If you’re anxiously searching for open-shirted, pouty-lipped rock star photos to paste all over your notebook, dredg is the wrong act for you. These four Bay Area art-rock boys seem faceless even as they stand poised to enter the spotlight with their major label release, El Cielo. Although they have no qualms about citing their favorite books, poetry, lyrics and personal anecdotes, the notion of an “image” will send goosebumps down their collective spines. These boys just might really be all about the music.
Mark, Dino, Gavin and Drew came together while still in high school in the Bay Area suburb of Los Gatos, forming what was once touted as the “rapcore” band dredg in 1996. For those who will experience El Cielo, coming out Oct. 8, such a classification may seem anachronistic for the band’s melodic and soul-baring poetry-rock .
Dredg has a modest list of accolades to blush over. They have been the featured band on KSJO’s Lamont and Tonelli program, been voted “Local Rock Band of the Year” in their hometown, and watched their ’99 album, Leitmotif, be voted “Most Impressive Release of 1999” by the online music site theprp.com.
While we ate slimy slices of Rocco’s New York Pizza on State Street just minutes before their headlining show at Velvet Jones, I had to find out just how thoroughly these princes of nŸ-metal had evolved into respected musical artisans.
“It was a natural progression. Gavin got better at singing and we all got better at our instruments,” guitarist Mark said.
“It was no longer rebellious to be heavy,” vocalist Gavin said.
Though their sound may have changed dramatically over the last six years, their fan-base has only multiplied through relentless touring across the nation and Western Europe, and many point to the live show as the heart of dredg.
Before the show, twisting plants, colorful rugs and floor lamps are brought onto the tiny Velvet Jones stage. Often, several of Drew’s dark, contorted paintings are placed on stage as well.
When asked about their notorious performances, the boys shrink in modesty. “I think we’re all right, but you’re always your own worst critic,” said Mark. “There’s always room to improve. I don’t think we’re a good live band, from my standpoint, but we’re getting there.”
Their influences include Queens of the Stone Age, Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, Bjork, Muse and even Sigur R—s, leaving one to question just how dredg should be classified these days.
“We definitely fit in the ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ category, whatever the fuck that means,” said Mark. “I guess high energy, melodic, [pause] psychedelic?” The group bursts into laughter.
Based on their most successful release to date, Leitmotif, Tool is often the closest comparison, due to their similar turbulent-melody rock. The dredg sound adds jazz, drum ‘n’ bass, and even Middle Eastern effects to hard-pounding guitar chords. On Leitmotif, they even used a “spirit catcher” which is vaguely described as a wood spoke with large rubber bands that one spins as fast as possible to create an ethereal howl. Songs like “Crosswind Minuet” and “Traversing Through the Arctic Cold We Search for the Spirit of Yuta” are examples of the cultural and musical mishmash dredg creates. In fact, Leitmotif was deemed worthy of re-release when dredg was signed, with only minor remastering.
The album was a concept album that followed a wanderer’s search for redemption, described through the whirling instrumentation playing beneath Gavin’s searing voice. El Cielo, also a concept album, is driven by the idea of a quest.
“We work to incorporate the theme of traveling because of how much we admire experiencing different cultures, different landscapes, gaining new knowledge,” said Drew. “Sounds will really go along with anything in life – with your travels, as a score.”
Nearing the crust of our slices and beginning of the show, the boys become understandably distracted. Dino and Gavin wander off, and Mark and Drew intently discuss how spirituality plays into their music.
“It’s subconsciously involved a lot. We don’t sit around and meditate together,” said Mark. “What I lack spiritually in my life, it’s the reason why I play music. I think when we play shows, unless it’s horrible, our shows are really powerful spiritually. [We] walk off the stage and feel really good.”
“I don’t think any of us are into organized religion,” Drew added. “We all have our own ideas but we like to create a spiritual atmosphere. It’s probably absent from other parts of our lives. Of course, that’s just me speaking.”
Whereas many rockers dream of a film chronicling their stardom, dredg would rather make a film’s score. Films like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Waking Life” are mentioned.”
“Anything that’s good,” said Drew. “We like the idea of any sound that goes along with the visual. Just creating music that has another side to it, another sense. Scores do that. You see movies that have a bad score, like action films, ugh.”
There’s even a Leitmotif film concept swirling about.
“[It’s] in the works but will probably be a while,” said Mark. “[We] never have any time. It’s meant to be a black and white silent film that you can play along with Leitmotif; a video to the whole album.”
Even now, their website (www.dredg.com) boasts several short films made by dredg associates, adding cuts of the music to somewhat psychedelic special effects, panning landscapes, and clips of the band on the road.
The dredg symbol, which is derived from Chinese characters meaning “chameleon” and “change,” fits the group like a glove. The only pause in the six years of dredg might have been the six months spent writing El Cielo while tucked away in the Palm Desert, just outside Palm Springs.
When asked what inspiration the boys found, Drew responds, “Alcohol, desert,” as the others smile and nod in agreement.
“The room that we wrote in had a big glass plate window,” added Mark. “Trails behind us that we could go hike. There were actual natural springs. Actual water coming out of the desert rocks. Someone had planted a [single] palm tree there back in the ’50s. [Just] being solitary, way up in hills [was inspirational].”
It wasn’t complete isolation for the guys, however, as they made a quick trip down the road to catch California’s most celebrated music and arts festival, Coachella.
“Bjork fuckin’ made me cry,” Drew said. “She was so amazing. Even in between songs, when she would say, ‘Sank you!'”
“Queens of the Stone Age and Jurassic Five were also amazing,” Gavin added.
Showtime arrives. It’s mesmerizing to watch reclusive Dino seemingly conjure tornadoes with his violent drumming; Gavin pours his soul across the stage while Drew and Mark carry the cuts with precisely driven guitar and bass. One gets the feeling that these scruffy, faceless twenty-somethings are on the brink of great success, though apprehension lingers. When I tell them that just weeks earlier I had heard a band in Isla Vista covering a dredg song, their eyes collectively turn down. Nervous laughter, silence.
“College radio has been nice to us,” said Drew. “We don’t really consider ourselves a radio band. We’re not really counting on that for success. We’re really trying to create a live following more than anything.”
Judging by the sea of fans singing along with Gavin this night, it’s clear they’re doing something right. El Cielo is slated to make a noticeable impression in the coming weeks and the crowd will only increase.
“[We] can’t really feel it that much,” said Mark. “Probably get a fan a day? It’s hard to tell. [After this tour] we’ll probably feel it. It all comes down to if … there are more people than there were last time, then you can feel it.”
Pizza grease coats my innards and creates internal ickiness, nausea shared by the boys as they prepare to jump on stage. But sludgy insides can’t keep dredg back from rocking, nor keep me from rocking out. Barely into the first song, Dino’s thrashings have disabled his kickstand, causing backstage pandemonium. The band recovers, and the sonic magic carpet that is dredg whisks the audience away on a journey into the unknown.