Dreya Mac has waltzed so effortlessly into the music scene, you would be forgiven for thinking she was already an industry veteran. We speak to the star on the rise ahead of her impending debut EP, to get the low-down on her life so far.
After introducing herself through her debut single “Skippin’” in April 2020, Dreya Mac has been quietly garnering a loyal audience. The track saw Mac changing flows at a whim, mixing singing with rapping and guitar lines with hefty 808s, to immediately differentiate herself from her peers. If there’s one thing that became immediately obvious from that track, it was her pliable rhythm.
To anyone who follows Mac’s TikTok account, where she routinely creates dances to any sound imaginable, this rhythm is no surprise. In fact, dance is where Mac first made her name having featured in music videos for Stormzy’s “Vossi Bop” and Kojey Radical’s “Can’t Go Back” amongst others. Seeing this side of the music industry gave Mac a yearning to command these same audiences on her own.
While the fans have been kept at bay due to coronavirus, the past year has seen her evolve a strutting confidence no matter who is watching. February’s follow-up single to “Skippin’”, “BAG”, produced by Karma Kid, presented a more energetic, rap-oriented side to Mac that seems perfectly suited for when live events return.
In the meantime, at just 20-years-old, Mac’s career looks as though it can go in any direction she pleases – especially if this Summer’s debut EP makes its mark. Notion chat to Mac about how she danced (literally) into the music industry, the importance of TikTok, and her go-to karaoke songs.
The whole period of coronavirus has seen the early building blocks of Dreya Mac in the music world. How have you found it thus far? Has it been frustrating to be inside when you could be touring, or has it allowed you to kind of bathe in the journey and improve your craft?
I feel like, with me and my journey, it’s weird because I’ve completely started when we were in lockdown. Like, I’m basically a lockdown artist. I haven’t been outside yet. So, because I haven’t actually seen what it’s like, it doesn’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. So that’s kind of positive, I guess. A negative would be that I’d love to perform and show everyone what I’m doing right now. But yeah, I think it allowed me to properly find my sound as well. Like this whole first year, I’ve just been away making music. So, it’s actually been very helpful.
Did you even consider releasing your debut tracks at a different time?
I think it all aligned perfectly. I did want to go into 2020 with a kind of New Year’s release in January. But luckily, I managed to be patient and plan everything out. And it just worked. It was one of the first few weeks of lockdown, so everyone was on their phone and when I released the debut, we got a lot of traction.
You’ve been a dancer for a few musicians including Kojey Radical, Dua Lipa and as part of Stormzy’s “Vossi Bop” video. I know you studied dance, but what led you to that point? Have you always needed to move?
I started properly dancing at the BRIT school. When I was 14, I did musical theatre, and I was just in love with dance at the same time. I just wanted to keep dancing and dancing, and that has really helped in terms of transitioning to music. Like, I think I’ve just been exposed to the industry a lot earlier than other artists. I’ve seen behind the scenes – I’ve seen what goes into the creative process of everything and what goes into the hard work behind the end product. So, because I’ve been that side, as well as a regular consumer, I think I’ve got a one up in a way, because I know exactly what’s required. I know the direction I need to go in, creatively speaking. So yeah, I think that’s helped me become a musician.
That kind of feeds into my other question which was asking if seeing this side of the industry told you that you wanted to be centre stage? In other words, why did you decide to make the jump from dance and put out your own music?
It’s crazy, because I can actually say that one of the last jobs I’ve done as a dancer was the BRIT Awards last year for Stormzy. I had already been making music for the last four months before that, so I said to myself that in 2020 I want to really do it properly. But it wasn’t until I was on stage and I looked to my right to see Stormzy doing his thing, that I was just like ‘I know I can do that’. I thought ‘I love what I’m doing now, and I love being a part of the bigger picture’, but I knew I could be at the centre stage and I could carry this audience on my own. I just knew in that moment that I could do it.
Your TikTok account is also iconic, whether you’re dancing to Twilight tunes or the soundtrack to the Fantastic Mr. Fox movie. How did your understanding dance help with creating music, if at all? Is it all about making music that moves you literally and emotionally?
