Mark Engles of Dredg
On their new album Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy Dredg have raised a few eyebrows – and it’s not just over the quirky name. Constantly reinventing themselves musically this new album shows off a side of Dredg that we haven’t heard before, primarily due to their collaboration with producer Dan the Automator who brought a whole new approach to the table.
The songs focus largely on lead singer Gavin Hayes deeply personal experiences throughout his life from meeting his biological parents in his 30s to his sister’s deployment as part of our Armed Forces. The music is less focused on guitar and live drums and more on production, mood and ambiance which is probably the biggest shift from their last album.
The band (Gavin Hayes on vocals, Mark Engles on guitar, Drew Roulette on bass and Dino Campanella on drums) show off their musical constraint and their neverending drive to do something completely different with each album. Some music fans may be turned off by this but then there are those of us who embrace the change and can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.
We recently caught up with guitarist Mark Engles who told us all about it.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette
So let’s start off with Dan the Automator’s involvement in the writing process for Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy – he had a pretty big impact on the development of the songwriting correct? How did that collaboration fall into place?
Originally we were just friends; we met through the San Francisco music scene. Gavin had worked with him in a live sense; he toured with him a few times. We just kept in touch, we’d go out for dinner and drinks and most the time we wouldn’t even talk about music. Every now and then it would come up and we’d say that some day we should do something collaborative. So the timing of this record was just right. We had just come off of tour and had down time. We didn’t plan on jumping right back into a record but with him being on board and having that open window as well it just seemed right. If we have the time to do a different record, collaboration, we decided to do it instead of going back in and writing for a full year to make another big Dredg concept record. So that’s really how it happened.
And do you feel that involvement help mold the overall sound of the album?
Yes, I’d say more in a production sense than the writing sense. Most of the songs were written by us, he would help out with little things here and there but the composition is mostly us. He did lend three of his songs to his us and Gavin then wrote the lyrics but it was more of a production thing. You take these same songs and produce them the same way our previous records were produced they probably wouldn’t sound as different to people, it really is a production thing and how that changes perception and the feeling of a song. If they were more guitars heavy or more live drum heavy like our previous records then I don’t think it would feel like this at all. It’s really his color and style of production that gives this record a different feeling.
The start of the writing process was a little unconventional. Rather than writing together in a room face to face, a lot of the songs were built through emails to each other – how do you feel that impacted the overall process and had you worked like that in the past?
We’ve done it a little bit in the past but the history of our band we grew up together; we always lived in the same cities and somewhat close to each other. For this one we had Gavin in Seattle, I was in San Francisco, the other guys were in the greater Bay area. With Gavin being in Seattle it was a lot different because you end up trading music back and forth and seeing what people are enjoying or not enjoying. You put your mark on it and send it back and see how it goes so it’s much different than sitting in a room together and playing for four or five hours as sort of improve and taking what you like from that. It’s just a different approach and I think a lot of people are doing it nowadays with what you can do with home recordings. It shows because it’s a lot more beat and melody driven rather than energy driven.
As a whole, the sound is nothing that we’ve ever heard from Dredg before and that seems to be one of the things you set out to accomplish – not to repeat the past, am I correct with that and why is it so important to you as a band to somewhat reinvent yourselves with each album?
I think the most important thing for us is just to not repeat ourselves, it starts there. Working with Dan we know that Dan is established and has a sound. I wouldn’t necessarily say we purposely wanted this exact sound but we did purposely say “we’re going to work with a producer who’s established, and we’re going to let him do his thing.” The timing of the record was that we had these songs that we really enjoyed so we decided to take a risk and take the challenge and see how it works out. I don’t think we sat down and determined how the record would sound, we never do things hastily and we did this time around and it wasn’t a bad thing. It was refreshing to not nitpick and analyze and argue – but I’m sure we’ll do that on the next record.
That kind of leads me to my next question, in the past the recording process has been pretty lengthy for Dredg. While the writing process took some time, the recording process went rather quickly, was it planned that way, can you tell us why that was important to you? Was that liberating in a sense?
It was definitely liberating. It felt right for this to kind of “let’s do this, let’s get it done”. I think one of the problems with our band is nowadays you have to be so prolific and it’s just not the way we’ve traditionally worked, to release a record every year. It seems like to stay on the road and pay the bills it’s an unfortunate variable and nowadays you have to do that. Not that we don’t think these are some great songs, but if we were in complete control of this album it wouldn’t have come out for another year and a half. That’s just the way it works.
