Even the people closest to Dre.Zip find it tough to unlock the music artist’s password-protected personality through simple conversation. The best way to reach the subfolders that contain Dre’s inner thoughts is to listen to his music, which has attracted a rapidly-growing following since Dre began recording during the summer of 2020.
The 23-year-old songwriter and recording artist – whose name is a play on his introspective nature and his obsession with computer technology – uses music as a creative outlet for the emotions he doesn’t usually express during daily life.
Songs like “Comfortable” showcase Dre’s ability to get intimate with listeners. Blending elements of hip-hop and R&B, the track is distinguished by a mesmerizing sound design laced with delicately delivered lyrics that create an atmosphere perfect for late-night drives and softly lit moments.
It’s not that Dre shies away from expressing himself; he simply prefers to let his music do the talking for him. As someone who has never claimed to be the loudest guy in the room, Dre’s found that music is the perfect medium for letting the world know how he feels.
“We live in a time where people generally don’t speak on their emotions or feelings,” Dre says. “They’re almost afraid to be vulnerable in a sense, especially guys. So when I started to write music, it was a platform where I could say some of the things I think, but I just don’t care enough to say in the moment or I just didn’t have the thoughtfully processed to say how I feel about it.”
Turning feelings into sounds can be difficult. But when Dre succeeds in sonically capturing an emotion, he can look back on the song as a timestamp of the mental space that inspired the track.
“This day, this point in time, when I was going through this – this is what I made because of it,” Dre says. “There are times when if I’m not in the mood to make a song, sometimes I’ll still make the song just because that’s still an emotion. If you’re in a bad mood, you’re probably going to say some of your most vulnerable stuff.”
As an artist from Delaware, Dre doesn’t feel pressured to model his music after a regional sound. Instead, Dre is working on creating his own unique sound – one that is inspired by genre-fluid artists such as Drake and Bryson Tiller.
“Drake created the sound of Toronto,” Dre said. “We have no sound, so who’s to say one day in the future the stuff I’m making can’t be the sound for this area? You never know.”
But for now, Dre is focused on putting together his debut EP, which fans can expect in the coming months. Check out LADYGUNN’s full interview with Dre.Zip to hear more about his musical influences, his relationship with social media, and his thoughts on vulnerability.
Where does your name Dre.Zip come from?
Growing up I was a computer nerd. I was always into building computers, networking, stuff like that. It’s what I went to school for. I probably have the most organized desktop in the world. Like everything’s folder-based, directory-based, I will encrypt files in a heartbeat. I’ve just always been that way.
So for the Zip aspect, it plays into the idea of me protecting the vulnerability. On the outside, I’m a mellow dude. It looks like nothing bothers me at all, but the Dre.Zip aspect is like extracting that. When you extract that, you see the sub-folders, what makes up this, what makes up that. That’s why it’s almost like password-protected for me. You can ask anyone close to me and they’ll be like ‘yeah, nothing bothers him.’ And that’s why when they hear my songs, they’re like ‘wow.’ I’m not a robot. It’s just not all out there in the open. You gotta dig at it.
How does being from Delaware influence your sound? Because it’s not like Delaware has a sound the way Atlanta has a sound or New York has a sound.
This is super counterintuitive, but I feel like it has because there isn’t a sound. It has because it hasn’t. There isn’t an Atlanta sound or there isn’t a specific sound that comes out of here, so it’s almost like a melting pot. We’re exposed to everything else in the industry and we just make what we want. A few of my peers make music as well and…nobody sounds the same. Everyone has their own sound.
So when did you realize you wanted to pursue music?
I was always a huge music fan. For years, I’ve collected vinyl and listened to vinyl. I guess at a young age I realized listening to music was a little bit deeper to me than the average person. Like actually paying attention to the things in the background, the production, or just lyricism in itself. But honestly I never really considered making music. Like that was never a thing like ‘Oh, I’m just gonna start making music.’
My brother would make beats and stuff. I’d always be in the studio with my friends who made music and during quarantine, I just decided ‘why not?’ So I just bought a bunch of recording equipment and started making music just in my free time.
Let’s talk about your sound a little bit. You have these laid-back, low-key songs infused with 808s, which isn’t always the case in music. Can you just speak about your sound and describe that for me?
It’s almost like I want it to be easy to listen to. I want songs that have high replay rates in a sense and they’re emotion-based. A lot of my friends are like ‘we like your songs, but why are they so short?’ And that’s because to me when I’m writing the songs they’re almost like thoughts or feelings at the time. Realistically as a person, you could be thinking about one thing for thirty seconds and then you’re on to the next thing, on to the next thing.
