For a band, longevity is a double-edged sword. It means that an artist’s music has the power to sustain over time but it also means that evolution is necessary. Sometimes that progression is organic and slow while other times it’s urged, driven by a desire to change and grow. That is where we find Bay Area rock band Dredg today, on the brink of releasing their fifth album in over 15 years. The bands new album, Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy, is a far cry from their 1998 debut Leitmotif—and even from their most recent disc, 2009’s The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion—but now, looking back, you can see band who’ve transformed themselves again and again of their own volition.
For nearly eight months, beginning last winter, the band members sent songs back and forth over email, allowing the tracks to slowly build and layer under individual microscopes. Producer Dan the Automator was brought into the process early, imbuing the entire development with a distinct sense of collaboration that married Dredg’s signature style with Dan’s visionary approach. “I had a deal with them,” Dan says. “I said, ‘I’m going to make a bunch of tracks for you guys and whatever you do has to be better than these tracks or they’re going to be the album.’ I felt like setting a bar for them. Dredg has been a band that’s been around for a long time and they’re comfortable with each. I wanted to shake them out of familiar habits and patterns.”
Part of this fresh approach arrived during the recording process, a relatively short period of time that forced the band to feel the sensations of their music rather than spend too much time perfecting them. The group spent two days at Studio Trilogy in San Francisco and one day at David Chloe’s art studio in LA recording in September and did the rest of the work at Dan’s home studio in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. The sessions were casual, focused on urging emotion from the music, with both spontaneity and rawness in the recorded takes. The band even used sounds from the demoing process on the actual album tracks, an extraordinary new method for them.
“We’re usually over-thinking everything and being meticulous on every level,” Gavin says. “We just let this record be what it is and I feel like that was beneficial to the whole process. We wanted to make a bunch of songs that we like and not trip out on it. Dan works that way too. He loves capturing moments rather than perfection. I think working with him encouraged that idea.”
The resulting album is almost like opening a new chapter of a book. The players are familiar and it still sounds like the work of the same artist, but the tones have shifted and the setting’s changed. There’s no concept in these songs, no real thread that connects them except that they capture the same moment in time for a group of individuals. The disc’s 11 tracks total out to only about 40 minutes, something that was intentional on the part of the band after Gavin did extensive research on the length of successful albums. There is no erudite theme in the lyrics; just Gavin’s personal experiences, which he extends to the listener in each song.
“I had more impactful moments in my life recently than when making past albums,” Gavin says. “More inspiring. Meeting my biological family was a big deal for me and interesting on many levels. “We just decided to document this moment in time as a band and not make it something beyond ourselves. It is what it is.”
The tracks on the album are largely based in rhythm, some of them heavy on loops, an influence clearly drawn from Dan, who co-wrote three songs with the band—“The Tent,” “Sun Goes Down” and “Before it Began.” Although the tones and pacing shift as the album progresses, the songs all fall under the category of what Gavin calls “dark pop.” “The Thought of Losing You,” driven by a surging guitar riff, achieves emotional depth through simplicity rather than over-complication while “Upon Returning” pairs rough-edged guitars with Gavin’s ambient vocals that soar in juxtaposition with the grinding instrumentals. A shadowed mood hovers under the music, lending a sense of pensive introspection to the songs, but in the end the album emerges as a beacon of optimism. “There is a certain darkness to it,” Gavin says. “A lot of our music is ultimately positive but can be conceived as sad as well. It has these two sides that oppose each other but manage to reconcile in the music.”
Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy witnesses Dredg trekking down a new path, in an unexplored direction. Dan’s influence is palpable. As a producer and collaborator he is almost the guide on this new path, pushing the band to work harder and find new aspects of themselves to inspire their songwriting and playing. Dredg’s evolution over the past 15 years brought them, somewhere unexpected but also welcomed. “For me this a renewal kind of record,” Gavin says. “It feels different and in some ways it feels like a new band. That was my goal when working with the band and with Dan was to make something we’d never done. Hopefully people can see the band in a new light. We can mold to different things and there is a future for the band when it comes to creating.”