Andrew Joseph Stevens III, more widely known as Drives the Common Man, has gained a strong following through his energetic and supremely danceable covers, remixes, and mashups on TikTok over the past year. The indigenous artist’s latest single, “Night Vision”, steps away from his playful TikTok performances to dig into the more painful themes of substance abuse, though still backed by a high-energy beat that will get you dancing.
With a summery beach jam hopefully slated for release in time for beach season, an EP in the works, and an unstoppable flood of ideas and experiments, this young artist is constantly challenging himself to connect with his audience in new and unexpected ways:
Becoming Drives the Common Man
The artist has been producing music out of his London, Ontario home since he was 12. He started cultivating a loyal fanbase in 2015, when Youngest and Only—a punk band he and his friends started—released their first EP, Baboon.
What stands out most about Andrew is that when you take all the music he’s worked on—from his band, Youngest and Only, to his solo projects as Drives the Common Man to his remixes and mashups for TikTok—is how multifaceted he is an artist, how effortlessly he can jump from a danceable pop hit to a gritty, smash-the-system punk anthem to an ambient, acoustic ode.
The Baboon EP is unmistakably punk, complete with its rebellious sound and mad-at-the-world lyrics:
Then, the next EP from the band, Wherever the Park Ends, switches gears a bit. The punk influence is still there but the sound is a little sadder, a little more introspective:
“It was such a change,” Andrew notes when he looks back on writing the songs for those two EPs. “We were kind of losers at our high school when we made the first EP, and we were just talking about the things in the news that made us mad. Then, we kind of stopped caring about that when life started getting a little bit sadder. We started writing more emotional music.”
We see the same kind of range in his solo projects, whether it’s the more ambient sounds of his early solo EP or the poppy TikTok crowd-pleaser, Beaded Earrings. In the latter, he even weaves in his Mi’kmaq roots, using the flute that has become a fan-favorite and writing lyrics celebrating indigenous women:
When talking about the inspiration behind the song, Andrew explains, “There are so many songs for every race of girl or just person in general and I wanted to make a banger for the Native girls.” The short project reflects his goal to break societal standards, bring his culture into his music, and provide that representation to people who are chronically underrepresented.
Whether with his band or through his solo projects, Andrew juggles such a wildly diverse range of themes, genres, and techniques that it’s hard not to be continually surprised by each song you listen to. Perhaps even more impressive is that he’s juggling these wildly diverse genres all at once. He’s been making music as Drives the Common Man at the same time that he records albums with Youngest and Only for the bulk of his music career.
The Journey into “Night Vision”
His latest single, “Night Vision”, has drawn a large crowd to the young artist but it’s actually not his debut, despite often being described as such. “The project itself started in 2014,” Andrew says of his music made under the name, Drives the Common Man. “It was basically just me in my apartment. I was still in Youngest and Only, but I wanted to write an acoustic punk, instrumental, ambient kind of thing. So, I released a lot of those songs on Bandcamp, which a lot of people don’t know.”
In tribute to his punk roots, the band name comes from “Anxiety,” a Bad Religion song. In the 1989 song, Greg Graffin sings, “Anxiety destroys us / but it drives the common man.” So, the name can be read two ways: drives the common man (as in, what drives the common man) or Drives, the Common Man. “I was a little 15-year-old angsty kid, listening to ‘Anxiety’ and thinking, ‘Drives the Common Man, that sounds cool.’”
True to the origins of the name, the lyrics of his songs are incredibly personal, touching on anxieties that many of his listeners can relate to. While “Night Vision” represents his first attempt to explore his struggle with addiction through his music; his earlier songs reflected a similar willingness to be vulnerable and use his music as a way to interrogate himself.
In “Never Too Tired to Talk”, two voices share stories about mothers who work long hours and struggle to make time for their children (but never stop putting in the effort) while the ambient sounds of acoustic guitar create a sense of nostalgia and longing.
In “Even When,” a “stupid little kid” refuses to normalize the injustice and death he sees around him, alternating between being angry at such a destructive world and feeling powerless to do anything about it.
The Making of “Night Vision” & His Forthcoming EP
As personal as Andrew’s solo projects have always been, “Night Vision” represents an even more courageous attempt to confront an issue he had yet to really process through his music: his sobriety.
“I never got a chance to make Youngest and Only songs about sobriety and my journey that way. So, ‘Night Vision’ was the first song where I was really honest with myself about the things I was going through at the time.”
That honesty and the process of writing that song inspired him to dig further and to see what kind of music he could write on his own. “’Night Vision’ was kind of the opening to saying, ‘I can start talking about myself again,’ and I can start writing songs as a journal for myself, a kind of therapy.”
That journal isn’t just for digging up the past, though. Andrew is also using the EP he’s working on to explore new ideas. In talking about some of the other songs that will be on the EP, he says:
“They all still hit home for me and I’m still writing lyrics that mean something to me but more so, it’s the ideas. There’s a song called ‘Logged Off’ that’s about being with someone who’s not sober when being sober is something that’s really important to you. It’s about having to navigate through the trials that come with that. That didn’t really come from personal experience but it’s definitely something I think about a lot; about how that would work for me—if that would work for me.”
It’s not all serious and sad, though. The EP will also feature a couple of “cute little pop songs” and, perhaps his biggest emotional breakthrough: a love song that actually expresses an optimistic view of love.
“I’ve never written a love song that wasn’t fueled by hatred,” Andrew admits as he reflects on past songs about breakups and unhealthy relationships. So this forthcoming love song, dedicated to his girlfriend, represents new, more hopeful territory for the artist. What might have fans most excited about that love song, though, is that it will feature the famous flute.
We Haven’t Heard the Last of Youngest and Only, Either
While he says that COVID and his current work finishing up a new Drives the Common Man EP has forced him to take a break from the band, Andrew was already talking about plans for Youngest and Only’s next album.
“I’m not going to say when, but there eventually will be more Youngest and Only music, because those are like my brothers so it’s hard to disconnect from them.”
What that new music might sound like is still up in the air. When asked if the band would keep its punk sound, Andrew left the matter open:
“We’ve never signed to a label so we can change up if we want to at this point. We’re all talking about it. Sometimes we think maybe we should get poppier, because I like these pop demos that I made for the band. Then, all of a sudden, I started writing these post-hardcore demos and we’re thinking, maybe we can get heavier. So, we’re still trying to figure out what we want to do.”
Given Andrew’s chameleon-like ability to shift between genres, it’s sure to be an interesting sound, whichever direction they go.