In a few weeks, Dredg will release their fifth full-length album to come out of a career spanning well over a decade. Directly following the critically acclaimed, painstakingly crafted achievement that was 2009’s The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion, the absurdly named Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy is sure to be their most controversial creative endeavor to date.
It’s a collaboration with hip-hop producer Dan The Automator of Gorillaz fame, though not very clearly labeled as such. And it’s a comparatively lo-fi exercise, with much of the rough demo tracks used as-is as opposed to being re-recorded, with dance loops used liberally and pop choruses used shamelessly. Frankly, it gives hardcore fans a lot to hate, and has already polarized Antiquiet; Johnny went so far as to call the lead single “inexplicably bad” when we got our hands on it last month, while I’ve been a bit more forgiving for the redeeming qualities of the creative left-turn.
Last week, we had the honor and the challenge of discussing all of this with Dredg frontman Gavin Hayes. The bottom line? If you love Dredg, their artistic courage likely has a lot to do with it. The band’s first two albums, Leitmotif and El Cielo were bravely unique, and Pariah was a masterful work of art. But by no means has Dredg ever been the sort of band to play it safe. All they’ve ever promised themselves or anyone else is to keep things interesting.
Here’s our conversation:
You just got off a tour with Circa Survive and Codeseven, where you were supporting Circa Survive. I read an interview where you said the goal was to get in front of new listeners. I think that’s cool, to still be able to look at a support slot as an opportunity after headlining for years.
Yeah, it actually went well. I mean we’re great friends with those guys and actually Codeseven as well. I mean we love touring with people we know and get along with, so from that standpoint it was great. And I think it did give us a lot of exposure. Pretty much all sold out shows, and I think a lot of people were unfamiliar with Dredg, so I think it was all worthwhile.
I’ve been listening to the new record. You guys have always changed things up, from record to record. This new one, I think, goes a little bit further than just a slightly different direction with the music. Did you set out to do something so wildly different, or did it just kind of wind up there?
No, I mean, it was intentional. The way we viewed this record is, you know, we wanted to do it with Dan; he’s kind of an old friend now, we had worked with him back in 2005 and have hung out a lot since then, and have always talked about collaborating on something, and it seemed like the time was right.
We’ve been a band for well over a decade, we’ve put out an array of records, and we just felt like… we put out our last record, which was along the lines of some of our newer material mixed with a lot of our older ideas and kind of the roots of the band… As you said, we’re always trying to push ourselves to do something different, and you know, the last thing I want to do was regurgitate a record. It just bores me as an artist and bores us as musicians.
I’ve been getting emails about it, and it’s pretty split, like some people think it’s a shitty direction to go…
…and others think it’s a bold move, and they like it, you know, and they just expect us to deliver something that they question initially and maybe end up liking or continue to hate.
But I mean the way I view this record is that it’s a collaboration. It’s Dan The Automator and Dredg. It is a Dredg record, but he had a lot of influence on the record, and we weren’t scared of any of those emails or any of the repercussions it may have caused or will cause.
I want to get back to that in a second. But first, well, it seems like it would make sense, you know, after Pariah was so well received, and it seemed like this big concept album that seemed very painstakingly done, it almost seems natural to want to say, ‘hey, fuck it, let’s just clear our heads and do something quick and direct and fun’ where you’re not premeditating every little thing.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, that was our goal as well, to get a record out quicker than what, the three or four years it took us to get Pariah out…
Was that just for the sake of changing things up, or were the recording sessions for Pariah grueling?
It was a little of both. We were going through some business changes, as well as some personal things and then when it came down to the writing it took longer than we had thought, and the recording ended up taking a lot longer, and a lot of nit picking and this and that… So I mean this record seriously was like the antithesis of that. We were in the studio for like two days, and the rest was recorded at Dan’s house. A lot of the sounds you hear are actually from the demos we recorded. Like if there was a keyboard line, Dan was like, ‘why even go back and try to record this? It sounds great, and we’d just be trying to reproduce it anyhow…’
He’s just about the feel of the track…
Yeah, and everything was like that. I mean the vocals were very just… on the spot. He’s more about feeling than perfection. There were certain takes where I felt like ‘eh, you know, that’s a little bit more in key’ and I was focused more on technique as opposed to feeling. Which, you know, in the end, I think is cool, that’s what Dan’s about, and I’ve been a fan of his work and I trust his opinion, you know?
