Dredg are a fairly recent discovery of mine, courtesy of a friend based in Oklahoma, and easily one my favourite bands at the moment.
Dredg are classed as a progressive/alternative rock band (if such labels have any real meaning these days) and were formed in 1993. The band comes from Las Gatos, California and was originally made up of guitarist Mark Engles and drummer/keyboardist Dino Campanella. Vocalist Gavin Hayes and bassist Drew Roulette joined the band later, once Engles and Campanella had graduated to high school. Nobody is actually sure where the name Dredg comes from, including the band themselves who have been known to go as far as to say that they do not actually like the name. Campanella has even been quoted as stating “It was so long ago that we named it I can’t even remember. Honestly, we don’t even like the name anymore. We mostly don’t like the way it sounds. It doesn’t roll off the tongue well.” The band signed with Interscope records for a time in 2001, before transferring over to Independent Label Group (part of the Warner Music Group), and Ohlone Recordings.
What first caught my attention about Dredg, aside from Gavin Hayes’ haunting vocals and their unique style, is the fact that Campanella actually plays keyboard and drums at the same time, quite a feat when put to someone like me, who struggles with the concept of not tying her shoes together first thing on a Monday morning. The band also use more unusual instruments in their music, and are always looking for something different to include. Hayes regularly plays slide guitar (which can be seen in songs such as ‘Bug Eyes’ on the Catch Without Arms album), xylophone, saxophone and mandolin, even being known to sing into a trumpet when performing live. Hayes said in a recent interview that the reason behind this is that “when in a studio you can use a computer and pretty much achieve any sound. To actually go through the process of making it naturally and organically with whatever it is, using this chair as a snare drum or whatever, makes it far more exciting.”
The music itself is very catchy, and the concept behind each album produces lyrics with meaning and emotion – just what I always look for in a band. Every song has a blend of different styles which constantly surprise you, and everything about Dredg leaves you wondering what comes next, keeping you listening to track after track on their one EP and four studio albums – more details on which can be found in the next section. It is difficult to compare Dredg with any other band, but they do have some similarities with bands such as Soundgarden, Tool and Deftones. In fact, Catch Without Arms was produced by Terry Date, who has worked with both Soundgarden and Deftones in the past. Many reviewers will tell you, however, that whist similarities can be drawn between the bands, Dredg is very much a very different animal to them all – something I wholeheartedly agree with. To try and explain their sound, influences and music is very difficult, especially to those people who have not come across them before.
Dredg’s earlier music is not well publicised, and now very difficult to get hold of, but they have, to date, released four studio albums (including their original EP, Orph) and one live album. Details of the studio albums can be found below, in their order of release:
The band’s first EP was released in 1996, gaining them exposure throughout the US, although the band and their style started to take real shape with the release of their EP, Orph in 1997. Orph also includes their first instrumental track, which shares the name of the EP.
Orph is far heavier than the later studio albums Dredg have released, and really shows off their hard rock beginnings. The riffs are heavier, Hayes’ vocals are much grittier, with less singing and more screaming, and the band’s sound on the EP is completely different to that which they have moved into more recently. Hayes explanation of the EP’s heavier sound stated: “Heavy music back then to me was a little more rebellious. It wasn’t so mainstream at the time. You used to have to wait for MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball to see anything of the sort. It’s just different now, and that’s kind of why we steered away from it. This was just a natural progression.” In some ways this explanation suggests that the move to a more gentle sound was just down to the band growing up a little from their earlier days, just as happens to the rest of us, or perhaps Hayes and the others are simply looking for a new way to rebel away from the very widespread heavier music of today.
Dredg are well known for producing concept albums, and their first full length release, Leitmotif, was no exception. The album itself chronicles the tales of a man who is travelling the world in an attempt to cure himself of his moral disease. This album was also re-released in September 2001 after Dredg signed with Interscope records. In support of this re-release, Dredg began touring both nationally and internationally, gaining them further exposure in the music world.
