The Los Gatos creator continues to render a unique career as a visual artist and musician.
Drew Roulette never wanted to be a musician.
Oddly enough, it was on a baseball diamond in Los Gatos where teammate, guitarist Mark Engles, invited Drew to do something he’d never done before: “Why don’t you come play the bass?”
As youthful spontaneity and optimism would have it, neither were deterred whatsoever by the fact Drew didn’t know how to play bass guitar. The inquiry set events in motion that took them from Los Gatos High School to tours around the world.
“Music came out of nowhere for me,” Roulette says.
The invitation from Engles led Drew to play bass guitar for Dredg, a band that built a rock legacy with a philosophical bent, bridging the last millennium to this one before a relatively sustained silence.
En route to an art degree at San Diego State University, Drew soon merged his paintings with the music, featuring his works on Dredg stages. His artistic imprint became a visual calling card for the band. Against the odds, they carved out musical careers in their nearly three decades together.
Dredg, established in1993, became independent need-to-knows throughout the 1990s. Their 1998 debut record, Leitmotif, a concept album, landed them an Interscope Records deal. (The label re-released the album in 2001.)
Dredg was not easily confined to a single genre, spanning alternative, experimental, progressive and art rock. The vibe is perhaps best summed up by a lyric carried over from the Leitmotif days to their first official record on Interscope, 2002’s El Cielo, another concept album: “We live like penguins in the desert/Why can’t we live like tribes?”
2005’s Catch Without Arms finally broke Dredg onto the charts. It helped them take home the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. They ditched the dreaded major label sophomore slump for hard-fought success. True to their roots, Drew and singer Gavin Hayes linked the album to a rare art collection they created.
Their single “Bug Eyes” landed Dredg and Hayes’ standout slide guitar on MTV during the channel’s last throes with music videos. They performed it on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
But a band best known for concept albums—featuring synth, piano, and organs—wasn’t long for the mainstream. Dredg struggled navigating the music landscape grappling with the internet’s newfound influence. 2006’s Live at the Fillmore recording was the band’s last Interscope release.
Dredg, however, maintained momentum, performing at Coachella in 2008 (just minutes down the road from where they recorded El Cielo). Then in 2009 Dredg independently released The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion, charting better domestically and abroad. They stayed on the charts at home and internationally with their last album, 2011’s Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy.
Dredg never broke up; the past decade has been an extended hiatus.
Finding himself outside the band, Roulette did plenty of art, and odd jobs, including Bay Area familiars like rideshare driving, catering and filming weddings. He’s now a financial advisor who mostly deals with 401(k) plans.
Music is still in the equation though. In 2020, Roulette continued creating with Dredg, plus new band Dark Heavens and completed more than 225 paintings. Last summer, he completed his creek conservation mural in Campbell.
All this output has put Roulette back on the radar. He joined us to discuss all things art, music and Bay Area.
(This conservation has been edited for length and clarity.)
How did visual art carry you through quarantine times?
It helped me out a lot. For the last five to six years I’ve really been focused in on it, producing like a hundred paintings a year, some murals here and there. When COVID struck…I was just stuck at home working, nowhere to go.
I’m kind of a hermit anyway, it just made sense to keep producing, to be distracted. That’s how I’ve always expressed myself.
How would you describe your visual style?
“Whimsical Tranpsychedelia.” That’s a word I made up, “transcending psychedelia.” A lot of my art is psychedelic and I’d like to think it transcends in some kinda way. There’s a lot of humor involved with my art; I like to play on words.
Are there people locally who only know you as a visual artist, that have no concept of Drew as a musician?
Definitely. Couple of years ago, I joined an organization called Local Color. They’re an artist collective in San Jose who repurpose buildings, things that they’re eventually gonna tear down … I was probably one of the older cats in the group honestly. Nobody in there knew about Dredg, and that was nice.
I’ve had Dredg my whole life — it’s nice to have a different personality. It was nice to start over and gain my respect just through my art.
How does a band build from Los Gatos, CA, get a major label deal and go on to tour the world?
Humbly speaking, you just make good music. I think the region is important because without us growing up here, we wouldn’t have our influences, right? There’s such an amalgamation of brilliant art in the Bay Area — we soaked that all up. Deftones, Far, all the bands we were into as children, people like DJ Shadow, shaped our sound. In a regional sense, that was important, but I don’t think it matters where you’re from, if you’re making good music and you want to pursue that, everyone has the possibility of becoming worldwide, especially nowadays.
We were before the internet. We had to work a lot harder, play our instruments a lot better than people do now. We worked really hard, played shows up and down the West Coast for many, many years.
Would Dredg have been better or worse off in the current music landscape? Dredg’s hiatus has transpired while social media became what it is.
We’ve always been a mysterious band. It’s not important to know who we are as individuals. Social media tends to showcase the aspects of our individual personal lives. Even if we were doing stuff in the last 10 years, we’d still be doing stuff to remain somewhat mysterious and not abusing any of those platforms.
Can you speak to why the Peninsula never became fertile ground for Bay Area music? Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco obviously have their influential histories.
Maybe it has to do with venues. Palo Alto, the Edge was going on back then, but that died. That’s a great question. Wow, I don’t know. You have these other bands, maybe they’re from Campbell but they say they’re from San Francisco or San Jose. That’s kinda wack, right?
