Johnny Drille: Soothing Sound Of A Daring Virtuoso
If you listen to any of Jonny Drille’s songs, chances are that you might mistake the Edo State native for some foreign alternative artistes. But hey, Jonny is a homeboy, who has come with a unique blend of sound. From Wait For Me to My Beautiful Love, Start All Over, Romeo and Juliet, Awa Love, Love Don’t Lie and the rest, the Mavin Records artiste has remained consistent in his quest to get his brand of music to the fore.
Born John Ighodaro and raised in Edo State, Drille is from a family of seven, including a clergy father and mother. A 2012 graduate of English and Literature from the University of Benin, he is a folk/alternative singer, songwriter, producer, and sound engineer, who started out music at a very early age from his father’s Church; he learned to sing around his siblings, especially his older sister. He then went on to teach himself music production around 2006, when he first began using cassette recorders to record sounds.
However, his first shot at the limelight was in 2013, when he featured as a contestant in the 6th Edition of the MTN Project Fame Academy in 2013. Though he didn’t win the competition, that experience was all it took for the young talent to set out for a career in music.
As an artiste, Johnny had been putting out songs but they had gone unnoticed until January 2015, when he released his cover version of Di’ja’s hit Awww, which caught the attention of the producer and Mavins Records boss Don Jazzy. Instantly, Don Jazzy followed him Twitter and commended him for his effort; that was his first contact with the award-winning producer. Indeed, there’s power in social media when used properly.
Though the cover song opened him to more listeners, Jonny Drille followed it up with a personal composition, the Christian country/folksy song Love Don’t Lie, which dropped in June 2015. August 12 of the same year saw the release of the massively accepted single, Wait For Me, which topped most of the Nigerian alternative charts. By February of 2016, he released My Beautiful Love, which is in celebration of true love.
On his choice of the folk sound, the singer admits he didn’t start out with it, as he had tried his hands at multiple genres of music including highlife, hip-hop, and even afro-pop but these didn’t work out until he figured out a way to stand out after coming across the music of the American folk band, Mumford & Sons.
Inspired by the likes of Mumford & Sons, Owl City, Phillip Phillips, Passenger, Jon Bellion, Laura Mvula, Cobhams Asuquo and others, the talented singer hopes to redefine love songs through his music.
In late 2016, his hardwork paid off; he was nominated at the Headies for Best Alternative Song for Wait For Me. And on February 28, 2017, he was officially announced as a Mavin Records artiste.
“A lot has happened between last year and now; I’ve become more exposed with larger fan base. Of course, my experience with Mavin Records, I’m learning a lot and making more music. There’s so much to be done, but of course, we keep getting better,” the singer said in an interview with Guardian Music.
For those eagerly waiting for Jonny’s debut album, it seems that won’t be happening any time soon, as the singer is not keep on putting out a full body of works for now. However, expect and EP later in the year.
“Well, the word on the street is that Nigerians don’t appreciate albums anymore; you just drop one single and that’s all. I don’t know if that is good because, it’s now making artistes to produce songs as if they are releasing singles. At the end of the day, if you want to put out an album, you just take all singles together. Personally for me, I will definitely like to put out a project, maybe not a full-length album, but an EP. I hope to drop that sometime this year,” he revealed.
At the time Jonny Drille stepped out with his soothing sound, which is gradually picking up, the industry was saturated with Afropop songs and fast tempo beats. But for a young man, who wishes to make a different, joining the bandwagon was a no, no.
“When I was trying to break into the industry, I looked and saw that the industry was already saturated with Pop music; largely Afrobeat, Afropop. There were so many artistes on the scene; almost everyone was an artiste. You go to a place, nine out of 10 people are artistes and everyone is trying to break into the same industry with the same kind of sound. So, I thought to myself, ‘there has to be an easier way to get these people to listen to me.’ If I made a song that sounded like Wizkid or Davido, we already have Wizkid and Davido; there’s no difference. And of course, people will prefer Davido and Wizkid because I’m just coming up. So, I figured that I could do something different that has hardly been heard before,” he said.
Though many were skeptical about his brand of music getting making it through, especially his media team, the versatile artiste stuck to his guns.
“I think it was pretty much an experiment that worked. Initially, my PR person didn’t want me to put it out because he felt Nigerian are not ready for that kind of sound yet. But I had faith to put out the first song, which was Love Don’t Lie. Once I dropped it, I saw the response; it wasn’t massive but it was encouraging enough to put out more tracks. Over time, we’ve built a fan base that appreciates the music,” he enthused.
