We meet the characterful multi-facet, mulling over the essence of her artistry, and reflecting on her terrific sophomore album.
All photography by Buster Meaney
I scurry through the sticky heat of Portobello Road, running late of course, a personality trait of mine. It’s a sweltering Monday afternoon and the side streets of the iconic location are bustling with tourists who are really accentuating their stereotype, pausing mid pavement to capture a meaningless photo, intruding on my meaningful stride. Patience tested, I close in on my destination, the Gail’s just before Ladbroke Grove, and spot a recognisable figure sat at a table outside smoking a cigarette.
I greet Eleni Drake, condemning my own timing, before entering the establishment to purchase an iced Americano. I take a moment to collect my thoughts before proceeding to suggest that we head off. With Rough Trade West a matter of minutes walk away, it seems like a natural place to start.
We malaise around the record store, sharing favourite albums and offering up suggestions of hidden gems. Before long we come across Drake’s new record, Surf The Sun, nestled between the sleeves of classic bodies of work, surrounded by legacy. A smile appears from the corners of her mouth, an air of surreality surrounds.
Strolling back up the busy road, we find ourselves situated in a pub garden. Drake recently released her second album, the aforementioned Surf The Sun, to ardent critical reception, a feat that it is fully justified in achieving. Intimate, uplifting and personal, the record is refined in its style and mood, but also its creative process, with Drake taking on all responsibilities, from writing to producing, mixing to mastering. This LP has now been followed up by “Marina”, a gentle, heartfelt and dazzling single brimming with intricate musicianship and devastating lyricism.
Over a mid afternoon beverage, we look back at Drake’s musical origins, touch on the psyche of being in the public eye, mull the essence of her artistry, and reflect on her terrific sophomore album.
Listen to Surf The Sun…
Read the exclusive interview…
Talk me through your musical origins?
I used to have these atmospheric CDs of like flutes and ocean sounds. I used to think they were songs and used to write and sing along to those things. Upon reflection, real bad stuff. I picked up my first guitar when I was about 11. It was at school and they were all right-handed guitars and I was left-handed. So I had to just play upside down. People are like, is that a thing that you do? And I’m like, no, it’s just being broke; left-handed guitars are more expensive.
The first ever song I recorded was when I was 15 and I still have it. It’s so bad. It’s like some weird country wannabe thing. Then I started like gravitating more towards writing songs like Foo Fighters.
I’ve always had quite a low voice. I used to blame cigarettes, but then I heard these recordings from when I was 15, 16 and they sound the same. I went through my big emo phase as well, like the fringe, everything. Writing songs that were a bit more rocky. Then when I got out of uni, I just wanted to basically be a producer and a songwriter. But people around me were saying you should really write your own stuff. And I was like, yeah, maybe.
How did you come to terms with the idea of being the centre point, the artist yourself? Do you find it intimidating?
I am an aggressively fragile person. I pretend that I don’t really get phased by a lot of things and I don’t care. But the truth is, it’s probably the complete opposite. I think I care too much. I question myself and what I do all the time… God, I mean, I’m still nervous.
I’m just trying to basically make a living off music. I’m not trying to be anyone unique or anything different. But yeah, it is nerve-wracking. Because I bare my soul on my albums or bodies of work or whatever. I get more nervous about my friends listening to it rather than random people because I’m never going to know what random people think. But when my friends are like – are you okay? I’m like… just deflect.
I’ve learned to not give too much of a fuck about what important people think about it, labels or publishers or whatever because I feel like that’s where the real pain comes from. I want people to resonate with it.
I know I write sad music but I also feel like, fuck it, it’s just a bit too sad. And then you do that thing where you cover it with major chords and people are like, no, you’re fine, you’re sweet. There’s a lot of people going through similar stuff and we’re all in it together. I feel like that was a wild way of answering your question of do I get nervous? In short, yeah, I fucking do.
How would you define your essence as an artist? Who are you as a musician?
