Justin Gabrielli does things all the way or he doesn’t do them at all. The musician-producer scrapped more than 30 of his songs under his new indie-trap project DRIP and started from scratch, because he wasn’t sure the feel was right. It’s kind of shocking until you consider the way he got into producing in the first place.
As a teenager he tried out to be the drummer for the metal band My Son My Executioner, and made it. All the rest of the band members were in their mid-'20s. “They were all way older than me. I couldn't even drink, and we were playing at all these places where I was the kid with the X's on my hands who played drums,” Gabrielli says.
He grew up in Flower Mound, with long hair and a foot in the emo scene, he says. Straight out of high school, he spent two years touring with the band — and then one day just gave it up.
“I came to a point where I felt like I was good as I could be, and I didn't feel like putting more effort into becoming faster," he says. "I literally sold all of my equipment within a week and bought a microphone, got a new laptop and started producing. When I get interested in something, I go full-bore. I'm not a fan of dabbling.”
At a recent Crown and Harp show curated by Dezi 5, Gabrielli’s high-pitched voice shot through the talking crowd. He was backed by Casey Reid on drums, and paired with dance-worthy trap beats he created and a meticulously timed light show that he put together. It was a welcome change of pace in the venue.
His music isn’t just catchy, his lyrics about loss are cutting and the refrains stick with you long after the song is over. Like on the track “Friends,” Gabrielli sings about the loneliness that accompanies depression and how hard it can be to relate to people. One of the featured tracks he’ll soon release a music video for, called “Mirrors,” is intense and swelling — it would be the perfect anthem for a hero sequence in a movie, yet it also feels like it should be danced to.
He moved to Los Angeles to go to sound engineering school. In the four years he was in L.A., he produced tracks for pseudo-celebrities like Dr. Dre’s son Curtis Young at Snoop Dogg’s studio in Corona; interned with producer Tricky Stewart who’s won Grammys and written for artists such as Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and Rihanna; and worked for the city as a sound engineer for its public concerts.
Gabrielli was living with a musicians collective in a warehouse. They threw massive parties, and he deejayed dubstep under the name “Electronic Drip,” a reference to the nasal drip that comes with cocaine use. “It's just a funny thing we came up with — it goes along with the whole L.A. scene, all that dumb shit, just drugs in general,” he says.
Gabrielli dropped the “electronic” portion and kept DRIP for his new project — a nod to his beginnings in trap music.
Eventually, though, he burned out on L.A. “I didn't want to be a part of what I was seeing. I interned at a couple studios — those guys, they were really nice people but they showed me a part of the industry that I didn't want to be a part of. It was one-sided and all about who you knew,” says Gabrielli. “I was never going to get their respect unless it took me 10 years — it would have taken an eternity to befriend those people, I was wasting my time.”
Since moving back to Dallas three years ago, he’s been collaborating with Dallas’ most talented, including -topic for a track called “Expose You” on Dezi 5’s forthcoming album. And he recorded a duet with Zhora that has yet to be released.
“It was good to come to a community that is accepting. When they like what you do and you're a good person, Dallas is a great place. It actually makes me feel way more at home,” he says. “L.A. was cool and all but it doesn't compare. Everything here is underdeveloped comparatively, but it's tight-knit and open enough.”
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Gabrielli started road testing DRIP in early 2016, performing a couple times a month in Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton, and he says Denton has been especially welcoming.
“We played a few times up there. Everyone’s drinking and talking and then we go on with the lights and music, and it's like boom, the bar stops,” he says. “The reaction is like what I wish it would be all the time. People come up after and are interested in what it is.”
After spending the majority of 2016 polishing his craft, 2017 promises to be a busy year. Gabrielli’s wrapping up one music video and about to start production on another, and he’s putting the finishing touches on tracks that he’ll start releasing as singles in early 2017. They're not public yet, but they should be — they’re good.
“Just like any artist, we strive for things to be perfect. You have to start out with a serious bang and have it be something memorable from the start,” he says. “I’ve honed in on who I am as an artist and what I want to make. I’m ready to go into 2017 with fucking guns blazing.”