DRÄGER chases inspiration through ’80s tinged pop

Seeped in 80’s style synth-pop, the latest single from DRÄGER, the artistic banner of New York-born Spencer Draeger, paints the picture of a reminiscing artist brooding on past love. The latest song from the multi-instrumentalist is drenched in nostalgia, not just of a lost lover, but of New York itself. We spoke to Spencer as he shared the experience of filming his newest music video with model Ash Rose Daniels and what influences his creative process.

Angus Wright: Talk us through the story behind Brooklyn BB, how did the song first come about? 

DRÄGER: The song came from a longing and a lot of sadness. I was missing a girl I had to leave and though it was the right decision, I still missed her all the time. It probably is the most generic story. Simultaneously, I was missing NYC after leaving both her and the town I loved and this feeling of nostalgia would just hit me so hard all the time. I’d think about all the little things and just wish I could transport myself back a few years ago.

AW: What was the experience of making this particular music video like?

DRÄGER: Nothing I do is ever easy. In a nutshell, it would be the simplest video I’ve ever directed but because it was just capturing the simplest moments, there wasn’t much I could fall back on. The narrative would have to be felt instead of told. Chemistry was everything; I guess it always is but I just had to convey the perfect mood in the most mundane activities. I remember explaining it to everyone involved and I really didn’t have much to say because it just sounded so boring. I knew in my head how I would edit it all together to tell a powerful story though.

I’d write down these little things in my notepad in the middle of the night but then of course on shoot day I’d forget to shoot most of them. My camera malfunctioned on the first day and so I had to do a reshoot on the hottest day in 2023. I actually didn’t even get all the shots I wanted in that one day so when I had a show some months later back in Brooklyn I ended up shooting 30% more of the video. I shot it on five different cameras, two trips to New York and filmed the opening scene in LA. I wrote the song to have a video and though it is not my most anthemic sounding number, it was the little anthem in my heart above all the other tracks.

How is working with Ash Rose Daniels?

DRÄGER: There would be no video without her. I had just come off shooting two videos for ‘Midnight Mystery’ and ‘Passenger’ and was kind of tired of planning shoots but then I saw her on Instagram and was like, “this is the Brooklyn BB!” I DM’d her and said, “hey you need to be in my video I will fly you to NYC…” – talk about being a creep. She agreed and then my mind got to planning it all. I sometimes work in the fashion industry and so many brands try to put two model-strangers together and hope they’ll feel it out but it ends up feeling so forced. I set myself up for total disaster but she pulled it off perfectly and there is really not a better situation we could have gotten out of it. The truth is we had never met but she reminded me of this wild sweetness I tend to be a sucker for. We met 12 hours before the shoot and I knew in 10 min we would nail it. Spontaneity is where the magic of life is. Everything these days for me is trusting the visceral gut and she has the je ne sais quoi to make people fall in love or weep or both. I wanted to shoot an old 16mm French promenade through Brooklyn in 2023 and she was that perfect skeleton key to open all my doors.

AW: You write, produce, and record all your own music. What does your creative/recording process look like?

DRÄGER: Music is only one medium these days. Sometimes I’m shooting a film and I need to write music for it, then that song turns into a DRÄGER song later. Inspiration is really all I am chasing and the songs write themselves afterwards. My goal is to just feel like a novice in the process of songwriting so I’m always trying new things. Maybe I’m playing an instrument I barely know how to play or trying a new synth. Maybe there is an ad campaign I’m working on and they want a certain sound I don’t usually play. When I have that distraction, I tend to explore and try unconventional things. There is no ‘routine’ other than chasing the feeling of excitement. You need to challenge yourself to be inspired sometimes, which might go against how people view inspiration, but it’s always been my secret to turning out so much art and music. I like to do things solo because the joy is in the process and it’s easier to just do it myself than articulate what I want. I’ve spent so many years studying the engineering side of music and filmmaking and I couldn’t imagine not being at the helm of it all.

AW: What originally drew you to write synth-driven music? Are there any albums/artists that stand out as big inspirations for your sound?

DRÄGER: When I was really young, there was so much heavy music with guitars and power chords and I could never hear the actual notes. It was all just distortion all the time and one day I was at a music store and I put my hands on a synth and it just resonated with me. It felt more melodic in a time of nu metal, haha. The idea that I could manipulate electricity to sound like anything I wanted and not be restricted to just one sound was exciting.

In the 2000s, subtractive synthesis started a comeback. I bought a KORG ms2000 and started to learn how oscillators and filters worked. Then sequencing and modulation followed. Again, that feeling of exploration is what always inspires me. Sometimes, I’d sit down and just tweak knobs and program patches for fun which would later turn into me accidentally writing a song. Making your own patches just felt so personal to me despite it being purely synthetic. Later I discovered bands in my teens like LCD Soundsystem, M83, JUSTICE, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Air, Roxy Music which all had so many great synth parts. The whole DFA scene in Brooklyn really motivated me the most though. Dance music but punk was just the coolest thing I’d ever heard back in the 2000s. LCD’s first record and Sound of Silver were my favourite albums for years. Roxy Music’s Avalon is one of my top three albums of all time.”

AW: Can you walk us through some of your inspirations for your fashion sense?

DRÄGER: All I’ve got to say is look cool, go big, get those boots on, put the sweat pants down. Fashion isn’t meant to be comfortable physically but mentally it should instil confidence. Confidence is the fundamental basis to achieving anything; let your style be a part of helping you feel larger than life, we all need it! I think humans are psychic and when someone is confident others gravitate towards them. Sometimes we try things on that we aren’t sure we can pull off, but that’s the best place to be because it pushes you out of your little mental box throughout the day. I get inspired by the old lady in heels carrying her groceries on the train, reading a book dressed like she owns all of MTA. I get inspired by films; I love Neo from the Matrix, I love the “cruising” greasers. Come to think of it, I think my biggest fashion inspiration is the Terminator. But I’d wear a suit to the supermarket. I love vintage YSL suits like I wore in my ‘Midnight Mystery’ video. Unfortunately, fashion lately has gotten so bad but it just makes those that care stand out that much more.

AW: What does 2024 hold for DRÄGER? 

DRÄGER: I really don’t know! I’ve got so many unreleased songs and videos still underway and everytime I make a plan the universe laughs. I just hope to continue my never ending pursuit of writing the best songs I can and making impactful videos. To never feel like anything is done is where I’ll always be I bet.

AW: If you had the power to teleport yourself in time to any gig in history, which gig would you go to and why? 

DRÄGER: I’d love to see Joy Division so I could be an ass to everyone wearing the shirts and say, “I was there, yep I know.”

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