was always around music. Eventually, at the age of 13, he bought his first electric guitar and the rest is history.
Johnny: When did you the idea of forming the Hotel Drifters first start to evolve?
Jessica: Sometime around 2011 we decided to start doing some acoustic shows. From there it sort of snowballed, and then in 2012 we started our full band.
Johnny: What was the first show as a band?
Jessica: Our first show was at KE Cellars in Tyler. They were the first place to give us a chance, so we were real sad to see that place go.
Johnny: How would you describe your musical style? Has it evolved since the band formed?
Jessica: We like to say we are country singers with a rock and roll band, but our style is always evolving. We have very strong country roots and we grew up with Willie Nelson and George Jones in our souls, but we love all kinds of music, from Tom Petty to Lady Gaga and a lot of stuff in between.
Johnny: What are some of the more popular covers you do as a band?
Jessica: That’s a hard one to narrow down since we do so many covers. We have a lot of fan favorites, but “Stay With Me” by Faces and “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty are probably two of the more popular cover songs we do during any given show.
Johnny: What about originals? Are you and the band writing any original material at this point and mixing them into your shows?
Jessica: Yes! We do have some originals in our catalog that we’ve recently started adding to our shows when the situation is right.
Johnny: About how many shows a month are you currently performing?
Jessica: We like to keep it to about 1 full band show a month and a couple acoustic shows in between. Obviously that can vary up or down, but that’s where we like to keep it at this point.
Johnny: What does the Hotel Drifters have on the radar for this year we should be aware of?
Jessica: This year we would love to be able to record our originals!
Johnny: How would you describe your show to a first timer?
Jessica: A good time! Wherever we play we just want to make sure whoever is listening is having a good time, because you never know what kind of day that person had and that one song may turn their day completely around!
Johnny: Thanks for sitting down and taking the time with us.
Jessica: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our band with y’all, you can find a list of our current shows and everything else on our Facebook page Hotel Drifters and Instagram @hoteldrifters.