Nothing says a good pop song like an apocalyptic hook , whether it’s R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” or Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends.”Dredg, an experimental rock band hailing from Los Gatos, California sums up the indie cool kid’s own doomsday scenario with the lyric “Here we go again, following all the trends” from “Another Tribe,” the first track off their new album Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy.
Dredg is fresh on tour to promote their latest album. The band will be playing at Chicago’s Bottom Lounge on Saturday, along with The Dear Hunter, the Trophy Fire and Balance And Composure. Lead singer Gavin Hayes took some time off from the band’s tour to chat with North by Northwestern over the phone about the band’s attempt to navigate a new music world where MP3s dominate the commercial landscape.
Hayes acknowledges that while “die-hard and long-term fans are really into concept records,” this decidedly non-conceptual album is Dredg’s way of accommodating a very different industry than the one they traded demo tapes with 15 years ago. He recognizes that “it’s a different era and people just buy songs now.” Previously, Dredg was acclaimed for their wildly creative concept albums that have sustained a devoted following since the late 90s.
The band has not severed ties with its experimental art aesthetic, however. “Even before we named the record, we wanted to have masks incorporated,” Hayes explains. They liked the idea of masks “branding the record.” Thematically it’s “basically a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Dredg is using its creative roots to enter the digital age. They’re holding an online competition which will randomly award two of their Facebook fans who post a mask snapshot as their profile picture.
Dredg’s veteran status in the indie scene is beyond dispute. Check their digital street cred: more than 64,000 Facebook fans. They catapulted to Indie West Coast fame in 1998, where they developed a reputation so quickly that they didn’t even have time to reconsider their band name. Hayes wryly laments that the sound of the word “Dredg” just “doesn’t sound like the band” (although it provides a logo unrivaled in graphic design symmetry).
Despite the band’s adoring fan base, Hayes explains that he “never felt connected to the industry.” But in a business that constantly pressures artists to conform to rather than challenge boring expectations in the form of four chord progressions and sugar-sweet love songs, being an outsider is probably a good thing.
Lately, it seems there’s a danger of indie becoming as formulaic as what its makers set out to avoid. And that is where Dredg refuses to compromise. “We don’t want to regurgitate records, to me that’s not what art is about,” Hayes says. It helps that Dredg is constantly inspired by different influences: whether they’re writing about Salvador Dali’s trouble with sleep psychosis or a fable about a man traveling the world to cure his moral disease. Hayes cautions his listeners to not get too bogged down analyzing his lyrics. On their two most recent records, artwork and letters from insomniac (literally) fans decorated their cover-sheet, rather than publicized lyrics. “I don’t really listen to lyrics initially. It’s more about the feeling,” Hayes explains.
That’s why Dredg is “first and foremost, a friendship.” Their growth as musicians has helped them stay relevant in an industry where your band’s teenage years can easily become geriatric. It means the band can kick back, use trumpets to distort their sounds and mix in a mandolin here or there without feeling the need to appease. You get the sense that Dredg has a good time defying your expectations.
Dredg will be playing alongside The Dear Hunter, the Trophy Fire and Balance And Composure at the Bottom Lounge at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 14. Tickets for the 17+ show are $15.