The duo Dracula's name doesn’t just reference a bloodthirsty Transylvanian vampire. It also represents the subtler Bram Stoker depiction of the lonely and lovesick Count. The only instruments they use are one nylon acoustic guitar and two distinctively gorgeous voices. Spanish and English songs are tightly woven into a tapestry of quiet intensity on their release, Songs of Love & Melancholy. Each flows into the next like Lucy’s blood onto pointy teeth. The duo harnesses the almost ghostly, haunting energy of the Carter Family and the melting harmonies of the Mamas & the Papas.
Dracula — which New Times named Best Acoustic Music in 2012 — reinterprets songs such as Peggy Seeger’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “The Nightingale” from Twin Peaks. The duo even presents a reimagined version of Don McLean’s “Babylon” called “Waters of Palestine,” telling others’ heavy stories simply behind its own poignant and diaphanous vocal veil.
Theirs is a modern Miami music scene story. Dracula’s members, Eli Oviedo and Dorys Bello, met when they were 19 years old. He was working as a waiter at Bali Cafe downtown, and she was attending Miami Dade College across the street and dating one of the Indonesian restaurant's dishwashers. Bello is a 32-year-old Hialeah native of Cuban descent. Oviedo, who turns 32 this month, was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. He heard Bello sing and wanted to make music with her. Three years of friendship later, they were harmonizing beautifully.
Oviedo lived at a crust punk house called the Sin Bin, which was located behind another, more popular crust punk house, the Firefly. Bello earned a degree in art from Florida International University and found herself working at a funeral home for $8 an hour. Once out of the punk house, Oviedo worked as a medical language interpreter and began studying Japanese language and culture with the goal of concentrating on sociolinguistics in grad school. Bello jokes of preparing for one of her current jobs, teaching ESL students in China on the internet: “I put on a nice shirt and leave my pajama bottoms on.” Today they both work at the midtown wine bar Lagniappe.
Oviedo says their sound “just evolved organically. It came out of us playing in a room together. It was almost conversational.” They weren’t thinking about performing live. “Dracula was really something we did for fun.” He calls what they do “very vocal and oriented around us and playing with harmony and coming up with interesting harmonies.”
Over the years, other members have come and gone. Past bandmates were more into making tapes and adding gear to the music, but the original duo wasn’t into it. The group used to include a 100-year-old harp, a flute, and a clarinet in its songs. A former member, Kian Seara, made and played a hurdy-gurdy and added a saw with a bow for a time. But Bello and Oviedo have always returned to their simple setup. “The guitar is more of a background thing,” Bello says.
They play only occasionally, when someone invites them. But their first gig was noteworthy, and it paid, at the De la Cruz Collection. Next, they partnered with the roving art-space project the End/Spring Break to play in Miami City Cemetery and Pinewood Cemetery.
Oviedo calls this somber though odd spot fitting for Dracula, and not just because of the group's moniker. “It's a public place where people can gather, and it’s also a place of reflection. A lot of the themes in the music are really reflective, looking into the past, ghosts, the relationship between life and death, and memories,” he says.
“We don’t plug anything in, so we’re quiet enough for a cemetery, so it fits,” Bello says. “We need our shows to be really quiet. So it’s easier to tell people to be quiet there, compared to Churchill’s, where they're yelling from the bar and everyone is screaming for [people] to be quiet.”
Oviedo calls it “a controlled contemplative environment.”
“Ceremonial environments help carry the observer to their own union with their emotions," Bello says, "and we feel like in our performances, this is possible in a moment of quiet reflection among a scene of mostly electronic performers.”
Dracula first recorded music on a reel-to-reel recorder but also worked digitally with artist Jay Hines. The duo's album that came out this past January features two guitars instead of one. They recorded it with James McKillop of the band Treasure Teeth, who produced, mastered, and recorded it with Barbara Elting.
Their goal is to perform in Japan, though they just played outside of Florida in July for the first time. Dracula was invited by Molly Surazhsky to perform at CalArts’s LatLab, which specializes in showing Hispanic artists. In California, the duo played at a house in the middle of the desert near Joshua Tree National Park. In a field of cacti, as the sun was setting, their soft, intense voices spread songs like magic across the dark sky and into the stars.