We heard that DREADZONE were playing in Exeter, being huge fans of their work, we sent Molly-Mole along to chat to MC Spee, Greg Dread and Chris Compton before the show, here's how she got on....
Dread Times is your 8th studio album and the first top 40 chart appearance in 20 years, it is receiving incredible feedback – what does this response mean to you?
Greg – It obviously means a lot to us, getting great satisfaction being able to achieve that position. Sales aren’t everything but it is nice to be able to have a bit of recognition and it spreads it a bit further and you get a bit of extra press. Being in the chart for the first time in 22 years does feel like a bit of an achievement, everyone loves the album and to get that kind of response in the first week is great. We are all buzzing on it and it’s just fantastic. It gives the whole campaign, if you can call it that, a bit of momentum and we are just getting fantastic feedback from all over. A lot of people are saying it is the best album since Second Light, some people are saying it is the best album we have ever done. It does feel very complete and we put in a couple of years work, last year being the main work. We’ve expanded, we’ve bought my son Marlon Roberts to do a lot more musicality, and it’s really expanded it out. We’ve got Bazil who works with the band and it’s the first time he has been involved in an album, so it has given it a bit of an edge. Then mixed by Tim Bran, it just fell into place really nicely.
We wrote a lot of stuff originally and narrowed it down to 15 and narrowed it down to 12. I like the fact it is Dread Times and it feels like the clocks on the cover are for the 12 tracks and the cover works really well with it. We’ve been using Glass Siren for the last 2 albums. So really buzzing from the whole thing.
‘You have got to have that hunger and the desire to just create music.’ Greg
It is Dread music, it is a fusion of stuff. When I was in Big Audio Dynamite Mick Jones would say it’s like New York beatbox to drums, dub base, punk guitar, film samples. My whole music career I started liking music from a young age like The Who, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, then discovered funk and James Brown, then I discovered reggae and you go through the dance music, all those musics really excite you – it’s the hunger and love of all different types of music that all come together to make what we are. We all bring something different to the table. You could say it is dub orientated dance. It’s always got that energy of dance music. But it is Dread music, with a capital D.
Spee – It justifies us being a live band. There are so many ways people try to become famous in this industry and there is no back catalogue, there is no back story to it – with Dreadzone we have a big back catalogue, a big back story. We keep chipping away, it’s been a great response from them, all the fans and every time you do a gig it reaches further because there are people who have never seen us before. They’ve only got to go away and tell one person and that spreads the family, that is fantastic.
The response we have been getting from them justifies all the nail biting that is done in the studio going, ‘do you think this is going to be alright’! But of course the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. The pudding is sweet.
There are tracks where I just do a couple of backing vocals and even if they were the ones that became hits and singles, it wouldn’t be a problem as we have all worked the same amount of time and put the same amount of working into it. They have said 16 Holes will be the next single and I am chuffed, I am flattered, but it makes no odds if it’s an instrumental or whether it’s a full vocal of mine…
‘You represent your brothers, you represent your band, and that’s what it is all about.’ Spee
Chris – The album is going down really well with the crowd. We are about five or six gigs in and we are really tight, the new tunes are sounding really great, (with a cheeky smile) in my opinion. Really enjoy playing them, they fit really well with everything else we are doing. People seem to really like them.
Spee – Obviously I like Rootsman and 16 Holes and Moutain as that is a little video we put out – people responded really well to that because of the lyrics we put onto it, and for the first time people focused on that. The last video we put out was with Mick Jones and it was a performance video, so it’s pointless doing another one of those as people will be lookingat who is in what. So to put the lyrics across it meant people focused on that and played it again to re-do the lyrics. It’s like, ‘You’ve had 90,000 hits’ and I think sixteen hundred of those is my mum just trying to learn the lyrics.