I usually go for indie because I feel like indie/alternative suits a lot of genres, basically. I guess throughout the years, I’ve just picked up things from artists and bands that I love, like Billie Holiday for me is one of my biggest inspirations. The way she sings her music and her lyrics. My music sounds nothing like hers, but she is a big inspiration to me. I’m a massive Mac Miller fan. Nothing I do sounds anything like him, but he is one of my biggest inspirations. Then going back to my younger years, listening to Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Paramore. Their music doesn’t really sound like mine, but I feel like I’ve taken the inspiration and the feeling that they give me and tried to emulate that back within my music.
How have you reached a point of making music that is honest in its entirety?
When I was younger, I would always write about very truthful things. I seriously struggle to write from someone else’s perspective. That also comes from being a songwriter for other people when they would tell me what’s going on and I would write the song for them. I don’t have too much heart when I do that, it’s more just I get the song done. When it’s my own stuff, it’s more like – let me just be honest and whoever doesn’t like it, doesn’t like it.
Some people listen to music and they just hear music, they don’t actually take music for what it is. I’m a massive lyrics person but there are so many people out there that barely focus on the lyrics and are just listening to the music. I think it’s fascinating that there are so many people that are more like – this sounds sick – rather than liking what you’re saying.
How would you compare your first LP Can’t Stop The Dawn to the recent follow up, Surf The Sun?
Can’t Stop The Dawn I would say is a bit sadder than this newer album. I wanted to make Surf The Sun slightly happier with a few more optimistic tones. I feel like there’s not many people who are sad when they’re thinking about the sun or the beach. It’s kind of my happy place, the island I’m from in Greece is this teeny weeny island that is literally just completely surrounded by water and I know I feel real fucking good when I’m there so I wanted to kind of like encapsulate that feeling in the album.
Would you say that your writing is inspired by your surroundings?
I’ve been from a city to a beach town, it just stays the same. I feel like I always want to do something different with the next thing that I do but I don’t know if my surroundings influence that.
You produced the whole thing yourself, how was that process?
I do this thing where I listen to the tracks in different locations with different audio systems. I feel like most people have either Airpods or Apple headphones so I listen through them a lot when it comes to mastering. I also sometimes mix and master in cars. Typically it’s just in my own little setup that I’ve got in the studios but once I’ve finished a master I’ll then listen to it in a car and then in headphones and then in different headphones and I’m like right I’m fucking happy with this whatever happens now happens.
How do you reach a point of being happy with the mix?
In short I’m never happy. I feel like everything I’ve ever listened to that I’ve done years later I’m like – why did I do that?
I would master my songs for a year if I could so. I give myself like a 2, 3 week cut off point and I’m like it’s just got to be done. It’s good to have that discipline because otherwise you could be just doing it forever.
The album starts off brighter and more sunny sounding, then reaches a point of being more delicate and poignant. Talk me through that decision?
I would say the last song on the album is probably the saddest song on the album lyrically but that’s just because I have basically explained throughout the album where I am, and my location is actually really important to me and my mental health.
The last song basically speaks about feeling down about certain things in my life. I get really affected by like the state of the world sometimes and it actually affects me way more than it just should. I feel like people have the right idea sometimes in turning a blind eye but I can’t do that. It actually keeps me up at night, whether it’s wars or politics or the fucking government.
What is the overarching message across the LP?
The intention behind it is that it’s going to be okay. I’m actively trying my best to be more in the moment and not reflect too much on the past. So yeah, this album is basically like – either way it’s going to be okay, trust the process whatever has happened, it’s happened, let it be. Let it live in the past.
You’re already working on the album’s follow up, how do you project that sounding?
It’s way more angry. I’m sure there’s going to be somber notes around it but it’s more like me getting a bit mad. Lyrically and instrumentally it’s a little bit heavier which is cool because I feel like that’s something I don’t necessarily gravitate towards.