There’s been a long-held belief among music-industry know-it-alls that when it comes to concept albums, today’s music fan just doesn’t have the requisite attention span. Rock records need to have hook-heavy singles clocking in at three and a half minutes, not wide-ranging operatic soundscapes inspired by a stranger’s diary.
Then the Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute debuted at #4 on the Billboard albums chart, with opening-week sales of more than 123,000 (see “Mars Volta’s Conceptual Frances The Mute Speaks Volumes” ).
For a progressive rock band like Dredg — who in 2002 released the heady, Ron St. Germain-produced, Skywalker Ranch-recorded El Cielo, the band’s first Interscope release — the timing’s perfect for a record like Catch Without Arms, which hits stores June 21.
“I think bands like Queens of the Stone Age and the Mars Volta have opened a lot of doors for us, where, say, four, five years ago what we were doing didn’t translate to the mainstream,” said singer and slide guitarist Gavin Hayes. “A couple of hallways have been opened for us now, but at the same time, I don’t think we’re that far out there anymore, so it’s a little bit easier to accept a band like Dredg.”
The concept driving Catch Without Arms, the band’s third album and its first with producer Terry Date (Deftones, Prong), is more nebulous than El Cielo’s, which had to do with the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. Catch concerns opposites. “To be very cliché, the yin and yang of things,” Hayes said. “Just sort of the black and white of life, I suppose.”
Accordingly, the record is split into two halves: songs one through six, or “Perspective One,” and seven through 12, “Perspective Two.” “It’s divided into these halves, and certain songs, some of the lyrics are kind of a clash of ideas,” Hayes explained. “And that idea carries from song to song, as well as from verse to verse.”
A perfect example of this dichotomous thematic thread can be found in the riff-heavy “Hungover on a Tuesday,” which Hayes said focuses on “an argument between the addicted and the addiction. In this case, I guess it would be a drink arguing with the alcoholic. Kind of saying, ’You need me so much that your life won’t be anything without me. I’m your fuel, your catalyst.’ ”
There’s also the track “Jamais Vu” — the opposite of déjà vu — which suggests that you can return to a place again and again and have it feel like an entirely new experience each time.
A glance at Interscope’s band roster doesn’t turn up too many small names. A band as progressive as Dredg doesn’t quite fit in with the likes of 50 Cent, Audioslave and Black Eyed Peas, considering that this latest record’s a mishmash of unpredictable styles and instrumentation. But being a small fish in a big pond hasn’t placed any added pressure on Dredg, according to bassist Drew Roulette.
“There’s definitely pressure anytime you do a project this big, but we knew we had to make a better record in the sense of songwriting,” he said. “That’s all we were concentrating on. There’s never been any pressure on us to write a hit.”
But Dredg are perhaps becoming a little more comfortable with being on a massive label. For instance, in a first for the band, all of the members of Dredg — Hayes, Roulette, guitarist Mark Engles and drummer and piano man Dino Campanella — appear in the video for the first single off of Catch, “Bug Eyes.” Directed by Philip Andelman (Lenny Kravitz, Ryan Adams), the video conveys the intense atmosphere that pervades Dredg’s live gigs, with performance footage interspersed with camera-flash imagery of each member lying lifelessly.
“It’s very simple, and it captures what we are live,” Hayes said. “It has a dark undertone to it, and it is our first attempt at being in a video. We were a little apprehensive about that on our last record because we wanted to take a back seat to the music and let things unfold naturally.”
Dredg will tour the U.S. throughout June, then head over to Europe for a dozen dates before returning to American soil for a headlining tour kicking off in late July. The band’s music can also be heard in the independent film “Waterborne,” a fictional account of a terrorist attack on Los Angeles’ water supply. Dredg scored the entire film, which stars Jon Gries (Uncle Rico from “Napoleon Dynamite”) and was directed by Ben Rekhi, who helmed the video for the band’s track “Of the Room.”