To mark the release of the new album from Dreadzone, 'Escapades' we talk to Greg Roberts about technology, bass music, and working with Mick Jones and Don Letts.
Dreadzone are difficult to pigeon hole - because you draw together so many strings of the UK's counterculture. For anyone who hasn't heard Dreadzone before - how would you describe your music?
Dreadsound - dub bass dance beats electronics and guitars, with songs. EDM. Electronic Dread music
Legend has it that Don Letts came up with the band name. Can you tell us how that came about?
It was during a brainstorming session with our previous band trying to find a name. the name of the band was Screaming Target, recently I found the book where we wrote the ideas and there amongst loads of others Dreadzone and Screaming target are on the same page. It seemed right. It's a play on the film 'Deadzone' featuring Christopher Walken, which is from a Stephen King book and really and truthfully, it has never been about hair.
It's hard to believe that "Little Britain" is 17 years old. In 1996 it seemed like everyone was listening to Britpop, drinking alcopop, objectifying their favourite Spice Girl, and waiting for an election. What are your memories of that single coming out?
It was the first week of the year and I was on holiday in Morocco when I heard from Virgin that it had entered the top 40. The following week I returned and it went up to no. 20 and then we went on Top of the Pops. I remember 'Spaceman' by Babylon Zoo was number one at the time, that jeans advert. Where did he go and where did the time go...?
As somebody who started out as a drummer - how has technology changed how you work over the last 20 years?
Well I joined Big Audio Dynamite as a drummer but left knowing how to use drum machines and sequencers to write with, so from our beginnings with Dreadzone we used samplers, Roland keyboards and an Akai MPC60 Sequencer in the studio and live but over the years computers and mainly the Logic program has been the way we make the music. It has made things simpler and with wider options. It is easier to jump from one tune to another whilst working but the sound of some early analogue gear is very hard to beat in terms of warmth and feel. For live nowadays we run stuff on stage with Ableton on a Mac.
On your blog - you seem quite jaded about the process of making videos to accompany your singles - back in the 90s. How do you feel about that now, in the Youtube age?
Haha I didn't think anyone would pick up on that, it was just an honest comment on how most of our outstanding major label debt went on videos that were somebody else's vision, using up shedloads of money on something that disappears after couple of weeks. We are more in tune and in control of what we want to see and who we work with now, there is a closer relationship with filmmakers as fellow artists. We have just made a great new video with this cool company Scratch Pictures for our new single 'Too Late' featuring Mick Jones.
How does working with Dreadzone compare to working with Big Audio Dynamite?
Ha that’s easy. I'm in charge in Dreadzone ... but seriously ... As the only recent BAD experience was the reunion in 2011 the most obvious difference is the touring, especially in America where we did Lollapalooza, Coachella and a proper USA tour with big crowds, so we don't really get a sniff of that with Dreadzone. BAD in the 80s was a great learning curve that led to self belief in our own sound.
How did it feel to work with Mick Jones and Don Letts again?
Brilliant, they are good mates and we still hang out a lot. They both contributed to our new album.
I owe so much to Mick Jones, he is the single biggest influence in my life and it was a real joy doing the BAD reunion in 2011. Also Mick was kind enough to let us use his studio to make the new album.
Do you feel an affinity with the dub and bass music that's continuing to emerge at the moment?
Very strongly, I still DJ and play all kinds of stuff, bassline music is important to me. We have moved into writing songs more so we still retain the bass but from Leo Williams unique bass guitar style underpinning our melodic song endeavours. The remix package that is released at the same time as the album increases the bass pressure in various sub genres with Jungle breaks, dubstep, drum and bass and bassline house mixes.
What new music are you listening to at the moment?
Dance Labels - Black Butter, Subslayers
Electronic moods - Burial, Trentemoller
Soundtracks - Cliff Martinez, Michael McCann
What do you enjoy doing - when you are not making music?
Watching films, reading, traveling and listening to music. Loving the life and chasing the dreams that inspire the writing.
What can people expect from the new album, 'Escapades' and the upcoming tour?
Another set of songs that reflect where we are at the moment, honest heartfelt and expressive with rhythms textures and melody. Our live show changes all the time so will be updating it to keep it fresh and tight. Some of these tunes work so well and fit right into the new live set.
It’s hard to define who we are and what our style is like except to say it's Dreadzone in the moment.
Dreadzone release their album 'Escapades' on 9th September, 'Too Late' (single featuring Mick Jones) on 8th September.
For more information and all live shows go to www.dreadzone.com
Dreadzone play at The Scala In London on 19th September.