I think it’s NIMBY [not in my backyard]. “Hey, take your rock and roll and go to San Francisco!”
With such a wide-ranging experience, what sticks out in your mind when you hear Dredg out in the wild or someone mentions it to you?
It’s nostalgic. It’s hopeful too. Dredg is one of the things I’m most proud of. I can say that’s probably the case for the other guys. There’s not many bands that have lasted almost thirty years as friends, creators, and running a business together.
We have had a hiatus but we are working on new music. We have tons of new material. We’re just eager to get in the studio and put out a new record.
We’re re-releasing Leimotif twenty-year anniversary vinyl. We’re also putting together this Dredg vault, which is like a 300-page booklet that comes with a bunch of extra stuff like making of El Cielo on VHS, our first EP [Conscious, 1996], stuff like that. I bring that up because there’s hope when I speak about Dredg.
This whole persona of my past that I’m very proud of, the one thing sticks out to me always, is our integrity. That is something we focused on maintaining throughout our whole career. That’s something that we keep dear to our hearts. Something we won’t waver from. Integrity has kept us together all this time. I think that’s maybe why we have the respect we do from our peers.
Dredg it seemed never fully meshed with the machinations of the music industry. Is it accurate to say there wasn’t much interest from the label in how to market Dredg?
Being at Interscope, we were just this little tiny pebble in the pond. If they took our pebble out, the water wouldn’t change at all. That’s also one of the reasons why we got to walk in that door. They’re such a large company, they also had room to focus on acts like Helmet or Primus.
With Primus, they didn’t have to really figure out a marketing plan for Primus — they just are themselves. I think they were unique enough to catch their vibe, break through the molds. Maybe Dredg wasn’t powerful enough to do that. Maybe that wasn’t our time. Maybe this next record might do something.
What in Dredg’s catalog do you feel had the farthest reach?
“Bug Eyes” is always going to be our staple. That was a time in our career, we had an independent record out, we had a major release, we were slowly getting our feet wet. Catch Without Arms comes out, we have this more polished rock and roll song. That was the one that got played on the radio, MTV. “Bug Eyes” will always stand out like that.
Was Dredg in the wrong time?
What is time when it comes to music? I’m getting all philosophical. It should be timeless.
We can see that certain genres or bands, they do very well for a wink in time but all of a sudden no one gives a shit about them or it seems really outdated for whatever reason.
[If anything] I wish we came up ten years before. Right when El Cielo was coming out, there was Napster. That album leaked months in advance. That was one of the first times that was happening for anybody. For albums to all of the sudden be leaked onto the internet, that was a whole new concept. I kinda wish we had El Cielo a year or two before — I think the internet maybe hindered us in the end. I wish we were a band that was sooner.
I heard one of your bandmates allude to the point — did the name Dredg hamper you?
I have this love-hate relationship with it. It’s an ugly fucking word. The weirdest thing, over the years, it’s become more beautiful to me.
To dredge something is to dig something up. I think that’s what people do when they listen to our music, they’re digging up their emotions or whatever it is. That’s a beautiful way to look at it. We recently learned, dredge means change. That’s our main thing, that’s what our symbol stands for, change, it’s one of those coincidences.
Now I love the name, even though it’s an ugly word, it’s our name.
You’re playing bass with Dark Heavens now. How did involvement with that band come about for you?
Eight years ago, Donovan [the singer]…he would dress up like an ‘80’s hair metal guy, with one of those little Marshalls [amps] and play guitar at the bars. He was just pretending to be in a band called Dark Heavens. We laughed at him for years.
Then he actually came to me one day, and said, “I wrote a couple of songs. Can I record them with you?”
We sat in my house. I laid down some drums. He laid down guitar, and sang. He said, ‘hey can you play bass on this?’ I think he was sneaking me into the band pretty much. The songs were all funny, nothing to be taken serious. They kinda grew on me. We eventually started jamming, invited Anthony [drummer] in, put out an EP, never taking this band seriously. That’s one thing I learned with Dredg or any art, don’t take your art too seriously.
Five years go by, we decided to start writing another record. It took us a couple of years. We’d meet at a couple of places in the Bay Area for a week at a time. Two years ago, we booked studio time, and put the record together. It was awesome. We went up to Cotati, a studio called a Prairie Sun — Primus, Grateful Dead, Tom Waits [recorded there] — we were there for 10 days. You can sleep in the house, there’s this little cabin not even a five minute walk from the studio. It was a great experience overall. Being in the studio is my favorite time. I’ll always say yes to that.
What’s next for Dark Heavens?
We put out the record [Nuclear Eagle in 2021]. Been working on videos, working on another video coming up. It’s hard with the pandemic to know what to do, what moves to make. We’re having fun just making videos and being creative.
Dredg. What’s left to say about the future?
We’ve been meeting every week, playing music, recording stuff … pulling up these old eight tracks, taking parts that were never used — it’s kinda bizarre way to do things, taking music we wrote 20-years ago and working on it. So if anybody ever says, ‘I liked your older stuff.’ Well…
We’re gonna dive straight in. I’m ready to go in the studio now. As soon as we can make that happen, the sooner it’s going to come out. I’m hoping, and I’d hate to say this because I’ve quoted shit over the years and always end up eating my words, I hope we get in the studio by early next year for sure.
Visit Drew Roulette’s art site.
Keep up with Dark Heavens here.
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