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All headlines: An interview with The Dreebs

Text and interview by Tamim Alnuweiri. Photos by Lauren Khalfayan.

I read something on Pitchfork or some shit that called The Dreebs New York’s best kept secret. It’s an obnoxious title to bestow on someone or something (especially a musician—do they ever really want to be “kept secrets?”) but maybe I’m bitter and wish I had been able to make that proclamation myself. The Dreebs have been kicking around for a while and are so intertwined with so many bands you listen to, know, and care about that it’s shocking that they’re not hounded on the street.

For starters even in writing this I’m a little bit blagh. Andrew Savage wrote the album description for their upcoming record Forest of a Crew release, something I truly don’t understand how I’m supposed to follow. Anyways the record is great because it’s guttural and surprising in the same way that the band is. Their backgrounds don’t read like the usual Bushwick shit (met friends, make noise rock, play Alphaville). Adam Markiewicz and Jordan Bernstein both have backgrounds in music school—Adam as a violinist, Jordan as a classically trained jazz guitarist and their drummer Shannon Sigley as a marching band percussionist.

Maybe it’s this exact weirdness that allows them to make the music the way that they do. Though they’re often pigeonholed as a noise group, in the same way that A Place To Bury Strangers are, they have a wildly overlooked pop sensibility, draw from a really vast array of influences and have moments of celestial beauty. With this new record, The Dreebs tap into primal beats and rhythms—they dive into the recesses of noise and find a tonal textures reminiscent of rap and R&B—except they’ve been through an incinerator and back.

We went to Deep Cuts in Ridgewood where the band picked out 5 records each from the 5 for $1 bin (a real thing that exists with some real gems). We went through their picks (which were bizarrely representative of the band) before taking a deep dive into their music.

Let’s go through what you guys picked out of the 5 for $1 bin. Jordan—is that 50 Cent?

Jordan: Yeah this is the 50 Cent song unless you think it’s “Wanksta” but I found “Wanksta” very underwhelming if anything. But this is “In Da Club,” on vinyl—the single, the clean version, the acapella and version. This is super worth the 25 cents—I just want to make it known that I own this, I bought this from the record store, I actually already have this.

Shannon: Can we move on from 50 Cent?

Jordan: I got this Barbara Streisand record and I don’t really know whats on it but I’ve been obsessed with a song by her called “Getting It Together.” It’s from a musical called Sunday in the Park with George. It’s based on a pointillism painting.

Adam: Barbara Streisand is amazing—thats irrefutable in my opinion.

Jordan: I also got this Bobby Sherman record—the reason I picked this is because when I was a little kid I got this record player from my grandma. She worked at this church/thrift store and I got this Bobby Sherman record and there was a spin thing in it, so you could spin all the Bobby Sherman faces.

Adam: Do you still have that?

Jordan: I hope so. This last record is Wes Montgomery, which is without a doubt the best jazz guitarist of all time, non-debatable. I used to want to be a jazz guitar player & West Montgomery was the first jazz guitarist that I heard. I really wanted to go to jazz guitar college. This should not be in the one dollar section it is a really cool record.

Shannon: He used to wear a suit and skinny tie to school in high school.

Jordan: When I went to college I realized it was out of my league at the New School they had a jazz/contemporary section. Then this last record I’m curious to use it’s a sound effects record for sampling.

Tamim: This stuff is cool and makes up for 50 Cent [laughs]

Shannon: I’m starting off with this record of light to intermediate conversation in French because why not. I’m not sure what’s on it, it just says voices. Then I have Soulja Boy Soulja girl

Who the fuck is Soulja Girl?

Shannon: I don’t know but we still listen to Soulja Boy a lot—Soulja Boy Tell’em. This record also has an acapella version of it. Then I have this Eddie Murphy’s Honeymooners Rap. There is also this John Denver record that should not have been in that discount bin. John Denver is the man I love him. Last but not least is this Mister Rogers record—I grew up with that guy so thank you for the buck.

Jordan: These bucks are going far

Shannon: Alright, Adam you’re up.

