Spencer Draeger is a brilliant New York City musician/singer whose solo musical projects go under the name of Dräger. The Dräger musical experience is driven by stunningly alluring electronic and synth-driven sounds, with nods to the early 80s that we love oh-so-much. The hauntingly beautiful vocals are reminiscent of Peter Murphy of Bauhaus crossed with Cy Curnin from The Fixx. Spencer spends his days writing, mixing and recording songs in his home studio. He seems much at ease playing guitar, keyboards, bass and drums – a natural-born talent. He is also solely responsible for every aspect in the creation of his four eye-catching Dräger music videos. Tall and dashingly handsome, he also models having worked with brands like John Varvatos, Persol and The Kooples. It’s no wonder as Spencer has that devil-may-care, movie star look about him – a unique combination of Bryan ferry meets Robert Mitchum – and he’s destined to make his mark in the music world. Photography Alexander Thompson. Men’s grooming Kirra Hughes. https://www.dragermusic.com/ https://open.spotify.com/artist/0y4QXcEMJX6l9M5chvjrJg?si=y-j2g3BsQxGAh4UTZ9iU7w&nd=1 https://www.instagram.com/dragermusic/
PONYBOY: Tell us about your background.
SPENCER DRAEGER: I’m from San Francisco but I’ve lived in Brooklyn for ten years. I love synthesizers, violent movies, cats, impersonating accents and kicking out the jams.
PONYBOY: When and how did you get into music?
SPENCER DRAEGER: Music started from my dad having impeccable taste, but ironically no one played music in my family. I used to just jam on my grandma’s piano. I never once heard her play the damn thing and she hated anytime I’d try to play it. Funny though, my brother would always learn songs properly and do things correctly but it turns out I was the one who wanted to go all the way. As a teen, I moved around a lot when my parents split. My mom and dad lived a few hours away and I’d have to take a ferry to the subway, then to a bus, then a 2-hour train ride, then to a bus again – once a week! I’d just listen to music on my rides. I think that’s when I started to grow this urge to want to be involved with music. There’s nothing like a long commute and headphones watching the scenery blow-by. I had this mirror in my bedroom and I’d sing karaoke and get really fucking into it. If the walls could talk they’d be laughing I bet.
When I moved in with my dad I didn’t know anyone since we had just moved to a new town. But one day I just said I wanna be on stage, so in high school, I started my first shitty band. It was called Overview. Still to this day kids DM me these old songs that I hope no one else ever hears. We actually stuck together for about 8 years and had some big moments. I dropped out of college to be a full-time musician then the band broke up and I moved to New York.
PONYBOY: What brought you to New York?
SPENCER DRAEGER: I moved here to get away from everything out west and to start my new band The Midnight Hollow. Part of growing up I guess, shit falls through and you grow in a new place and start anew. I came here without knowing a soul and would just drink Budweisers chatting it up with strangers every night till I finally met a good core.
PONYBOY: Tell us about being a New York agency model?
SPENCER DRAEGER: When I first moved out here in 2011 my buddy Sam Marie-Saint, an amazing photographer, convinced me to be a model. I was very reluctant because I had this ego about being a musician back then. I booked a few editorials in my first week. When word got to me that some folks back in San Francisco saw me in an editorial, I got insecure about people thinking I was “just a model.” Stupidly, I marched into my agency (it was Re:quest at the time) and demanded to be let go. That was it I thought.
I then bartended for about 5 years. One night I was drinking at Rock N Rolla in Williamsburg and some pushy French girl told me to come outside. She said, “I am gonna take your photo, lift your shirt up!” My buddies were laughing while this aggressive French girl was just doing an impromptu shoot on the sidewalk with her iPhone. The next day she sent me to some address without telling me who it was. Turns out I was meeting with Maurilio, the casting director for John Varvatos. Boom!…two days later I was in my first major fashion show without an agency. I signed with Fusion models shortly after to make getting paid easier. Though it’s kind of ironic because Fusion never paid me on time and they were so fucking shady with everyone. I could care less about holding back in saying it publicly. Some jobs would take over a year to get paid. I used to fantasize about going in with a baseball bat and breaking everything in their office. My agents were getting switched out all the time and I never really felt stable. More promises are made and never kept in the fashion world than the music world which is hard to believe.
