Drew Ellis (Drell) is a junior at UNC and music producer on the side. The Daily Tar Heel spoke with him about his musical career. He has over 32,000 streams on his top song, “Beautiful Things Await You," on Spotify.
The Daily Tar Heel: Can you tell me a little bit about your musical career growing up? What brought you to this point?
Drew Ellis (Drell): When I was a kid, it was guitar. I was never really sold on it. It was more like my parents pressuring me. I still enjoyed it, but I wasn’t passionate about it, which I think is really important, especially when you’re creating art. You have to passionate about it, or else why are you doing it?
So this whole musical journey really started when I got DJ equipment in high school. It was totally separate from producing, but I would spend hours in my bedroom mixing songs and making mixes on SoundCloud. Then I got to a point where I was good at DJing but I wanted to make music, and that’s when I kind of transitioned to more of being a producer.
DTH: Have you done any performing locally or is it mainly production?
Drell: Just this past late-January I actually performed my first show in Wilmington. I got all my friends to come out, stay at an Airbnb, and then I played a 75-minute set at a club. Played some of my own music, some unreleased songs and, of course, some crowd-pleasing music. It was a ton of fun. What was so amazing about it was I got like 20 of my friends, I didn’t think they would really come and they all showed up and it was special because they were all supporting me. I was just a kid in my bedroom in high school dreaming of having this moment, and four years later it finally happened.
DTH: How did putting this in a live setting make you feel about future endeavors with your career?
Drell: Honestly, I’m hungry for more. I was super nervous to go up there and perform, but once I did it, I was instantly in the zone. It’s hard to explain, but when you play a song and can see everyone’s energy is matching that level and your energy is matching that level, it’s addicting. I guess my focus for 2020 is to play more shows; to drive my music and reach more listeners through shows. At this point, I’m definitely still making the music I want to make and wherever it takes me, it takes me. I never thought I’d have a show in some town I don’t even live in, ever.
Yeah, it would be awesome to play at music festivals, but that’s not what motivates me. What motivates me is getting people to hear what I made — I hope they like it.
DTH: You have a lot of streams on Spotify too.
Drell: Yeah. Here I am doing that, something I’d never really thought I’d do. I guess recently, within the past year, a lot of those things I brushed off like, ‘Oh I’m just doing this because it’s a creative outlet,' that’s actually starting to happen for me. It’s exciting because I’m now in the next phase of uncharted waters. I don’t know the direction I’m going, I just know I’m going somewhere.
DTH: But it still serves that same purpose that it always did?
Drell: Yeah. When I get down to the core of it, the only reason why I’m making music is because I enjoy doing it. It’s just a great way to express yourself. Not trying to be cliché, but I really like to try new things and incorporate new sounds — to see if I can make that work. If it doesn’t work, scrap it. If it does work, let’s move this project forward.
DTH: Can you tell me more about the EP you’re working on?
Drell: It’s five songs. I started it last semester. Progress has been slow, but what I’m really trying to capture with these five songs is this transition that I’ve undergone these past six months. Starting transferring up until this point. In a lot of ways transferring for me was like studying abroad — I came to this new town, had no friends, didn’t know anybody and had to make my life, figure out how to get to, you know, Davis library, and all my classes. Figure everything out for the first time. I think these songs will really reflect that in a way that’s true to my sound.
DTH: Is music something you do just in your free time or do you designate time outside of your studies?
Drell: It used to be just free time but 2019-2020, I really started to take this stuff seriously. So, every weekend, I try to either finish a song that I was already working on or pound out a new song. But I try to make effort every week. I mean, school comes first.
DTH: Where do you want to take this? What’s your next move besides the EP?
Drell: I really want to do more shows and release some merch. I’m a broke college student and I’m fine with being a broke college student. Money isn’t really the drive for me. Like I said, I just want people to hear what I have to say and produce. Just hear what I create and tell me that they like it. What makes me keep doing it is when people engage back with me. Usually if it’s another artist, I’ll make an effort to check out their stuff too. I feed off of that.
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