A theatre major turned rapper, being in front of people has always come naturally for Slake Dransky. However, it’s not just about entertaining when he steps in the limelight. No, it’s far more than that for this aspiring talent. We dove into what it means to him to do more than entertain, as well as the gift from his mother that guided him where he is today, locale, his debut studio album ‘Colors’ which drops this week, and more in this wonderful back and forth.
Kendra: While at UNC you were an acting major but you were still very involved with making music at the time. Is acting still something you’re pursuing? Is that part of what made you make the move to LA?
Slake Dransky: Damn this is a great question! I started taking music seriously as something I could do and share with people sometime around August 2016, which was the beginning of my sophomore year at UNC, and a few months before I dropped my first tape in November of that year. I can’t remember if it was for my birthday or Christmas, but my mom bought me my first mic, and I remember when I started recording my vocals I would put the mic (in its case) and all the cords and shit in my backpack and walk about a mile, carrying the mic stand, to a practice room in the theatre building on campus and record my stuff there.
The room had horrible acoustics. Sometimes you’d hear someone practicing their obo in another room in the background of the solo’d vocals. I was working exclusively in Garageband and I hadn’t even heard the terms EQ or Compression before. The whole thing was a mess, but I loved it!! We’ve got a little more professional over the years, and there are a few more hands-on-deck now, but I feel that the same love and commitment is present in the music today.
But to circle back and answer your actual question: I still love acting! It’s very much still a part of me. Studying it taught me more about myself than I can say, and 100% yes, it’s a huge part of why I moved out to LA in the first place. For a long time, I saw myself in Chicago pursuing sketch comedy and music (I’ve always LOVED Chicago’s hip hop scene). But my girlfriend at the time, some of my best friends and longtime collaborators were all moving out to LA after undergrad and I figured it was pretty important to have my people around me in the transitional, jarring, and often lonely period that is your early twenties.
I came out here with every intention of acting and rapping. Donald Glover has always been a big inspiration of mine. Will Smith and Mark Wahlberg are some of the OG’s. Lil Dicky just got his own show. I don’t know if y’all remember but even Chance was in a movie back in the day. It’s very possible to live in both worlds, people do it all the time, but I pretty much immediately found that it was more creatively fulfilling for me to spend my time and energy trying to book rap gigs as opposed to trying to book auditions.
I let myself follow that instinct, and here I am, almost two years in LA, and it’s pretty clear the path that I’ve chosen. The beauty of acting, too, is that it’s not exclusively a young man’s game. Far from it! As long as the tools and the passion for the craft are there, anyone can act for as long as their health permits. It would also be super dumb of me to treat acting and music as totally different events. There’s an unmistakable, truly special, element of human connection that exists at concerts as much as it exists in a piece of live theatre. There’s enormous crossover throughout all mediums of creation, and it’s one of my life’s purest joys to experience as many of those as I can. If I can pay my bills and feed myself solely off of creating and traveling to share it with folks, I imagine I’ll die a happy man one day.
Kendra: Speaking of, you were originally from Washington, moved to Colorado for school, and now you’re out in LA. With all of those various areas being home for a bit, do you feel like the music you wrote ever reflected your surroundings?
Slake Dransky: I’ve just bounced around the west my whole life! I think who I am at the time of writing a song does most of the heavy lifting influence-wise over that piece, but who you are is always gonna be shaped somewhat by where you are and who you’re surrounded by. Case and point, my first two mixtapes I dropped in college got reeeeaaaallllll political. And it’s funny because I think I’m a little bit more radical now than I was in college (mind you it’s only been a few years), but imagine living on a college campus when Trump was elected. I marched the streets of Denver with folks. I protested at the capitol several times. I was in, basically, a progressive think-tank in the midst of a cultural and historical watershed moment while I was writing my first projects, and it shows! And that’s chill! I’m proud of what I created, and I’m glad I didn’t edit myself back then, but when I listen today I hear that college kid.
