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[whitespace] leitmotif On the Map: dredg's ambitious concept album, 'Leitmotif,' caught Interscope's eye.

Broad Scope

Major label Interscope looks to sign South Bay rock conceptualists dredg

By Sarah Quelland

COMPARING THEIR ARTISTIC, almost orchestral, style of rock to an art-house film, the four players in dredg don't seem particularly interested in mainstream commercial success. They insist that they're not trying to become rock stars or make a million dollars. Rather, they hope their complex songs will strike a chord with a smaller, more selective audience that can truly appreciate what guitarist Mark Engles describes as their "unspoken vision."

That's an unexpected approach, considering that the unconventional underground band that formed in Los Gatos is very close to signing a deal with Interscope Records, where Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst is a vice president. Not only that, dredg is managed by BigTime Management founders Bret Bair and Gary Avila--the same team that led Papa Roach to the top.

I sat down on the couches near the fireplace in Orchard Valley Coffee in downtown Campbell with Engles, vocalist Gavin Hayes, drummer Dino Campanella and bassist Drew Roulette--all in their early 20s--to chat about their big news. After all, it's not every day a South Bay band gets signed to a major label. But while the surprisingly shy group hesitantly talked about their music and history, they wouldn't budge in their refusal to discuss their impending deal with Interscope or their ties to Bair and Avila.

It does appear that Bair and Avila are taking a fairly hands-off approach with dredg. Before P-Roach got signed, I received weekly updates on the band from Avila, but he rarely calls with the scoop on dredg. Still, talking with the San Jose native (who just returned from the Rock in Rio Festival) over the phone, Avila expresses enthusiasm about the promise this young band has shown.

"Interscope's really excited to have them [and] the band's really excited to be there," Avila says, predicting, "I think it's going to be a good marriage."

Like the band, Avila won't go into specifics on the Interscope deal. According to him, "Everything has been agreed to, but nothing's been signed yet. The contract's being drawn up right now." All he will say is, "They got a good deal."

THE GUYS in dredg have been friends since childhood and publicly present a unified front--an admirable all for one and one for all mentality. The band formed in 1997 and started playing regional venues like the Cactus Club. In three years, dredg has graduated to touring up and down the West Coast. None of the band members are currently enrolled in college or working day jobs; for them, dredg is a full-time gig.

Following the Orph EP (which the band largely dismisses, saying its heavy, underdeveloped nature does not represent their current sound), in 1999 dredg released the ambitious 10-track concept album Leitmotif, whose melodic, atmospheric songs flow together and almost form one long song.

Hayes' soulful lyrics complement a complicated story written mostly by Roulette when he spent a semester studying at sea. The story (printed in a booklet located inside the album cover) focuses on a man visited by a spirit who tells him he has a moral disease and must travel the world on a quest for higher spirituality. If he succeeds, he will evolve; if he fails, he will die. Ultimately, the character (not unlike Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol) learns to put faith in the religion found in the spiritual awakening of humankind, rather than buy into the religion of commerce and greed.

The result of Leitmotif's explorative, experimental union of music and text is a mystical sound odyssey. Though the band demurs when asked how they would describe their eclectic style, there are elements of Pink Floyd, Tool, the Doors and Radiohead evident. When pressed, the foursome recognizes Onelinedrawing, Kyuss, Refused, Entombed, Sepultura and Björk, along with the aforementioned bands and most classic rock artists, as influences or, at the very least, inspirations.

Avila seems impressed that the group isn't doing what's popular or what's on the radio. "They're doing what they like," he says, describing dredg's music as having "the thoughtfulness of Radiohead and the heaviness of Tool. ... They create a certain vibe. It's kind of that mellow, relaxing vibe, but then it's heavy too."

Live, dredg makes an effort to create a cozy ambience by bringing house plants, rugs, lamps and Roulette's striking original artwork onstage for their performances. Campanella says they're trying to combat the "stale, smelly atmosphere" found in some clubs and bring a little piece of home to their shows.

Their next local performance takes place Saturday (Jan. 27) at the Cactus Club with Floppy Rods, Divided and Zero Theory. After that, the band plans to take a three-month sojourn into Palm Desert to write new material and start preproduction on the new album, which they will record in the spring.

"It's a very spiritual place," Campanella says of Palm Desert, which is located in Southern California near Joshua Tree National Monument. Still, while the band members seem to be searching for some higher meaning on an individual level, they maintain that they're not trying to communicate anything specific through their music.

"We could watch a waterfall and come up with a song from that," Roulette explains. Campanella agrees, saying they want to "let the feeling you get come from the sound."

They expect their new album to demonstrate a progression from Leitmotif, but Hayes says the conceptualization will be "more subtle" and, as Roulette suggests, "more ambiguous."

Ultimately, the guys in dredg say their goal is to do soundtracks and scores for movies. "We love doing instrumentals," Roulette says.

dredge performs on Saturday, January 26 at the Cactus Club, 417 S. First St, San Jose; 9pm; $8. Call 408.491.9300 for more information.

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From the January 25-31, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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