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Described as "the sardonic love child between David Bowie and Wonder Woman from the valley," Dree Mon is a singer, dancer, guitarist, and award-winning songwriter. Dree Mon's music and music videos have landed her on the Grammy Awards ballots, and her songwriting has been featured across many media outlets, including network shows (Parenthood and White Collar), commercials for ESPN, streaming platforms like Netflix (High Strung Free Dance) and feature films like No Service, Wingman Inc!, and Love of War. Dree also performs frequently on stages around Southern California, where she brings her unique blend of influences to her live setup. Inspired by such artists as Gwen Stefani, Stevie Wonder, and Jamiroquai, Dree Mon’s music is a blend of modern production and classic funk elements. Her music has earned her many accolades, such as an award from the Indie Music Channel, the RAWard's (Producer Choice), the LA Critic Awards (Best Music Video), and a Temecula Valley Music Award.
I first met Dree in October of 2011 when we played one of the most memorable shows of my life together. At the time, Dree could not accompany herself on guitar, so she hired me to play a private Halloween party. To this day, I cannot forget showing up for sound check alongside a lion trainer and his lion who were setting up right next to us. We did the whole show with this fully grown lion just sitting there calmly next to his trainer. After that show, Dree and I continued to play together for years and years. Somewhere around 2013, Dree started taking guitar lessons from me, and after a few years, she was accompanying herself at her gigs. Dree is a true artist. She has fought hard to develop her sound and image. Her mission is to create fun dance music with thought-provoking and deeply personal lyrics. Beyond learning to play guitar, Dree has learned how to produce her own music and her own music videos, all while developing an incredible support network of fans, musicians, and other songwriters.
Chris: First thing, I would love to just give everybody some insight into your story, how you went from wanting to be involved in music to really making it your life and creating a space in music that's your own.
Dree: I started as a dancer, and I was dancing for other singers and for other musicians, and I just loved seeing what they were doing. All along I had my own little private moments with music, writing songs for myself, and being part of musical theater productions as a dancer, or maybe I'd sing in the ensemble or something. I always loved it, and I always wanted to do more, but I didn't know how to do it. I didn't know what the first thing was about it. I didn't have any training at all.
And so I really just started with a declaration, and this might sound funny, but I just started with a declaration that I'm going to do this, I'm going to be in music, I'm gonna be a songwriter, I'm gonna be a performer in music. And with that, I set forth to taking the songs that I was writing and letting other people hear them, getting feedback and starting the collaboration process with other folks that were playing guitar, that were playing piano, that were already pretty good at writing, and we started doing shows together. That was really just the beginning of it all. Times were different then than they are now, of course. Everything is kind of online at this moment, so that was then, but that really carried me forth. Through that I did tons of collaborations, I did tons of songwriting, I got some music on TV and film, I performed at many venues, I definitely did the 10,000 hours. That just kind of led me to other little paths in music, and here I am still doing it. So it's been about 10 years, I'd say.
That's amazing. So you touched on some incredibly important points. One, declaring for yourself, I'm going to do this. I don't know how...I don't know where I'm gonna land, but I'm going to do it. And then the second step being the importance of community in all of this and finding like-minded people.
D: Community is everything. I honestly do not think I could do this by myself. Sometimes you might feel like you're by yourself because that's the nature of humanity, and sometimes we have those moments. But you need community, and you need to get involved; and if you don't feel like you're involved, you need to insert yourself in a way that you can be involved. So for me, going out, meeting other musicians, asking musicians, “Do you know other people?”, just kinda getting that pipeline going, going to shows, etc. Now that we're online, you can go to online shows. There's tons of shows online that are happening, and you could be a part of those—that's a great place to meet musicians and collaborators. Joining groups, joining conferences, joining courses. I've learned a ton from the conferences I've gone to. I've been to the Durango Songwriters Expo, the songwriting festival ASCAP experience, and several others, countless others. I always meet so many people, and they become like this community, and they're really supportive because everybody is trying to do the same thing.
Well, that's also an important lesson—you're saying to be a fan first. Sometimes people like to use the word contact, but contacts really don’t get us anywhere; friends, friendships, relationships, the supportive kind of exchange is where we really start to build that system that supports us long term.
D: Yes, yes, definitely. I try...It's just, I think in my nature to do it (be supportive), and I enjoy it. I feel like...you get what you give. I love that.
Exactly. Now, let’s go all the way back to the beginning. Was there a person or a moment or an artist that just connected with you, and about how old were you?
D: Well, it's so funny, so... When I was a teenager, that's kind of when it all started. I was already dancing, so I was already listening to the latest music and the coolest music, because dance teachers are really like the curators. They were like the Spotify playlist curators of those days. And so I'm very thankful to them. But I had a couple of things happen. When I was a teenager, I was hit by a car. I had to take time off of dancing, and I did obviously get back to it, but during that time, I had a lot of thoughts and feelings and I was just writing, putting pen to paper. It was very cathartic, and things were coming out really easily. I was loving it, and it kind of became a newfound passion of mine. After that, I was just a really huge fan of artists like Gwen Stefani and someone like her. She was very similar in the sense that she carved out her own brand, and she has her own persona and kind of came from the ground up as well. So yeah, so she was hugely inspiring to me.