When I finally was able to leave I jumped ship to New York Models and though they paid me on time and seemed more transparent they basically kept me on the shelf. The only jobs I got came in from friends or DMs over IG. I basically went from working all the time, walking in about 6 to 8 shows during fashion week to just getting shelved. I decided to leave during quarantine when all my checks coming in were just getting deducted for these ridiculous fees. Now that life’s opening up again I may get back on the horse but I’m just so busy with music, we’ll see.
PONYBOY: Who are some of your memorable clients/editorials in your modeling career?
SPENCER DRAEGER: When I think about it all, it’s clear John Varvatos was my bread and butter. I was working for him every week for a few years and life was a peach. I did a couple of big editorials with Vogue Italia, Nylon and more. But honestly modeling to me was really just about the money. Just before I got back into modeling, my band The Midnight Hollow curated a fashion show for Todd Snyder. The designer had named one of his shows after one of my songs. A couple of years later when I showed up as a model, he was like this is serendipitous and he had me open up his show in 2018. But notoriety didn’t always yield creativity, and quite honestly I felt that some of the most creative people were the friends I made through the fashion world, more often than the official editorials I did. The funny test shoots and random encounters were what changed it all for me. Big brands were money but the spark came from the artists I met at parties and through other models.
It’s where I met a very dear friend of mine to this day, Georgia Mitropoulos, who has been a major part of my aesthetic in music. Just seeing her wiggle her way into the shows and just connect with artists was what inspired me most about the “modeling” world. I kept meeting people indirectly and besides the corruption, there were lots of characters and people that have changed my life. It pushed me out of my DIY Bushwick music world into these weird parties and long nights that I’ll never forget.
PONYBOY: Would you say that being a model has hindered you as a musician? Are people less willing to take you seriously?
SPENCER DRAEGER: You know I thought it would, as I mentioned earlier when I quit because of it. But you gotta be open-minded to how people perceive artists. Success is often from just getting the right people behind you, more so than the product you’re putting out into the world. As I got older I realized the fact that we live in such a lazy world where people equate your talent to how popular you are on social media, and “who you know” is more important than how great of a songwriter you are. I had this hard head about making it only about music but it’s just not how the world works. It’s much easier to write about someone involved in so many other things than just a songwriter.
I also wanted more avenues to express myself. Damn the dark bleak world of playing stuffy DIY venues. It just didn’t have the sex appeal I wanted all the time. It wasn’t the New York I fantasized about. I cut my teeth on that shit for years and I just wanted a change. Keeping that in mind, with modeling I got to meet more people doing creative things. And honestly, it gave the superficial next to my name; that hopefully that would be enough to just get me in the room for people to discover I was more than a coat-hanger. These days everyone’s some dumb influencer or somebody – you can’t get too comfortable in just being a musician. How unoriginal, some white dude with long hair in a band. Haha.
Plus it was 4x the money of bartending and if it enabled me the chance to build relationships, for example with people passionate about making cool clothes or wanting music for their art film. So hell why not? The dream was to be able to do it all. Unfortunately, I tried to express this to every single agency – marketing me more as an artist. But most agencies out in New York couldn’t even get their head out of their asses and see past the fashion world. I had lots of accolades with my first New York band The Midnight Hollow before I was officially a model. I thought combining my success with modeling would help me break through. Models can’t just be models and a musician can’t just play guitar. You gotta be everything and fake the rest till you make it. It’s all bullshitting till you get paid now hahaha (if you get paid). So I’ll take whatever I can get because we’re all trying to sell out so we can continue just being artists.
PONYBOY: You look incredible in all of the clothing in your photos. What designers/labels do you enjoy wearing?
SPENCER DRAEGER: Well thanks, I won’t lie most of my money goes towards the music world but my girlfriend buys me shirts and stuff she finds second-hand. Kirra also gets so much sent all the time to the house from designers from IG. Lately, I’ve been wearing a lot of clothes made by Thrills Co. I love Phix out of London as well, they’ve sent me some rad shirts made for the stage.
PONYBOY: When we first saw you perform at a show a few years back (a terrific double-bill with our mutual musician friend Justin Dean Thomas), your music was very 80s/synth-driven. Describe the Drager sound. Is it still like this?
