Interview by Ian Morales.
There is not much that can be written about Dredg that hasn’t been written before. The Sacramento based alternative rock band have built a rabid cult following over the course of their eighteen year career. Even more remarkable, the foursome have managed to keep their original line-up together where many of their counterparts who came up with them in the early ’90s have switched members like girlfriends. The best part for fans old and new, is that Dredge still sound like “Dredg” after all these years even while taking different directions musically with each album they’ve released.
On May 3, Dredge released their fifth studio album, Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy. As a longtime fan, I can honestly say it is not my personal favorite Dredge album. 2002’s El Cielo changed my world back when I was younger, but had Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy been released when I was in my early twenties, I think I’d be writing something different. Perhaps Dredg and I weren’t ready for the mature sound of Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy. With an album title like that, I can understand why one wouldn’t think the album is their best written album to date, but lyrically it is.
Dredge is currently on the road with The Dear Hunter to support the release of Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy. Before one of their big show’s at Emo’s in Austin, Texas, I spoke with vocalist Gavin Hayes. Hayes and I talked about the new album, working with producer Dan the Automater, the iconic mask that the album cover model is wearing and about staying together after all these years.
How much fun (or not) is to be back on the road again, and with The Dear Hunter of all bands?
Hayes: It’s fun. I wasn’t familiar with the band (The Dear Hunter) before they submitted for the tour. They are a great band. With Balance and Composure and The Trophy Fire, it is a pretty well rounded package. Playing this new record in a live format…I think it is going over pretty well. It’s cool to for people to hear these songs live. No complaints really.
I know that two shows were postponed recently due to you having issues losing your voice. How is your voice holding up now?
Hayes: It’s doing well. The past three or four shows it has been pretty solid actually. It took a while but it started getting better progressively at every show. I think I’m back to normal now.
Tell me about the making of Chuckles & Mr Squeezy. The first thing that myself and other people or fans noticed about this album was the album cover. Give us a brief explanation of what we’re seeing on the cover and how it came to be.
Hayes: We knew that we wanted to brand the record with a mask. Our bass player, Drew (Roulette ), designed them and constructed them. Then Drew’s brother, Beau (Roulette), who is a photographer that does a lot of work for Hurley and some other companies worked on it together. It took maybe three or four different shoots before we finally agreed on that one. We were just looking to do something a little darker and something different because we felt this record was different for us.
Are people showing up in the masks from the cover and instructional video you guys made?
Hayes: Not so much at our shows but online there has been a lot of people sending us photos of the masks they made. I think it’s cool. We’ve done a few contests. I just think it gets people to be creative and put different twists on it even though it is based on a mask we made. There was a guy in St. Louis who had a very professional mask. It was leather, padded and just really nice. I think it is pretty iconic.
How long has this album been in the works, really? I follow you guys on Twitter and you first announced it back in June of last year that you were recording, but I know from multiple interviews and experience that albums are often in the works long before these sorts of announcements.
Hayes: There were a couple of songs on there that were written a long time ago, “The Ornament” and “Where I’ll End Up” are really old songs that were never really in a good place stylistically. This album’s direction suited those songs a little better. Those sings aside, this whole album was really written and recorded in about eight months. It was the fastest record we have written since Leitmotif.
And how was the experience of writing and recording different from any of your previous albums?
Hayes: Dan (the Animator) has his own studio at his house. We really only spent like two days in a studio-studio away from Dan’s house. We did one day in San Francisco and one day in L.A. to lay down some drums, bass and guitar. All the vocals were done at Dan’s house. We wrote it quickly and recorded it quickly because we just felt we needed to get back out on the road sooner than later. We took a long time on our last record. Things move a lot quicker these days. We were kind if used to taking there to four years on records and being overly meticulous on things. Dan was super prepared as well, so that made things a lot easier.
Was there any pressure that came with this release given that it is such a different sound from your previous albums?
Hayes: Not really. I trust Dan. He’s an established and experienced producer. We are as a band as well. We’ve been doing this for a long time and we’re capable of working quicker now. We kind of knew everything that was going on and were okay with it.
In your opinion, is Chuckles & Mr Squeezy Dredg’s best album ?
Hayes: I think from a song writing standpoint we’re very happy with it. I’m very proud of it personally. It’s a record that I can listen to. It just suits what I’d want to hear these days, more so than say El Cielo, which I know to some of our old fans feel I may be the pinnacle of our career. From a lyrical standpoint, this is some of our most personal work. We are always working to better ourselves and I think the songwriting is really big on this record.
What does your set list look like for this tour? Of course tracks from Chuckles & Mr. Squeezy but what other tracks can fans expect to hear?
Hayes: We’re doing at least one song from every record. We’re only doing about five songs from Chuckles. We’ll do a couple off of Catch Without Arms, a couple of off The Pariah, a couple of El Cielo and one off of Leitmotif. That’s kind of how we’ve been doing it. There’s something for everyone: new listeners, old listeners and so on. We have actually been trying to play songs that we don’t play live that much as well. We just sort of got in a comfort zone of songs sounding better live and felt like this tour was a place or time to no do some of our go-to songs.
Will there be any music videos to support the release out anytime soon? If so, for which songs?
Hayes: Yes. We were working on the “The Thought of Losing You” video. It’s kind of on ice right now. We had some editing problems and such. We may even re-shoot that one. There is another video for “Upon Returning” that we are extremely pleased with. I think it is my favorite video we’ve done. I’m really excited about that one getting out. I think it will be released right after Memorial Day.
After almost 18 years of being a band, what do you attribute your staying power and continued popularity to?
Hayes: From a creative standpoint it is always trying to get better at what you do. I like every record has been a reaction to a past record. I just always feel like there is something that we can perfect and new ideas are always coming up. We always feel the need to get them out. As far as the dynamic of the band, we are really great friends and have been doing this a long time. I’ve seen bands break in their early years, but I think being devoted to it and perfecting your craft is how you gain long term success. I would like to see us be even more successful. If we never do, that’s fine because we’ve achieved a lot of and I’m pleased with what we’ve done. In our eyes, we think we can continue to write good music and experiment with new things. Hopefully we can inspire people to do the same. As long as the interest from fans is there, we’ll continue to do it.
You have somehow managed to avoid the typical member changes that other bands seem to go through as years go by. What have you learned about each other and about how to stay together as a band after so many years?
Hayes: We started this band when we were very young and we are great friends. We have always kind of viewed it as if one guy leaves, then the band is done. The others can start a new band, but to us these four members are who make up Dredg. The way we write is very collective and democratic. Again, without one of us I don’t see it existing. We’ve pretty much learned everything we can about each other by now. We do have some other people that work with us. It is nice to get some new people in there to break up the dynamic while we’re traveling and stuff. If it was just us four, we might have lost our minds by now.
What your plans for the rest of 2011?
Hayes: Right after this tour we have two nights off and then we go to Europe for most of June. We are doing a lot of festivals out there along with some headlining dates. We’re doing System of A Down shows, Lincoln Park shows and a lot of different stuff while out there. In July, we are taking a few days off and hit West Coast markets we didn’t catch this time around. We didn’t even go to Arizona or San Diego so we are going to play those cities we missed. Basically, just a lot of touring.