KIM DRACULA: Unmaking a murderer | Revolver

KIM DRACULA: Unmaking a murderer

How the Korn- and A7X-approved Tasmanian TikTok star transformed their morbid obsessions into genre-splicing heaviness
Kim Dracula lead image 1600x900 Shinn, Travis Shinn
Kim Dracula
photograph by Travis Shinn

Samuel Wellings always thought they'd grow up to be a serial killer. "I used to have a terrible fixation on killing," says the Australian-born musician known as Kim Dracula, staring down shyly, purple hair shielding their gaze. It's not the most comforting thing to hear from a stranger while sat across from them in their Los Angeles home, black walls with red accents and gothic furniture surrounding us.

But there's no danger of death here. Wellings is just honestly, and bravely, verbalizing their experience of living with OCD, the obsessive-compulsive disorder that has, at times, convinced them that they are the worst person in existence.

Wellings has turned the most vicious of these voices into their vampiric project Kim Dracula. Befitting their stage name (which is taken from the Deftones song), they live inside the mansion of a modern-day Nosferatu, a dark shield from the L.A. sun overhead. Look out the front window and you'll likely spot some Hollywood celebs cheerily strolling past. Look out the back and you'll see a gloomier sight: eerie elephant statues flanking a pool that appears unused, leaves twirling on its surface. The only thing that breaks the dark spell is Yoda, a two-year-old Pitbull rescue who's desperately trying to clamber onto my lap.

Kim dracula shinn pic 1

"Maybe this is a fucked-up coping mechanism," Wellings says, gently ushering Yoda away from my legs, "but anything that scares me will eventually find its way into my art."

Despite being one of the most followed Australian musicians on TikTok, having tens of millions of streams and a wild collab with Korn's Jonathan Davis under their belt, and earning a personal invite to open for Avenged Sevenfold on their North American summer tour, Wellings has yet to be media trained. In fact, this is their first-ever interview. So far, Wellings, who possesses a six-octave range, has "let the music speak for itself."

They cannibalize genres, forging a thrillingly fucked-up compositional aesthetic that blends mismatched ingredients and alien worlds into a head-spinning take on nu-metal, thrash, industrial and trap-metal, with smatterings of funk, bossa nova and ska. Mr. Bungle's forward-thinking polystylism is an inspiration, as are Danny Elfman's cinematic soundscapes and early work with Oingo Boingo. Through Kim Dracula, Wellings is taking a bold genre-jumping leap into the future — and offering an exciting glimpse into one possible path for postmodern heaviness.

The first Kim Dracula album is on the way: A Gradual Decline in Morale (due out July 14th). Here in L.A. — the city where they've lived for the past six months, yet seldom venture out into — they'll have to get used to promotion. They look out the window, towards a sun that threatens to cauterize their pallid skin, before turning back to face me. We're a long way away from Tasmania, or "Tassie," as Wellings calls it in their soft, twilit voice.

Tassie was where Wellings' serial-killer nightmares were forged. Alongside their brother, they grew up in the state capital, Hobart, with a paramedic father and vocal teacher mother. It was a city plagued by a dry, bitter freeze and an all-enveloping fog — and haunted by the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, which occurred about an hour away in the town of Port Arthur.

Wellings was born just over a year after 35 people were killed and 23 were wounded in the worst mass shooting in modern Australian history. "I knew so many people whose relatives had passed away in the massacre," they say. "It's always been a thing that you just don't bring up."

While the townspeople stayed silent, the TV turned the tragedy into a tourist attraction. Each year, on the massacre's anniversary, the national news would revisit the story — edited like a movie montage with hard-rock music soundtracking clips of the murderer. This was Wellings' introduction to the concept of fame.

"I watched my family watching this and it was as though everyone was celebrating, whether they realized it or not. It's interesting … anything out of the ordinary or anything we fear or don't understand just creates a natural curiosity."

For Wellings, that curiosity turned into a morbid fascination, a compulsive obsession. As teenage angst set in, so did "the fucked-up fantasies." They spent each day watching true crime, their OCD manifesting into hypochondria, convincing them that they were dying of cancer or multiple sclerosis while they witnessed countless onscreen victims meet untimely deaths.

"One day I went up to my mum shaking and freaking out," they recall. "I told her, 'Mum, I think I want to kill people.'"

From the age of five they started drumming, an activity that later became a vital antidote to the fear-based fixations that would emerge as they got older. They pounded at their kit until their muscles were too sore to keep up with their rage. They played drums in a funk band, then a hardcore band, before providing vocals for a death-metal band. At 16, they turned to alcohol.

Each morning, they'd wake up, drink a bottle of Jack Daniel's, smudge their face with makeup, go to school. In the hazy maze of hallways, Wellings was a hateful vegan with a vengeance against humanity. They became the class clown. Their grades dwindled, their attendance dismal. Just before 11th grade, they were expelled. After endless days of isolation and five years of Jack Daniel's breakfasts, in February 2018, Wellings had their last drink. "It's the best thing I ever did."

Up until that point, Kim Dracula had always been a shadow presence — a background character buried in Wellings' subconscious, itching to play the starring role. Dracula wasn't just a creative outlet, it was a caricature of Wellings themself: long-haired, grotesquely beautiful, a bridge between obscure death metal and accessible pop melodicism.

Kim Dracula shinn pic 2

Wellings introduced Kim Dracula to the public in 2020. At the time, the music industry had its eyes on TikTok to discover the new crop of grassroots superstars. At 23, Wellings saw their chance to break out. Dracula was smart: They studied like hell and acted immediately. "I was like, if I don't put out a bunch of shit as fast as possible, the window's not opening again," they say, adding with a smile, "I poured fucking gasoline on it."

On their first viral video, they screamed over a clip of early TikTok star Bella Poarch — within two hours it received 10 million views. Dracula's big breakout came soon after with their trap cover of Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi," a song about ersatz fame wannabes. Wellings continued this theme on their 2022 single "Make Me Famous," a track that, like their memories of the Port Arthur killer's infamy, juxtaposed celebrity with extreme violence.

"Putting anyone on a pedestal is inherently grotesque, but the irony is that I'm doing exactly what I'm arguing against," they say with total self-awareness.

Wellings' pedestal inched higher when they teamed with Jonathan Davis for the single "Seventy Thorns," a thrasher that saw Dracula paying tribute to the Korn leader's scat-trap: two generations of hard-rock provocateurs in violent conversation together.

"I scored a legendary feature," Wellings says of the collab, the origins of which can be traced to a serendipitous selfie that they posted to Instagram with the caption: "FREAK ON A LEASH." Davis, seemingly already a fan, responded. After trading DMs, the artists linked up. The rest is history.

Now, as they look back out into the L.A. sun, regathering themself after their first-ever interview, I wonder whether we, interviewer and interviewee, are thinking the same thing. How, even though Wellings might not have grown up to be a serial killer, they may well be on their way to becoming the next worst thing — a celebrity.