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HNC Interview: Mark Engles, guitarist for Dredg, on music and baseball

April 17th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

Review and photo by Max Parker Dahl

SALT LAKE CITY — Dredg is a progressive rock ensemble that is not afraid to alter and evolve their dark melodic sound, where hysteria is moving stadiums of fans in Europe. Guitarist Mark Engles took a few minutes to talk about their new album, as well as rave about the current tour and the San Francisco Giants. Dredg came to Salt Lake In The Venue with Circa Survive, Codeseven and Animals as Leaders in November.

HNC: Mark Engles, how are you today, Sir?

Engles: Well, I’m from San Francisco and the Giants won the World Series, so I had a few too many drinks last night, but it was definitely well deserved. We were in El Paso on our day off, coming from Dallas, so we had to watch it at Hooters, which was definitely our best option. It was great; I have been waiting my whole life for the Giants to win the World Series.

HNC: Fair enough. Congratulations. What can you tell us about this new album?

Engles: The new album is very, very different which is really refreshing for us, we have been working with Dan the Automator, who did the first Gorillaz record, and has done a lot of work with Mike Patton, Peeping Tom, and has made some of his own great records. He had done a remix for one of our songs off of “Catch Without Arms” and we’ve always talked about working together someday and this chance to put out a full record with him just came up! It’s almost more of a collaboration; I mean, it’s definitely Dredg-but he has his stamp on it too. It definitely sounds like a Dan the Automator record with big beats and interesting instrumentation. I’d say it is a little more of like a dark, beat-oriented pop record, rather than a full rock record.

HNC: What is it like to work with Dan the Automator? What kind of producer is he?

Engles: He was very hands on. We had a batch of probably 20 songs, but he was very clear and articulate about what songs he liked, and we would pick the songs we liked, and once we agreed on songs, we used them. He was very involved in pre-production and massaging certain parts and dynamics. He was clear with what he wanted from guitar. Very, very clear. It was great to work with him.

HNC: What part do you play in the writing process?

Engles: As guitar player, not only chord progressions, but when you have a song that is building the sound of Dredg, a lot of it is my guitar work. I like to think that I darken things up with my guitar. So if something is sounding too light, I like to bring in my guitar work to darken it up and add a feeling that won’t be as generic, like a film score. Usually we start writing songs with chord progressions and like to massage it until it is to the point of that we feel it is to that “Dredg sound”. Sometimes I feel my guitar is all about adding that Dredg sound to it.

HNC: Why did you get back into the studio so quickly?

Engles: For us it was easy. We took so long between “Catch Without Arms” and “Pariah” because we wanted to make the best rock record that we had ever made. We were really proud of the record, but we shot ourselves in the foot by taking so long. Because of changing labels and some personal things going on we wanted to do the exact opposite on this album. We took a little bit of a break in January and February, and then started writing right away. Gavin was in Seattle, I was in San Francisco so we did a lot more at home recording and sent stuff via email. It was really different for us because we usually sit down and write together. Although that is great in certain aspects, it also takes longer because you are nit-picking. This way you could work on a song, and if we liked it as a band, we used it. There was less emotional attachment to each piece. That’s why the record turned out so differently.

HNC: Are you afraid of alienating any Dredg fans?

Engles: For us it just felt right, it felt refreshing. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves. We wanted to go in there and take a turn, and just run with it. There are certain things on a Dredg record you can expect; our fans can expect the turn and we’re really happy with it. We really like how unique and different it is, hopefully everyone else likes it as well. It would be an exciting thing to be a Dredg fan because you wouldn’t know what to expect on a new album instead of regurgitating the same thing over and over again. We are four individuals who have different tastes and different influences at the time. I may be listening to the new Peter Gabriel record, while Drew is listening to something completely different, so when you get back together to work the four individuals bring their own styles.

HNC: So what have you been listening to lately?

Engles: I fell in love with Band of Skulls, guitar wise. I saw them in San Francisco a few months back and thought the guy’s guitar time was brilliant. Also going backwards and listening to stuff that Dan the Automator had done; his catalogue back to Dr. Octagon and Deltron 3030 that I hadn’t listened to in 10 years.

HNC: What is the first song that comes to mind that inspired you to pursue and make music?

Engles: I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan. That band is the single changing point musically for me. “Echoes” is a 23 minute journey that has a little bit of everything; vocal harmony, amazing guitar licks, a breakdown in the middle – it’s like an album in one song.

