The Designer’s Drugs: Duran Duran/Dredg

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Duran Duran – All You Need Is Now

Anno: 2011

 

Following up on the band’s drastic flirtation with Timbaland electro-pop on Red Carpet Massacre, Duran Duran seems to have realized that, well, it’s Duran Duran.  The band’s newest album isn’t a note for note rehash of the songs of its heyday, but All You Need Is Now is nothing if not familiar.

The album is a bit top-heavy, with most of the exciting songs (“Blame the Machines,” “Being Followed,” “Safe,” and “Girl Panic!”) being found in the opening half.  Each of these songs is pure steroid dance pop.  In comparison, the second half tends to feel languid.  It’s not that the album runs out of steam, but most of the songs just don’t match the openers’ swagger.  The two exceptions are the classic Duran of “Other People’s Lives” – which wonderfully references a “glory hole confessional” – and the stately quiet of the album’s closer, “Before the Rain.”

Some bands just don’t need to experiment to constantly deliver good songs.  Duran Duran is one of these bands.

 

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Dredg – Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy

Anno: 2011

 

Any Dredg listener who equates the power of a song with decibel level is going to be sorely disappointed with Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy, an album that is far less rock than it is a brooding shade of R&B and world music tinged pop.  The upside of this is that any Dredg listener who equates the power of a song with sincerity and a willingness to take big risks is going to come away from this album greatly rewarded.

The only real point of dissonance offered here is in the occasionally bursts of distorted guitars in “Upon Returning,” and even here the fuzz isn’t equal to the cleanness of the rest of the instrumentation.  The same rule applies to the static beats in “Down without a Fight,” which sounds lo-fi yet is washed clean by very soft-spoken vocals.  A few other tracks are up-tempo, but nothing else could be described as hard or angry.

The album’s best work comes in its beginning and end.  “Another Tribe” is a track mixing R&B beats with wistful rock vocals resulting in a pop song with something to say.  At the other pole waits the gloomy French jazz of “Before It Began,” a fable of a song driven by pure and pointed basslines and filled out with spaced out guitars.

Resulting from all this rejection of formula and expectation is a bold album without a shred of complacency.  Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy may not be an album one can listen to in the same stretch as the rest of the Dredg catalogue, but it is excellent listening on its own.

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Y Spy: Dredg Strips Down

Dredg has built a long career out of taking rock music to unexpected and panoramic heights.  Mixing anger with orchestration, sound with visual art, the band is nothing if not ambitious.  Last year’s “The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion” stands as one of the most forward-thinking and imaginative rock records in recent memory, and yet Dredg is by no means content to rest on those laurels.

Currently on tour supporting Circa Survive, Dredg is also making the final preparations for its newest release, an as-yet-untitled work which vocalist Gavin Hayes describes as more stripped down than Dredg’s recent output.  Yet if their choice of producer – hip-hop impresario Dan the Automator – is any indication, basic won’t equal predictable.

In our conversation, Hayes also discussed his recent status as Seattle exile, the band’s increased velocity, and stories of treasure hunts and fake cops.

Y Spy: What’s the status of the new album?

Gavin Hayes: We finished recording it; it’s currently being mixed and will probably be mastered and totally finished in mid-November.

Y Spy: How did it come together?

Gavin Hayes: Actually this was a much different approach than pretty much all our records.  I’ve been living in Seattle for the past couple years, so most of this record was written remotely by email and sending music back and forth.  I’d say about 80% of the record was written remotely.

We’re also doing this record with Dan the Automator, who’s an artist as well.  He had sent me some music as well.  I think on three of these tracks, if all three make it, it will be a sort of Dredg/Dan the Automator collaboration.  He wrote the initial music and then we added to it and I wrote and sang the lyrics.

We wrote it pretty quickly for us.  It was written and recorded within a year.

Y Spy: Were there any specific reasons why this one took less time to make as opposed to the spans between your past releases?

Gavin Hayes: It’s just the way things work now.  Our last record took so long, and I know we didn’t want to take as long with this record.  I think with the attention span of the masses now and how accessible music is, you have to expedite your material and your records.  I guess you can compare it to cinema; in the 80s or early 90s a movie would come out in a theater and wouldn’t come out on VHS for a year, sometimes longer.  Now with DVDs, it comes out right after.  You might as well get it out there and keep your name at the forefront.

Y Spy: Do you see yourselves releasing at a quicker pace from here on?

Gavin Hayes: I definitely do.  I’d like us to release another record after this one in early to mid 2012 depending on how things go.  We already have a lot of material that we wrote from this record that wasn’t recorded.  There’s already a starting point to a new record from some of this other material we didn’t approach.

I think we’re better at writing faster.  Writing remotely as we did on the record is almost more productive, because you don’t have four opinions in a room.  You have a solitary period of being by yourself and taking your time, and then sharing with everyone after.  The opinions come after the fact.