So I want my songs to be shorter because I want it to encapsulate this one point in time or this one thought or this one feeling. I try to be super strategic with my beat selection. I want there to be 808s just to keep you focused, so it’s not like super easy listening. But it also allows for the factor for when you relisten to it, there might be things in the beat that you pick up on or there might be lyrics that you pick up on. Just because I want it to be so that you hear it, but you don’t really understand it until you hear it a few more times or once it applies to you or something like that.
What does the song “Comfortable” mean to you?
It was a song that I had written for a while that was just in my notes and it was broken up in pieces and I just put it together to a beat I found that I liked. But the song and the meaning itself…it’s relatively straightforward to me. And I feel like it’s something where it might not directly apply to someone but everyone’s kind of felt that way in some situations or at one point with a relationship or something, especially in today’s age.
How does it feel to start to gain some recognition for your music after you’ve put in all this time and effort?
It’s crazy, honestly. It’s wild to see when I check my Instagram and Twitter, there’s articles and mentions and people DMing me and stuff. And I try to reply to as many DMs as possible just because it only takes me a few seconds. They’re the ones that are listening to my music, so I can’t be angry about that.
It’s wild too, because with “Structure”…don’t get me wrong, I like the song. But with me just getting started that was the first song I ever did. So now when I listen to it compared to “Personal” and “Comfortable” or some of my new stuff that I’m working on right now, I’m super critical of the mixing and I’m like ‘I could have mixed this so much better knowing what I know now.’
But of course, I’m gonna keep it up because it shows the growth. That kind of plays into the whole idea of just figuring it out. The mix wasn’t the greatest but that was the first thing, with no help at all, that I tried to figure out. So you slowly start to get to see through each song how it gets better – the vocals get better, the mixing gets better, the mastering is better.
How do you stay level-headed when you get those mentions and articles and see yourself on social media? If you’ve been working towards something for a while and you finally get there, you don’t wanna get too high on yourself. Do you resonate with that at all?
Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s why, for me, I don’t really check my phone too often for the mentions and stuff. I’ll allocate a portion of my day, whether it’s morning or night, like 30 minutes to an hour. I don’t want it to be buzzing throughout the day because then I feel like it can start to get to me. My phone’s constantly on ‘Do Not Disturb’ unless I’m expecting a call or something. I just ‘Do Not Disturb’ with the exception of family and friends that can reach out to me. Everyone else it’s just closed off. I feel like a lot of it’s the mindstate you’re in. I’m writing these songs due to my surroundings and my mindstate. I don’t want to alter that too much because then it starts to affect how I’m making my music or the way I’m making my music.
You mentioned that you feel present when you make music. Can you speak about that?
I think it’s just because we live in a time where people generally don’t speak on their emotions or feelings. They’re almost afraid to be vulnerable in a sense, especially guys. But for me, I’ve never been the loudest guy in the room. I never have been and I never will be. I’m just a mellow person. I’m more of a ‘speak when spoken to’ kind of guy.
So when I started to write music, it was a platform where I could say some of the things I think, but I just don’t care enough to say in the moment or I just didn’t have the thought fully processed to say how I feel about it. Like a full-circle moment kind of thing.
So it’s relaxing because I get to write about scenarios that I’ve been through, but after the fact because most things I say in conversations or confrontations aren’t well thought-out to me in the heat of the moment. But this is after the dust has settled. All things considered, how you feel. You may be mad for one minute, but once you re-evaluate it’s like ‘alright, maybe that was my bad’ or some situations it’s like ‘nah, I wasn’t tripping at all…this is messed up.’ But that’s when it’s like ‘this is my genuine feeling about it.’
I’m glad you mentioned vulnerability because I think that’s such an important part of just being a human. How does music relate to being vulnerable and talking about some of those things going on in your life?
From a vulnerable standpoint, for me, it works because I’m not the most outspoken person. But even if I was, the likelihood of me being hurt and telling someone I’m hurt is probably not going to happen. That’s just not how it works because…I don’t know. That’s just how the world works now. Whereas for me, it’s not that I’m afraid to say it or afraid to talk about it…it’s just physically out of character for me to come out and say ‘oh I feel a way about this’ or ‘I feel a way about that.’ Because even when I’m in the greatest of moods I’m not like ‘oh I feel great.’
That’s just not me. So from a music standpoint, I can literally just put all of this in there and all of it’s at my disposal when it comes to making the song. It’s almost like I can create that vibe or create that feeling so you can feel what I felt. I can put all the pieces together to try to encapsulate that as much as possible. For me, when I’m listening to beats and stuff I want it to be almost like I’m writing the song to this beat as if it already exists. Like ‘what’s the feeling to this beat’ kind of thing? Or I want to write my favorite song. Like my favorite song – I don’t even know if it exists. But before I start writing, I want it to be like ‘all things on the table’ kind of thing regarding this topic.