It’s an interesting time capsule in that way. To your point, too, I wrote two of (what I think are) my most poetic tracks: “Breathe” and “Silence in Motion” on two separate trips back home to Seattle (my mom was living on a boat at the time, fun fact). Something about that environment brings it out in me. Creation is different for everyone, but I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s able to ignore their surroundings while working. It just happens. It’s why Jon Bellion spends time in LA but likes to write in New York. It’s why Kanye has his ranch in Wyoming. It’s why Gambino rented out Chris Bosh’s mansion to write and record ‘BTI.’ Setting is important!
Kendra: While it’s up in the air if anyone will be enjoying a lot of time outside in the picture-perfect California summers this year, you did pen a song that’s on your upcoming release, ‘Colors,’ that you feel could very well be one of those must-hear summer anthems. What were some of your favorite summer anthems growing up and where do you feel “Laundry” fits in with them in the grand scheme of things?
Slake Dransky: Did I call it an anthem? I gotta stop doing that. “Laundry” is the type of song that goes hard from start to finish. I wish people could be bumping it out their car stereos or at the gym right now, but I respect that’s just not where we’re at yet. How about we all agree that when it’s safe to throw parties again, “Laundry” needs to be at the top of the “We beat COVID” celebration playlist. It’s only fair. There are a few songs off the project that are some pretty slappy summer bops. I’m stoked for y’all to hear them! I have a song called “Let’s Get Drunk & Talk About Aliens” that goes.
Classic summer anthems for me? Sheesh, when I was little I was about that Aaron Carter “I Want Candy,” but when it comes to summer boppage in my more formative teen years lemme see if I can do some mental digging. I messed heavy with this Seattle group Knowmads growing up; used to listen to them a lot in high school. Macklemore’s ‘The Heist’ was also huuuuuge. Vampire Weekend consistently slapped. The song “Sun” by Two Door Cinema Club still gets me going. Cole’s 2014 “Forest Hills Drive,” “Surf” by the Social Experiment. Chance’s “Acid Rap” was integral to me. I still vividly remember listening to Coloring Book all the way through the day it came out. There’s a drinking game to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” that still brings back big summer memories. My tastes are kind of all over the place. Honestly though, before streaming was a thing I had this giant YouTube playlist for all the music I liked. If I could find that somewhere we’d be in business!
Kendra: We just mentioned it but ‘Colors’ drops June 5, 2020, and is your debut studio album. How does this record feel different from your previous mixtapes?
Slake Dransky: ‘Colors’ is a monumental shift. To put it as artsy as I want to, it’s a sonic articulation of all the little pieces of myself I’ve put into my music over the years reconciling with who I am today. It’s a big beautiful colorful musical mosaic. I talk about my family more, I open up about some fears and shortcomings I haven’t always felt comfortable sharing, I’m experimenting with different sounds and beats and flows. It’s got Seattle homies, LA homies, college homies, old voice recordings I pulled from the depths of my phone. It’s got some of my humor in it. It’s a whole breath. For the day ones, it’s the culmination of this era of my career. For the newcomers, it’s an introduction to an artist who isn’t going anywhere. I can’t wait.
Kendra: You’ve noted all these wonderful, colorful inspirations behind your debut and that made my mind head straight towards a giant pack of crayons – the ultimate flex growing up. With that, other than perhaps a big box of crayons, what was your favorite way to show off around the playground as a kid?
Slake Dransky: This is by far the wildest interview question I’ve ever been asked. I was a really weird kid. I cannot overstate that. I grew up playing soccer but also doing theatre, so I was hopping between these dramatically different worlds all the time (no pun intended).
Here’s my best playground-esque story I guess. When I was in 5th grade we were playing this game in gym class called Torpedo Ball that was basically dodgeball with no rules. Everyone ran around chasing each other throwing balls at people; the name of the game was dodge them, catch them, or block them, otherwise, you were out. I was competitive as a kid so this was pretty serious business to me.