SPENCER DRAEGER: I love Justin, one of my favorite dudes in New York. My music’s described as Synthedelic Pop. It’s got a lot of analog synths that people often compare to the 80s but I’m just trying to write the next best song, and I happen to have an affinity towards synthesizers. I’m not tied to just doing that sound but I have a few songs that fall perfectly in that direction. My album that just dropped this month, Goths Á La Discotheque was described by Under The Radar as “Music situated at the edge of retro new wave, alt-soul, and punk rhythms, all filtered through a sarcastic take on modern melancholia.” Honestly, I’d probably be more successful in modern times if I just really drove home some retro sound to the bone but I love to dabble in it all. My last band was super psychedelic so with this new project, Dräger, I’m just focusing more on having tighter songwriting and trying to not take myself too seriously.
PONYBOY: Tell us about your recording process. Is it all done at your home studio? And do you write all of your own music?
SPENCER DRAEGER: Everything I do, I do completely solo. I’ve dedicated just as much to songwriting and being a musician as to also being an engineer and learning how to effectively mix, produce and master my music on my own. Quarantine really gave me more time to go further in building out my home studio. I feel the most creative I’ve ever been because I can write, produce, mix and master it all from my home. I turn out so much music because I’m not bogged down by expensive studio time or relying on busy musicians to help write the songs. That truly gives me a very undiluted vision all the way through. Dräger is one of my proudest moments in music because I feel like there is nothing that can get in my way with this project. Music is a dictatorship, not a democracy. You gotta be selfish and do it yourself and not let too many people corrupt the process.
PONYBOY: Dräger has some impressive music videos. Tell us what it was like creating them, from start to end.
SPENCER DRAEGER: It’s a hate/love relationship. Videos take a lot out of me. They require a month at minimum of finding and renting locations, coordinating people’s schedules, making or ordering props, getting the right actors and storyboarding it all out. And making sure it fits into everyone else’s schedules. This last video took me a month just to try and rent an old classic car. I ultimately had to fly to LA because it was cheaper booking a plane ticket and filming the car scenes out there than here in New York. Also, just all the time involved in editing, while not coming from that as my background. It took a lot of YouTube video tutorials and color grading tutorials to make things come to life. It’s expensive as all hell too but in the end the result is rewarding. We are all so visual these days, and you need videos for people to “hear you.” I hit this point where I wanted more out of a music video than the generic rent out some studio and play a song with flashy lights etc. I actually don’t hate those but I just wanted more. Lately, I’ve been calling them “music films,’ because it’s more so about the video than the music.
I put three songs together just to tell a story about this comic book-style crime syndicate with a girl caught in the middle between two rivals. Just like creating an ethos in music I wanted to solidify a strong narrative and make something much bigger than the status quo for an indie band video. It’s dangerous doing narratives because they can get really cheesy and confusing with such a little amount of time to tell a story. So I stretched it across three different songs equalling two videos. Part I just came out while Part II is set to drop in the next month. Honestly though now that the saga is done, I’m just jumping through the superficial hoops of trying to get a premiere. Being creative and producing the work has become the easy part but it’s much harder to get something effectively out.
PONYBOY: What hurdles have you experienced in the record/music industry?
SPENCER DRAEGER: There are a lot of hurdles but over the years I’ve stopped getting sour about a lot of it and just kept on with my own trajectory. Some days are harder than others and I sure do have moments where I feel like the entire industry is working to suppress talent and pump out shit. For the sake of the answer though, I think people that have a lot of the liberty to change artists’ careers and expose the masses to great music are more focused on quick hits than developing careers. It’s all low-hanging fruit (I have a song on my album called “Low Hanging Fruit” about this).
True story: before I released a single I sent it to someone and they didn’t hear anything in it. And then after the song hit over 200k streams he sent me a text telling me it was a hit and wanted to work with me. It was literally the exact same song without any changes. They analyze what “good music” is by analyzing metrics rather than actually listening to the music. Labels have invested millions in getting technology to tell how often a song is skipped or saved and tracking its daily listeners. We are living in a modern world where we discover artists through algorithms, so you have to constantly adapt to catching an algorithm wave in hopes of getting heard. For instance, TikTok is so effective with its algorithms that people are making a lot of innocuous sound bite garbage in hopes some teenager will do a daft video of dancing or a skit. In the end, we are left with a society of shitty ill-inspired music polluting so much of the space where authentic artists with something to say could thrive.
