When Drama was putting together Dance Without Me, singer Lluvia Rosa Vela, better known as Via Rosa, thought of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
“We love that movie. We watch it all the time,” she says by phone from Chicago. Via Rosa explains that she imagined herself going to multiple weddings without a date. “Everyone is dancing without me,” she explains. She then imagined herself as the only one on the dance floor at the end of the wedding. “That’s how I envisioned the album, this moment of how people are afraid to be alone and then you find the beauty in being alone.”
Formed in 2014, Drama is the Chicago-based duo of Via Rosa and Na’el Shehade. They self-released two EPs, Gallows (2016) and Lies After Love (2018), before signing with the cult favorite dance music label Ghostly International. Dance Without Me is out on February 14.
Opening with the song “7:04 AM,” Dance Without Me is the kind of album that gently pulls the listener into the groove over the course of 11 house-inflected synthpop cuts. Meanwhile, Via Rosa’s ever-so-slightly raspy voice tugs at the heart strings as she drops emotional lyrics on tracks like “Forever and a Day” and lead single “Hold On.” She captures the essence of sad dance songs – think Ultravox’s “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” or Hercules & Love Affair’s “Blind” – beautifully.
Via Rosa and Shehade met through mutual friends and, ultimately, ended up in a studio session together where they cranked out four songs. When Shehade suggested they start a band, Via Rosa was on a chef’s career path and not thinking about music quite that seriously. But she knew that what they were doing was working. “I believed him and trusted him and went with it,” she says.
In that process, the two discovered that they had something else in common. Where Via Rosa is a chef and caterer, Shehade is an entrepreneur whose businesses include multiple restaurants. “We were in the middle of a session and, up until that point, we never really talked about what we did outside of the music studio. We would just show up and make music,” Via Rosa recalls. “He never questioned why I had on a shirt with food stains and an apron. I never questioned why he always had on all black with grease stains.”
Once they made that discovery, it led to other collaborations; Shehade brought in Via Rosa to cater events and develop a menu for a restaurant in San Francisco. “Any way that we can utilize each other’s talents, we’ll find a way,” she says.
Via Rosa says that working as half of Drama has expanded her musical horizons too, especially when it comes to house, which is a crucial component in the duo’s sound. “I didn’t realize that I was listening to house at a young age,” she explains, mentioning ’90s hits like “Shorty Swing My Way” by K.P. & Envyi and “Show Me Love” from Robin S. “I didn’t realize they were house songs. To me they were pop songs or songs on the radio.”
She adds, “Over the years, [Shehade] got me listening to more dance music and understanding dance music more and more. When I met him, I was making a lot more downtempo hip-hop, like Amy Winehouse, Sade.”
In their time together thus far, Drama has become a popular touring act too. They’ve toured Europe, played in Palestine and had multiple jaunts across the U.S., including a stretch opening for SG Lewis last fall. At The Novo in Los Angeles during that tour, they played for a remarkably large and enthusiastic crowd. “It’s such a hard city to win over because there’s so much music and so many artists there,” says Via Rosa of L.A. “It blows my mind how well our music does there.”
When we spoke, Drama had just returned from Europe, where they performed the first leg of their latest tour. In late February, they’ll head back out on the road through the U.S. and Canada for a headlining tour that includes sold out dates in California, New York and Texas. “For me, for the next couple months, I’m just focusing on that, preparing to leave little bits of my soul all over the world,” says Via Rosa.
Via Rosa says that she hopes the new music will move people to dance, as it’s done for her. “At the beginning of this, it was hard for me to dance in public,” she says. “This music has really brought a different side of me out and I think this album really shows the growth in Drama.”
She adds, “I just want people to feel how I felt when we were making it, which is sure of their decisions and not caring whether anyone is there or not.”