I must say I do like Battle, for me it is really cool and Area Code – the whole thing for me is a great piece of work. Every tune, regardless of whether I am on it or not, has a certain nuance on there that are personal to me, and I remember when that happened and now it’s in the song. It’s about being proud of the piece of work, all of us in Dreadzone, when you forget about making music for a certain genre or album or piece of music – but make music for themselves, I think that is when it changes. It doesn’t matter whether you are independent, or into pop, ragga, rock, it’s the same principle. Once you stop worrying about this that. We’ve never worried about chart positions, you’ve never seen any fucking posts about chart position ever before in your life regarding Dreadzone – and it is only because we have put the work in, we’ve done the work and put the promotions in, we’ve done the in-stores, and reached a lot of people and you know – I just want to say again thank you to everyone who has supported Dread Times, now go and buy another copy because I know where you fucking live!
Chris - I am really looking forward to playing Area Code and I know we have got Battle coming, I’d play as many of the new tracks as we can get into the set really. It is quite a process of rehearsing to make sure they are right. I’d play them all if I could!
Greg - The way Second Light came about very natural originally, it has got this multi-cultural Britain feel to it and it just came together like that. It is the same with this album, it came about without having to try. What I wanted to do with this album was to emphasise dub and reggae much more because the last album was after the big Audio Dynamite tour and there is a lot of eclectic stuff and Eye On The Horizon is very eclectic, and we’ve always mixed it up. This one I wanted to focus more on dub and reggae and by doing that it has come out with that early Dreadzone sound even though some of it like Mountain and Battle, you could say they are rockers reggae, which we have never really done before. It’s always been a fusion. That’s what we wanted to emphasis and why it has got such an in-depth sound. And we have been going 20..3..24 years and we bring all that experience to bare on it, all our relationship with the earlier albums. And it is great to have Tim Bran mix it as I started the band with him originally.
Greg you have worked closely with your son Marlon on this album, how is that as a father working together?
Greg – oh yeah I'm extremely proud (said with a massive smile). He did play keyboard on "Eye On The Horizon". You notice he has got a real skill for it, he is really pushing himself, he practices five hours a day, he is studying classic music and he takes lessons. He is very serious about it, plus he goes to college so he has put himself into a really good position. I am extremely proud and he provides the solutions when you are working on a track, he will go, ‘that will be great if you put a little change in there,’ – he will come up with the change and we are able to write a chorus around that. Plus every time he would come to the studio he was listening to Second Light a lot and he would say this is brilliant and we should be a bit more like that. A lot of people have always said why can’t you make another album like Second Light, which I don’t think we have done. But he has adapted those ideas and then channeled them in but in a much more organic way. Quite a bit of second Light is sampling , finding bits and pieces here and there and bits of keyboard. He has bought the whole musicality and raised it up a notch and I think that is one of the joys of this album and it gives me great pleasure obviously.
This is your 3rd studio album release on your own label 'Dubwiser', what difference does it make to your music and process having your own label?
Spee – The thing is we have carte blanche, you are not giving it to a bunch of accountants basically, some suits on the top floor of a shitty record label, and they are not going (mock suitman voice) ‘Oh this doesn’t sound like Ed Sheeran and Adele so if we can change it up so at least one song on the album sounds like Ed Sheeran and one that’s’ – fuck off, yeah, that’s the beauty of it. We don’t even have to have them come to us to say fuck off. We do what we want to do and put it out there and have faith in it and when we became number 39 in the chart we also became number 4 in the Indie Chart and number 6 in the Dance Chart in the same week. Apart from about 7 albums, including ours, they are all compilations of the same tempo all the time in the Dance Chart. So for us to go to number 6 in the Dance Charts is something. We don’t chip away thinking, ‘right we’ve got to get into the top 40,’ we get on with it and this has happened and the response has been amazing and the reach has got out to a lot more people.
Greg – Absolutely, it gives us a lot of confidence. It’s down to DMF Music Ltd our management who are based in Exeter and look after The Levellers, Beautiful Days Festival, The Beat – they became our agent back in 2008 and then they took over management in 2009 and then we said let’s do our own label. So me and David Farrow run the label. It makes you feel like you are really in charge of everything, that’s the most important thing, rather than agent and management – it is a business partner role and it provides financial support. Which is lucky in this day and age to have a following, we have a good fan base, we sold out Exeter tonight and you know we’ve got a good new album and the only way is up.
I think the album would have charted higher if it had not been for The Brits that week and those artists jumping up the charts.
