Dreadzone drummer Greg Roberts talks to eFestivals

about being a festival band, new material, and future festivals

published: Tue 18th Nov 2008


eFestivals rang up Greg Roberts drummer and founder of Dreadzone to speak to him about the band's forthcoming album, playing festivals, touring, drummers, and more. Dreadzone have been around for more than sixteen years, and evolved into a supercharged dance and dub live act and become festival favourites for audiences up and down the country.

What are the band up to at the moment?
The band are in the middle of a UK tour, the 'For A Reason' tour. We're calling it that because we've got a tune of the same name, which is not out on any label and is available to download at dreadzonedownloads.com. It's a new song that we've written, and we've written quite a few new tunes, and we're working on a new album at the moment, which should be slated for release early summer next year, as long as we finish it in time.

We've been writing stuff for the last couple of years, shaping up the new stuff, and putting it in the live set. This summer at all the festivals we'd done, so we're keeping busy.

How do you think you've managed to become a band that is such a festival favourite?
I don't know. Just by playing good tunes, making the crowd want to jump up, The combination of the reggae and the high energy dance elements just get the crowd going. The tunes are there that people know, the energy is always there, it's a dance thing with electronics, and technology but we've also got the live instrumentation as well. Me and Leo, who have played together as a rhythm section for the last twenty five years. You've got Earl 16 one of the best singers anywhere, and a fantastic frontman MC Spee, some rock and roll guitar, and some electronics on the laptop, all that combination makes the crowd jump up.

We've been doing it for quite a while and we've just become one of those favourites at festivals, we've got bookings already for next year. We're always there at festivals, we like festivals as well and it's our bread and butter during the summer.

What have been your favourite festivals over the years?
Well obviously Glastonbury, The Glade, Beautiful Days, Wickerman in Scotland, Solfest, various ones really. The Essential Festival used to be good in the nineties. There's so many really, this summer across Europe there's the Sziget Festival in Hungary, which is really outstanding, that happens once a year, which is a bit like Glastonbury and takes over a whole island for a week, and Electric Picnic in Ireland, there's lots of places. When we're not doing the live shows at festivals we'll do the soundsystem, people have us along to come and play records with MC Spee on the mic. It's the same ethic make the crowd jump up, that's what it's about, people want to dance, people want to get loose and have a good time, and that's what we provide, we've got the big tunes for it.

So what festivals have you got lined up for next year?
Well, I can't say yet. I just know there's a few offers coming in already because we've got an agent who we took on this year, and the work's been really good, and as we're working on the new album, we'll be a lot more focused on the new stuff from Dreadzone, so we'll be able to do a lot more festivals that we didn't do this year.

How are MC Spee's knees, because he was still on crutches at the end of this summer?
MC Spee's knees are the bee's knees. Yeah, he has been using crutches, but he's down to one crutch at the moment. But, we're stipulating on the rider, that we have to have a high backed stool for him when we're doing the shows, so he doesn't more around so much. Because if he's standing up he can't resist moving and dancing and that puts a lot of strain on him and his back, and his spine. So, he has to really take care, so we make sure he has a high stool. He's a tall bloke anyway, so even when he's sitting on a high stool he's still up there.

He doesn't jump around, but he does move around because he has a lot of rhythm in his body, but there's not so much weight and strain put on his leg. The other day they didn't have a high stool at the gig we did, and he had to sit on a chair and it's just not the same really.

Is the single 'For A Reason' a taster of what the album is going to sound like?
I wouldn't say so, no, because the new tunes are so varied. What it does is indicates that we're taking the song writing task by the horns. We're really perfecting our song writing and doing it in such a way that it doesn't overshadow the Dreadzone sound.

We do like having verses and choruses, and being able to tell stories with melody and lyrics. There's a whole range of stuff on there, and it's quite a personal album because we've gone through a lot over the past couple of years. It's touching on a lot of personal subjects, love and loss, and stuff like that, and we're very pleased with it. 'For A Reason' is a good taster, it's very happy, and a lot of people compare it to having the same spirit as 'Little Britain', it has that uplifting string section in there and it's a very positive song, about love.