This album is not as guitar-centric as some of your music has been in the past. How does that impact you personally; do you feel your role shift a bit?
There was a lot of crying…to be honest, there is actually a lot more of me in this album. There are parts that maybe aren’t guitars that I wrote, my input is in there. I was a big part of the writing process but that’s really just part of the production. It’s just the way it’s mixed and produced – it’s not a guitar heavy or live drum heavy production. It’s not a big guitar record but live it’s definitely different. We have a friend helping out on tour with us so there’s a lot more guitars and live the songs are a lot more guitar heavy which is fun.
I was wondering how you might recreate some of these new songs live, has that been challenging?
They’re great, Dino is playing the live drums for every song and we have another guitarist helping us out so if you can picture these same songs with live guitars and more drums, they are more aggressive versions.
I read an interview where Gavin said that “I’m not sure there would have been another Dredg record if we didn’t make this one.” I was wondering if you agreed with that and what you think it really means?
I somewhat agree, I think it’s more to do with timing. We came off the road after The Pariah, TheParrot, The Delusion, we loved that record but we didn’t feel like it was received very well. We did some great touring in Europe and America and we came home. Because this new record came out, because Dan said “let’s do a record” is kind of what lit a fire under our asses so if that didn’t happen there most likely would have been another Dredg album but there would have been a lag time. People have things going on in their lives so who knows when it would have happened so Dan was definitely the catalyst for us working again so I think that’s what Gavin meant by that.
“The Thought of Losing You” is one of my favorite tracks on the release, can you tell me about the song and how it came together?
That was a little riff that Dino and I wrote together. That’s actually one of the songs that did come from playing in a room together. Dino and I were meeting just him and me – drums and guitar – and doing what we use to do. Recording a bunch of hours of music. He’s great at compiling what he feels are the highlights of that. So we went from there, I had the bridge and the chorus came from an old song actually. We sent it up to Gavin and he did the rest vocally and lyrically.
I wanted to ask about the song “Kalathat” was inspired by a true series of events wasn’t it? Can you tell us the story behind that because I think it’s an important message?
Gavin could probably tell the story better but it was definitely based on a true event. It’s one of those horrible stories where someone takes money over family. You hear these horror stories from time to time in the news about people murdering their whole families and then taking their own lives because they can’t face financial failure and they feel like they’d rather take out everyone than face failure which is definitely something you hear more about nowadays than hundreds of years ago. It’s pretty tragic.
Regarding that song – the music is very stripped down and I think really adds to the feeling that it imbibes – was that part of the plan?
That’s all Gavin actually. The song is completely Gavin, it’s great. He had the guitar part for awhile, he would play it in rehearsal and we all thought it was great. Instead of working on it together we thought it would be great if he worked on it so he did and sent it to us. I think he sent it to us thinking we’d all add to it but it we all felt it was perfect the way it was.
A lot of people tend to label your band as “experimental” which I think is a pretty broad term in the musical sense – do you think that term fits Dredg and if so, what’s your idea of “experimental”?
I wouldn’t say we are, I guess it’s all relative. The people that label us as experimental probably don’t listen to stuff that’s “that” experimental. We don’t stick to one genre, so if that’s experimenting than maybe? We like to use fun sounds and fun instruments from time to time. We’re not a standard kind of band and when it comes to rock and how mundane it can be nowadays then maybe we are a bit experimental in that sense. We try to make it a bit more interesting.
The album as a whole is quite moody and Gavin has described it as “ultimately positive but can be conceived as sad as well, It has these two sides that oppose each other but manage to reconcile in the music.” What’s your take on that?
I totally agree, especially with the production and the backbone of the drums it can feel up rhythmically but it has a lot of dark melodies and lyrical content. A lot of the songs are about his sister who’s been deployed to Afghanistan several times, him meeting his biological parents for the first time in his thirties, so there are some heavy issues there and some of the melodies are dark. But then there’s the contrast of a driving rhythmic section that Dan brought; so kind of an upbeat rhythm to contrast the darkness.
You guys are out on the road now in support of the new album, what can fans expect in terms of a set list?
We take pride in playing stuff from our whole catalog so our set list has at least two songs from every record. We play a good chunk of new songs but they don’t take over the set by any means. I just feel like when I go to see my favorite bands I want to hear songs from their whole career. The new songs are great live and a bit more raw sounding.
Dredg is currently out on tour with The Dear Hunter, to find out when they’ll be in your city check out the full list of tour dates here.
*Dredg photos used courtesy of Merkley???