So initially, I started music because I wanted to make music to dance to. I think I was feeling super uninspired, and all the music sounded the same and I was thinking ‘how am I going to get out this rut’. So, I just started writing my own lines and then as soon as I started utilising my singing, I realised ‘wait, I can actually like do this properly’ – I can make songs that make sense but also, as a consumer, dancers are the biggest consumers of music. Literally, we’re the main consumers of music. So, with that being said, I know what people want. So, when I’m making music, it’s moving me. I can already see the visual, I can already see this certain move, so when it comes to stuff like TikTok as well, like, it’s quite natural. I like to entertain, to put stuff together and make little videos that are pleasing on the eye. But when it comes to music itself, like in terms of dance, I always aim to make stuff that I can dance to. 100 per cent.
Coming to the music itself then, journalists will often put a new musician in a box based on little material, in what is increasingly a genre-less world. And to me, your music has a range that seems like it could be expanded along avenues. So let’s flip it, how would you describe your sound if someone asked you? Where do you want to take it?
I don’t know if it’s a word, I don’t think it is, but it’s ‘genre-less’. There’s no assigned genre I can fixate my music to because even with the unreleased songs I’m currently working on, I keep surprising myself. I will literally flip from neo-soul to an R&B feel to a drill beat, to an afro-swing feel – I keep surprising myself. And that’s from being lucky enough to work with different producers, but also allowing myself to not be boxed in already. Like, I feel like we, as artists, like to please our fans, or please those who support us, but also that can really hinder the possibilities – we can do much more So yeah, I think I don’t really want to lead with a genre. I don’t really want to be boxed in by a genre, I know different journalists will try and do it. Even with A&R [Artists and Repertoire] companies when people were contacting me at the beginning – comparing me to a lot of artists that just looked like me, as opposed to those that sounded like me have the same kind of vibe as me. So, I feel like I’m very individual with how I make my music.
And you touched on it there, what’s it like to work with producers rather than say, being up in the middle of the night creating beats on your own? & what usually comes first: lyrics/concepts or sound-design?
In terms of me right now, I’d love to get into producing – that’s something I genuinely want to do. Already, when I’m in the studio with people, they’ll come up with a sample or they’ll be playing with some sounds and I’ll be saying, ‘can we add this?’. Or ‘can we take it higher or lower?’. I know a lot of artists don’t actually do that. They just get their beat and then they go with it, but I like to be really involved.
When it comes to the writing process of just making music, I tend to gravitate towards my hook first, my chorus, because… I feel like once I drop my EP, everyone will be able to understand what I’m about and what my music’s about, but I really tend to make catchy choruses, like, stuff that sticks in your head, but isn’t annoying (laughs).
So, it’s more along the lines of, if I can listen to a beat and feel the chorus come to me naturally. I know, it’s the one. I feel it coming. From there, I can base the song on everything to do with the topic in the chorus and it actually helps me with my verses. It helps me to structure everything else because I have that base.
Do you like to let them run their ideas? Or is it more your guidance that they then take away to create something?
I love to hear where they want to take things. I feel like it’s a recent thing – allowing people to like have control over where tracks go. I have a really open mind so sometimes my opinion just changes. I’ll hear it from their perspective and suddenly agree. So yeah, I am quite flexible when it comes to who dictates the sound.
You said you would like to learn to produce, but then there’s also a lot of value in collaboration. Where do you stand with it?
I think it’s tricky because every producer tells me that once I start producing my own things, I’ll go into this little hole and I won’t want to work with anyone else. But currently, I’m enjoying working with people. I think, at this point in my career, I just want to keep working with people. Having that group feeling of knowing that a song is sounding great, during that production process is a nice feeling. It’s really enjoyable. So, yeah, I think I’m going to keep the collaborations going for sure.
Do you have particular inspirations? Who are your favourite artists of all time? I know that’s a tough question.
