Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to two Greek parents; Eleni Drake grew up in the UK using songwriting as a means to build and explore her identity. Her unique, soulful and dusty voice, hard to mistake for anyone else’s, meets her guitar skills in a unique way as she plays upside down, like Jimi Hendrix. She also plays the piano, bass and flute.
Eleni moved to London when she was 16 where she launched her brand which brings together contemporary R&B and jazz, before crossing the ocean to Melbourne, the city with the most vibrant scene in the world after visiting a friend a few years ago and falling in love with “the magical land of Australia” and the “wonderful, sweet people”.
“Greek is my first language. I have the big, loud, jubilant extended family to prove it. Though my upbringing was anglicised, we have been fortunate enough to visit our relatives every summer, and to go see our beautiful island. From the cooking, to the mannerisms, I would say my Greek heritage is very prevalent in my day to day life… the only side of me that isn’t very Mediterranean is how introverted I am. I am so shy and timid in certain situations, but if I’m surrounded by my friends and family, my inner child comes out, and I can be social,” she says.
Shyness aside, Drake has amassed over 112,000 dedicated subscribers on YouTube alone, even though she started her channel as a musical diary of self-reflection and healing. Her often impromptu videos on YouTube and Instagram garner thousands of views from people relating to the emotions and the raw, real-life aesthetic. Her newest single Strawberry Moon came out on 22 February and has already started gaining its own airtime and plays across all music platforms.
“On YouTube I post originals, but also when I’m in the mood, I release covers of songs I love, and I guess that was just doing its thing on the internet, and slowly, slowly my original music gained some traction. I’m aware my music isn’t for everyone,” she says, explaining that the deep emotional songs she writes might come across as sad but in reality they are about coming out the other side stronger.
Eleni’s journey wasn’t always a deep dive into the soul, though.
“I started writing, REALLY bad music when I was a young teenager,” she emphasises laughingly. “I used to write poems and then I would incorporate music with them after, whether it was guitar or piano. As I started doing it more, I would write my lyrics simultaneously to the music I was creating, writing about my emotional state, teen relationships, escape, and the only person I would show was my mum! Shout out to her for enduring years of horrendous lyrics from her youngest daughter!”
At the time, Drake knew she wanted to do something creative and meaningful with her life but had no idea where or how to start, especially coming from an academic background.
“Both my parents work full time, my sister is a teacher, my cousins are dentists and engineers, architects, and I was this lost little soul just trying to create some art,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
“My parents were tough with me and told me I had to go to university, so in true ‘me’ style, I went on my terms. I was interested in the music production side of things, so I studied audio engineering at university and well, I learned… nothing. However, I did meet a man who introduced me to songwriting for other artists. From there, I got into working in studios in London, until I was told by people around me that I should just be releasing my own stuff. At the time I had about 400 songs on my laptop that I’d written though the years. Reluctantly I made a little EP and the rest is history.”
Her most recent album, Surf The Sun which drops on 19 May, has a very distinct vibe with the videos bringing through emotional memories from Greece, the beautiful beaches and sunsets as the backdrop of a love story. Her first EP from that album, Strawberry Moon came out on 23 February and is slowly becoming a hit.
“It’s a sweet little tune about a moment that I had shared with my partner; it was a weird transitional period in both of our lives, and we were just trying to adjust and navigate our relationship simultaneously,” she says.
“We went on a beautiful late evening walk and there was this exceptionally large red moon in the sky just beaming above us, and we sat and gazed for a few hours whilst talking about life, and goals, and dreams – you know the normal conversations you share with your partner, but it was just a pretty special event happening up there in the sky, so I wanted to document that moment ‘forever’.”
Eleni’s lyrics go deep, in a soft way, often raising awareness on mental health, the effect toxic relationships have on our life, addiction -be it substance use or a behavioral pattern- and the long but empowering journey to recovery and self-reclamation.
“I feel like my songs are sometimes a little journal that I write in to check in with myself and how far I have come from that moment,” she muses. “They also come from innately personal experiences, as that’s the only way I know how to write, so it’s always really touching to read messages from people who listen to my music, saying that they relate to the song, or that it resonated with them.
“I write a lot about my mental state, and the ups and down of life, but I do my best to lace the songs with hope and encouragement, sometimes we have to feel the sad, to really appreciate the good.”
As Eleni grows older, she’s also gradually becoming more sure of herself and the people she surrounds herself with. The inner work never stops, she says, stressing that the only way out is through, while practicing kindness to the people around us.
“We never know what story someone else is writing too. Life is ever changing, and there will always be an amalgamation of emotions moving with it.”