Dru Chen has solidified for himself a career that has enjoyed successes both in Australia and Singapore, where he has been basing himself for the last two years. Born in Melbourne, but raised in the Lion City, Chen has been making music since his teen years. Fusing pop, soul and indie in together, Chen’s work has increased in stylistic delivery, while his songwriting skills have continued to strengthen as well.
Releasing his debut EP back in 2013, Chen has been a fixture on stages in Australia and in Singapore, while his appearances at Music Matters Live have seen Chen stand out as a definite highlight. When we meet in Singapore this month at the independent music festival, Chen has already performed at CHIJMES (pictured) and has returned to full on studio mode, where he is continuing to complete his new album.
“This will have been my third [Music Matters] actually,” he explains. “I was playing guitar for an Aussie artist called Bec Laughton back in 2014, around that time. That was my first Music Matters experience and then I got invited to play in 2015; that’s when I really went into all the workshops and panels and whatnot. It was a really great experience. It’s not my first time doing this kind of thing because I’ve been to BIGSOUND in the past, but this year’s Music Matters caught me at a time where I’m making my album, so I didn’t go to any of the things; it’s just been a hectic time.”
Admitting to taking a different approach with this record making process, Chen opens up about the path he’s been taking in creating new music and what it has taught him about the craft.
“It was very organic,” he says. “Very much a process of growing up and trusting others more. I’ve bounced from country to country or city to city. Having started off here, though I was born in Australia, in Melbourne. I grew up here and I left here when I was 17. I went to Brisbane for three years and studied there and then went to Melbourne to work for four years. Every time I’ve moved there’s been a completely new circle of friends and a completely new circle of musicians to vibe with and to collaborate with. This would be my second year in this stint back in Singapore, I’m based here now. It feels like it’s gelling.”
“I don’t think I have as any hang ups as I used to have.” he furthers. “I’m 27 now and I’ve been making music for a while now; whether or not anybody has heard that music or not, is a different story, because I’ve kept so many things just to myself. I feel like after this album that I’m making right now, the next few projects that I’m doing will be a lot quicker and a lot more self-assured. I feel like I’ve gotten used to that process now. I think I’ve unlocked how my brain works, creatively. It takes time.”
Sitting at Barbershop, the Music Matters Live venue that edges out onto the Singapore River, Chen talks me through his relocation from Australia back to Singapore and how music, particularly live music and its development, has been perceived differently. Two strikingly different live music cultures indeed.
“Living in Singapore, the people here will tell you that it’s incredibly safe and comfortable.” Chen says. “[But] you need room to grow and to experience new audiences reacting to your music; it’s so important to road test and to push yourself and grow that way. A lot of people don’t tour so much here and I think if you’re really serious about what you do, you have to do that. No matter what it takes.”
“I don’t even know if I can say this because I’m only 27,” he laughs. “But maybe I’m holding on to the ‘olden’ days of hitting the road and club testing new shit. I come from that way of making music. I started when I was 14 or 15, playing in cafes in any place that would accept me. To see a lot of acts releasing tracks on the internet and having these great videos, but they can’t play live? What’s up with that, you know? That’s not going to work. It doesn’t even have to be live in a traditional way; look at Gorillaz or something like Daft Punk. I think there’s still the passion that drives that side of it; if I’ve saved up enough money in the interim to be able to take the time off whatever day job I’m doing to hit the road, then I’ll do that.”
“It is incredible, it’s such a labour of love.” Chen enthuses, as we talk about new music and the prospects it brings him, in terms of touring in the New Year. “It’s been really interesting because being an independent artist with an independent management team who don’t do music full time, we find ways to supplement the income that we get straight out of royalties and originals gigs; we’re talking about corporate gigs, we’re talking about advertisements and things like that, which have more or less bankrolled the album making process. That, and my own savings that I get from being a producer and composer and educator.”
“It’s been really rewarding to have my live band come into the studio; usually I play all the instruments myself. I play bass, keyboards, guitar; I sing and I do a bit of violin and arrangements as well. I’ve learned how to play the drums within the last year too. It’s been great to involve friends for the first time. I’ve been known to be a bit of a studio hermit but now, it’s a lot more of a collaborative process. The album has a lot of different colours and flavours to it.”
“I feel like we can all benefit from the patience it takes to read a book or sit through a long movie or an album with no distraction; without a million tabs open on your computer. I still make time to do that.”
Photo: Music Matters Live, by Dawn Chua.
Revisit all the artists’ music via the Music Matters official playlists at www.AppleMusic.com/MusicMatters.