Other than that, I’d love it if Spotify paid artists fairly. They’ve built an amazing thing for discovering new bands and dictating what you wanna hear but Jesus a third of a penny a stream is criminal. That on top of label fees, management fees…if you have a band you’re making like a 10th of a penny. The average employee makes 100000x times that a day. It’s also heavily still regulated by major labels owning the space. However, apart from all of this, I’m optimistic and this is the best time in history to be independent. And with all that being said I feel at peace being in control of my destiny.
PONYBOY: Do you also produce/write music for other musicians?
SPENCER DRAEGER: I certainly do and I think it’s something I’m trying to do more of. Getting out there in different ways all leads back to the success of my own project. In this world based on algorithms, you get a lot of exposure by being featured and also doing remixes. And you learn something new each time you work with someone else as well. I just want to keep pushing myself and helping others see their dreams come true. Though I love being solo if it’s another project I have no problem collaborating. I’m working on some soundtracks as well and just getting more involved in harmony between film and music. I love it!
PONYBOY: What musicians/bands have influenced you personally as a musician?
SPENCER DRAEGER: Roxy Music’s Avalon was massive. It was the album my dad probably played the most and it subconsciously rubbed off on me while also getting me into the sound of synthesizers. New Order and LCD Soundsystem definitely really made a massive impact on me. Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense showed me you don’t have to be so serious all the time. I still think Talking Heads is such a funny band. Radiohead is my favorite band probably of all time and also really resonated a lot in my teens – I can’t think of another band that’s continued to still inspire me and grow with age. They’re true role models. For modern bands, I really love Tame Impala because of Kevin Parker’s transformation from psych-rock to pop status and something in between. I feel like I’ve made that move my whole life myself between my past till now (well not successfully but artistically hahaha). Plus, when I get a bit overwhelmed with writing, playing and mixing everything myself I just think, “Ok this is possible if Kevin can do it”. You’re always told you’re not supposed to mix your own record or master it etc. but guys like him continue to inspire me that I can. Side note, I actually met Kevin Parker way, way, way back in 2010 when I drove from San Francisco to LA to see them do two sets at the Silver Lake Lounge. There were probably 40 people in the crowd, such a funny thing to imagine these days.
But as far as musical influences go, I get inspired every day by so many different bands big or small. Sometimes it’s just a drumbeat I hear or something that small that I get pumped on. That’s the silver lining of Spotify, constantly being thrown new artists and having access to everything. For example, as I’m doing this interview, some jazz song came on and I’m like, “Wow that guitar chord is insane, what is that?” Stuff so random like that can inspire an entire song sometimes while also discovering a new artist.
PONYBOY: If Dräger could tour with anyone, who would it be?
SPENCER DRAEGER: I feel like all the bands I want to tour with would just make me look terrible haha. I’m just imagining touring with Tame Impala and how hard it’d be to go on after an act like that but that being said I’d gladly 1000% go on tour with them hahaha. I’d love to play with Bryan Ferry or LCD Soundsystem, that would be a dream. M83 would be really cool to play with as well. I love The War On Drugs and so so many more, I could go on and on.
PONYBOY: Tell us about your relationship with model Kirra Hughes, who we featured on Ponyboy last year.
SPENCER DRAEGER: Kirra and I are a collaborative couple. I’ve never had that in any past relationship. She helps bring my vision to life in the music videos. She creates all my album artwork and is now helping me with my merchandise. I’m grateful to have a partner in crime. She understands the process and how self-sabotaging it can be to be in the creative space. It’d be incredibly hard to just tell someone the mood swings involved in creative pursuits. They would need to have lived it and she knows how it goes. I am truly fortunate there’s a bond in that world with the person I love. She and I are always working on different things, sometimes together or sometimes apart on opposite sides of the house in our own worlds. Apart from that, we also do a lot of shoots together and share most of everything in life.
PONYBOY: What’s on the horizon for Dräger music?
SPENCER DRAEGER: Well a lot is on the way. I just put out my album and shows are coming back into fashion. I am playing the Broadway on July 23rd, Berlin July 15th and more. My buddy in the band Temples, Thomas Walmsley remixed a song of mine dropping June 25th. Part II of my video is coming out this month as well. I’ll for sure be putting out an EP at the end of the year too that I just completed. So much else but I’ll leave all that in your heads for now, come see me live!