HNC: Can you tell me about the tour where you played Leitmotif in its entirety?

Engles: We re-released Leitmotif on vinyl, which was originally released in 1999, and we did a two week tour in California and did the whole record after a set of material off of our other records. It was really fun for us and for the people who have been there since the beginning. It was us seeing a bunch of old faces and friends. It’s a fun thing to relive with the nostalgia and whatnot. We’ve never done a full tour of just one album, but last year in Germany we played all of “Pariah” at a special Visions (publication) anniversary show. You can find it online, I think eventually we’ll make a DVD out of it. We’ve done a few nights where we play the whole album, but never a full tour devoted to a single album. I think a lot of bands are doing that now because it adds to the live show. Nowadays, when record sales are impossible you can pump up a live show by playing an entire album — I think it’s brilliant. I get excited when I hear about bands like Megadeth playing all of “Rust in Peace” thinking about being a little kid, listening to it; and Weezer doing their whole blue album, and Pinkerton. It’s a really attractive thing to go see. I think when we are headlining we’ll begin doing it more, but right now being support for Circa Survive. A 45 minute set, playing with friends and having a good time

HNC: It seems that there is a larger fan-base outside of the United States, is that true?

Engles: Indeed, especially in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. We’ve done pretty well on Universal over there for 2 years, and they’ve done an amazing job at helping us build our fan base there. Germany is still one of our best markets. We’re still doing our thing in the States but it’s harder to build a following here for us. For whatever reason our style of music seems to catch a little better over there, but so it goes. I think with the saturation of so many acts here in America doing so many different things, maybe even doing similar things…who knows! It’s one of those questions you take a stab at answering, but it’s all kind of hypothesis.

HNC: The news is that you’ve signed with Superball Music, how did that happen and what is your take on the move to Superball? What is different this time around?

Engles: We weren’t comfortable with the last label we were on how, and it worked out. Luckily it was an easy transition because the guys from Superball were fans. They came to us when they knew we were looking; it was as simple as that. They said they liked the band a lot and they are offering us new territories that we’ve never been, I mean, they have all of Europe, Japan, Australia. We’ve never even had our records in the UK! We’ve never had an official release in UK, even though we’ve been playing there for 8 years. Things like that were really attractive for us and to have an official release in territories that we’ve never had before just seemed great. We’ll see how things work out, but we’re really excited about it.

HNC: Is there a time signature that you prefer to play in?

Engles: Whatever the song needs. I’m a huge fan of 6/4, but it’s circumstantial to the song and what feels right.

HNC: What else do you do when you aren’t working with DREDG?

Engles: To be honest I just play guitar. But Drew the bass player is an amazing artist. He is doing the artwork for the new album and for a while he was raffling off paintings at the shows. I do interviews, and take care of the business side of things. We each have our own little role. I think bands that have been around as long as us evolve into a more mature dynamic. There are four of us, and each member takes on a certain role, and you seem to fall into that role without a lot of extra effort, whatever seems to be your niche. I don’t paint, I wish I could. If I painted something and tried to sell it, people wouldn’t want to buy it. I guess Drummer Dino Campenella and I did a score for an independent film called “Waterborne” and we are still out looking for more work. I had a lot of fun scoring films, and we are always on the hunt for more projects.

HNC: What is the last book read?

Engles: I read Christopher Hitchens’ autobiography, which is sadly ironic that he put out his memoirs, but as he was on the book tour was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. His life is incredible, he’s done so much for promoting reason and pragmatism in the world, now it looks like he won’t have much chance to survive. Excellent book. Amazingly interesting life.

HNC: Let’s talk heroes. Do you have one? What makes a hero?

Engles: That word is tough for me. I have inspirations: people like Geroge Carlin, Christopher Hitchens. Anyone who can tell the truth about the world that not only highlights the ugliness of the world, but also has a packet of hope in there too. Being able to explain the beauty of the world without sugarcoating things, for me, has always been a huge inspiration. As for characteristics, they have to have integrity, humility, pragmatism, being open-minded to all cultures and people. It is more benign than people make it out to be when they idolize someone; typically people can grow out of it, because the so called ‘hero’ ends up making a fool of themselves.

HNC: Can you define TRUTH?

Engles: For me, if things can be tested over and over again with the same results, that would be the truth. It is evident through testing and repeated results, whether in life or scientific experiment…not just in what people tell you.

