Johnny Drille: The sound is evolving


Maybe my personal style is changing, I tend to go here and there…

Five emails, dozens of phone calls and two canceled dates was what it took to make this interview happen.

Finding my way to the location was pretty simple; Lekki is a popular part of Lagos. I got in a vehicle and essentially started what was supposed to be an interview but turned into a conversation with someone who has a clear understanding of what music is, and has been on that alternative path that keeps his sound pure. His chronicles with food as a way to connect with his audience, and how he discovered his sound.

We talked about his presence and how he has been steadily making it felt after he got signed to Mavin Records. We talked about how appeal is important to him but he wants to stay true to his music. In his own words; it’s pretty much the same Johnny Drille sound, but of course we are tweaking some things, because at the end of the day when you are making music because you love music and you want people to love music for what it is, there is still the business side of things to be considered. You want to be able to appeal to different markets and be able to cash in on a certain level. But of course, Johnny Drille has not changed, the sound is evolving. Maybe my personal style is changing, I tend to go here and there. I guess I just wanted to experiment a bit because people are used to that Johnny Drille; that nice guy, the cool dude, the everyday guy. Yes, I’m still the everyday guy, but it won’t hurt to try a few things.

When we talked about his sound, he revealed that his strategy to be different propels him to create a sound that is different and all Johnny Drille.

“So, I figured why not just do something different? I try to sound a little rebellious with my music. I try not to conform to what is already out there, I like to try new and even weird chord progressions. And yes, I am inspired by a lot of things; family, God, love, past experiences, present experiences.”

Q: If you had to choose between writing, recording music, and engineering sound, which would it be?

Dear God! That’s a tricky question. I have tried to work with one or two producers, but I have not really found producers that know me and my sound more than I do. So, if I was not producing my music, it would probably sound a lot different from what it is now. I think production and artistry complement each other, but if I had to pick, I would probably go for singing. I mean I know producers have done great things for our industry, but for me, I believe it still boils down to ‘purpose’. I can’t let my voice go to waste. I learnt music production, it is a skill, but I didn’t learn to sing. It comes naturally.

Q: You attribute your sound to Owl City, Mumford and Sons, Jon Bellion, CobhamsAsuquo, and a couple of other musicians.

Yeah. I have listened to Mumford and sons since May 2015, but I have listened to Owl city since 2009 when I was still at the University of Benin. Owl city inspired my singing and music to a point. At that time, I wasn’t known yet. No one knew Johnny Drille or what my sound was like, so when I found the music of Mumford and Sons, I thought to myself, what if I took this style and mixed it up with pidgin and mess around with the sound a bit and made it sound kind of African, and see how it works out? It was like an experiment. The first folk song I put out was ‘Love Don’t Lie’. While I and my PR person at that time doubted if it was for the Nigerian market, it actually worked. So, I put out ‘Wait for Me’ and everybody went gaga. And we stuck with it -naturally.

Q: How was it like growing up in Edo state, and how did it affect your music? Does it motivate you to do some things differently?

Well, I still think I made some of the greatest songs of my life so far while I was in Benin. I think there is something about being in a place that you are used to and the people around you. Benin is not very developed, it’s not like Lagos, but there is just something special about it that makes making music there very easy for me. So, yeah, Edo state holds a very important and vital place in my life. When I went there last Christmas, I spent two weeks. I wrote some songs and I could tell that hey, there is something about this place that makes me write this kind of music because when I come to Lagos, it’s not exactly the same vibe.

Q: Do you consider your music an expression of art?

Not exactly. Honestly speaking I didn’t like poetry back in school. I didn’t like all that mind bugging literature, but I guess it still somehow rubbed off on me since I studied literature so it kind of reflects in my music. I do not deliberately try and make it “art” though. I mean, my music is still kind of simple; you can still understand the lyrics, it’s not so poetic. I’m willing to accept that the fact that I tell stories a lot makes it seem like art, but of course, it is art, anything that is creative and reaches people is definitely art.

Q: Do you have a bucket list?

Of course, I have a bucket list. First off, I’d like to take my parents on a vacation. Hopefully to Dubai for a week or two, and if we can’t do Dubai, Lagos will suffice. I would also like to skydive at some point in my life. I also want to be at the Grammy’s and I would like to meet Obama and Trump and Oprah.

Q: You traveled out of the country for your Big Brother Naija performance, was it a defining moment for you?

*Exclaims* First time! It was the first time ever out of Nigeria. Matter of fact, that’s the only time I have traveled out of Nigeria. I know, right? Some people think I didn’t grow up in Nigeria. It was awesome, and yes, it was defining for me. I was getting very nervous before they called me up; I knew it was a big deal, because it was being watched in 45 countries, and about 70 million people. I knew I couldn’t screw it up. “You can’t mess this up, you gotta do it right.” So they called me up, I went on stage, performed and I was like okay, that was an ’alright’ performance, and then I go on Twitter and everybody was going gaga and I’mlike what did I do? So yeah, it was defining for me. I mean, I was trending on Twitter for three days. It felt good, and because of that event, a lot of people got to hear my music for the first time.

Q: What is your ultimate Karaoke song?

I will start with my worse karaoke song. That will be Kiss From A Rose. I love the song, it’s one of my favorite songs, but I tried to perform it one time at a karaoke and it was a mess. It was a different key, and I couldn’t hit it. My favorite karaoke song would be Beneath Your Beautiful by Labrinth featuring EmeliSande.

Q: Have you ever gotten goosebumps listening to fans sing all the lyrics to your song?

Yeah, a few times.Especially when we had a hangout in Benin and Abuja. It was kind of a Johnny Drille hangout, so everybody were fans and you had to know the music. It was almost like they were the one singing the song, I was just there miming. And it’s beautiful when people know your music and sing along to it.

Q: What are the top 5 songs on your playlist?

My playlist hardly ever changes;

All is well by Austin Basham

Gone for Good by Simi

Gentleman by RicHassani

Ditmas by Mumford and sons

Barcelona by Ed Sheeran

Q: What is your favorite fragrance?

I don’t know. I don’t even know the name of the fragrance I am using right now. I just go to the store sniff them and see which is nicer and I buy it.

Janel Rowland

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