Some musicians are defined by categories while others define themselves. And then there’s UNC musician Drell, who is writing his own musical language.
Drew Ellis, commonly known by his stage name of “Drell,” is a junior with a passion for making music. Not music for the sake of combining sounds and creating new genres, but music as a form of personal exploration, expression and evolution.
“The past couple years I've been music producing, I’ve stuck to electronic music, EDM, as a genre, more specifically future bass, which is more of a hybrid genre,” Drell said. “But this piece is a strong departure from my traditional sound – it's more of a classical orchestral composition.”
A stark shift from the upbeat EDM he built his fan base upon, Drell released “The Space Between Us,” an album that radically departs from his earlier accessible EDM structure into five classically instrumented, reverb-heavy atmospheric tracks that defy easy comparison.
“One day I was having a conversation with my friend about music and he made me realize that at the end of the day, I'm making the music for myself and not necessarily to impress other people,” Drell said. “It's your story that you're trying to tell, not someone else's.”
Drell decided to release this album because he felt it was an authentic representation of his experiences and emotions coming together for this project.
“The inspiration for this album came from my relationships with myself, my relationships with other people and my friendships,” Drell said. “Another big influence of this album was me transferring to UNC last fall, which relates to the title. I was starting a new chapter in my life and growing apart from my old self to form my new self.”
Haywood Meeks, a UNC senior and friend and fan of Drell, said he can tell that Drell's hard work on the album has paid off.
“This was not something that was made in a week or in a month – this is something he's been working on for a long time,” Meeks said. “You can almost view this as the culmination of Drell’s emotions towards music and life. I would call this an autobiography in music.”
Zack Kaiser, who runs the record label Trap n Chill and signed Drell last April, said he was excited to see Drell branching out with his music.
“Electronic musicians don't have to stay with just electronic music,” Kaiser emphasized. “It’s refreshing to hear musicians produce what they want to, not just what people expect them to produce."
Drell has produced several hit EDM songs in the past, with his notable “Not Okay” boasting over 50,000 streams on Spotify and “Beautiful Things Await You” surpassing 40,000. But numbers don’t inspire Drell.
“As a college artist, I've realized it's important to build an identity for yourself that other people can relate to,” Drell said. “Whereas before I was trying to chase this dream of being a superstar DJ, and then I realized if that's the goal, I wasn't on the right path because I wasn't doing it for me. I was doing it to impress other people.”
So why put out this kind of music in the middle of a pandemic after having made it in EDM?
“There's never going to be a right moment to put out something, especially this project where I feel really vulnerable,” Drell said. “So, now's the moment to share it.”
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