How do you go about creating the new material?
There's so many different ways a song comes about, it's just a case with starting off with something that will get the song going, usually it's a sample of something that will get things in motion and create a spirit for the tune. Then we'll have some vocal ideas for it and then we'll build on it. A lot of this album has been written as a band, it's a lot more band related so we've sat down as a band and written a lot of stuff. It's been a lot more of a creative process between six people.

And are all six involved, because you've had a few new personnel recently?
Yes, they are even if they're just twiddling a knob or something. We've said this is how we're moving forward now, we're a six man team, whoever does what it doesn't matter. We're taking the songs forward now.

Everyone feels positivity about the new song, by taking them on stage and playing them to people before we've put them out as an album is good because we're able to shape the tunes on stage. We're able to take some of the improvisational stuff and work that into it. We want to capture that whole live sound and get it down.

So the album comes out before the festival season?
Yes, we're hoping to get the album out before the festivals, but a lot of the people who have been coming to see us this summer, will probably know a lot of the tunes.

I saw you a couple of times this summer, you were often a man or two short.
Well, we were a couple of men short on some of the festivals this year we just couldn't help that. Leo was off playing with Mick Jones sometimes, Chris the guitarist had just had a baby and so was not able to come along to some shows, and Earl 16 had some double commitments. We still rocked strong, we were even down to three men for one show, and we couldn't get Spee for one show, they were late booking in Prague. But we still went along, there was me on the drums, Chris on the laptop and Earl 16 on vocals and we rocked 10,000 people in the middle of a square in Prague.

So is the line-up going to be pretty settled for the festival shows next summer?
For the summer, yeah, everybody is committed to it because we have a new album coming out. We are pretty flexible, we can do shows regardless, it's like when we have to rock a show as a DJ thing, we can strip it down and we'll still have the tunes and the energy, but it will be the whole six people.

With all the bands from the Eighties making a come back, you're not tempted to reform Big Audio Dynamite?
Big Audio Dynamite reforming would all just depend on one man Mick Jones, and I know he's busy with his Carbon/Silicon thing, and I'm busy with Dreadzone. I wouldn't mind, if we had a bit of time, doing a couple of remixes for them, but as for us going out there, no. It's something he never did with The Clash and I can't imagine him doing it with Big Audio Dynamite. You've got to put the past behind you and move on.

We have a few new tunes in there, which certainly have that guitar element, that quite reflect the B.A.D. sound. So I'm quite happy to play on that a bit. People I think would rather see Dreadzone than Big Audio Dynamite, maybe in America there's a crowd who would like to see Big Audio Dynamite but, no. Me and Leo were the rhythm section of B.A.D. So you've got the rhythm there, and you've got the tunes with us, and maybe we could do a cover of 'E=MC2' who knows, a dub step version.

Are you surprised that because you as a reggae band do so well at festivals, that there isn't more reggae acts on the festival circuit?
There is a lot when you look deeper, at the smaller festivals, there are a lot of dub related acts. But, there isn't a lot, and in the world of reggae there's not anyway. The thing is, it's not like it was, there's some good tunes coming out of Jamaica. But there's not really a good strong reggae scene, it's kind of broken up into all the different strands.

Like in the UK you have the dub step, and drum n bass and in Jamaica it's ragga, and the new carnivally sound, and people are going back to their roots again. I'm listening to a lot more reggae but there doesn't seem to be that many acts at the moment that are doing something new with it. That's probably why we attract a lot of people because we throw that element in and freely and it works. So people can skank with energy, it's not about laying back behind the beat it's about giving it your all all the time.

With the death of Mitch Mitchell recently, I just wondered who your drum influences were?
Funny you should say that, because that was the first thing I looked at this morning. That was quite sad, Mitch Mitchell. I wouldn't say he was an influence, I liked his style and he took it a bit further with that jazz rock thing. I think when I was growing up it was Keith Moon first, then John Bonham, actually it's got to be a toss up between those two for my favourite all time drummer, obviously Ginger Baker back in the days, and then I discovered people like Sly Dunbar (Sly and Robbie) when I started looking to reggae. I didn't even realise he was an influence, until I checked the reggae sleeves and he was on so many records.

