The winner of Soul Search (Soulfest 2014 competition), Dru Chen, is no stranger to Thunder Rock. A close friend of Thunder Rockers, we grab the chance to speak to Dru about music before he gets too busy in 2015. Singapore, Malaysia, US, and Australia, here he comes.
1. What was the experience of playing Soulfest like?
It was HUGE!! First of all, I couldn't believe the lineup when they first announced it. D'Angelo, Maxwell, Anthony Hamilton…these are artists I've STUDIED… I have all their bootlegs and albums.
Naturally, for my set, I rehearsed A LOT. I wanted to do the absolute best that I could. I put together a killer rhythm section (Stan Bicknell on Drums and Anthony Liddell on Bass - they played with Kimbra). I mapped out the live arrangement. We hit the woodshed (a.k.a Rehearsal Studio) and locked down on our set until we could play it with our eyes closed. I also spent quite some time practicing on my own in front of a mirror, working out, and getting in the right frame of mind to do the show.
The impact was huge because everybody heard and respected what I did. To get that mutual respect from these great artists was a huge confidence booster for me and it made me feel completely at home with the funk, soul and rhythm & blues genres. I've studied these styles from afar, whereas these cats grew up with it in their homes and in their churches and neighbourhoods. I had dinner with Anthony Hamilton and he gave me some big brotherly advice. It was amazing watching him get down to some of my songs that I played for him. It blew my mind hearing him ad lib on top of "Turnaround". That was a real trip!
The after-parties and jam sessions were legendary. We went down to Golden Monkey (our great local Melbourne r&b joint) every night and kicked out the jams! I was trading licks with D'Angelo's backing band and jamming with John Blackwell Jr (Prince, Justin Timberlake, D'Angelo's drummer). We had a great soul connection with these musicians during the jam sessions.
2. How have you developed as an artist over the past decade to get to where you are?
Well, there are many aspects to being an artist. Musicality, song craft, stage craft, image, branding, public relations, strategy, networking, and social media. These are all aspects which I've worked on over the years. I try not to neglect any. If I have weaknesses, I reach out to people who can help me in these areas.
Musically, I believe I have FOUND MY SOUND. Or rather, I have found confidence in my sound and my unique identity. I know that I will always shift and morph musically, but at the core of it, I thrive in a retro-leaning soul environment, with funk guitar and rock influences. The instrumentation is usually organic, but because of my love of Prince and the '80s, I also occasionally use drum machines and synthesisers, in addition to live drums and vintage rhodes keyboards and organs.
I also record and film my shows and rehearsals so I can learn from my mistakes. This is something I learned from Prince and Freddie Mercury (two of the most phenomenal live performers ever to hit this planet!). They always reviewed their live tapes and rehearsals. It comes from the James Brown school of performing as well. JB is one of my biggest inspirations!
3. What are your future plans for your music act?
I have collaborations on the go with some very legendary musicians from the soul and funk tradition! This music is DEEP - to the core, soul and blues, but still very me in that funky fresh way like "You Bring Out The Best In Me" and "Turnaround"! It is going to be a very exciting 2015 filled with new music, US, Singapore and Australian shows. Stay tuned!! Thank you for the support and I will keep bringing you that authentic Dru Chen sound - straight from the heart!
To find out more about Dru Chen, please visit:
Thunder Rock School
227A Upper Thomson Road, S574359
T: 6456 8722
43 East Coast Road, 2nd Floor, S428764
T: 6348 7203