DREGG-ilosophy: Interview with Christopher Mackertich

Earlier this year I wrote an amazing article about Melbourne hardcore band DREGG. It was a really great snapshot of the band and their story to date. And then I woke up: It was all a dream and hadn’t happened. I kind of forgot about this dream article until the Deadlights ‘Mesma’ tour and seeing DREGG in action on stage. There in the darkened band room at Reverence Hotel, I decided: The DREGG article needed to happen in reality.

I got in touch with DREGG’s frontman Christopher Mackertich and lined up a time for us to talk while he wasn’t in the van with the band continuing their tour with Deadlights. I wanted to know the DREGG story; the story behind those costumes, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it heavy music, and the on-stage inspiration that I never saw coming.

Formerly playing in a ‘metal mosh band’ in Queensland called The Lane Cove, DREGG began in 2016 when Chris moved to Melbourne to start something new. The month he arrived, he started writing and recording with musician connections he made through friends, slowly accumulating the current formation of DREGG from there. “We were just trying to build a very solid line-up and it only just got solidified in the last maybe six months.”

The band name DREGG was inspired by their former drummer Emily. At the time they were trying to think of “really Gold Coast band names like Scumbag, and things like that.” Emily contributed ‘dreg’, with Chris’ definition being “the bottom crappy part of ya beer. [laughs] It’s kind of how we look at it; we’re just a bunch of shitkickers trying to make something cool.” An extra G was added to the name after finding the original spelling was taken by another band.

Over the course of my conversation with Chris, I started to get the impression of several very cool approaches that the DREGG collective take to life (that I’ve tongue-in-cheek coined as ‘DREGG-ilosophy’).

DREGG-ilosophy #1: Don’t Conform

With the start of DREGG, Chris shared the deliberate stance he took. “The way I looked at it was; I’ve done a band before, I’ve done it, I’ve had my fun. Let’s do something a bit different this time.” With the heavy music scene anti-conforming to mainstream music, Chris still found it to be conforming in its own way. For DREGG he wanted “music within music that’s about music that’s non-conforming that’s genuinely about non-conforming”. Whether it was ideas for songs or what is worn on stage, Chris’ stance was to go for it, even though it was different to anything that was being done before.

Elaborating on the concept of conformity, we talked about the mental image of the heavy music ‘uniform’ being all black, and the common links of subject matter across many bands. Chris didn’t want to dismiss the importance of those kinds of bands/songs, but expressed that for him as a kid looking for a band to connect with, that he couldn’t find anyone that was talking about what he was interested in: “More down the road of philosophy and psychology and stuff. It’s not that I’m qualified in any of these things, but they’re things that trigger a conversation in me”. So he figured he would start writing about these things and hopefully build a community or following that’s also interested in these things.

These are the kinds of conversations that people from heavy music constantly have amongst themselves. I just don’t feel like they bring it to their shows. So we thought, let’s just bring it to that environment and open up the conversation.”

 

DREGG-ilosophy #2: You Do You (Without Harming Anyone Else)

We got a hint of the more thoughtful topics being part of the DREGG ethos after seeing their live show and hearing Chris on stage talking about a mind-blowing experience relating to David Attenborough. Chris and I spoke about the shows themselves and the vibe of acceptance that was palpable: “That’s what we’ve tried to push. If you want to do something crazy, who the hell are we to say no? Who is anyone in that room to tell you not to do something. As long as you’re not hurting someone in the room, then you do you.”

It became apparent that though DREGG may stand out as different to the bands of the scene, they seemed to be taking it upon themselves to restore the non-conforming factors of heavy music, by being both non-conforming and accepting. “Like, wasn’t that kind of what this entire genre was designed for in the beginning? Like, come, have your opinion. If people don’t agree, that’s totally fine. You can go home and nothing bad will happen to you because of it.”

DREGG-ilosophy #3: Go Beyond Appearances

Speaking about the band’s first EP No Comment, Chris felt that it got a good response “but I don’t think people knew what we were yet.” I personally wondered how on earth DREGG could be able to introduce what they’re about as a band through the songs alone.

“We put it out and we found that a lot of the reviews we got back were saying ‘In the beginning we thought this was just another edgy hardcore band, but once we read the lyrics we felt there might be something to this.’ And we were doing pretty wacky stuff live mostly from the get-go. It was just hard because we didn’t know how to come out, and so we came out with this very hardcore EP because we love hardcore, started playing shows and I think we got very disassociated from the hardcore because of how different we look and because of how weird we were acting. But at the end of the day, predominantly we’re still a hardcore band that want to play to the hardcore kids. We find we’re still in that weird middle ground: We’re not entirely sure where our fanbase is, and how to get to them and tap into them, but whatever we’re doing now seems to be working [laughs].”

