Shelley’s range of music has been extensive since the Grammy Award-nominated artist was making music as D.R.A.M., and it’s that range that allowed him to create hits from the most unlikely of inspirations.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Shelley explains how one session with Beyonce impacted his career, the pandemic changing how he makes music, and battling Westside Boogie with songs at Red Bull Soundclash. Read the chat below.
What do you need in the studio to make your best music?
I need somebody who can play and we have a connection with getting the right sound out. A lot of time, I coach the whole situation. I’m really like a ‘60s/’70s style producer. I tell you what to do and give you the melodies. I don’t know the technical terms, but most of the genius creatives don’t get into the technical terms. It’s a hidden language in music. If y’all speaking the same dialect, it’ll all come together. I need someone who can play and an engineer with fast hands. You don’t even have to have all of the moves in regards to mixing. You have to know when I say I’m ready to go, it’s time to take off.
What song has one of your most memorable sessions?
There was this one night in Spring 2018. This was back when I was getting really fucked up — rockstar wasted. It was one of those nights I was with this producer I’ve done a lot of records with by the name of Oligee. We were just locked in in a session getting fucked up. It got around midnight, we went outside to have a smoke break. He likes to put on music when we have smoke breaks, so he played this instrumental. I went, “Oh my god, what the fuck is that?” He said, “It’s just a jam session me, my brother and his friends did.” I told him, “Load that up.” We recorded this record that’s really one of them ones. It’s spooky good. As soon as that record is done, we just continue being in our bag getting more fucked up. Then I was like, “I want to do another record.” He made the beat from scratch. I had the vibe going and recorded that. I did two whole songs that night. I call it my Super Saiyan Night. I don’t know if people will hear those records.
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“Remedies” is one of my favorite songs of 2021. How did that track come about?
It got recorded originally in 2018 with Oligee and Josh [Abraham], co-CEO of Pulse Music Group. I was working directly with Josh. Even though he was the big boss, he still likes to get into the creative process. At first, the beat was poppy. I was just fucking around singing “memories, da-di-da-da.” It was like that for a while. It had a more pop-trappy weird sound to it, and I fell out of love with it. But, everybody said it was a strong record. When we were finishing up Shelley FKA DRAM, somebody brought that song up. I went in the studio with Oli again and asked him, “What if we stripped the music from it?” He said, “Bro, I’m already there with you.” We slowed it down, gave it sentiment, and made it all make sense because the music reflected the lyrics and melodies. It became a complete thing. But, if you heard that record three years ago, you might think, “What the fuck is this?”
One session of yours that almost broke the internet was when you went in with Beyonce. How did that come about?
It was amazing. She liked “Cha Cha.” Her posting that video and doing that for me was the spark that put my career into overdrive. She heard my other music through Big Jon [Platt], a top publisher and one of the best guys. I was playing him music while we were shopping around for publishing deals. He heard the record “Password” that’s actually on my first album. He sent it to her and a few days later they said, “Beyonce loves the record.” A few days after that, he was like, “Beyonce wants to meet with you.” I met her in New York and it was the craziest experience. I heard the song’s beat playing and her singing. What she did for me was monumental. After that, she put me on with Diplo. We’ve made many records together. She put me on with Mike Will [Made It]. A lot of people thought it was off the strength of her wanting to throw something on “Cha Cha.” No. I like to keep things low because I still find the mystique of that.
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Now you’re performing at Red Bull Soundclash against Westside Boogie. Any of them have a memorable session?
“Special.” It was featured on Chance [the Rapper]’s album [Coloring Book] called “D.R.A.M. Sings Special.” I was in Malibu with Donnie Trumpet, and I told him I wanted to get into making children’s music. I wanted to make something children can have and relate to. When I said that, he all of a sudden pulled up this beat he was working on. As soon the melody came on, I went, “You…are…very…special.” We made the song in like 20 minutes. Elle Varner was there and is actually the female vocal on that record. It was a fire experience. We’re doing that tonight at Red Bull Soundclash and putting a little twist on it.
You’ll be performing more songs tonight, as well. Do you record music while considering how it’ll translate live?
Whenever I make a song, I’m always thinking of the crowd. It’s always a part of the process. If you become of mine, I can perform damn near my whole discography and there’ll be moments where you can do the call and response. It’s part of the creative process. I just like to make music that way.
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How did the pandemic affect your creative process?
I come up from recording myself on the edge of my bed back in VA. I was really self-sufficient about that, but still very underground. Once the budget comes and I become established, it starts to feel like I got used to the other side. Once things shut down, it was very hard to sit down, lock in and record myself. I got used to having someone with a fast hand hitting them presets and we’re locked in. Also, leaving from my home made me feel like I was getting up to go to work because this is my job. I love my job, but I have to also treat it as such. With recording at home, my girl can come down bring me the L, bring me a plate of food, show me something. It’s a different element and vibe, so the process changed. I needed that time, though.
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