HNC: How do you stay positive?

Engles: Even though I’m broke, I don’t take for granted that I can wake up in a different city every day and play music. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I have a lovely mother and beautiful friends that help me keep pushing on. You’ve gotta remember that things could always be worse. This is not too bad, I mean…I could always make a little more money, but…the Giants won the World Series!

HNC: If you were making “enough money”, what would you do?

Engles: I would build a beautiful studio, start a record label, and use the money to make music forever — It’s a no-brainer for me. People call and ask for advice or ideas, but I don’t have the resources at the moment to help with more than advice. I would love to have a full studio to record some of my friend’s band music. Bands like Division Day and Good Hustle.

HNC: Do you consider yourself successful? What is success to you?

Mark: We’re all really proud that we’ve been a band for 15 plus years and we’ve released 5 LP’s and there are people who want to come out and see us, in that sense I feel like a success. We have been able to travel to Europe, and if you would’ve asked me when I was a kid I probably wouldn’t have guessed it from growing up in San Fransisco. Definitely not monetarily, I still live in a small apartment in San Fransisco with a roommate. I was in college when I decided to do this, and I decided to drop out to pursue music because I didn’t think I would be able to sleep at night if I didn’t give it a go. And I could always go back to school. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

HNC: What were you going to school for?

Mark: I was pre-med, so in the sciences, but my love has always been geology. I want to go back and get my bachelor’s in geology. I would see if anything opened up with that. (laughs)

HNC: How is it touring with Circa Survive?

Engles: We toured together in 2005, when we were doing clubs, but their following has grown exponentially and they are doing really well right now, so it was a nice gesture for them to invite us to come back out. It has been great! There is usually 1,000 people every night, and it’s an appreciative, smart crowd.

HNC: What is your favorite or least favorite thing about touring?

Engles: We are sharing the bus with Animals as Leaders, and there are 12 of us, so it’s almost impossible to go to sleep early. You have to ride the tide of when everyone else goes to sleep. I’m constantly tired, we’re working late, my day is definitely not normal compared to normal. It’s kind of like camping, but you re-acclimate to the tour after a few days.

HNC: Have you seen “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” synched to either your, or Circa Survive’s album?

Engles: I love that film! I have never seen it to their album (Juturna) but it was Circa Survive that showed us the film synched…sunk? If that’s the proper word…to our record and showed it to us 5 years ago. I don’t know if they were inspired by the coincidence of ours, but I know that Anthony is highly influenced by that movie, it’s a great film.

HNC: What makes you laugh? Like, REALLY laugh?

Engles: I love stand-up comedians; Luis CK, Ricky Gervais makes me laugh extremely hard and George Carlin. I love clever and smart stand-up comedians; they are some of the smartest people in the world. They use their intelligence to make people laugh, while pointing out things that make you think.

HNC: If I gave you three words to describe yourself, could you do it? What would they be?

Engles: Logical, short, and compassionate.

HNC: How short ARE you?

Engles: 5’5”

HNC: Oh, C’mon that’s average for a guy

Engles: No, average for a guy is 5’9”.

HNC: What about worldwide?

Engles: Worldwide, maybe. Who knows, I don’t know. I’m just being self-deprecating.

HNC: The compassionate side of you shining through

HNC: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Engles: I wish I was a little more outgoing or something, but by the time you hit 31 you settle into who you are. If you asked me 10 years ago I would’ve had a laundry list! There comes a point in your life that you realize that this is who you are, and that this is it.

HNC: Are you close with your family? Take a stance: Nature vs. Nurture?

Engles: Thankfully I am, I think most of the world’s problems can be traced back to either family or education. I think that how we respond is circumstantial: where you’re born, how you are brought up. There’s definitely a balance, there is no way to get a definitive answer to try to nail that down. As a guitar player, I can’t say for sure. There are studies about twins that are mind-blowing, what characteristics they share and what they don’t.

HNC: What kind of jobs have you worked?

Engles: For a long time I worked at an airport and aviation. I was on the private side where I would tow, and refuel. When the jets would land, I was the guy with the wands, marshalling the plane to its parking spot. I spent two years working at San Jose International airport because I had experience in flying from lessons in high school and knew a lot about aviation. It is something I want to continue someday for sure.

HNC: You’ll be that flying geologist that plays guitar?

Engles: Yeah! Maybe when I’m 60.

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