It was while reading an art book about Andy Warhol that musician Bobi Andonov learned that Warhol’s close friend, the legendary rocker Lou Reed, had nicknamed Warhol “Drella” – a portmanteau of Dracula and Cinderella. “I loved that so much – I just love the idea that two opposite things make so much sense together,” says Bobi, who has adopted Drella as his own artist name. “I’ve always felt a little bit that way as well and I feel like that describes my music too – there are a lot of different elements that you wouldn’t think work together, but they do”.
Like his namesake, Drella is a pleasure of contradictions, at once glittering and dark. Themes of desire and friction wrestle with interpersonal relationship dynamics, as he bends and twists pop music to his off kilter will. Somewhere between his emotion-laden and effortless Dr. Jekyll falsetto, and his raspy and booming Mr. Hyde, Drella channels vagabond emotions into a unique juxtaposition of light and shade. Shaped by pop iconoclasts such as Prince, Terence Trent D’Arby, and Michael Hutchence, and influenced by contemporary artists like Tame Impala, Dijon, The 1975, and Jai Paul, Drella exudes a sensual confidence like this ragtag team of idols – unfettered by expectations and unapologetically himself.
Drella emerged after a year of creative rebirth in an unlikely place. After living in Los Angeles since 2015 and having recently parted ways with his old record label, as the pandemic swept the globe in 2020, he found himself back in his teenage bedroom in Melbourne’s Williamstown. “It was like the rug was taken from under me,” he says. “I was in a really weird spot, and honestly the only thing that helped me was saying to myself, ‘I’m going to just start making music by myself and on my own terms.” After years of being pulled in different directions by various collaborators, “I started to finally listen to myself and what I wanted to write about,” he says. His older Brother Davis challenged him to finish a track a day, and a situation that initially felt claustrophobic began to feel therapeutic. “I was used to being in studios, but honestly, being with my laptop and my little keyboard in my bedroom was kind of all I needed to get back to how and why I wanted to make music in the first place,” he says.
Drella fell in love with music at an early age. As a kid traveling to his parents’ native Macedonia, he would get up to sing with bands playing in restaurants. By late high school, he was writing and producing tracks for other artists and pitching himself to major labels around the world. This led to studio time in Stockholm with some of Sweden’s most illustrious hitmakers, including The Wolf Cousins team, who have penned hits for the likes of The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, and Dua Lipa. “Being in the room with those guys, I was pretty much like, ‘I’m just going to shut the f up and learn, and gain whatever knowledge I can get from this,” says Drella. He knew that he didn’t ultimately want to make music in the same style, but he did learn a huge lesson about never settling. “They were so disciplined about making sure every element of the track flows and feels the best that it possibly can,” he says. “I’d never been in a room with dedication like that, just striving for the perfect balance of style and sound that I could later take apart and re-formulate.”
Fast forward a few years and Drella has applied his own version of those same exacting standards to the tracks conceived in his Williamstown bedroom. “The spacious, snarling ‘Saint’ feels like the origin story for my new project,” he says. In the song, he offers a scorching response to the hypocrisy and injustice of when someone who’s enjoyed an existence that’s been horrible on everyone around them expects free forgiveness: “You know you know you know that your faith / can’t / make you a Saint / even if you wash your sins away / hey / your way too late,” he croons, staccato style on the hook. “The complex, conflicted character of Drella took shape while creating that song,” he says. “‘Saint’ felt like the song that would be playing when Drella walked into a scene in a movie.”
“Until The Morning” is a propulsive and elusive funk kiss-off with squelchy bass ushering in the cinematic verse. “Don’t waste your shame on me / your thrills come way too cheap / suffocate my dreams / I’ll wait to break until the morning.” “The song is about someone who’s accustomed to using lovers, and then throwing them out as soon as they get bored,” Drella says. Even the slower-paced melodic songs on the project defy the traditional rules of balladry. “Easier” is a standout that showcases Drella’s emotive vocal ability over a bed of music that sounds like it comes from an 80s John Carpenter movie soundtrack.
There’s definitely a filmic, noirish quality to these tracks, so it’s not surprising to learn that alongside his art books, Drella draws inspiration from cinema, citing dark, impressionistic films such as “Requiem For A Dream,” “Trainspotting,” “The Dreamers,” and “Drive” as favourites. “Musically, when working on an idea, I always imagine what the videos are going to feel like off the bat,” he says (see searing proto-Drella tracks such as 2017’s Apartment and Smoke, acclaimed by the likes of Billboard, NYLON, and Time for examples). “Watching film inspires ideas and helps me to create worlds that feel cinematic and dramatic,” he says.
Similarly, he sets up his bedroom-come-studio to strike the right artistic mood. “In my old bedroom, I have a whole canopy situation,” Drella laughs. “You know, purple neon lights, crosses and posters everywhere. It definitely helps with getting into that headspace for making music.” Typically, Drella would fix himself a drink and watch a film in his boudoir to get the creative juices flowing. It was during one of these sessions, while watching a recent Bee Gees documentary on HBO that “Saint” was born. “The documentary blew my mind. Their commitment to their craft was inspiring,” he says. “I went straight to my room with my little whiskey bottle because I loved the idea of trying to twist the Bee Gees style into something that could work for me in2022.”
The feelings contained in Drella’s debut project ring raw and true – feelings mined from both the darkest corners of the soul, through to light and bright places of pure unadulterated joy. In a time where genres and styles are begging to find exemption from classification, Drella takes us on a unique and necessary musical journey.