We’ll try (laughs). Of all time, I’d say Michael Jackson. His melodies are just insane. You know what I mean – there’s no one that compares. In this current era, I’d say Billie Eilish all round – from her creative direction to her lyricism to how she works with her brother – because I work closely with my sister when writing lyrics. So yeah, I just love her music, her process. I love what she’s about and how she’s very individual. And also, she was a dancer – and so was Michael. I’ve followed Billie since when she had less than a million followers and seeing the growth is actually insane. So I think they’re heavy influences on career music in general.
What would be your karaoke song of choice for a post-covid sing-along?
If We Were A Movie – Hannah Montana. I think that’s going to be it forever. It’s a banger. I can’t just leave it at that though (laughs). I do love The Less I Know The Better by Tame Impala.
You can go back-to-back on them. Relatedly, given your sister is an established artist under the name Alika, was your household always playing music growing up? Is there music built into your family tree?
I wouldn’t say family tree, but my close family is like darkest bs – I think he was the head of Island. But yeah, other than that, yes, in general. Growing up we had garage playing, old school grime, all blasting through speakers on cleaning days at home. And I think that’s where I get most of my flow from. I switched flows, I bounced off it and I love the percussion of things, all thanks to my mom’s obsession with garage. She just loved garage growing up. Also, old school R&B – Anthony Hamilton, stuff like that. Non-stop stuff playing throughout my childhood. I think that’s where it come from but also, I’ve apparently always been singing – I’ve always loved to sing, blah, blah (laughs).
Keeping it with your mum, is she friends with Ian Wright? As a football fan, I couldn’t help but notice he follows her on Twitter. What’s the story there?
(Laughs) Oh my gosh. My mom’s going to be chuffed that you asked this – she’s going to be so gassed. I don’t know but what I do know is that she loves football. Like I don’t think I know anyone that loves football as much as my mom. I chill with a lot of guys, but she just loves football. I can’t even tell you but I’m going to ask her myself after this (laughs).
Without knowing you, it seems like you’re a multi-talented person or always keeping yourself busy. What are you up to in your spare time? What are the favourite pastimes of Dreya Mac?
I literally just like making TikToks, I actually enjoy it. It’s something where at first, you’re like, ‘what is this hack?’ Like, my manager told me to get it and I was like, ‘what on earth is this?’. Right? But you get on it, your page starts to personalise, and it just gets addictive. Every other video is something you’d like, so obviously, you’re going to be hooked. And then your brain starts to go ‘I could be creative in this’ or you see a video and you think ‘Let me do this version’. I like to keep my mind stimulated, and I think that’s what it is. That’s why a lot of people are on the app because you can just continuously create. There’s always these different tools and different filters that you can use to edit your video then make them like entertaining. So yeah, what else do I do? Make people laugh. That’s it. (laughs).
You’ve worked with Telfar – and got one of their bags –, been signed up for festivals like Reading and Leeds, and got Skippin’ rated one of the best songs of 2020. I love to hear about positivity and growth like this – so, what’s the best thing that has happened to you in the past year and are there any goals you have set yourself to reach next?
I think COLORS was the best thing to happen to me this year. I’ve always said I wanted to do one as soon as I started music. And so, I think I started music, the end of 2019. And then within a year of releasing my debut to be able to perform an unreleased song there – It just blew my mind. You know, I’m super, super grateful and humbled by it. But yeah, by next year… I do want to perform at the BRIT Awards.
I hear there is the possibility of an album coming this summer…how long do the fans have to wait? What else do you have planned for the rest of this year?
We’re looking at the end of June, or the beginning of July. And I just think firstly, summer: it’s going to be nice to have the songs out and to be able to play them in a speaker outside and stuff like that. But also, I’m looking forward to after the EP to hopefully be a lot more relaxed around releasing something, because obviously leading up to an EP is obviously a bit more, you know, tiny – You’ve got to look at everything carefully and in detail to be sure what you are releasing.
I know a lot of my supporters know I’ve been working on stuff and I do have a lot of music, but I’ve been not I’ve not been able to release as willy-nilly as I would want to, you know. So yeah, I just want them to look forward to being a little bit more relaxed after the album’s out.