Leitmotif continues with the heavier influences of the Orph EP. The album itself already shows a very different side to the band than the Orph EP, a sign perhaps that they have grown up inbetween their releases. Six out of the ten songs on the album are solely instrumental, but Dredg very smoothly avoid the pitfalls of boring the listener with the lack of lyrics. You can tell when listening to this album that perhaps Hayes has not yet discovered the true power of his vocal talent, although his ability to communicate strong emotions in songs such as ‘Yatahaze’ does shine through. With time and some refinement, Hayes’ vocals grow much stronger – and when listening to the later, more polished, albums this fact is very apparent.
Most of the lyrics to the album are available in the usual places, however the band has kept some secrets. Certain verses in the songs are unknown outside of the band. Dredg have always publicised the fact that the album itself contains no samples and all the sounds and instrument you hear are performed from scratch in studio.
The next album, El Cielo, released in 2002, was the band’s major label debut. As with Leitmotif, El Cielo had a defined concept behind it. The band originally planned that the album would centre around Salvador Dali’s painting “Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bumblebee around a Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening”, although, after learning of Dali’s experiences with sleep paralysis, they soon broadened this concept to include this. The title itself an be translated to mean “the sky” or “heaven” in Spanish, and to mean “peace and freedom of expression” in dreams.
Dredg are well known for their interest in art, and it influences their music in a big way. This album in particular shows the links between art and music. Many of the images seen in Dali’s painting have been included in the songs on this album, and in the original cover art, which sadly is now very difficult to get hold of. Some say in fact that in order to fully understand the album is has to be listened to in conjunction with studying the painting itself.
In the album sleeve itself, the band chose not to publish the lyrics to their songs, instead opting for letters which they received from other sufferers of sleep paralysis during the production of the album. In fact, every song on the album includes lyrics which have been lifted directly from such letters, in an attempt by Hayes to both incorporate and expand on this particular influence.
The concept itself requires something different from Dredg‘s sound thus far. The concept behind the album calls for something more than gritty blistering music and vocals, and Dredg once again successfully reinvent themselves, creating a more melodic album with includes vocals full of emotion, as well as maintaining their ability to build through a song to its dramatic conclusion. The album itself also has a dramatic conclusion, taking the form of a male choir who were invited to sing on the last track.
Work on Dredg’s next studio album, Catch Without Arms, began whilst they were touring in support of El Cielo, and heralds a distinct change in the band’s musical style. Gone are the heavier, grittier influences, overtaken instead by Hayes’ more haunting vocals and a simpler musical style. The band were up against some stuff competition from El Cielo, and once again they deliver. If anything, this album is rather more accessible to new listeners to those which have come before, showing yet another, perhaps more mainstream, side to the band. The last three albums have seen Dredg move from a more aggressive raw sound, to something more dreamy and artsy, an absolutely seamless evolution which doesn’t alienate existing fans, yet gives the band the ability to bring even more into the fold.
The concept behind this album was that of opposites, focusing on positives and negatives, and it quickly become their best selling album. The only music video to come from this release was for the single ‘Bug Eyes’, and this was the song that first introduced me to the band. This song is the perfect mix of positives and negatives, and, for me, sums up the concept behind this album, from the initial fast paced intro and melodic style, to how the song builds to each chorus and becomes a powerful ballard. The lyrics themselves focus on the negatives, but yet I find the song itself strangely life affirming.
Another hint of the band’s artistic influence comes into play with this album. The original cover art was all original, created by Hayes and bassist Roulette. 14 pieces were originally created, one for each song on the album with two additional pieces. Further, not only were they relevant to the song each represented they also formed part of a bigger “map” which apparently led to some buried treasure, when seen in conjunction with various clues which began to appear on the band’s website.
Dredg released a recording of their concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco on 7 November 2006, containing songs from their first three studio albums, together with a new song, ‘The Warbler’, in conjunction with a remix of their single ‘Sang Real’, found on their Catch Without Arms record. The live album showcases the band’s ability to reproduce the quality found on their studio albums on stage, and numerous YouTube videos released of the concert show Campanella moving among the audience playing on electric drumsticks, confirming the band’s ability to connect with a crowd and keep them engaged throughout a live performance.