Y Spy: You’ve previously noted that there were a lot of songs written for The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion that didn’t make that cut.  Is any of that material coming out on the new album?

Gavin Hayes: We actually recorded two songs that were written around the Pariah time.  They were songs that were great but didn’t necessarily fit the record.  We’ve tweaked them a lot since, and they make more sense with this record, especially with some of the rhythm changes and other things we added to them.

Y Spy: How many new songs do you expect to not make this album’s cut?

Gavin Hayes: I’d say we have five to ten songs that we didn’t record, that are in about 80% complete format.

Y Spy: Many musicians seem to throw those excess songs away because when they record songs, they want them to reflect their current state.  Did you feel odd bringing songs back from the Pariah period?

Gavin Hayes: Initially, it did, but as I said we’ve tweaked them enough so they don’t feel the same anymore.  They actually work better with this album; it seems more fitting for them to be here.  One of them, especially, feels like a new song.  We updated enough to where it didn’t feel like we were backtracking.  They’re good songs, so why not share them with people?  They are recorded now; it’s not a guarantee that they’ll make the record, but they’ll be out there one way or the other.  Why throw something made away?

Y Spy: How have you advanced the band’s formula on this new album?

Gavin Hayes: Working with Dan the Automator, whose roots are in the hip-hop world and whose production is kind of in that vein.  We wanted to have it be a collaboration with another artist who brings something new to the table.  We’ve been friends with him for many years, and we’ve always talked about doing a record, and he’s had a clear vision of what our band can be.

We sound like a rock band still, but the rhythm section is a little more consistent.  It’s not as jumpy.  I’d also say this production is rawer.  We recorded this really quickly.  Drums were done in two or three days.  Everything was: let’s sound like a rock band, get in, and do it.  I feel like because of that, we’ve limited some of the overdubs we would do.  That was the goal at the beginning of this project: let’s take away instead of adding to this record and let each aspect of the band cut through.  Not blanket it with overdubs.  In turn, it sounds bigger and clearer.

Y Spy: It’s interesting that you’re working with a producer who comes from the hip-hop world, a style which is rife with sampling – especially in light of your previous stances against sampling.  Is there any sampling on the new record?

Gavin Hayes: There’s no sampling.  Everything’s live, but some of it has that feeling.  He constructed drums and made beats, but they’re not samples.  And even when there are loops, there are live drums with them.  All the instrumentation is performed.

Y Spy: Is there a story or lyrical theme to the album?

Gavin Hayes: This isn’t really a concept record for us, but to me a lot of it is about distance from loved ones and separation.  A few that I’m thinking of are about my sister who is in the Army, and me trying to relate to her situation as an artist touring for two months and coming back to my everyday normal life.  That transition is always a little weird.  So a lot of it is about her being able to confide in me on some level, and distance from family and friends.  That’s kind of the undertone to a lot of the material, a longing.

We didn’t want to restrict ourselves to a concept album and just wrote the best material we could.  But there’s definitely a feeling to the whole record which could be construed into an idea.

Y Spy: Are you planning any other creative aspects to the album?

Gavin Hayes: We’re working on the visual side right now.  We have a lot of ideas being thrown around right now.  We’re always very into the art and how it’s presented and making sure each album has an identity, visually as well as auditory.

We’re definitely going to do a video.  We want it to relate it to the album artwork.  We do have a few friends who make videos; one guy’s a photographer who has been experimenting with videos and doing creative stuff.  We don’t want to make a generic video this time.  We want to make something that stands apart.

Y Spy: How goes your current tour with Circa Survive?

Gavin Hayes: It’s going really well so far.  We recorded a day before we went on tour; I was in the studio at 6 a.m. finishing vocals.  The next day we had to go to our guitar player’s brother’s wedding, and then we flew out to Atlanta the next day.  So we were without rehearsal, other than playing together in the studio which is a whole other beast.  The first show, we were probably the most nervous we’ve been in years.  But it turned out well.  We did a little hippie acoustic jam in the back to refresh, and just went.

We’ve toured with Circa Survive before.  We’ve toured with Codeseven numerous times.  We’ve all been friends.  Animals as Leaders are sharing a bus with us, and they’re good people.  Because of that closeness, we’ve been able to bond quickly.  Beyond the music it’s kind of a reunion tour for a bunch of friends who haven’t played together in years.  That’s sometimes more important to me than what happens on stage.

Y Spy: Are you playing new songs on the tour?

Gavin Hayes: We’re playing one as of now.  We might add another one.

Y Spy: What’s the instrumentation for this tour’s show?  Do you have any guest musicians coming with?

Gavin Hayes: Not out East.  Out West, mainly in California, we might have a friend come out and do some backup vocals and guitar playing with us.  Nothing too fancy, though.  We didn’t have time to prepare anything crazy for this tour.  We’d like to present something a little more grandiose, but we’re just being a rock band on this run.