It does very much come off as, like you said, a collaboration between Dan and Dredg. And he even wrote three of the songs himself, with you just doing vocals. Was the rest of the band cool with that all along, or did there have to be a discussion about this idea that he was just going to do some songs, and everyone was just going to roll with it or sit it out?
Well yeah, no, we all met as a band, and he explained, like ‘listen, this is how I work. No matter who I’m working with, I always write songs. And if none of them beat the stuff that you guys wrote, then cool. They don’t have to make the record; I’m not worried about that, I’m not hard-nosed about that.’ I think he ended up writing six, and three made it. He’s like, ‘if none of ’em beat it, we won’t put any on, if a couple do, then whatever, you know?’
I think everyone was fine with that. He understands we’re a band and have been a band. And it wasn’t a surprise to anyone, didn’t require any arguing or explanation.
So it was just a fun project…
We were all on the same page. We had talked about working with a few people, and we were like, ‘let’s just do something different.’ Dan comes from a different perspective than the rock world, and the other people we were looking into were all rock based producers, like we’ve done with every record, you know. So we just felt like it sounded interesting and fun and it would bring something interesting to the table for the band, and the timing was right after Pariah…
It sounds like the closest thing to a full-on genre-hop we’ve [heard] from Dredg; It’s not radically different or anything, but it is out there, away from the rock songs a bit. Are you at all worried about how fans might react to hearing all these drum loops and hip-hoppy elements and such?
Yeah, I mean obviously I would like our fans to enjoy it. Even with Pariah, we put it out and there was people talking shit about it, ‘it’s not as good as this record’ or ‘it’s not as good as that record…’
It’s nothing new (laughing). People’s opinions… it’s easy to email someone in a band and tell them how you feel, and what they should be writing…
Do you get a lot of emails like that from fans? Like ‘what the fuck are you doing!?!?’
Yeah. Really passionate, hate filled emails. And I don’t understand that, personally. Like if I went to a shitty movie, I wouldn’t email the director to tell them I was never going to watch [their movies again]. And if I loved the movie, I wouldn’t email them and tell them that, either, I’m just not that type of person… I don’t mind it but…
So how do you deal with that, do you respond back?
Yeah, I respond to pretty much every email… Most things are positive, you know, but you get those occasional people that are upset about content or style or whatever, you know. Some I’ll avoid, like I’ll respond once, but if it continues, I’ll just drop it…
We still struggle with that. We’re an independent site, it’s not like we have bosses to reel us in before we go on record and say something retarded, so we’ll constantly get sucked into the comments sections of our articles, where we’re in there going ‘no, you’re the asshole!’
After awhile we just go like, ‘Jesus, are we above this, or is this at all valuable?’
It’s a weird line. I don’t know if it’s productive or if I should avoid it. I usually do avoid it, but now with Facebook, I’ve kind of opened myself up, and it’s more my face, which can be good and bad I guess.
I’m not scared of it, to be honest.
Is the deluxe edition of Pariah still in the works?
No, that’s been shelved, I believe. That was going to come out, but it was just a matter of money, and not being able to fund it, basically. There’s no creative answer for you there.
I wish we could do it. Maybe someday if we ever make money as musicians…
You recently said that the music business is as reliable as a crack head.
In what ways has it disappointed you?
Well, I mean obviously going into the business, I knew it was fickle, and a tough business. I mean anything in the arts is a risk. Dedicating a large portion of your life is risky because first of all, to achieve some longevity in the business is very tough, and I think even if our career ended today, we will have had a great run, a really long run, with the same members, and I’m proud of the music we’ve recorded and the shows we’ve played and so on… It’s just a tough business to maintain. It’s a different lifestyle, and financially it’s tough to maintain in this business…
I remember seeing bands at the Fillmore; I grew up in the Bay Area, so I’d go to shows there, and we’ve had sold out shows there… When I was young, seeing people there, I’d be like, ‘damn these guys are rich!’ I thought they were huge. Then I’m up there, and I’m bumming money for drinks and shit. It’s a whole different outlook when you’re actually the person doing it.
