Introducing: Leo Drezden
Published 22/05/2015 | 10:40
New Irish four-piece Leo Drezden seamlessly blend contemporary jazz rock and electronica by utilising a mix of vintage analogue equipment, cutting edge handheld technology and their own groove-laden secret sauce.
Their debut album ‘Multi-Moment’ is an electronic-space-rock journey perfectly suited to soundtrack Jodorosky’s Dune, should he ever get to complete it.
Leo Drezden invited GoldenPlec into their studio in Wicklow as they take tentative steps towards recording their second album, to show us how they work and offering an insight into how they achieve their ageless, cosmic sound.
The Meadow is a studio with big windows framing beautiful scenery, offering chilled-out vibes, despite only being minutes from a motorway. With piles of equipment everywhere, it feels like being transported to another planet. It’s a most suitable working environment for a band such as Leo Drezden.
The track they're working on today “...is half-written” says the group’s ringleader Rian Trench as we join him in The Meadow’s control room. “Typically, we get it to a certain stage in rehearsal then write the rest in the control room. Sound wise, there are no real production ideas, we just throw some stuff up and if it doesn’t work out, take it down.”
The ‘half-written’ bass line is jammed out over a swirly Flash Gordon-esque synth-scape. The recording process is a truly collaborative effort. As the bass groove is tweaked repeatedly from the live room, everyone at mission control pitches in. Steve goes over to a keyboard and starts trying something out. Everyone seems totally absorbed in the process.
But where do the initial ideas for these half-written tracks come from? “It’s different, sometimes we’ll be jamming and we’ll come up with something together. We all write little bits at home and sometimes someone will say ‘oh that would go really well with this thing I have pre-written'. So it’s a mosaic of different ideas."
Their choice of instrumentation also offers an insight into how they achieve their distinctive sound, which manages to seem simultaneously vintage and modern. Recording-engineer Scan collects “weird, old amps” that are “good for recording and do particular things well”.
This is just one-half of Leo Drezden’s approach to their sound. The stacks of old analogue synths - and Scan’s ever-growing collection of “weird and quirky” old amps - are married to the newest of technology.
According to Chris and Rian, the Sampler iPad app is “amazing! You can record anything and sample it.” On this occasion, Chris has used it to record his daughter’s ballet recital.
The plan is to use the ambient audio of people talking with orchestral ballet music in the background, splice it up and mix it into the track. "It’s like an instrument in itself” raves Steve, as Chris casually takes minute snippets, one of strings and another of a tiny portion of conversation, and reworks them into entirely new compositions.
Leo Drezden is a remarkably tight-knit unit. At times, they seem like the Borg, finishing each other’s answers when asked about anything to do with the band. They say that they, “never really disagree on anything.”
This hive mentality extends itself to their physical mannerisms, with Leo Drezden - all arms in unison - trying to explain their writing process. “We toss ideas up in the air, compare them and A/B them. Then say, that’s good, that’s good…we generally all agree on things, we’re all mad passive! Whatever works, works.
“The recording of the album flowed very naturally; there was never any stopping point where we were stuck on something. The flow, and taking the least obvious route, was important.”
Godfather of electronica Gary Numan has expressed his distaste at producers and musicians harking back to the past to recreate sounds, when the ethos of electronic music is meant to be about looking to the future. Leo Drezden’s approach to making music would surely receive Numan’s seal of approval.
“We’ve got stuff like these forty year old Korg synths - the first two synths they ever brought out - and we’re plugging them into equipment that’s come out this year, that’s only been invented three or four years ago. It’s definitely a blend of the technologies.”
For a band that embraces technology so readily, their live shows are surprisingly...live. The only exception is a “sampler to run the backing tracks, the little salt and peppery bits from the album, stuff that we couldn’t really do live. So we do play to a backing track but it's minimal. It’s just gilding decoration really.”
While they typically have “two car loads” full of gear for a live show, their forward thinking is demonstrated once again in their live setup, which instead of the traditional lengthy soundcheck, coupled with hanging around before the show, takes them just minutes.
“Last December in Whelan’s the stage was empty - twelve minutes later we were playing our first song even though we bring our own drum kit and everything. It’s so handy."
“We have our entire live setup to cart around with us, including the mixing desk we have on stage. The desk uses Wi-Fi, so we just have to hand the engineer a stereo feed, and then our own house engineer uses an iPad to control it."
We do a rehearsal here in the live room - get everything sounding exactly how we want it. Then because it’s a digital mixing desk, we just have to hit recall at the show. We can keep it consistent that way.”
So far, the only issues with this imaginative setup is, the audience getting confused by it. “It’s hilarious because Ivan [Leo Drezden’s sound engineer] is walking around the venue with his iPad with people bumping into him during the gig, looking at the iPad and going ‘No way."
"We get our in-ear monitor mixes on our phones as well, the only danger is the audience thinking were not interested, that we’re just on our phones playing Solitaire or something.”
By the time we’re done talking, with the help of a gritty old amp, a 21st century app and a team of stupendously creative musicians, the first track from album two sounds ready for lift off.
Leo Drezden play GoldenBeck - a monthly showcase of the finest new Irish music - along with Tucan and Megacone at The Workman’s Club, Dublin on Thursday, May 28th. Tickets are €5. For more information click HERE