The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion, 2009
Lastly, the band released The Pariah, The Parrot and the Delusion in 2009. The name of the album was released in conjunction with the news that Dredg would be leaving Interscope Records to join with Independent Label Group (ILG, which is a part of Warner Music Group), and Ohlone Recordings. The album itself was released on June 9, 2009, and is inspired by the essay “Imagine There Is No Heaven: A Letter to the Six Billionth Citizen”, written by British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie. Completely true to the core of the essay itself, the album has themes of agnosticism and the questioning of beliefs and society.
The liner notes actually dedicate The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion to Deftones bassist Chi Cheng, who was left in a coma resulting from a catastrophic car accident while the band was working on the album, and who joined Dredg during their performance at the Fillmore.
There was a suggestion, via the band’s twitter account, that work had began on their fifth studio album during June 2010, and this was subsequently confirmed via the band’s official website on 17 August 2010. The new album, as yet unnamed, has an expected release of early 2011.
The official quote, as seen on the website, is as follows: “Yesterday, we began working on our fifth record with musician/producer Dan the Automator. We will be writing and recording it in San Francisco for the next month and a half and are hoping for an early 2011 release. Stay tuned as there will be more updates and studio footage in the coming months.”
Review of The Pariah, The Parrot, the Delusion (“Pariah”)
Pariah holds a special place in my heart, and includes some of my favourite songs by the band. As with all of the Dredg albums, Pariah includes a set of songs which run throughout the album, identified in Pariah by the prefix “Stamps of Origin”, with each of these short intermissions leading seamlessly to the next song on the album. The major difference between Pariah and other Dredg albums is that the “Stamps of Origin” songs include lyrics instead of being solely instrumental.
The album itself is 18 songs long, and has something for everyone, from heavier tracks such as ‘Pariah’, ‘I Don’t Know’ and ‘Savior’, to more melodic ballads in the form of ‘Lightswitch’, ‘Information’ and ‘Gathering Pebbles’. In the usual Dredg style, various instruments and styles can be seen throughout the album, and, on some occasions, in their songs, keeping the listener engaged and interested from beginning to end. When I first picked up this album I listened through it in its entirety countless times, always picking up on something I had missed the previous time. Dredg have definitely maintained their ability to constantly surprise, and with Hayes’ voice being so crystal clear each lyric is easily understandable, leaving you happily humming/singing the songs to yourself hours after listening.
So, final thoughts then? Pariah is an album well worth picking up. It may not be my favourite Dredg album – that title is held by the previous record, Catch Without Arms – but it definitely comes in a close second. Be aware that it is not available through iTunes however, so a visit to somewhere like Amazon will be required. I have noticed that a few of the sites offering the album do make it clear that it is a US import. I do, however, highly recommend it to both those people who are established fans of the band, and to those who had never had contact with the band before, it is definitely a great first album to listen to.
Dredg are definitely a band I would love to see become more active in the UK, and I think they would easily gain a strong fanbase here aside from the few people I know have definitely heard of them. I would definitely recommend them to anybody looking to listen to something new, in the hope that they would get the same enjoyment from listening to them that I do. One of the best things about Dredg is the progression that they have made from initial EP to most recent release, and whilst I prefer their more recent sound, it is still very easy to find yourself tapping your foot along to their heavier beginnings. Dredg, however, are a band that are constantly experimenting and evolving – to try and guess what their new release, when it arrives, will include or what it will sound like is practically impossible. I want to say that I would like to see more of the same, but then again, I think I’d be disappointed if they just released a second Pariah.
In the meantime, I am actually hoping to get in touch with the band shortly, to see whether they would be interested in an interview for OneMetal, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
For those interested in learning more about the band, I have included links to their official website, Facebook fan page and twitter page below.