For producer Na’el Shehade and vocalist Lluvia Rosa Vela (aka Via Rosa) of electro-pop act DRAMA, music came first.
Vela, who was born in Texas and raised on a Northern California Indian reservation, spent much of her youth touring with her parents’ reggae band.
Shehade, a Chicago native and child of Palestinian immigrants, started producing for high school friends before graduating to work with the likes of hometown superstars Chance The Rapper and Kanye West.
Surprisingly, however, they both took completely different paths before joining forces and returning to their musical beginnings.
Vela went to culinary school and became a chef, while Shehade owns and operates three restaurants (two at home in Illinois and one in San Francisco), as well as running KAKE, a digital marketing agency.
Together, the pair head the record label DRAMA Music, compose songs, and perform many nights a year to sold-out audiences across the globe.
While most find success in music first and then branch out entrepreneurially, DRAMA has explored that model in reverse.
“It’s very difficult,” said Shehade ahead of DRAMA’s tour that includes a stop at the Music Box on Thursday night. “It’s hard for us to maintain all of this at the level we’re doing it. Coming home off of tour, the next day I’m in the restaurants. I have to run my businesses. It’s very stressful. And it’s hard switching it on and off.”
“Yeah, but Na’el is a guy who gets things done,” adds Vela. “He thinks of things in terms of years ahead, but he also focuses on the next 24 hours. He can make it all happen because that’s just the way he works.”
With so much on their collective plates, you’d think the pair would welcome the idea of bringing additional musicians and collaborators into the fold. But after perfecting the alchemy of their increasingly popular mixture of gospel-tinged R&B, hip-hop and house as a duo, they’re not exactly clamoring for help.
“It’s exhausting working with other people,” Vela said through a laugh. “And we have a process that works. It’s great until everyone wants to eat something different, doesn’t like their hotel room, or wants to stay out all night and do cocaine. Having it just the two of us makes things so much easier.”
That “us against the world” attitude, coupled with the pair’s obvious entrepreneurial acumen, has, at least thus far, permeated everything surrounding the band.
After self-releasing their 8-song debut, “Gallows,” in 2016, and their “Lies After Love” EP in 2018, the pair teamed with Ghostly International for the February release of new album “Dance Without Me.”
But as Shehade is quick to point out, DRAMA is still a two-person job and in-house project in most every way.
“We still operate independently,” he said. “We fund our own touring, and everything you see, every way we run our business, is done through us. It’s just that now we have an independent label helping us distribute the music. The fact that we’ve been able to do all of these things, and people are liking the organic way we’ve done it, is a real affirmation to me.”
Although the pair is being mum on exactly what’s next for the band, they do promise that more releases from DRAMA are on the way. And even with continued success in a multitude of arenas outside of it, Shehade and Vela will always find the time to make music.
Details: DRAMA with Ric Wilson. 9 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 27. Music Box, Little Italy. $20; find tickets.