Haley Dreis has options — and choices to make.
The 21-year-old USC student is majoring in violin performance, but she’s also a pop singer who has a brighter future than those who will be sad you didn’t vote for them after tonight’s “American Idol” results show.
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Dreis, who will release her EP, “Taking Time,” Friday night at The White Mule, has a lot of talent to spare.
“I just want to do everything I possibly can with violin, whether that’s in a band, in a quartet, in a symphony,” said Dreis, who also sings and plays keyboard and guitar. “I like to perform and teach and write and record music.
“I like to do everything. I just have to be well rounded or I get bored.”
How’s this for well rounded? She plays in USC Jazz Strings, a string sextet lead by Craig Butterfield. She teaches violin at Bill’s Music Shop and Pickin’ Parlor and Aim High Education, a music lessons and tutoring center near Lake Carolina. Somehow, she found time to write 40 demo songs for her EP.
Who has 40 songs at 21?
“I don’t know how that happened,” she said. “I wanted to make a full-length record and realized it was more cost effective to have a smaller group of songs. We wanted to showcase a more mature collection of my songs.”
Dreis worked with two sets of producers: Jay Clifford and Josh Kaler produced and recorded five songs at Hello Telescope in Charleston, and two with Eric McCoy and Kenny McWilliams at Archer Avenue Studio in Columbia. Clifford, formerly of Jump Little Children, and Kaler pushed Dreis’ songwriting.
“Literally, every single song was broken down,” she said.
And some of her ideas were extinguished. For example, “Don’t Keep Loving Me,” in Dreis’ head, was a busy and energetic rock song. What listeners will hear is a soft rock song that leans on an acoustic guitar and well-placed electric guitar and piano runs. Dreis’ voice, well-suited for the heartsick, looking-in-the-mirror pop songs that have gotten many through a first-love breakup (listen to “Delicate,” too) carries the song.
It was Kaler’s idea to chill “Don’t Keep Loving Me” out, and Dreis acquiesced though she found it hard to make changes at first.
“It’s hard as a songwriter to give up your control,” she said. “It’s a piece of you.”
She wouldn’t accept any production recommendations for “Delicate.”
“He was very respectful,” Dreis said of Kaler. “But he was on the same page.”
“Beautiful to Me,” the record Dreis released in 2009, was endearing, but it lacked the drama and maturation heard in songs like the EP’s title track. And her straight-up pop songs — “Candy in the Summertime” and “Where My Heart Is” with the infectious bum-bum-ba-da-bum refrain — have been refined with radio-ready gloss.
McWilliams, a former member of the electro-pop band Baumer, said he and McCoy began working with Dreis after she was chosen to participate in a promotion between Archer Avenue and WXRY-FM 99.3. Dreis impressed them while recording “All For You.”
“When Haley approached us about recording the first single for her upcoming release we were excited to work with her again,” McWilliams said about “Where My Heart Is.” “Once again we got to fully produce a song for her and we were all pleased with the result. Needless to say, our job is much easier when we are working with a well written song.”
Is Dreis ready to make a career choice — professional violinist or touring singer? She hasn’t even graduated yet, so what’s the rush?
“I know. I’m so excited about life,” she said. “I love making music all the time. And it’s been an amazing experience being in school while doing it because I’ve had the freedom to do that, to explore different musical sides.
“Now that I have the EP and album, I feel totally ready to put myself out there.”