Regardless of genre, each and every young musician aims at finding their own voice, whereas the thing they dread perhaps the most is being labeled by the media and therefore unable to show their true colours. Dino Jelusick, a singer of Animal Drive and Dirty Shirley, knows this inside and out. The early success at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest left the Croatian rocker with a lot to prove. And as for the labels – a random review of Animal Drive‘s first album provides a reader with at least a handful of comparisons between Dino and the likes of Ronnie James Dio, David Coverdale, Sebastian Bach… Is it a situation difficult to deal with, or a praise to be grateful for? Does the collaboration with the legendary axeman George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob) under the moniker of Dirty Shirley prove what Jelusick is really capable of, or do we have to wait until the sophomore Animal Drive release? Showing one’s true colours and expressing themselves artistically was what I discussed with Dino, alongside asking about his future plans and past endeavours.
Alexandra Mrozowska: Comparisons, comparisons… You’re either a “new Ronnie James Dio” or a “David Coverdale of your generation”. More than just a few years into your music career, what’s your attitude towards those comparisons?
Dino Jelusick: I’m really grateful that people compare me with some of the best singers in Rock, Blues and Metal. But I think they haven’t heard everything I can do and how wide I can go with my voice. It might takes a couple of albums to show that, because every singer was compared with somebody else in the beggining of their exposure.
AM: With Dirty Shirley album out and the second full-length effort of your own band Animal Drive following soon, probably in 2020 we’ll have more reviewers dubbing you the successor of the aforementioned greats than ever. What are your exact plans for the next ten months?
Dino Jelusick: I can’t wait to show you what we’ve done on this second Animal Drive album. It’s crazy good and crazy diverse and so unique that I can’t hear any obvious influences. This year will be very busy as far as I saw on my calendar. A lot of gigs for Animal Drive in Europe!
AM: How different was working on Dirty Shirley in comparison to your past studio work? And of course, what kind of experience was it to work with George Lynch?
Dino Jelusick: It was different but very cool. George and I clicked very fast. Probably because we both love tons of different stuff and we had no problem to experiment with different styles. George told me this is probably in top three albums he’s ever done and I’m proud to be in Mr. Lynch top three albums as a songwriter, singer and keyboardist. It was Frontiers that brought us together, but it was very easy and we just jammed from different sides of the world and got this beast together. Very proud of the final product. When George and I stumbled upon each other, it was a perfect match. No boundaries. Just good music put together.
AM: Last time we did an interview, we talked about how personal a singer-songwriter should get while delivering a song to the audience. Was writing for Dirty Shirley – obviously, a collaborative project – any less personal than for Animal Drive or your solo records?
Dino Jelusick: Absolutely not. It’s either “all in” from my side or I’m not gonna be a part of the project/band. A lot of personal songs on this one.
AM: “Higher” is one of the most interesting songs on the album, in terms of both lyrics and how the story is reflected performance-wise. Yet, many people commenting upon the video to the track didn’t seem to go deeper than the obvious,which you hinted at while sharing the song on social media sites. Do you think it reflects the listening habits of today’s Rock and Metal fans?
Dino Jelusick: Well… People don’t dig deep. And that’s okay. Not everybody can, honestly. That’s why I wanted to explain what’s goin’ on so everybody has a picture of this song and how sick it is. George and I thought from day one that song was the best track on the album. Then they took the original version and put it as a bonus track. I don’t know why.
AM: Where did the idea for “Higher” come from? And does a song like that represent your evolution as a songwriter in comparison with angry and rebellious lyrical mode on Bite!?
Dino Jelusick: I just got such an idea because the mood of the song changes all the time – and I thought, let’s make a story outta it. It’s bluesy but it’s painful as well, it’s Rock’n’Roll but it’s also funky. Then it becomes epic and orchestral and goes back to being rock. And well… with the songwriting, it depends. This new Animal Drive album is also very personal and very dark as far as the lyrics are concerned. It’s hard to say… We evolved a lot since we had two years to do this, while Bite! was done in two months. And the new album is in direction of “Deliver Me” musically and “Fade Away” in terms of lyrics.
AM: So it seems the new album will be a mission accomplished! When we discussed a potential follow-up to Bite! back in our early 2018 interview, you stated that Animal Drive will probably get more experimental and progressive, more in vein of “Deliver Me” than “Had Enough”…
Dino Jelusick: Yeah, I didn’t know you remembered that – wow! It’s just different, the production, the sound… To me, it sounds different. We close this album with a piano track, only me and piano and orchestra. You would never hear that on Bite! with two months that we had to do everything and our mindset back then. So now we sat down and said “Let’s do this but 2-3 levels up and show that we are a musical circus”.
AM: Can you reveal any details about the new Animal Drive album?
Dino Jelusick: Not yet. We’re shooting the first video in two weeks. That’s all I can say.
AM: Last year, Animal Drive delivered a covers EP titled Back To The Roots. What made you choose this particular set of songs?
Dino Jelusick: We picked “The Look”. Everything else was picked by Frontiers. I’m not a fan of covers because I’m a songwriter but I’m happy how everything turned out. Those songs are also fun to play live.
AM: If Back To The Roots had been a full-length album, which other songs do you think would have made the cut? How about reworking something that is drastically different genre-wise instead of safe choices that were made?
Dino Jelusick: Probably some Queensryche, Dream Theater and Winger, to show our proggy side. And well, we wanted to do “Pumped Up Kicks” [2010 single by the American Indie Pop band Foster The People] or some Bruno Mars, but Frontiers wanted some old school ’80s rock.
AM: Some artists argue that recording covers or even playing them in the live setting limits the musicians’ opportunity to express themselves artistically. What’s your take on that?
Dino Jelusick: I would agree to the certain point. It can give you exposure these days with all the social media, but if you wanna be remembered as a cover guy, that’s cool. I don’t. I wanna do my songs and show people what I got as a character too. That’s what you’re gonna hear on the new album. I’m listening to the songs thinking “wow, this sounds like us and nobody else”. And maybe that can change the game.
AM: Alongside Animal Drive and Dirty Shirley, you also continue to work with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. How valuable is this experience for you personally and what did you learn along the way?
Dino Jelusick: It was crucial in a certain way. I grew up next to these big names and all of a sudden I’m watching them up close and learning things I didn’t know per se. I’ve done four tours with TSO and it was remarkable.
AM: Also in our 2018 interview, you’ve mentioned the possibility of shelving some of the songs you don’t find appropriate for Animal Drive and using them on your solo record afterwards…
Dino Jelusick: I already have a lot of songs for the third Animal Drive album, but I didn’t make any real plans for my solo album. I wanna build this first and then maybe do a solo record – but not yet.
AM: The very last question is quite retrospective. With TSO touring as well as Animal Drive and your other projects developing, fewer and fewer people dwell upon your past success at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. But all in all, was this success at such an early age a positive or negative force in your life and career afterwards?
Dino Jelusick: It was both positive and negative. Negative because once I grew up, it took awhile to represent myself as a serious singer and to become accepted within Rock audience. It sounded like it was impossible, but hey, I didn’t work for nothing (laughs) Positive side is that I experienced big stages and performed over a 100.000 people at one point as a kid, toured with Ronan Keating and UB40 and gained confidence and experience as a kid already. It’s a lot more positive then negative, I’d say.