Dru Chen: A man with clear Intentions
2013 has already been a big year for funk/soul singer-songwriter/producer and multi-instrumentalist Dru Chen. In February 2013, Dru released ‘You Bring Out The Best In Me’ as the first single from Intentions EP. With an infectious feel, catchy lyrics and a slick video to boot it was swiftly added to commercial and community radio in Australia. Throughout March, Dru then toured Malaysia and Singapore sharing the stage with the likes of Babyface, Joss Stone, Esperanza Spalding and Grizzly Bear. More recently he has released the first part of a documentary series which follows each leg of his Intentions tour. In the lead up to his East Coast tour and Melbourne launch he caught up with us at Melting Pot.
Thanks for your time Dru, I know you’re a very busy man these days!
My pleasure. I’m happy to do an interview!
In recent reviews you and your music has been compared to the likes of Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder and James Brown. It’s not bad company! Which of them (or anyone else) would you say has had the most impact on your style and the sound of Intentions EP?
Tough question! I can’t really answer that! I would have to say there are elements in each of the four legends or “yodas” you have mentioned above that have influenced my music. Michael Jackson’s image and overall vision. Prince’s eclectic and broad reaching musical taste. Stevie Wonder’s relaxed groove and down-to-earth songwriting. James Brown’s energy and hardworking nature.
The first single “You Bring Out The Best In Me” (below) definitely stems from a Stevie Wonder/Sly & The Family Stone kinda thing.
Tell us a bit about the process of putting Intentions EP together.
I wrote, mixed and produced Intentions EP by myself at home on my laptop. However, I did go into a studio to record drum parts. My friend Graeme Pogson from The Bamboos played drums on three tracks (‘You Bring Out The Best In Me’, ‘Lovelight’ and ‘Turnaround’) while Marley Berry-Pearce (from Capcha) helmed the groove on “Trainwrecks”. I also got some other friends (Josh Bridges, Gabby Ibbott, Cam Hassard, Fiona Lockie and Andrew Diamond Phillips) involved on a few bits and pieces sprinkled across the EP. I recorded horns and vocals in my grandparent’s garage, true DIY style.
As a songwriter, I am constantly recording ideas and sketches into my phone. I’ll usually demo about 12-15 songs, and then narrow that down to 5 for an EP. There are quite a few outtakes from this EP! I picked the tracks which best showcased my ‘intentions’ as a musician. My purest voice as an artist. This resulted in 5 very different sounding tracks held together by the singular notion of ‘soul’, a tradition that stretches from 1960s motown to present day neo-soul and alt-r&b.
Whenever I’ve seen you play before – whether it’s solo at a relaxed open mic night or full band at a launch – you absolutely own the stage. Is this something that has always been natural to you?
Thank you! Performing took some time for me to get used to and only recently have I felt completely at ease on stage or in front of a camera. It’s quite exposing when you’re performing a song you wrote at 3am one night because you couldn’t get over an ex. You’re at your more vulnerable. On the flip side, often times the music is very upbeat and danceable. Nowadays, I feel very much at home performing onstage. It’s a unique exchange of energy between the performer and the audience, and every night I hope to give my audiences a bit of an escape from the monotony of daily life. Entertain!
Your performances combine masterful vocal range and control, various instruments and arrangements, catchy infectious beats and crowd interaction. What to you makes a great live performance?
Connection, on a “soul-to-soul” level. Or maybe it’s the toe-tappin’ or booty shakin’! As long as the performer creates a vibe for the audience to enjoy, that’s a successful live show. Of course every performer has his or her bag of tricks in terms of drawing the crowd in and keeping them interested. I try to make every show different to keep the audiences guessing.
Congratulations on the success of your music video “You bring out the best in me” directed by Edwin Tejoz. What was the funniest / most difficult part to film?
Thank you! We were very fortunate to get 15000 views within the first month plus radio airplay and blog reviews regarding the single. There is one part in the music video where I am singing whilst walking down a street and suddenly a crowd of people join me with the vocals and dancing before we open a big door and we all go into a concert venue and there is already a band onstage playing the song, and I join them onstage to jam along on the piano. We had to do the entire sequence in one take, and stage it all so that the door opened precisely at the right time, and that the performers and audience members were synced and ready. Such a struggle but so much fun!
We’re told that you and Edwin are now working on the music video for “Turnaround”. Any hints as to the ideas or concept of the video?
“Turnaround” will be darker, with a stronger focus on storyline and dramatic acting. “You Bring Out The Best In Me” was fun and funky, but “Turnaround” has several layers of meaning and its music video will definitely have some surprises in store for fans and viewers alike. I can’t wait!
You also toured Malaysia and Singapore in March where you played at the famous Esplanade Theatres in Singapore and shared the bill with the likes of Joss Stone, Esperanza Spalding & Grizzly Bear. What was that like?
Absolutely incredible. I love festivals with diverse lineups. It was definitely an honour to share the bill with such great artists. The sound quality was great and we performed our hearts out. (Ed: You can see the documentary of the tour below)
There’s talk of a bit of a supergroup forming for your launch at the Toff. Who else will be joining you on stage?
We will be performing with a 7-piece band onstage! That means horns, background vocalists, the whole funk/soul orchestra! We’ve got Marley Berry-Pearce on drums, Matt Hayes on bass, Nick Springall on keyboards/synth, Gabby Ibbott on horns, Travis Lee & Laura McLennan on background vocals plus myself on guitar, vocals and keyboards.
For those out there that haven’t seen you before (and those of us that have), what can we expect on Sunday night at your launch?
Raging guitar solos, sharp horns, soul-sangin’ backgrounds, and a tight rhythm section. A pop-savvy funk show! The beautiful roots/folk artist Al Parkinson will be opening at 8pm, and folk-rock party band The Bon Scotts are playing at 8:45pm, followed by us. Get your dancing shoes on!
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the views of Melting Pot.