Adam: All right I have I have the works of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra I don’t really know any of these pieces. I like things like Stravinsky, I like that kind of sort of early 20th century romantic influence. So yeah I have Elton John here—Blue Moon. I don’t know much about Blue Moon but I will say we had a party at our house last night and I worked until 1 AM. Then I came home and I was like man I live with 10 people in this house—it’s a house that Jordan founded like 10 years ago, it’s kind of a music venue called The Wallet, we still do music shows sometimes but yeah we had a party last night, I came home from work and I go my bedroom and there’s 30 people. Around 5 AM we were trying to get people to leave and so we were DJing this Elton John record slowed down. But everyone loves Elton John so no one was leaving it was really funny.

Then there is this bagpipes record—the Military Band of the Regimental Brigade of Scotland. And Scotland is nice I went there as a child I remember playing with a dog and then I met a young boy, the innkeeper’s son, and maybe this is him.

Here’s the thing I kind of feel questionable about this next Mystical record. After we bought it I thought about how Mystical is in jail for sexual assault right now. I don’t think I can do this record at all—this is a good song though, like maybe the second most famous Mystical song. It’s really cool music but you know fuck Mystical, he’s a fucked up dude.

I’m really not sure about mystical but I feel confident confident about the rest of the stuff. New Orleans is one of the greatest cities in America in terms of having its own cultural identity and feeling unique onto itself. He’s one of those preeminent New Orleans rappers it’s very specifically true to their beautiful history. New Orleans understands its history—it’s very history oriented, I think its very cool when rap music has that dichotomy. Also I really had forgotten that he’s in jail for sexual assault.

Shannon: People always bring up the other argument about when you can talk about a piece of art into itself.

How do you make that distinction and draw the line—especially with that old stuff. How do you draw that line because right now everyone is very good at calling out certain people but Lou Reed used to beat the shit out of his wife.

Adam: Yeah and John Lennon is a piece of shit, if you really want to get into who John Lennon is. There is a lot of sick music out there made by people who are probably not deserving of admiration from other human beings.

Shannon: Its not just music but art in general. It’s good to have these discussions and it’s hard to draw a line. It’s important to me to be open to having a conversation about it. Not just like “oh thats taboo.” Talking about it helps people draw the line.

Well some of it is information—now we have so much more access to information on anyone and everyone. When people talk about David Bowie and Iggy Pop sleeping with girls that were really young —that’s fucked up but did they know? Does that change things? 

Jordan: Mystical too is a very prime example of a jazz oriented rapper—jazz was very important to me as a child.

Adam: We listen to rap more than anything else, rap is a great spectrum—it’s heard by a lot of people and it’s more culturally relevant, it is the stage for a lot of things in general. It is really weird to me when people are into interesting weird music and they don’t listen to rap.

The new record I think has the most explicit rap references. There is some sort of cross contamination the combination of the lyrics and the bizarre sort of rhythms.

Shannon: Adam is really good with adding rhythm, sometimes when we are writing he will fill in with sounds and then he rhymes the words later. He already has the rhythm of the solos in his head, the words come naturally.

Adam: For us the lyrics are more about sounds, not superimposed but just what would match and fit. I think we are trying to do that more conventionally than the way we did it in the past. There are only a few old Dreebs songs that all had words added to it, I think we are actually trying to ground it more recently, add more meaning to it.

Where do you start when you’re making a song? A lot of people start with guitar or lyrics so where do you guys tend to find yourselves starting the track?

Jordan: Sounds and bass—creating a rhythmic world. Then Adam brings the voice or violin then we do the drums at the end.

Adam: It starts with a couple raw guitar noises, we talk about how those could maybe be chords. How we could all arrange that in a song and then we start to try to put chords over it. It’s very tone oriented, very moody, very harmonic. We are essentially trying to write pop songs but we have this limited sort of clumsy palate to work with—a guitar with nails in it, something raw, it’s impossible to keep it exactly at its roots. It’s pretty simple stuff when it comes down to it.

Shannon: It’s hard to be simple.

So when the band started it was just Jordan and Adam?

