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Progressive Rock Interviews

Dreadnaught

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Bob Lord of Dreadnaught from 2014
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

That’s a long story, so let me start with the release of our last album in 2007, the double-disc retrospective High Heat & Chin Music, which also featured a handful of new tracks. That album came on the heels of The American Standard (2001), Musica En Flagrante (2004), and Live at Mojo (2005), all of which featured variations on our own particular brand of prog. High Heat was both a look ahead and a summary of the past (including the releases prior to Standard), but collectively we became so busy with life and careers that the “look ahead” part never quite manifested. Since then, we’ve been performing frequently as a group, as individuals, and focusing on our music – it might not look that way from the outside, but we’ve been busy!

Since ’06 we’ve been the house band at the Music Hall in Portsmouth New Hampshire, an historic venue for which I sit on the Board of Trustees. Our work has primarily been for the Music Hall/New Hampshire Public Radio series “Writers on a New England Stage,” where we provide music for well-known authors on book tour. We’ve shared a stage with a huge array of amazing folks like Dan Brown (who sat in on piano with us), Dave Barry (who sat in on guitar), Stephen King, John Updike, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Alan Alda, E.L. Doctorow, Salman Rushdie, Chris Matthews, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and so many others. It has been an incredible privilege to meet and work with all those folks.  

In early ’08, I started PARMA Recordings, a music production company and record label parent which focuses on orchestral, chamber, and experimental music; since our inception we’ve released over 300 albums, many of which I personally produced, and have worked with artists like Pete Townshend of The Who, Grammy-winner Richard Stoltzman, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Lewis Spratlan, among others. We’ve also produced music for CBS Sports, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and many more.

In 2011, Justin released his first solo album It Takes a Toll, on which he played all the instruments and wrote all the music. He frequently gigs both as a solo act and with others in Maine and has established a strong reputation as a guy who can (and will!) play anything from Hoagy Carmichael to Crowded House upon request - no joke.  

Rick and I work together frequently, since we’re in the same geographic area, and we play in a few others bands together in addition to Dreadnaught. Of us all, Rick is in many ways the most dedicated to his playing – I’ve never seen someone practice and grow so much outside of the conservatory (i.e. when there are “real world” conditions at play). We’ve got bands that do covers and originals, and there’s always something cooking.

But Dreadnaught is a siren song to us all. I think back in ’01, when we released The American Standard, we really threw down a musical gauntlet that in some ways is still waiting to be picked up. I am consistently amazed at how many people hear that record for the first time today and comment on its freshness, its audaciousness, and how many look back on it as a milestone.

What got us back on the horse in a recording sense was performing at ProgDay in 2012, where we met great people and heard fantastic music. The response to our set was so strong that we decided we had to get back in the studio and start recording again. It’s taken some time to line up the schedules – my job as CEO of PARMA has me on the road in both the U.S. and Europe a lot of the time, never mind the extremely busy playing schedules of Justin and Rick – but we feel that our new material, the first batch of which can be heard on Have A Drink With Dreadnought, really is our best stuff yet.
MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?
We truly have one of the worst names ever. There is a new Dreadnaught popping up every five minutes somewhere in the world, and everybody thinks we’re either reggae or metal. But I like to think there’s room for all of us, and I dream of a massive Dreadnaught collaboration where we all say, “screw it, we’ve got the same name, let’s just take over one of the smaller continents.” 

The name actually came as we were getting ready to perform live on the radio at the University of New Hampshire, and our guitarist at the time (Ed Jurdi of the Band of Heathens) said, while plucking away at acoustic guitar – a Dreadnaught-shaped acoustic guitar, mind you – “F*** it, let’s just call it Dreadnaught”…sigh.

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
We all have very disparate influences with a strong overlap in the center: prog rock bands like Gentle Giant, Yes, Genesis, and Crimson, Americana musicians like Willie Nelson, Roy Buchanan, and Neil Young, jazzers like Don Ellis, Bill Frisell, and Coltrane, pop confectioners like the Beach Boys, Beatles, and The Who, and classical composers like Bach, Stravinsky, Copland, and Bernstein. Variety is the spice of life – music is music. No reason to think otherwise.
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
I would hesitate to call us anything other than “rock music” simply because we use the power trio format as our basis, but that doesn’t begin to describe it. Prog, Americana, experimental, pop, they all apply. Listen to “Corrupticus 5,” and how could you not call that country music despite its many kinks and twists? And then put on “Surface Raid” – orchestral disco metal, right? And who in their right mind makes orchestral disco metal? The beauty is each piece we produce is something unto itself, and there’s more content in a single tune of ours than many other groups have in entire albums. Imagine trying to build an audience for each tune! What a nightmare. Welcome to our world.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
I believe that the concept of the ownership of music is a relatively recent phenomenon that, like many other markets, had its bubble, and that bubble burst. Before recordings existed, ownership consisted of obtaining, using, and keeping a hard copy of a printed orchestral score, of a piece of sheet music, of a lyric sheet – akin in my opinion to owning a blueprint, but a blueprint in which interpretation is both endemic and essential. People didn’t actually own “Maple Leaf Rag” – they bought the music and then took it home and played it for their kids after supper. That was how music existed.

But as music became commoditized and commercialized, it became less about the experiential interaction with a piece of music – the way it made you feel, the emotions it elicited, the feeling it left with you long after the performance or the hearing – and more about the vestiges of that experience, like a piece of vinyl with a picture on it, a T-shirt, a poster, and on and on. We as consumers came to feel that in some small way we owned what we were experiencing.

Where we are now of course is a world of streaming music, a never-ending river of artistic consciousness to whose shores we are given access, and in which we can dip our ladle, and finally partake. This evolution has been to the detriment of the companies who commoditized the product instead of the art (and don’t get me wrong, I have been and in many ways am in that particular brigade, and the balance is a fine one) but, to my mind, for the absolute benefit of both the consumer and the artist. Yes, there is still a fetish for vinyl and CDs and cassettes and 78s and wax cylinders (well, not wax cylinders), and there always will be, but those are the trappings. It is the content that matters, and the liberating of this content is completely in the best interest of the artist. . . if they are willing to follow it to its logical conclusions.

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Well, for PARMA, I actually am in charge of assembling a music festival (www.parmamusicfestival.org), and I have a huge respect for people who curate such giant undertakings. It’s a massive job. Honestly, if I could snap my fingers and get anyone, I’d sure like to hear Bach rip it up on the organ.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
We’ve got another EP in the hopper as a follow-up to Have A Drink, which will be followed by another EP, and then likely a full album called “Hard Chargin' .” The only challenge is aligning the schedules because the inspiration is present in full force. We love to play live. I think we all wish we could do it all the time in many ways, but we have a particular magic as a group in the studio that I have not witnessed elsewhere. We assemble our tracks at times in Lovecraftian way, and I feel the sonic results sometimes sound like how H.P.’s description of “non-Euclidean” geometries exist in my imagination. Listen to the single we released at the end of the year, “Knife Hits,” or our latest, “The Badger,” and you’ll get my drift - unnatural angles and all that. Stay tuned – there’s a lot more to come.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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