Bouncing back and forth between Miami and New York City his entire childhood, DROZE, born Charlles Pedroza, was raised by the radio, specifically the soul and R&B stations of the 1980s.
The harmonies of SWV, Total, Brandy and Brownstone got Pedroza through his troubled teenage years. Though he may have faced obstacles, DROZE didn’t let those challenges define him. He eventually racked up 12 years of classical music training on four different instruments.
Every step of the way, DROZE developed his voice, as well, but he kept that particular talent to himself. That all changed when longtime friend Michael Rodriguez, also known as Michael M, heard DROZE sing and booked him as the first male vocalist on his newly launched record label, Gonna Be Music.
With a management deal in place, DROZE made his official debut last year, as a featured artist on the Danny G-produced “Never Stop.” The same team followed up with “Running (Out of Time),” peaking at No. 27 on the Billboard dance/club chart. DROZE also added vocals to the Corrugated Tunnel track, “When There Was House,” released by Ireland’s Vision Collective Recordings, then followed that with his cover on Groove Theory's “Tell Me,” produced by Giuseppe D. The single was the first off his EP, “The Droze Project,” written and executive produced by Rodriguez with production by Giuseppe D, KC Anderson and Oba Frank Lords.
SFGN caught up with DROZE as he prepares to release new music in 2018. Here's what he had to say:
What made you want to pursue a career in music?
I've been singing since I learned how to talk. I never thought of actually pursuing it until I met Michael M. I mean, sure I fantasized, who doesn't? But he's the one who found me, pushed me and continues to drive the Droze train towards new destinations.
What is your preferred genre to perform?
I really love down tempo R&B, but that's not really big on the scene right now. House is leading the way in the music industry, and I've learned how to throw my own soulful style into that. So, I guess, to be honest, that any performance is going to be my preferred performance. I'm just happy to be singing for people.
How did you get involved with Michael M and his label? What do you feel he has contributed to your career?
Michael asked me to join him for Karaoke one night about three years ago at a dive bar, and I did. Michael kind of just threw the song book at me and told me to pick. I didn't expect to sing, much less for Michael to record it, strip the vocal and throw it onto Soundcloud. I had never really heard my voice outside my own head until he did that. It was the most surreal three-dimensional feeling to hear my voice aloud on my phone. About a week later, he had a song lined up that needed vocals, and he asked me to sing it. That track eventually became my first song ever on iTunes, "Never Stop." Mike is like that. He sees a bigger picture, and you're better off just smiling and showing up for all the things he has planned. I think he dreams so big, I'd be scared if I new what was in his head. But look at where he's gotten me; I never thought I would ever actually record an album at all, but with Mike, it was done within a year. And right after that, he had me on the talent roster for New Jersey Gay Pride, and then a gig at New York City's legendary LE BAIN, and then Score here in Miami. He's a driving force.
We don't have many local LGBT artists representing our community. How important is it for you to be recognized as an LGBT artist and do you feel we need more representation in the music industry?
There's definitely a lack of presence in the music industry, but it's not hard to understand why. Sponsors, venues, labels aren't really sure how to handle a fully out artist yet. It's 2017 and it's still a huge scandal when an artist comes out. I think artists tend to come out only AFTER they feel comfortable risking it all. Me, myself, I don't consider myself a gay singer. I'm just a singer that happens to be gay. I'm going to be true to who I am, though. Not changing the pronouns on 'Tell Me' was really important to me. I can't imagine being someone else than who I am, and then potentially selling myself as some one else later on. I'm in my 30s and I've been out since I was 13. I can't really go back at this point, and I don't want to.
Have you been embraced by our community? In what ways?
I think once people make the connection that Charllie Droze is also DROZE the singer, I'm received with open arms. Luise Morera over at Score booked me while I was still performing in Jersey. He saw the hype and a video of the performances and just shot me a text. I was kind of surprised but really excited. When I got back to the 305, he had a gig for me at The Lab at Score. That was my first gig in my hometown. The owners of R House Wynwood have also invited me to sing at their venue, and I'm still working that out. Even Miami's own 93.5 Revolution Radio made me the official host of their Pulse fundraiser last year. I'm getting love all over the city. I just want to keep nurturing that love across the venues and people I meet. These relationships are important to me.
When did you last perform? And when do you next plan to perform?
My last performance was at Score nightclub in September. I've taken some time off since then to check out the scene, meet some new DJs and singers and start compiling new tracks for another round of releases of DROZE music. It's only been two months or so, but I miss the stage already. I'm going to lock down a small performance at R House in the next couple of weeks, and there may or may not be a Basel pop-up performance, as well. You'll have to stay tuned for that one.
What's next for DROZE musically?
When I started 'The Droze Project,' I thought I knew what my sound was. I didn't. I think, musically, I'm more flexible than I thought. Now that I know that, you're going to hear a bit of a range on the next couple of releases. I think the new stuff will still have that DROZE soul to it, but I'm going bigger and really testing my writing skills. As always, luckily, I have Michael M to guide me and my fans to tell me what they love and what they don't. I'm excited. 2018 is going to be even bigger than 2017. I'm more confident now, and I have a better idea of what I want to say as an artist. I hope everyone is ready.
For more information on Gonna Be Music, visit www.gonnabemusic.com or listen to music on www.soundcloud.com/gonnabemusic.
Issac Schlesinger contributed to this report.