Adam: Jordan and I moved into this new apartment which I mentioned earlier, The Wallet which is kind of like this DIY space or whatever. I decided I wanted to move to Boston, I moved away for 9 months and then I came back. The day I came back to New York, Jordan was like let’s start this band I’ve been working on this shit. We spent a year or two making music, developing it together—we made a tape. It didn’t really get together fully until we got Shannon on the drums. Then it became way more of a punk sort of noise rock band. We made a tape that was very ethereal, sort of flat plains of sounds , a little weirder i guess, not beat driven.

Shannon: I have a funny position because I heard them before they ever had a drummer. I just remember hearing a song called “Dreebs’ America” and it was just striking. It was heavy and beautiful at the same time, it was one of those things that really hits you.

Jordan: Have you ever ridden the subway and you’re listening to the train and you hear the machine, and it sounds like a song you’ve heard—really ugly machine sounds are super orchestral and full. You can just hone in on these spectrums of sounds, dumbing down what you are going to play like that’s the vibe.

It’s very angelic, it is definitely the type of music you play and the wrong people will shut it off.

Shannon: Yeah but the right people will be like what the fuck is this [laughs]

Adam: There are definitely times when its ambiguous for folks, But we are trying to bring people together I am very into emotionally earnest music but I also grew up in the 90s and listened to Limp Biskit or something. I am very susceptible to that kind of stuff. That’s a reference point too. My friend once put out a record with Dope Body, Dope Body is like a rap rock band

Shannon: Like 311 without the cheese

Adam: My friend was like talking about them, they are kind of like Creedence Clearwater Revival in a way, and Creedence is this blues band, they took this music they grew up listening to and they use that as their language. I remember when the guy from Linkin Park died everyone was so much more sad about it than I thought anyone would be. And I was like “Oh this kind of music like has emotional meaning to a lot of people” I definitely liked Linkin Park.

Jordan: I remember telling my mom how much I liked it when I was 12 years old. Mom theres this hybrid theory, its so good I really like it. I was like My mom we have to talk it’s called rap rock—listen to it. She was like “Oh that’s great” like mom I’m close to the edge.

Do the song names that are letters, “I,” “C,” “A” etc spell anything? 

Adam: Yeah it spells “I AM CREW” it’s about our crew, like being amidst your people around you, your friends, you can form these small pockets of society, the three of us were collectively at an age where our relationships with other people have changed and how its not that simple. Like me an my friends are fraught with complications and we need to check ourselves

“Love Your Body” that was the most surprising title that was like an R&B title

Adam: That song is a story—2 years ago, there was a night where I went to meet Jordan, he was having a weird night. We bought molly from some man named Pepe but it wasn’t real molly, it was way too cheap—Pepe is a nice guy but sold me some fake drugs. It was a weird night where Jordan and I had both gotten into arguments. We ended up at my house where Jordan and Shannon also used to live and work. That song is sort of about being with your friends, being happy with certain people and compromising yourself with social situations. It was a pivotal moment for me where I spent years with someone and ended that relationship—it was feeling a sense of relief of yourself as a person. “Love Your Body” is like take care of yourself. It’s about disruptiveness to a degree, love your body, take care of yourself, love yourself for who you are, really feel that, because you may from time to time find yourself totally alone.

That’s a surprising sentiment to express, in like New York, people have a problem with earnestness

Adam: We love earnestness, trying to come together on some level of feeling, in terms of sentiment, it’s not subtle.

Jordan: It’s vulnerable

Shannon: We all have a long long history, a lot of shit has happened and we maintained this relationship so there is a closeness.

Adam: A friend group that has mutated, between the three of us like this band we broke up in 2013, we got back together

Shannon: We didn’t really break up but that’s what we’ll put on paper [laughs]

Jordan: No one cared

Adam: People were like you haven’t played a show in a while and I was like “yeah I know.”

Jordan: It gets very personal—creating, spending lots of time together touring.

Shannon: When you start an art based thing with your friend, there is a lot of passion there with all these personalities, and then they get convoluted.

Forest of a Crew is out on June 1st. Find The Dreebs on Facebook. The Dreebs play a joint record release show with The Sediment Club on May 31st, tickets and details here.

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