It’s great that you have music as this outlet to express your thoughts and emotions. It reminds me of something I heard recently – that people have the need for a mental inbox and a mental outbox. Is music your mental outbox?
Absolutely. Being a quiet person you still experience things, you still feel things, you see things, you do things. But it’s like it’s all just held up inside. It’s not like I’m out here drawing to express it or painting to express it or anything. There’s no way for me to express these things. It’s all encapsulated. So having a way that’s relaxing and peaceful to get it out and show the world how you feel…that’s why it’s wild when people hear it and are receptive to it. To me, it makes me feel like ‘alright at least people are picking up on what I’m doing or what I’m trying to do.’
Because realistically, the things that I’m talking about – everyone’s been through or is going through. So you see people reposting a song a bunch of times or listening to a song a bunch of times, it’s like ‘alright well this person gets it.’ It’s not gender-specific or age-specific. You’re either going through it now, you’re going to go through it later, or you’ve been through it in the past. But it’s going to happen.
When you create a song, are you just looking to do that for your own benefit or do you want to hear that feedback from the fans?
It kind of goes both ways in a sense. In some ways, I’m doing it for me because I’m putting it out there and I’m making it. There’s a lot of songs that I have finished but I haven’t released yet. Some of them, as of right now, I don’t even plan on releasing them, but you never know in the future. Now I’m using them to get ideas out. This is how I felt and there’s my form of release from it.
But then once you put it out there in the world and you see people are receptive to it and stuff, I feel like that just encourages more of the vulnerability. Just because if I speak about one thing and people love it and the next song I’m speaking about a similar topic but it’s more detailed – it’s like they’re taking to it more. There definitely is gratification that comes from seeing that people are receiving it the way I hoped. It’s not just another song out there that you listen to in your car. Like you’re listening to it when it matters when you’re going through something, that’s how I want it to be.
What are some of the hardest moments as a music artist?
There are times when I’m trying to get a specific idea or concept out to the degree that it needs to be expressed. There are certain feelings and things that are just so complex where I can’t just say ‘blah, blah, blah’ or whatever. For me, it’s a matter of finding ways, whether it’s analogies and stuff like that, to get you to understand how this feels or to be like ‘oh I understand where he’s coming from.’ It’s almost like the people who have been through it in the past or are going through it are going to take to it, but the people who have yet to experience it…I want to put it in a way so that when it happens to you, you may not even immediately tie the two things together but you’ll think back and be like ‘oh so this is what he meant.’
On the flip side, what are some of the most rewarding moments?
I would say feedback from the fans, feedback from my family. I play them songs before they drop to see how they feel about them. I’m still not the most vulnerable person, so for them to hear how I feel about certain things, it’s really solid to see their take on it. Because here’s the thing…these are some of the people closest to me and they don’t even know that element of what’s going on.
And like I said, I want to make my favorite songs that don’t exist. Not to sound like a narcissist or anything, but I want to be able to listen to my own music and like it. That was something that I struggled with in the beginning because I’d make songs and be like ‘I’m not trying to listen to this.’ Or one of my friends would put it on and I’d be like ‘man I don’t wanna listen to this.’ Whereas some of my newer stuff I actually like it. I want to be able to view it as a listener.
Do you think you’ve created your favorite song yet or is it still out there?
The thing is, I feel like it’s been created for a phase of my life. But I feel like the more you grow you go through phases. Like in your life, if someone asks you to name your favorite song you’re going to name a few of them just because it’s hard to narrow it down to one. So I probably made my one favorite song four months ago and now I have the one for right now that I’m working on. I’m still in the process of making that. That’s how I want to view it because that way at least I’m performing to the best of my capabilities, but more importantly that way I’ll be happiest with what I make. I’m not just making something because it’s what people want or something like that. It’s something that I genuinely like.
So was “Comfortable” your favorite song for that period in your life when you made it?
Oh yeah, absolutely. ‘Comfortable’ I made…because when I first started during quarantine there was obviously nothing to do. I was just writing a bunch of stuff. I was recording in September I believe. It’s crazy because it actually started off as a throwaway because, like I said, it was just a song that I had written on my phone. And I just mixed it more and I played it for some of my friends in the car and they’d lose their minds like ‘yo this is crazy you need to release this.’ And it was my favorite song. And that’s when it really started to make sense to me because on my way to work or on my way back to work, I would just be playing this roughly mixed demo and I was like ‘there’s something about this song I just really like.’
