Love can be tough to figure out, and sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Chicago based singer-songwriter and producer duo DRAMA turn love, pains and underlying optimism into a harmonious combination of dark electro-pop. Songtress Via Rosa and producer Na’el Shehade express their optimistic attitudes toward relationships on their new EP, Lies After Love.
When Rosa’s dark lyrics are paired with Shehade’s danceable beats, it’s clear why they are self-proclaimed makers of “happy-sad” music. The two met in 2013 through a mutual friend and fellow Chicagoan, Jean Deaux. As they say, it was a match made in heaven.
Coming from two different worlds, they believe where one lacks, the other picks up for, making for a dynamic combination. Despite their differences, the twosome shares a lot of similarities. In pursuit of artistic freedom, their music acts as a form of talk-and-response, communicated through chords and poetry. They understand their music is bigger than themselves.
VIBE chatted with the duo, who opened up about heartbreak, collaboration, guiding the youth and more.
VIBE: How do you complement one another?
Via: I feel like we complement another because we both bring something to the table that the other person who, not necessarily understands, but just know that it’s not their strongest point. We’re not afraid to be like, “Hey, I don’t like this.” I think we should help each other do this.
Na’el: We treat it like a business. Everybody has a job, and we complement each other and we fill each other’s voids, I guess.
What are some voids you help fill for each other?
N: In terms of writing songs, I write music, so it’s not every day you get surrounded by someone who understands the format and understands how to write music and stuff. With her, when I first recorded her, she just sang all the way through every song. What I brought was like, ‘Hey, let’s put some structure to this song. Let’s put words here, put a verse here.’ She would basically write with no format and I would structure it. That’s kind of one way. She let me do my job. A lot of artists are like, ‘No, don’t touch what I’ve done.’ I was like I’m going to make it better. This is going to sound a lot better, sound a lot more structured, more like a soft format.
V: I think it’s also pretty cool to find a producer who your lyrics kind of fit over the production. It’s like he would make this beat, and I would just hop back to the beat. He’s making the beat, but he’s not just making music, he’s talking through the music. I would listen to the music, and we would just talk to each other through the music. It was cool.
People need music that recognizes their complex feelings. Your music perfectly displays that. What inspired you to make this kind of music? Did you see a need for it in this country?
V: Lyrically, I’ve always written about dramatic, tragic love situations because that was my way of expressing myself. A lot of the times, I’d break up with [someone] inside my head five times, and get to the destination and be like, ‘Oh I love you,’ because I don’t know how to tell them this isn’t working. It would come out in the music. Na’el’s production is so optimistic and happy and very upbeat with these dark chords. It was easy for me to hear the pain in the music without falling into it.
I really do think it’s important to have this music out in the world because there’s a lot going on. A lot of people don’t know how to articulate those feelings. I know I don’t. Music is the only way that they come out in that kind of form, raw. Otherwise, I’m going to be crying and throwing things. I’d say how [we formed] kind of naturally happened. I’m really glad that [we] did, because if it doesn’t help anybody else, it for sure helps me just get through the day and understand why people do the things they do. I just kind of talk my way through situations.
Both of you didn’t hop out the womb with intentions on being musical artists. Via, you were a chef at one point while you were pursuing music and Na’el, you’re a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur. When did you all decide to pursue music seriously and why did you decide to take this route? Do you see yourself branching off into other things?
V: Both my parents are musicians. I grew up on tour with them up until I was 13. I had been cooking since I was nine. I was always around food and music. When I turned 14 years old, I started making my own music. Since I was on tour, the musician life was never glorified for me. I didn’t wake up and dance in front of the mirror thinking, ‘I’m going to be a superstar.’
I went to two culinary schools and I was making music on the side because it was something that I did. All my friends made music and they would always say, ‘Via your music is so cool. Even if you don’t put it out just keep making it.’ …I moved to Chicago to be closer to some producers I met that I thought were really cool. I was coming out here to learn Italian, and to go to another culinary school. Slowly but surely, I found myself being more excited about going to the studio to make music than looking up recipes and going to into work. Surely enough, I was getting paid more to do shows than I was to show up at work, a shift. Something felt off.
I have my whole life to be a chef. I can be 50 years old and open a restaurant, but not everybody gets the opportunity to travel the world and make music and survive and live off of art. I thought I would be stupid to not take a chance on it and just go out because I was already used to it. I’m used to touring and living on the road, it just was never for me, it was for my parents. I just really enjoyed it.
N: My entire life, I’ve always wanted to be doing music, so I made music while I was in high school. I was the only producer, so I would produce with all the kids and whoever would rap and sing would come over my house and do it that way. I fell in love with rap at 13, and started making rap music and producing artists. My father was a businessman, and I learned from him and his dedication, so I applied what I did and was like I’m going to make a business out of it. I’m going to start a studio. I got a studio, worked my way up and just produced. I got to a point where I needed to switch it up a little bit.
The DRAMA thing saved my life, honestly. It made me passionate about music again. I will continue for the rest of my life to work like this, because this is what I love doing. I feel like my purpose on the planet is to help other people with art, with my finances. Whatever I can do. I’m not saying that I’m rich in any way, but I am rich in a sense like I want to help. I want to help. I want to give.
You guys are definitely something different coming out of Chicago, and you pride yourselves on that. Was there ever a time where you had to compromise your sound to be noticed?
V: Absolutely not. I don’t think so.
Not even in the back of your mind?
N: We don’t make music to please anybody, but I know we are pleasing them. At the end of the day, it’s just being yourself. But you get inspired. I get inspired.
V: A lot of the hot artists out of Chicago right now are my friends. We all just inspire each other, but we have such different styles, and we pride ourselves in that our styles are so different. I feel like we made music to what we want to hear. We make music that we would want to listen to.
N: I truly love the music that we make. If no one else listens to it, I listen to it. It’s fine.
V: All the lyrics are 100 percent real situations that I’ve been going through, or have gone through, or Na’el has gone through. We just come from the heart and go from there.
Your EP Lies After Love dropped Friday, May 18. What should listeners be gaining from the project?
V: They can expect to be safe with a truth they might not want to admit. They might feel some things that they didn’t realize that they were feeling, or just have a different perspective on a situation as opposed to being really selfish. When I wrote a lot of these songs and went back and listened to them, I was angry at myself for being so selfish. A lot of it started with ‘I said I wouldn’t’ or ‘I told myself or I wasn’t going to.’
Na’el and I were talking, and we were just like, ‘Wow that’s happening to both of us.’ [Listeners] are going to be faced with some things that they may not be comfortable discussing or admitting, but I think they’re going to find comfort in the music. It’s going to allow them to feel it and not be embarrassed by it, or not feel intimidated by it. ‘I’m feeling these emotions, but they aren’t who I am and they don’t define me. They’re just passing through me.’
What’s the biggest lie you ever told yourself after a breakup?
N: I’ll never fall in love again.
V: That one but also it’s like a play on words. Like ‘I’ll never fall in love again, I won’t do this to myself.’ But then it’s also, like, every time you meet someone and every time you fall in love with someone, you think there’s never going to be anyone better than them. It’s just like, ‘I’m never going to fall in love with anybody else again.’ And also, ‘I never want to do this again.’
N: It’s painful, sh*t.
V: But that’s a g*ddamn lie. You fall in love all the time.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.