I was one of the final 4 or 5 people left, so everyone else in class was sitting out watching us play, and I remember I saw this dude gaining on me pretty quick from behind, so I whipped around and kicked it into high gear. At a full sprint, I tripped on the corner of a doormat and on my way down accidentally smashed my head into one of the door’s hinges. I went down, uh, hard. Blacked out for a sec. I woke up with the PE teacher standing over me and a solitary stream of blood trickling down my forehead. It honestly didn’t hurt at all, but I was MORTIFIED that everyone was watching my bloody ass get snatched up and walked to the nurse’s office while our teacher tried to wrap her scarf around my head. All told, I ended up getting five staples in my head and I still have a little scar (under my hair) to this day! Hope that suffices!
Kendra: We’ll head back to the music because I want to talk to you about lyrics and your process because I don’t care how great a song is – if the lyrics are trash, the song ain’t worth much. Minus cheesy pop songs because those are never meant to be that great, right? Anyways, what is your process for writing? Do you find you write better when you’re in a certain place or a particular mood?
Slake Dransky: I’m pretty all over the place with my writing process. Most often I write what I feel from the beat, but sometimes I’ll think of a hook or a lyric on a hike or in the car. It’s a pretty fluid process for me. I could go months without writing, and then something will spark and I write three songs in a day. I try not to ever put too much pressure on myself to squeeze out a song. I figure if I’m letting myself fully experience life, I’ll be able to pull from those experiences when I need to, as opposed to trying to turn everything into a song all the time. I will say it’s easier for me to write sad songs when I’m happy than write happy songs when I’m sad. Not sure what that says.
Kendra: I know you’ve got a spoon tattoo. Can we assume that’s for your ‘Spoonerism’ mixtape? If so, do you have any other music-related ink? Maybe you’re thinking of one to get to celebrate the release of ‘Colors?’
Slake Dransky: It is indeed! My emcee name (Slake Dransky) is a spoonerism of my legal name, which is Drake Slansky! To be clear, a spoonerism is when you flip the first sounds or letters of two words. Most people are familiar with the concept but didn’t know that’s what it was called, which is kinda fun. I wasn’t even aware it was a thing either until after I dropped my first mixtape! After one of my shows, a friend (shoutout Ryan Black) came up to me and was like, “it’s so cool your name is a spoonerism” and I had no clue what he was talking about.
I think the next day or the day after that I decided to name my next project ‘Spoonerism’ and the tattoo followed shortly thereafter! I’ve also decided the spoon represents my desire to fill people up with my music as opposed to solely entertaining them. Jon Bellion has the solid gold quote that goes “I’d rather feed 25 people than entertain 100,” and I can’t say it better than that.
I’ll probably get some sort of ‘Colors’ tattoo once quarantine is over. It’s a timeless sentiment to me: people have many colors. We are complex! You might see someone who is blue but you don’t know that person, you only know the blue version of them. You haven’t seen them when they’re orange or pink or green or whatever. It’s a nice reminder for me. I want a LOT more tattoos in general. Lots on the agenda.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
Slake Dransky: Live. Show. That’s my number one goal when this is over. I want to rage with a crowd and play these new joints and see who knows the words and introduce people who have never heard of me. I love performing and I miss it like crazy. I’ve been working hard to put together a pretty significant show out in Seattle with the homies to celebrate the release and raise some money for a good cause, but at the time of writing I can’t give much away!
Quarantine or no, this is already a big summer for me and I have so much to celebrate and be grateful for!! This is less important but my pink hair is all faded and blonde-ish now. A fresh cut and dye and I’ll be a new man! There are so many songs that help pick me up. It’s hard to choose one. Recently I’ve been turning up to “I Got Money Now” by Deante Hitchcock with JID, and both “35.31” and “53.49” off Childish Gambino’s last album. All of those get me moving! Skr skrr!