When you’re making a song I know it’s your favorite for that period in your life, but in the back of your mind are you kind of looking ahead like ‘what’s the next one?’
Constantly, yes. That’s the fault of trying to make that favorite song because it’s like ‘oh I like this song but this isn’t the one right now.’ And I guess I always know that I can go back to them, but still I feel like there’s a beauty of finishing it in the heat of the moment and getting that idea done. Because there’s songs where I’ve been like ‘oh I’ll get back to it in the future’ but if that ship has sailed and I no longer feel that way or whatever, it’s like there goes that.
Because the way I see it, at least if I finish even if I no longer feel a way about certain things, it’s like at least this is how I felt. It’s almost like a timestamp. Like this day, this point in time when I was going through this – this is what I made because of it. Compared to if I finish half of it and I’m like ‘oh I’ll finish it later’ and it no longer applies then it’s artificial. It’s not what it was when it mattered or when I actually felt that way. So that’s one thing that I’m trying to break the habit of.
Are there certain songs that stand out where you just hit that flow state and you made it all in one creative burst?
Oh, absolutely. There are two newer songs that I did around the holidays. I have a song coming out and it’s probably my favorite one and it’s called ‘Ultrasonic’. I wrote that song in like ten minutes which is crazy. Like I heard this beat and I was just like ‘imma make a song to it.’ And after minor changes and stuff, I recorded it and everything in one night. And then I have another song, which eventually when I drop my EP it’s gonna be the intro to it. It’s called ‘Redeemed’ and…I was just laying in my bed one morning listening to beats and I just wrote out the entire song. So depending on the beat, sometimes it’s easy to do.
But for me, it’s a lot of feeling-based. There are times when if I’m not in the mood to make a song, sometimes I’ll still make the song just because that’s still an emotion. If you’re in a bad mood, you’re probably going to say some of your most vulnerable stuff when you’re in a bad mood.
Let’s circle back to your musical influences. Who are some of those artists that you listened to and they really influenced your sound?
As a kid, I mean my parents…we listened to everything. They played any genre, you name it, it was probably playing at my house. But of course what I really started to take to was hip-hop, R&B, stuff like that. But I always liked elements of both. Because even when I was younger, I realized some of my favorite projects weren’t one specific genre. They were almost sub-genres. They literally played between the lines of two different things.
So in terms of influences, I think that’s probably why a lot of my favorite artists are people that don’t just abide by one specific thing. Like Drake, for example. That’s probably my favorite artist easily. But that’s just because when I was growing up, I distinctly remember when his projects came out and they were almost like the soundtrack to this phase of my life or the soundtrack to this phase of my life and that was because of how diverse they were. There was the singing songs, the rapping songs. Just not being afraid to play in between those lines and that created…like for example, Bryson Tiller cited him as one of his favorite inspirations and with him you see the same thing. There’s songs where it’ll be an R&B beat but he’s rapping over it. Or it’ll be a rapping beat but he’s singing over it. So it’s not being afraid to approach the song however you want to approach the song. And then with PARTYNEXTDOOR, just adding in elements to songs that aren’t traditional…different sounds. I feel like a lot of those artists showed me that this is your canvas, you can paint it however you want.
It seems like most of your songs are pretty low-key, pretty laid-back. But in the future do you want to make songs that are more upbeat, more party vibes?
Oh yeah, absolutely. On my EP I have two or three that are way more fast-paced than my other ones. That’s what I’m more excited for just because I was able to keep my style of music but play it into a more upbeat tone so they can still coexist.
What’s your ultimate goal as a music artist?
My end goal would be being able to do it entirely full-time. As much as my following grows, I just want people to still take to it the same and just grow with it. Because at the end of the day, I’m still going to make the same style of music. They might hear new things, I might go back to old things sometimes, but again I’m only 23. I’m growing just like everyone else. So I just want people to take it for what it is regardless of what it is as strange as that sounds.
And I really just want to be happy with the stuff I make. I don’t want to make something just because it’s in style. Again, that kind of plays into the good thing of being from Delaware out in nowhere because I’m not being pressured to follow a sound or influenced to follow a sound. I just do what I want. My friends tell me all the time when they hear it like ‘you have your own sound, we don’t have a sound.’ You never know – you can be that sound. With the whole Drake thing, Drake created the sound of Toronto. We have no sound, so who’s to say one day in the future the stuff I’m making can’t be the sound for this area? You never know.
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Photos / Courtesy of Artist
Story / Zach Skillings