Behind the screen, they are but shadows, and Dracula likes it that way. Vocalist Dorys Bello and singer/guitarist Eli Oviedo, both 33 years old, are a tranquilizing folk duo that go by the moniker inspired by Bram Stoker. And like the romantic vampire, they prefer to remain low-key and in the dark. Last week at Gramps, a bar slightly off the beaten path of the tourist trap that has become Wynwood, they tried an experiment: performing in silhouette behind a screen. It’s an idea they are considering for their second appearance at III Points in Miami this weekend.
Perched on a pair of stools facing each other, their profiles are projected by a single red light bulb located behind the screen. Their silhouettes add another ethereal layer to their timeless sounding music. The mysterious couple sing emotive music often in the romance language of Spanish but sometimes in English, Portuguese, French and even Japanese. “Yo soy como el chile verde, Llorona. Picante pero sabroso,” they coo with a beautiful harmonized vibrato, as Oviedo gently plucks his acoustic guitar. You can still see their feet below the edge of the screen. During the chorus of “Como La Flor,” a cover of a Selena song, Bello’s right foot, in simple Mary Jane shoes and gray socks that glow blue below a black light at the front of the stage, begins to swing a little bit. As she sings, “Aye, me duele,” her foot rises up toward her partner and hovers there for a bit.
The screen is a new theatrical touch for the duo, but their unique stage presence of facing one another has long been a mainstay at their performances. Before the show, Bello and Oviedo spoke about their inspirations, a recent recording contract with Sweat Records Records that will see soon them release an album on vinyl (Sweat Records launches new Miami independent music label) and where the idea to face each other while performing came from.
“I think it happened naturally because we like to focus into each other’s eyes,” says Bello. “Facing the crowd would distract us a lot, and I have … an anxiety disorder,” she admits with a nervous laugh.
Oviedo also relates. He says encouragement from friends has helped them, even though they both admit that they become even more self-conscious with friends in the audience. “With people’s feedback, it just became easier to do it,” he notes. “Everyone was just like, relax. It didn’t seem so much like this crazy feat to be bringing in front of people that we were so afraid of being rejected by.”
This modesty goes way back. Before forming Dracula with Oviedo, Bello used to record music by herself on guitar in her bedroom. Even though friends pushed her to perform in public, she declined. It wasn’t until meeting Oviedo that she found the strength to perform for an audience. “I always said, no, no, no, and with him, that was the first time I actually tried it,” she says, “and it’s just me trying to get over stage fright and just anxiety in general. To this day, I have crippling anxiety before the show and during, but it’s gotten a lot better.”
It’s been a journey going on ten years now. Bello says decorating the stage with candles and flowers has helped ease the butterflies, and Oviedo notes that the more shows they went on to play, the more fun it became. In 2012 they were named Best Acoustic act by Miami New Times, but only recently has Dracula begun to feel more real with the Sweat Records Records deal and actually getting paid to perform their music, which is a mix of diverse covers — from traditional folk songs to pop music — that the pair specially arrange as stripped-down, intimate pieces.
The duo give much credit to the main woman behind Sweat Records Records, Lauren Reskin. Their contact with the her label has given them a practical perspective on their art. Oviedo says, “It’s less of a spiritual thing that you do but more like a I need to make a living, and I see other artists, and even though the things that they do seem so lofty, cultural, like the spirit of society, you still need to get paid for stuff.”
Before the deal, they would even lose money, sacrificing work to play gigs. “We’re thinking about not having to struggle as much,” says Bello. “It’s not us just trying to take care of ourselves. We’re trying to take care of our family as well.”
But with this grounded sensibility also comes some nice surprises. Last October, their interpretation of “Como La Flor,” was featured on NPR’s alt.Latino podcast. Co-host Stefanie Fernández wrote, “’Como La Flor’ absolutely melts me. 23 years after her death, Selena still enchants millions of young Latinos with her liquid voice and heart-spilling lyrics. Dorys Bello and Eli Oviedo — known among the art goths and rose-gilded young people of Miami as folk duo Dracula — conjure Selena’s magic in a cover that you’ll wish you could hear for the first time again.”
Oviedo hopes this could lead to even bigger things on NPR. “We want to do a Tiny Desk concert,” he says. “Somebody has to nominate us.” You can reach out to Tiny Desk creator Bob Boilen here, btw.
For now, the duo are readying for their second appearance at III Points. After the show at Gramps, Bello can finally enjoy a slice of pizza (she says she prefers not to eat all day before a performance). “This is just a huge load off my shoulders if we could pull this off,” she says with a laugh about possibly performing behind the screen at III Points.
“It felt more intimate,” adds Oviedo, “and I didn’t feel as self conscious about all the weird faces that I feel like I was making.” Bello laughs again. “It’s the same sort of performance that we would normally do,” he continues.
Then, Bello adds, “… but we can breath more, I think.”
Bello also says she enjoyed the glow of the red light, so that might also happen. She adds, “It worked well, I think, but we want to hide our shoes…”
“We want to look like we’re floating,” says Oviedo.
“Wooo, floating. That’s it,” says Bello. After all, wouldn’t that be a move that harks to the perfect Dracula vibe that first inspired them to adopt the name.
Dracula will take the Sector 3 stage at III Points, Friday, Feb. 15, at 6 p.m. For tickets visit this link.