I know it’s… a lot of our friends are in the same boat, we’re not in a unique situation…
All business evolves… I feel like there’s decades, or maybe five-year spans of things kind of locking in and being run a certain way, and I feel like things are still in transition. Which is great because it leaves a lot of space open for ideas and for someone to come up with a new way…
Are there specific cases where people are saying, we’re going to figure this out, things will be different when we do ____, or is everyone kind of throwing their hands up?
I think a lot of people are trying to spearhead new ideas about how to monetize labels. I don’t know. I wish I could tell you which way it was headed, but I do know how downloading music is just so accepted now. I was tripping out on that this morning because people are emailing me their opinions about the [unreleased] record. So I’ll respond, jokingly, ‘oh, is that out?’
People don’t even think twice. They’re writing the musician about their record that they obviously just downloaded or whatever, you know.
It made me laugh, I’m not… it doesn’t upset me at all, I mean I remember back when I was 10 years old, and I mean, so it’s not really a new idea.
That’s refreshing, because I’ll talk to bands sometimes, and they’re just like ‘this is fucked up!!’ and I’m just like, I know you were in that parking lot trading tapes and tailgating. Kids can’t appreciate any sense of responsibility when they have the same $15 to spend but now instead of wanting one record, they want 20, because of the internet.
Yeah. And the funny part too, the ironic part is my musician friends are the ones that download more music. I have friends that work in the tech world, and a lot of them are out buying records. It’s funny.
I had a job at Universal for awhile, and I expected burned CDs to be confiscated on the way in. But everyone was like, ‘hey, can you burn that for me?’ or ‘oh, let me burn this for you!’ or ‘oh, has that leaked? Bring it in!!’ Some of the people talking the loudest about how bad it is are doing it as excitedly as anyone.
But to take it all back to the business side, do you think it’s always going to be a struggle to make a living as a musician?
Yeah, I mean I start to wonder what’s going to happen to music and art and stuff. You read about a lot of bands that are just straight up saying, ‘hey, we can’t tour anymore, we can’t afford to do this.’ Now with gas prices going through the roof and shit, I was thinking about how that’s going to affect our US tour, and there’s a lot of different things that are hurting artists.
Obviously art and music is considered a luxury and it’s not really a necessity by any means, but on many levels, it is. I kind of worry about what’s going to happen to culture a little bit. Maybe you’ll just weed out the best people, and those people will make it, and that’s the way the free market works, you know?
So what are your plans now? When the album comes out, you’re heading right back out on the road?
Yeah, we actually start down there in Southern California, a couple of nights there, and then we’re heading North. Then out to the East coast. I think we finish in Texas, then come home for like two days and then we head overseas for some festival dates and some supporting slots, some big shows out there, some headlining dates there. About a month in the US, a month over there. Then we’ll see where we’re at. I think we’re putting holds on possibly another US tour in July, middle to late July.
I read maybe after that, you’d get right back into the studio for another record? Sorry to talk about it before this one’s even out, but…
Yeah, I mean we actually have a lot of material already. I think we can write a lot quicker now. I think it’s possible, honestly. If the record’s not doing so well, we’ll probably get back into the studio a little quicker. (laughing)
Are there any parts of the process of this one that you’re already ready to rebel against? Like, let’s do something different from Chuckles and do it like this…
Yeah, I already want to veer back to maybe a guitar-driven record. This one seems to be more rhythm and vocal driven. A lot of that was you know, how it was written and everything. Dino was doing a lot of the writing and sending it to me, I was living in Seattle at the time. So a lot of it was written remotely.
It’s just kind of how it came out. It wasn’t like ‘turn Mark down!’ He was just doing a lot of guitar parts over existing songs.
But yeah, I mean I think maybe something, maybe we’ll make the weirdest record we can or something, you know? I think that’d be great… We’ve always talked about doing an instrumental record as well, so, maybe something along those lines. I’m not sure.
For tour dates and more info, head to dredg.com.