Dreadnought, a local psychedelic, progressive-doom band, defies many stereotypes about what metal is and can be. The act is half male and half female, and its members take on non-traditional roles. Kelly Schilling plays guitar and does harsh but clean vocals; Lauren Vieira plays keyboards and does clean vocals; Jordan Clancy plays drums and alto and tenor saxophone, and Kevin Handlon plays bass and mandolin and writes lyrics. No one in the group takes a back seat or claims position as the lead, and everyone contributes something new and different to add to Dreadnought's cutting-edge, progressive sound. The group's latest album, Bridging Realms, has been met with much acclaim from the metal community, and Metal Injection just named Dreadnought one of seven doom bands not to ignore. We followed that suggestion, and caught up with a couple of members of the group to talk about the new record, their unique approach, and how to bridge the realms of sound and energy.
Westword: How did you all get started making music together, and what was the inspiration behind the band?
Kevin Handlon: We all grew up in Colorado Springs together, playing music in other bands: Jordan, Kelly and I were in a blackened-death-metal act named Kastigation, and Lauren played in a proggier group we all knew and loved called Recondite. Some time after Lauren left Recondite, Kastigation dropped a few members and started playing more shows in Denver as a three-piece. One fateful night, we shared the stage with Kitezh and Royal Talons at Old Curtis Street Bar (R.I.P. to all of them). Lauren was in attendance, and after that performance, the four of us agreed that Lauren should come try out. The moment she started wailing on that organ in our practice space, we all knew she had the spot.
After the new lineup started writing together, it started to feel like ideas were getting pulled out of thin air and consistently working, growing and further inspiring us to push each other farther in musicianship; this was distinct from what had motivated us in Kastigation, and it was apparent to everyone that the band needed a new name. So we declared ourselves Dreadnought in the spirit of the new motivations and got to work on the debut album.
How do you feel that being from Denver has influenced your sound?
Handlon: The proliferation of talent in this town gives artists a community of support regardless of what they choose to play. We’ve been told we have a unique sound, and in spite of that, Dreadnought is surrounded by bands and musicians of the highest caliber playing everything from post rock to black noise to chamber folk. These are the people who hold us to a standard of excellence, even if they come from a different niche than we do. Denver presents such a rich musical culture to people who live here that it seems ridiculous to be unprepared for a mixed bill, especially considering that those bills are usually filled to the brim with our friends. That diversity has definitely had some effect on the way we play.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
Handlon: As far as extreme music is concerned, we take liner notes from Moonsorrow, Mastodon, Opeth and Isis. Classic prog has definitely colored our sound – Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes and Frank Zappa are all worth mentioning. Numerous bands we’ve shared the stage with have had some effect on the way that we play. However, to answer the question of what our biggest influences are, I’d say that the four of us shape each other’s expression more than the bands and artists we listen to. Dreadnought’s music is highly collaborative, and we find a voice in developing a common language together, in light of differing stylistic backgrounds.
How does the new record differ from your previous material? What are some of the new directions you're taking?
Handlon: Lifewoven was an exploration of our new palette, thick with inspiration and a bit more wild than we had anticipated it to be. So when we started to work on Bridging Realms, a lot of attention went into refining our sound into something more contemplative, consistent and deliberate. The melodies this time around are largely carried by flute, saxophone and vocal harmonies, whereas the rhythms are tighter and more focused, but just as ambitious.
What can we expect from the band in terms of writing and touring over the next year or so?
Handlon: We took a short break after our East Coast tour in August and are getting started on the next full-length album, but won’t really have a shared vision for it until we’re a bit farther into that process. On the subject of touring, so far 2016 looks like it will bring a few shorter tours covering the full U.S. throughout the year. We know we want to revisit the cities we’ve reached so far, and also break ground in the South, where we’ve yet to play.
How would you describe your sound, and what elements do you try to incorporate when writing music?
Handlon: We describe our sound as progressive rock/metal, and what we try to incorporate is a pretty nebulous balloon of outsider music, but what ends up speaking the most to our style is black and doom metal, '70s prog, jazz and funk, as well as post rock. All of this coalesces into something truly unique and accessible. What is your writing process like?
Handlon: Let’s just start by saying that it’s intensely collaborative. End results hardly ever sound like initial intentions, and each of us has been pleasantly surprised by the expressions of all others at some point. Group mechanics are a necessary inconvenience that keeps us honest and grounded, while pushing us all out of our comfort zones and into new modes of expression. As a result, we’ve found it’s usually best for one of us to introduce the nucleus of an idea instead of five minutes of material that may or may not make it into the finished product. The entire band massages, plays with and builds upon this idea until it appears fully expressed. Then we decide whether it is a finished song or can transition into a second or third movement, and move forward as decided. The underlying theme is trimmed as necessary, embellishments are added as necessary. We usually know when we’re close to finishing the album and start booking studio time shortly before completion.
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How do you all feel about the local metal scene?
Handlon: It’s exciting to be a part of something bigger, especially when Denver is receiving recognition as a town where good music is born. The metal scene is no exception to this rule. And especially with Vimana and Khemmis getting signed to big-name labels in the last year, things are really looking up these days.
Jordan Clancy: I love it; the band culture here has blossomed into a highly collaborative community of extraordinary artists we hold on to dearly like brothers and sisters. Having musicians in the scene as close as family members has brought about such an amazing network of love and companionship. And with the family continuing to grow, as more local groups are getting press and experience, bands are having more opportunities to support each other and be supported.