Y Spy: What are your touring plans after this tour?

Gavin Hayes: It ends December 5th in New York, and we’re doing some headlining dates on the way home.  We’ll take a break for the holidays, and if our record comes out as planned in February or March, we want a basic tour around that.  If we could get a great supporting slot, we’ll do that around the time of the record.  If not, we’ll do a headlining tour.  After that I’m sure we’ll go overseas.  The European market has been good to us, actually better than the U.S., so it’s important that we go back and forth between them.  After that, maybe a few more runs, and then hopefully we’ll have another record on the way.

Y Spy: On your website, you held a treasure hunt which promised 18 winners two lifetime tickets to any headlining Dredg show.  How did that go?

Gavin Hayes: It went really well, actually.  Some of the clues were really obscure, and I can’t believe that people found the treasure.  It was buried up in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  That’s where it ended, but there were a lot of places they had to go, all over the Bay Area, anywhere from into the mountains to behind a street sign near the beach to a library.  And people found it, and they got to name a song on the next record.  They ended up naming the song “Long Days and Vague Clues,” which I assume was based on what they went through.

I think our fans enjoy being interactive with us and doing interesting things like that, and we try to present something like that every time.

Y Spy: Also, there’s a video of you on stage getting busted by fake cops in Europe.  What happened?

Gavin Hayes: The time we were in Germany before that, we got in trouble for being drunk late at night, and we broke bottles or something.  We had the Berlin police send us a note saying we owed money.  It was the perfect setup for a prank, so Drew our bass player took that as a cue to set up a pretty elaborate prank.

He hired two actors to play Berlin P.D. and come on stage.  They looked so real, head to toe police outfits, and I was sold.  They came on stage and said we had to stop, and said that either we pay them 2,000 euro or they’re going to take us to jail.  So we got backstage and everyone’s laughing at us.  That was that.  Hardest I’ve ever been pranked, by far.

Y Spy: When and why did you move to Seattle?

Gavin Hayes: It was for personal reasons, family reasons.  That happened about two years ago.  I’m actually going back to California about early next year.  It was always a temporary move, but I like it up there.

Y Spy: How has the city affected your musical and artistic work, and is it difficult to coordinate with your bandmates?

Gavin Hayes: I made a lot of trips down to the Bay Area, so we did have weeks where we rehearsed and wrote together, but now we can trade music on the internet.  Me not knowing many people in Seattle, not having a group of people I hang out with, I didn’t do much.  From that side of things, I spent more time being creative and productive.

Y Spy: Do you generally work better in a state of exile?

Gavin Hayes: I definitely do, especially when recording vocals.  I love being on my own with my headphones.  It’s much different than being in a room and being on the spot, and trying to have everything be right.  But I like being in a room with the band and improvising; that sets the tone of the song and retains the energy of the band.  From there, I feel like it’s more productive to put it under the microscope and be on my own and focus on the lyrics and melody and make sure everything’s working properly.

Y Spy: As part of a band that has long established itself, is it easier to keep going at this point?

Gavin Hayes: I guess it depends on what you mean by established.  We don’t have a hit song or anything on that level.  When a band puts out a hit song, that follow-up record or single can be make or break.  We grew up with Papa Roach; they had a huge single, and then their next record did really well but not as well.  But now they’ve found the way to maintain their career.  Their records are still doing really well, they’re playing huge shows, and they’re still a very successful act.  If you do get to a certain level you’re probably going to have a certain loyal fanbase that you can rely on.  I don’t think it’s ever that easy to maintain it, though.  It adds more expectations and pressure to your project, or an idea of what your band is.

For a band like us who has been together for 15 years, stylistically things have evolved.  No matter what you do, things are going to change.  You still have fans whose favorite record is your second, your third, or your first.  That’s when they thought you peaked.  Or you have those who think that your last album was your best.  You have all these varying opinions and outlooks of what you should and shouldn’t be.  For our band, we’ve always wanted to progress and keep ourselves interested, and not regurgitate the same record over and over, to keep moving forward with who we are as musicians and people.

Y Spy: So at the moment, how do you view Dredg?

Gavin Hayes: I view our band as confident and aware of what we are.  I like where we are now as opposed to where we were five years ago.  We know who we are, and this is what we do, and we’re not trying to prove anything.  I guess it’s from all those years together.  There’s a certain wisdom of the business now, and just how shit works, and a distaste of the business, which I like.  We’re not flattered by anything in the music world – it’s almost more disgusted by it.  I think that’s a great outlook to have.  It’s allowing us to go down our path and make the records we want to make.  We’ve kind of always done [that], but I feel like we’re more adamant and confident about that direction.

Dredg plays El Corazon in Seattle on Wednesday, November 10th.