I went down the path of jazz-fusion drummers, so you've got Steve Gadd and Harvey Mason, and all those kind of drummers, who as a drummer I was influenced by, always. Plus Stuart Copleand, Tony Williams, Art Blakey, Buddy Rich and myself, and drum machines. It wasn't until I met Mick Jones and he introduced my to a LINN 1 drum machine in a Big Audio Dynamite, that I started writing beats and then using sequencers, and then using samplers, and then out of that I was able to write and arrange my own stuff. Technology freed me up in that way, I don't really play drums until we go out on that road, I'm trying to play a lot more on the new album, but song writing and producing, all that has sprung from taking a drum machine and work with it, and see what the possibilities are.

Do you think that technology has influenced your drumming, rather than your drumming influence what you do with the technology?
Yes, it's opened it up, I'm quite aware that I was a good drummer, all self taught, but I wasn't good enough to be what I wanted to be technically, so joining a band like Big Audio Dynamite and being able to use technology enabled me to become a writer and arranger, and led on to me getting Dreadzone together. If I hadn't done that I'd probably still be a drummer backing up other people, and in a completely different place. I don't have any musical training I just have a good ear for music and when it comes to just having a sequencer looping round and round, I just pick out the notes I want to hear in relation to a bassline or melody or something like that.

Have you heard any good up and coming hot tips recently?
As a DJ I can tell you loads of stuff, like the stuff that's happening with dub step and breaks and stuff like that. But with bands, I dunno, what am I listening to at the moment? Well, in dance music Tayo's new label 'Cool & Deadly' has got some really great stuff on. But that's from my DJ side of things, labels like 'Against The Grain'. As far as particular bands, there's a band in Brighton called Bad Science which are really good, recommend them. I've been listening to Trent Moeller from an album point of.

When I put the phone down it'll all come back to me, because I listen to so much stuff, new reggae, new breaks, new dub steps, and as a DJ I'm buying all this stuff. I'm also downloading loads of stuff on itunes I like to listen to. It's a new approach to buying music, you just pay your 79p and there it is. I've just bought the new Killers' tune the other day, 'Human' and stuff like that.

My album of the year, it's got nothing to do with reggae, dub, dance music or nothing like that, my band of the year, and album of the year is 'Flight Of The Conchords'. Buy the album it's brilliant, it's a confirmed favourite amongst the Dreadzone ranks. I bought the album when I was particularly down earlier in the year, before I knew about the TV show and it really, really lifted my spirits. So check it out.

Songs where I think I like the sound of that song, just lately I have to admit I've been listening to a lot of pop music and good song writing. Even stuff like 'Patience' by Take That from last year, I find that a really impressive song, and I'm fascinated by the structure of pop songs. We were listening it in the van the other day and a few people in the van loved that tune, just because it's a well-constructed pop song. I think it's just a phase we're going through, where we're perfecting ourselves as song writers, maybe that's what will keep us going in our old age.,, when we're too old to get up on stage, we'll be sitting there still writing tunes. That's one of the best things about being in this business, is being able to keep writing new stuff and improve yourself as a writer rather than keep going round writing the same beats and bass lines, you've got to stretch out and you've got to express yourself through words and melody. It's a challenge that we feel we're up to and mixing it with our kind of sound. The new Dreadzone sound is wicked.

I look forward to hearing it in the summer.

Dreadzone are currently touring, here are their winter tour dates:
Wed 19 November Princess Pavilion, Falmouth
Thu 20 November Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
Fri 21 November The Opera House, Bournemouth
Sat 22 November The Globe, Cardiff
Wed 26 November The Waterfront, Norwich
Thu 27 November The Sugarmill, Stoke-on-Trent
Sat 29 November Corporation, Sheffield
Thu 04 December Jazz Cafe, London
Fri 05 December The Regal, Oxford
Sat 06 December Queens Hall, Narberth
Wed 10 December The Charlotte, Leicester
Thu 11 December Komedia, Bath
Fri 12 December The Buttermarket, Shrewsbury
Sat 13 December Guildhall Arts Centre, Gloucester

To buy tickets, where available, for these dates, click here.

interview by: Scott Williams

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