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Bay Area collective dredg have spent 15 years carving out their name internationally with a unique brand of idiosyncratic melodic progressive rock, but they remain an almost unknown quantity here in Australia. As they prepare to head Down Under for the first time to appear at Soundwave and a couple of shows with Meshuggah and The Devin Townsend Project, Loud caught up with guitarist Mark Engels to discuss the secret of keeping a line-up together, meeting one of the world’s greatest living authors and more:
Q: Thanks for the time today Mark. How does it feel being about to come to Australia for Soundwave?
A: Well we’re real excited. We’ve been trying to get down there for years now. It’s only three weeks… four weeks? So we’re getting ready, and we’re pretty excited.
Q: Have you been playing much lately, or will you before you arrive here?
A: We’re just getting ready. We haven’t been on tour since October, so we’ll just make sure the gear is ready to go and we’ll rehearse a full set and we’ll be heading down there.
Q: How do you think it’s going to go for dredg in Australia? There’s probably a lot of people who have not even heard of you guys before here.
A: Well, with festivals we never know if we’re gonna be on the main stage early, or on a smaller stage later, and we’re pretty far down on the line-up, obviously, because we’ve never been there and we understand that most people have no idea who we are. But we’ve been in that situation before. We’ve been doing this for a looong time, and in a way it’s kinda fun to be the underdog.
Q: So is that pretty exciting, coming along and playing to a crowd that you haven’t been exposed to before?
A: I can speak for myself, I dunno if the band is gonna enjoy it, but you can play a lot of stuff from our catalogue. I don’t know how long our set’s gonna be, but we can take cuts from every record and not worry about repeating yourself in a live set. Most people have probably never seen us unless they happen to be travellers and that’s gotta be a small, small amount of people. It’s gonna be fun to get down there and play to a bunch of people who’ve never seen us live except for maybe some YouTube video, and that’s never the same! It’s exciting and you feel like you’re actually achieving something in a new country and a new continent.
Q: And of course you are going to be doing shows with Meshuggah and Devin Townsend as well. What’s that going to be like?
A: It was one of those things at the last minute. We had an idea that we’d be put on some other show… what do they call them, Sidewaves? We’re excited to play outside the festivals and play more. If we’re gonna be there, we might as well play. There’s a lotta off days. Playing with Meshuggah is just gonna be quite different. They’re so heavy! But we’ll be fine. We have a feeling that maybe, whoever was helping out with the booking just saw our name and thought maybe we’d fit. But we’re not worried about that. We’ll get up there and do our thing. But I’m excited to watch Meshuggah! That’ll be fun.
Q: Are there any bands you want to see or catch up with while you’re here?
A: Meshuggah is definitely one. I don’t know the full line up, but I know in our day, I grew up with Bad Religion. [Their] set’s always fun. I don’t really know who I’m excited to see. There’s a lot of heavier stuff, I know that. I’ll see what I’m in the mood for that day. Slipknot, maybe, you know they’re kind of a blast to check out. It’s one of those things where you turn up, look at the line-up and schedule your day. I don’t know what time we’re playing. It’s all kind of a mystery at the moment, so we’ll see.
Q: Now dredg has had the same line-up right from the beginning. That is some kind of achievement in itself.
A: Yeah. Yeah, it is. It’s kinda like it’s become a family, you know? We’ve been playing together for twenty years altogether. But we didn’t get serious until twelve or thirteen years ago when we figured out we could really try to go full time. But yeah, it’s good. We still get along. It’s kinda like brothers. There’s fighting. But we’ve been through a lot together, so that’s something to be proud of about that.
Q: What’s the secret behind that, because a lot of bands can’t keep the same guys for more than a couple of tours?
A: I think the fact that we started out so young together, and at the same level. There’s really no one that… I think a lot of times in bands, someone invariably starts to feel – consciously or subconsciously – they start to feel like they deserve more, or they start to pull this Well, I was here before you-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah! I think because we were all 13, 14 years old and we were all going into this without any sort of background, we all had our very first instruments together, it’s very very equal and democratic.
Q: Looking back over what you’ve done so far, what would you say you’re the most proud of?
A: The most proud? I guess there’s different levels. Certain venues growing up… we’re from San Francisco, so when we finally sold out the Fillmore in San Francisco, stuff like that. Then playing with certain bands, when you befriend bands that you grew up listening to that’s always great, going overseas to Europe. Meeting Salman Rushdie was a big moment, getting to meet an author that you really respected. And going to Australia will be one too!
Q: So tell us about meeting Salman Rushdie. That must have been truly amazing.
A: Two records ago, the record we put out in 2009, The Parrot, the Pariah, the Delusion, we loosely based it on a Salman Rushdie essay (Imagine There’s No Heaven: A Letter to the Six Billionth Citizen). From there, a magazine was putting on a charity event quarterly, or every other month, or something, where authors and musicians get together for charity. Just in these small little bookstores where you do these toned-down sets where authors could read, musicians could play, and also do a little colloboration if you wanted. So it was just perfect timing for us that our record was inspired by a certain essay of his. It worked out great. He’s a very humble, nice man. He came in and we had a couple of beers and we played some music and he read some passages, and it was great.
Q: That’s certainly something that most bands can’t say they’ve done, hung out with someone like that.
A: We were very honoured and humbled by that. It was cool.
Q: So is there anything left that you still want to achieve with dredg?
A: New territories are always great. There’s still plenty of places we haven’t been. Asia, South America, places like that. And then of course on the album scale, you always want to achieve and we think we’ve still got a couple more records in us. We’re getting old now and we all have different things in our personal lives where we can’t maybe… financially it’s hard being in a band these days. You always feel you can out do yourself, and hopefully be at a point where you can remember the music you were influenced by and are content that you’ve made something that you would listen to if you could step outside yourself, I guess.
Q: Does that mean then that you still think dredg’s best stuff is yet to come?
A: Oh yeah, well you have to! If you can’t continue to try to move forward then you’re either treading water or you’ve stopped. As long as us four as a band are ready to keep pushing forward then we will.
Q: Any last words before we let you go?
A: You were my first Australian phoner ever, so thanks!
dredg will be touring with Soundwave 2012 on the following dates-
25/2: Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane QLD (SOLD OUT)
26/2: Sydney Showground, Sydney NSW (SOLD OUT)
2/3: Melbourne Showground, Melbourne VIC (SOLD OUT)
3/3: Bonython Park, Adelaide SA
5/3: Claremont Showgrounds, Perth WA
You can also catch them with The Devin Townsend Project and Meshuggah on the following dates-
28/2: Factory Theatre, Sydney (SOLD OUT)
29/2: The Forum, Melbourne