From the way he spoke, you could tell that Jonny Drille is a perfectionist when it comes to music making. In fact, he personally confirmed it, saying, “Music making process for me, at some point, gets really very annoying; I keep redoing and redoing. Sometimes, I have to scrap the whole songs and stat from the beginning. For Love Don’t Lie, I think I probably have like 15 to 17 versions; it’s like that for most of the songs. Even Romeo and Juliet, I was getting to like 30 versions before I arrived at the final cut.”
While some artiste would depend on fans to tests their works, Jonny, being a perfectionist, won’t let any of his recording out until they pass his integrity test; he’s his own biggest critic.
“Before I put out any song, it has to be mind blowing to me to be able to blow people’s mind. So, if I feel like ‘hey, this song is not exactly there yet,’ I just keep working and keep working till it’s as perfect as it were in my mind,” he noted.
While lamenting the inability of most alternative artistes to find a space in the hip-hop dominated music industry like ours, he said there are so many music genres in the industry that people don’t know about yet.
“That mine is getting heard is just because a lot of things happened. But trust me, there are a lot of other sounds that people have not started listening to. I think one of the problems may be that we Africans, we are proud of our culture; we like to identify with certain things that belong to us. For instance, my sound is not exactly African, but I had to find a way to make it African and to get Nigerians to relate with the sound. I think what most of the other guy are not doing.”
He continued: “I think what people like Adekunle Gold are doing is that they are making a different kind of African sound; it’s like a fusion. But some people will just bring a genre like jazz; core jazz is not our thing. So, if you must bring it to Nigeria, you should find a way to blend it with African elements; people will relate to it. Pidgin English is something we can all relate to; Yoruba, Igbo, Benin…just find a way to Africanise it and people will surely like it,” he admonished.
Though not planned, it seems efforts by alternative artistes like Jonny Drille in pushing their sounds to mainstream, is gradually paying off for new talents, who taking advantage of their exploits to launch.
“Well, it’s not like we are consciously pushing a movement, but I guess unconsciously, because of the vigour we are using to push out this sound and getting people to like it, it now seems like it’s a movement. But, of course, I’m grateful that my music doing well is encouraging more people to come out and try to be different. I’m hoping that in times to come, more Nigerians will begin to accept other sounds that are not exactly Afrobeat and Afropop; appreciate them, push them and let them shine.”
Meanwhile, whenever Jonny Drille’s song comes on, you can’t miss it; there’s this unique felling that come with it.
“Every artiste should be like that,” he quipped. “Every artiste should have something special about him. Like I said before, if you want to be another Wizkid, nobody is going to appreciate you; we have Wizkid already and that’s enough. That’s why when you hear his music, you know it’s Wizkid; he has his unique sound. So, everyone should have that unique thing about him or her so that when we hear you on radio, we know that’s you; you don’t have to tell us, ‘hey, this is your boy…,” he said.
Having walked himself to limelight, Jonny is now aiming for the skies.
“I’m really hoping for the best; thankfully, I’m with Mavin Records, Don Jazzy. They are doing their best to push my music to the market that you don’t usually get my music. But I’m hoping that in years to come, when you hear Jonnie Drille, you will be like, ‘yes, he can stand alongside the Davidos and Wizkids.’ Of course, it’s going to take time and we are going to work harder and harder, but hopefully, we will get there,” he said with confidence.
Though Mavin Records is home to some of the best in the industry, having an alternative artiste on the label, which is heavy on hip-hop and Afropop, sometimes look strange. But to Jonny, being in that mix comes with a lot of positives.
“I wouldn’t say entirely strange, but sometimes, because of what the mindset is outside already, it looks that way. Sometime, I see tweets that tend to ask me that kind of questions as well, but personally, I don’t really feel odd with them. However, sound wise, yes, it might look like that. But that’s the beauty of it because I have this strong, solid machinery of Mavin Records that has been able to push established acts like Tiwa Savage, Korede Bello, Ricardo Banks, Di’ja and others. Now, I have that backing to push out this sound that is not your usual sound to market that is not your usual market. The way I see it, it’s a plus to me; that’s the reason I joined,” he said.
On his choice of Mavin artiste for collaboration, he said, “all these guys are versatile, that’s the beauty of fusion; you can take this and add it to that. I’ve made songs with almost all of them; I’ve made song with Korede, Di’ja and I’m making one with Tiwa Savage Very soon. These guys are versatile; they can jump on any music and make magic out of it,” he said.