Spee - I’ve got to say to you that you are very astute because the record label were, ‘hold on a minute, don’t get too excited as Thursday is The Brits’. But thankfully not everyone there was releasing something that week. It’s neither here or there if we were (pop pickers voice), ‘This week number 39, second week 2089’. It’s not deflating, we have a good fan base, we have a good reputation for being a good live band and when we go out there we base our reputation on that and I throw the gauntlet down and so does everyone else. And everyone who is buying a ticket is throwing the gauntlet down.
You have been together for over 20 years, are there any big plans for the 25th anniversary?
Greg – A lot of people have been asking us for another live album, which would be a good time to do that. We could do a Dreadzone dub album. We have already talked about doing the next Dreadzone album like the earlier stuff, like 360 ̊, quite sample driven and instrumental. I’ve got a couple of other projects on the bowl which are interesting and working with on Marlon on his project. I am producing something for Louchie Lou and Michie One who sung on Area Code. I am good friends with Lou as she lives around the corner and it would be good at some point to have them perform Area Code live with us.
Spee – when it comes it will happen and people will hear about it. If I was to shake hands with you and say about the 25th anniversary, it means we have got fuck all to give you in our next few years and that is absolute bollocks because we have more and the reaction to this album inspires us to do more now we have set the bar higher for ourselves, and the fans. We can’t come back with a mediocre ‘best of’, you’ve got to come in and go BANG.
Greg – We come from kind of dance music and mix up – we were in a band in the 80’s and a lot of dance music people start as DJs but when we started we very much had a band approach. I think the fact me and Leo have been playing together as a rhythm section for 33 years – so he has outlasted my marriage, but that is the one thing. So even though we have done albums where we have split off and done a couple of albums without him, we always come back together and we play live. Finding the right people and getting on with them is great. When we are in the van there is no egos, we’ve grown out of all that stuff. Also I don’t drink much and we don’t do hard drugs, we like a little weed and that’s it. If anyone is reading and wanted some advice then don’t do dreadful cocaine, or hard drugs. I know so many bands that have imploded because fragile egos and hard drugs are bad news.
‘Friendship and having a desire all the time to create some new music.’ Greg
Having my son all the time saying, ‘Come on, let’s work on some stuff.’ I can be sitting there, I’ve done a couple of gigs and on Monday I am bored of what is on telly so I turn the computer on and get some samples and start getting a beat going and write a track. Always wanting to write something new. It’s quite sad knowingat my stage of life, my age, that I have so many ideas that will never get realised. There is a backlog of so much material we have written over the years, so much to put out.
It has been great watching your excitement of the release of Dread Times with your Facebook Live posts, a chance for the fans to enjoy your reactions and interactions.
Greg – our management said we should do a Facebook Live link when the album came out, so we went and did this event at Sheffield and I wasgoing, ‘Come on Spee, come on Leo, Earl’, and we did a little chat, then I thought I would do one for a DJ gig. Leo was watching it on the way back and said, ‘This is really good you know.’ So I watched it when I got back to the hotel and thought it was quite fun. I am just chatting away and I have taken it up a notch and got a lead so you can start hearing the music properly. I am improving it all the time and it is an exciting time as we have got a new album out, so it all ties in with it. And the interaction I am getting with it from people the minute you put it on with - ‘I love the album’, ‘Give out a shout out to..’, and I think I know you, wow, and I have fallen into it. So I am just going to be myself. When I start there might be 150 watching and if I was at home in my room in front of all those people I would be more self-conscious thinking am I doing the right thing. But I am just at home and you can’t see everyone, so it feels natural being myself – not getting drunk or anything! That’s why I say at the end of night, ‘I think I’ll roll a spliff now’! I don’t want to be like, ‘Oh shit why did I say that’. I am enjoying it for now and we will see where it goes.
I am already planning my next Thursday night show and Thursdays are good because when we used to run a club night called Dubwiser in London – Thursday is good as Friday and Saturday there is always too much going on. We’ll drop some tunes and we’ll have some guests and go from there. Do an hour and go from there.
Dread Times is available NOW.
Interview by Molly-Mole
Pics by Mimosa Photography