This month’s Festival of the Arts— presented by the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation—elevates all forms of art including music. The live performers this year include Mr. Perfect, Drew Tillman’s new band.
The Tallahassee-based Tillman is no stranger to Beachcomberland. He has become a regular fixture at the annual event, as well as the 30A Songwriters Festival and various area venues like Vue on 30a. Those that new him are accustomed to seeing him with an acoustic guitar singing his original songs in intimate settings instead of the plugged-in version planned for the Festival of the Arts.
“I’ve always played acoustic guitar, and then I started this band,” says Tillman. “And I found that playing electric was very effective, and it didn’t really change who I was or my songwriting.”
Bandmates Steve Taff, Kyle Aligood and Randy Barnhill all have a hand in the process when it comes to crafting songs for Mr. Perfect. “I bring the core song to them and then we expand it,” says Tillman. “We all kind of think in the same way. We are all about the song coming first and your ego comes second. I love that about the band.”
That doesn’t mean Tillman has packed up his acoustic guitar. He still frequently plays solo gigs, including two in Grayton Beach Oct. 23 and 24.
“I asked for my first guitar when I was eight years old,” he says. “I remember saying to my mom that I wanted a real guitar, that I didn’t want a plastic guitar.”
It was a chance encounter with a 12-string beauty that let a young Tillman know the instrument had a hold over him. “We went over to somebody’s house and there was a teenager, and he had a guitar. I asked if I could touch the guitar. The kid put it in my hands, and I would not put the guitar down.”
Tillman equates that same dreamlike feeling with songwriting. “It’s a mystery to me. I’ve learned so many things about songwriting and technique. Some people say that there is a science to it, and I believe that. But I also believe that you can learn everything about songwriting— you can be the most prolific, perfectly punctuated, your idioms fall in a row—and yet there is something missing. I guess it’s inspiration. It’s a moment where everything freezes, and you write in that moment.”
Above all, Tillman is proud to be a working songwriter and musician making a living through his craft. It is something that doesn’t come without hard work and conviction, or as Tillman puts it: “I’ve performed almost every night of my life.”
His credo is to “stay true to myself with songwriting and singing, then let the cards fall and I do all right.” Tillman appreciates areas like ours that welcome artists performing original songs, something he hopes to see more of in Tallahassee’s music scene in the coming months.
Tillman places bluesman Freddie King at the top of his list of musical influences. “There’s just no difference between what he’s playing on the guitar, what he sings, and what his heart is trying to say. It’s just all right there, in every note. I feel it. I has to come from your heart, otherwise people won’t believe it.”
Tillman is looking forward to Mr. Perfect’s performance at the Festival of the Arts, and maybe he’ll find a new song along the way. “I love the festival. I like walking around, and it all inspires me. I can’t wait to get over there and play.
“It all boils down to that moment when someone is sitting down in front of you and listening to your music.”