How long from that period of time until now where you really know songwriting is where you belong?
D: It took me a long time.
Everybody knows what they hear on the radio or see music videos, but it's just so much more to it than that.
D: There is, and I think between life and trying this and trying that, our paths are not linear. But my advice to people is if they know that they enjoy something, to go for it, like, as soon as possible because why wait? Do it, and don't wait.
So at this point in your career, you do quite a variety of things—you're writing, you have your own music, you're also co-writing with people, you're doing some sync things as well. But then on top of that, you are also a performer, and you've cultivated this ability to do long sets of music that embody a variety of different styles and interpretations. So one question is: in all of that, what is your favorite aspect of music?
D: I think in all honesty, and I've asked myself this question so many times, I think it is performing. It's always the first thing that I want to do. I'll put that before anything else, so I know that it's my favorite, for sure.
It’s the same for me, and I've struggled with explaining that. What is it about performing?
D: I think there's so many things. I mean, just getting into that state of singing and performing, if there's something like that makes you feel whole, it kind of feels like coming home at this point, and I feel very comfortable on the stage. I feel like that's really where I can be the best me. I also really love the reactions of other people. I know when people are happy and they're enjoying it, and there's something really fulfilling and validating, and that's just the honest truth. So I crave that as well. There's an energy exchange that's kind of unexplainable. I know that when I go a period of time without performing, I just miss it. It's just something that's irreplaceable.
What is the best piece of advice that someone has ever given you?
D: That's hard. I guess when it comes to your dreams, because dreams are about your mindset, imagine yourself if you were a little kid. And imagine telling yourself, “Okay, these are all the things that you're gonna be able to do and all the things you can do and all the things you're capable of doing.” A lot of times as we grow older, we start to talk down to ourselves, and we start to create our own limits and barriers. If you think of yourself as a little kid, you wouldn't say those things. You wouldn't stop yourself. You wouldn't tell that little kid inside, “You can't do that.” So even as you're growing older, don't lose your inner child. Don't lose your ambition and your drive and your belief that anything can happen.
That's fantastic advice. No limits. And I think that you've embodied that. One of the things that I have always respected and loved the most about you, which I think our students can learn a lot from, is that you have been pretty much fearless achieving the music videos, the sound of your music, and relentless in refining what that sounds like, always raising your own bar. I've always found it to be inspiring that if you don't know something, you go and find out how to do it. You’ve taken guitar lessons, you've taken recording lessons, you've been a part of all of these awesome conferences, and so on. How important has that been in helping you shape what you want your sound to be and who you wanna be?
D: It's everything. It's everything. Having mentors is so important. Mentors and teachers and people to guide you and people to run things by, that is huge because you might not know, like you said, you might not know everything, or you're not gonna know everything, so you can defer to people that do know more in certain areas. Without that, I don't think I would be able to do anything. Honestly, that's been everything for me.
So what are you working on right now? What's on your plate right now?
D: This moment...well, I just recorded my next single at home, which is fantastic because I was always going to studios and recording. And now I'm at home and can't go to another studio necessarily, so I decided to take the plunge and make sure that I can record my own vocals and that I have the gear and the skills to do that. I'm super excited about how it turned out. The song is amazing, and it's in production, but it's about to get mixed. It's really close. So look out for that. I'm also streaming a ton online, and my favorite platform to stream on right now is Twitch actually, so I'm there at least twice a week. Friday and Sunday at 8 p.m. PT. Those shows have been fantastic, and they're ongoing, and they're a lot of fun. Come and join in, see what's going on, and be a part of it.
That's awesome. So with the coronavirus, which has obviously put us in more of a digital space, what do you think you've gained in terms of this experience, in terms of skills you might not have had?
D: Definitely everything about virtual streaming. I do know other artists, other independent artists that have been doing virtual shows for a long time, and it wasn't something that I was really comfortable with or interested in. Once Coronavirus hit, I just fully embraced it, and I just went, “Okay, how does this work?” Every platform is a little bit different, some of the settings might be different, and you might desire different gear for different platforms. It's all really like a whole new world, but it's so exciting when you get your sound and your video to be just right the way you want it. You feel so good, and you know people are enjoying it, and again, it's a way to connect with people all over the world. You're not just limited to performing in front of people that live within a 10-mile radius of your live show. You can perform for people in Australia and South Africa, in the UK, and then people in other states. It's just really cool, and the world just gets smaller and smaller, so I think it's amazing.
If you were going to give one piece of advice to young minds, the future generation of rock stars, what advice would you give?
D: Don't stop being prolific, keep doing. Keep writing, keep creating. The world needs you, the world needs your art. There is a place for you and a place for your art in the world, and we need it, so just keep making it. And don't stop.
Dree Mon's music is available on all streaming platforms. Check out her website to find out how you can follow and support her amazing journey.
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Interview by Chris Vazquez, Founding Partner of SoundLife Music Academy and a professional session musician in Los Angeles, CA.
At SoundLife Music Academy, we make it our mission to continuously bring valuable, exciting, and helpful information to our students. One of the most valuable things a developing performer can learn is that working in music is so much more than just one single path. This interview is part of our ongoing interview series with professional musicians from all avenues of the music industry, where they share stories of their own personal paths to successful and rewarding careers in music.