Local Artist Spotlight / 30 September 2020

Coffee Talk @SLSC: Dru Chen

Soul with a capital S. Dru Chen has no qualms making his influences clear. With a Stratocaster in hand, the local singer-songwriter is at home, and before you know it, he starts singing.

And you instantly recognise that silky smooth vocals when you listen to his latest single Future Me + U, a ballad-esque slow jam which he describes as an optimistic pursuit of an unknown future.

Dru Chen has been on a bit of a roll this year. Fresh off his first single which dropped in the first half of 2020, we were blessed with his latest single, Future Me + U earlier this month.

We had the pleasure of hanging out with Dru over a cup of coffee at Swee Lee Social Club. We got to talk about his new single, inspirations and songwriting. And when we checked out the guitars in the store, we just had to talk about his love for the instrument, and some of the pedal tricks he employed on his latest single.

Tell us about your new song Future Me + U.

It’s a bit of an open ended song, it’s about venturing into a long term commitment, and the vulnerabilities that come from the situation. Hindsight is always 20/20 – I’ve always wished I could peer into a crystal ball and see ten years into the future and hope that everything is good with my relationships and more. But you can never see that. So the best thing you can do is try to be as open hearted as you can, and hope the other person does the same thing, but you never really know. I guess the song is an optimistic song, but ultimately it’s about the fragility and vulnerability of that.

As a singer and producer, who are some of your inspirations?

I’m a soul guy – soul with a capital S! So I run the gamut all the way from Ray Charles to Daniel Caesar to D’Angelo. Musically, I’m a vinyl junkie and I have quite an eclectic taste – whether folk, jazz, hip hop, classic rock (in the business of playing guitar, you can’t not have classic rock!) Then again I love just checking out what’s on the top 40s and what’s bubbling under just so I can get a sense of what’s happening now.

So the best thing you can do is try to be as open hearted as you can, and hope the other person does the same thing, but you never really know.

What does your songwriting process look like?

There isn’t a set process other than “get out of the way of the song coming out of you”. Generally when you’re not doing anything remotely related to music, that’s when the ideas come – you’re vacuuming, doing the dishes, cooking – you’re doing everyday stuff. You just catch phrases, lyrics and melodies that pop up. The first thing you can do is get your phone out and record it, immediately.

When it comes the time to submit songs or you have deadlines to meet, you have your inspiration bank and mood board on your phone. I have hundreds of voices memos – I’m sure all musicians do when they get ideas.

It’s very comforting to know that I can pick any of those, depending on what’s been happening in my life to my family and friends and what is relevant in the world around me right now, I will write about that. A lot of songs get written while taking a shower, when you least expect. Just don’t get in the way of it.

Do you have a signature guitar sound?

Yeah I think I have a signature guitar sound in that I have one guitar! That is the Fender Stratocaster. It’s something that I’m so used to that it’s almost moulded to my hand. It’s my comfort zone for sure. Lots of my favourite players when I grew up listening to played Strats – John Frusciante, Jimi Hendrix and on and on!

There’s the two functions for a guitar – one being almost like a clean grand piano or a clean Fender Rhodes. For my style of music – soul and R&B – definitely a clean base for it. But I like to have featured moments, where there may be a riff come in, or a screaming, crying sort of lead,  just for a snippet of time. Especially live, those are lots of fun – gets the crowd going!

I can be quite technical as a producer when I’m making music, but when it comes to actually having an instrument in your hands, there’s something that’s intangible about it.

What do you look for when you’re shopping for a guitar?

I definitely have to look for the “spirit” of the instrument! I can be quite technical as a producer when I’m making music, but when it comes to actually having an instrument in your hands, there’s something that’s intangible about it. It’s definitely hippy dippy for me! The last instrument I bought was my acoustic guitar. I spent about eight hours with it before I actually pulled the trigger on it.

Tell us a bit about the gear you used to record the guitar parts in Future Me + U.

Future Me + U is not actually that guitar heavy. It’s a combination of guitar parts from myself and my co-producer Jesse Bear, one of the most amazingly talented friends that I have. He arranged and worked on the song with me and he’s playing lots of the guitar parts too. The more neo-soul, gospel stuff – that’s him. For me, I used my Strat running into my Keeley compressor and Aqua Puss and out of a Fender Princeton amp for the more reverb-ey kinda stuff. I love that sound – you’ll probably hear that sound on 80% of the stuff that I put out.

Any local acts you’re digging right now?

M1LDL1FE has been here for a while, and I’ve always been a fan of the quality that they do. Gentle Bones, Dion, Charlie – all sorts of people who have been representing the local scene really well. Flame of the Forest have been around for a long time as well. I feel like I have to listen to an artist for a couple of years and see where the trajectory is at before I can really say “yeah, I dig what this person or band is really doing”.

What’s next?

I’m entering an extremely productive and prolific period of my life where I’m jumping in and out of recording sessions. I’m writing a lot of songs for labels over in China for other artists to work on. I’m doing a lot of production work as well. The tap is flowing and I’m coming up with a lot of stuff and hopefully you will enjoy the music as it comes out! Hopefully it’s still good to you – where you can put it on and really enjoy and relax and contemplate to. I want to create good vibes for people to enjoy! That’s what it’s about really.

Listen to Dru Chen’s new single here and his acoustic version here.

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