 

Until seeing the band’s full set, my exposure to DREGG had been a surface level one; costumes, weirdness, and the shortest heavy songs on the planet (yet with a seemingly impossible amount of information wrapped up in them). I shared with Chris that a surface level look at DREGG had me wonder if the band were just “a bunch of guys taking the piss out of the whole music scene”. This is precisely what Chris says the band assumed was going on with people that didn’t listen to the band. “We’re not really a band you can discover on the internet. You have to kind of find us at a show and understand it that way. If someone shows it to you on the internet, you probably won’t like it. It’ll come off as a bit of a piss-take.”

Misconceptions aside DREGG are realists in how they’re received. They aren’t interested in forcing people to listen to them (“I just don’t care. You do you, man. I’m not going to bolt you to a chair and be like ‘Yo, my band’s sick, you better like it!”), and they understand that their music may not be as angry or negative as some prefer in the heavy scene. They consider themselves “very niche for a particular way of thinking”.

DREGG-ilosophy #4: Experiment

In 2016, the band released two singles (“Sorry Daddy” and “Weirdo”). “We had no idea what the fuck we wanted to be. We had put the (No Comment) EP out and we were in a position where we have so many ideas of what we want to do. We had no idea what sound we want to do, so we figured let’s not rush into putting another release out, let’s put a couple of singles out there and see how they do. They ended up being our two biggest songs. They still are our two biggest songs.”

Chris shared that The Dregg EP was originally intended to be an album, but due to the band collectively not feeling ready, they released it as an EP. He shares that the writing process is still mostly experimental, and that they’re still getting to know each other as people as well as musicians, and that a sound for DREGG that they’re 100% certain on hasn’t come yet. “We’re still learning each other’s styles and what we’re wanting to do together.”

 

DREGG-ilosophy #5: Acceptance

I wondered if the other members of DREGG shared the same intention behind their music as part of this learning experience. “We’re all completely on board with that. It sounds dumb but we’ve kind of adapted it as kind of a lifestyle. Our band and our circle of friends that hang around it, it’s this weird little DREGG lifestyle that we’ve started, where you can say things raw to your friends without it being offensive. You can have any idea you want, you can dress how you want, no one will say anything.  It’s just like we’ve found a cool way to live and communicate so we’re trying to just put it out to other people. We’re a very happy group of friends and we’ve found a way to make it work.”

Considering that happiness had come up in our conversation a fair bit, I explored this also with Chris. Heavy music isn’t known for its happiness (even though heavy music 100% makes its fans very happy!) and it seemed at odds to present this. Chris puts it down to “keeping your emotions in check”, and not buying in to any emotion as anything permanent. “You’re a human being, you go through different emotions. You could have a bad day at work and come home to your friends. That’s two emotions in one day. You shouldn’t latch on to either one of them. You should experience emotions as they come, not latch on to the one you feel is most threatening to you.”

This feedback from Chris further adds to the DREGG-ilosophy of acceptance, where the ethos of the band seems to centre around acceptance of all parts of the individual experience, whether it’s emotions, appearance, thought. Chris sums it up thus: “Let people do what they want to do if it doesn’t hurt you.”

DREGG-ilosophy #6: Beware The Ego

On the subject of Chris’ style of dress on stage, he acknowledged that typically the frontman is the focus of a band, yet a lot of the work in DREGG is not his doing at all. He confessed that he relies upon the other band members by way of their input more than they rely on him. We agreed that this frontman prioritisation seemed to happen as a combination of things, depending on how a band operates, as well as and how they’re presented in media and by their management. Chris’ stance is: “You should want everyone you’re doing it with to rise at the same time you are” and he also commented on how the ego can come into the situation.

Kel: “So anti-ego; would you say that that’s something that comes into DREGG as well?”

Chris: “In a weird way! So here’s the thing: We’re actually the most egotistical people in our speech, like when we talk to each other: ‘I’m the man!’ ‘No, I’m the man!’. It’s all about confidence but not letting it clash with ego. Be super confident in yourself, but it’s kind of drawing that line before ego.”

Seeming like a fine line, I asked more about the ‘how’ of this. Chris’ take is that by connecting in with the people that are consuming what you’re creating, you’re getting their opinion and keeping your confidence in check with realistic feedback as opposed to ‘industry ego strokes’. He also felt that by doing so, DREGG are able to keep the perspective of real life people that they are creating for, as opposed to their focus going to ‘raking in numbers’, which could also take their creating away from their own ideas. It came down to keeping a reciprocal and supportive dynamic where the band’s confidence feeds off the people they’re looking out for.

 

DREGG-ilosophy #7: Let Hip Hop Help

DREGG’s lyrical content is mostly Chris. He shares that every DREGG song ever has been written to a hip hop beat, with the heaviness of the track happening afterward. “Most of our stuff is hip hop based, so it flows anyway.” Chris agrees that this opens the way for the band’s sound to move into something new which hasn’t been done before that’s still hip hop based. The DREGG guys have thrown around ideas such as putting out rap albums, with Chris saying “Nothing is off the table”, which has them truly walking their talk in terms of expressing themselves however they see fit. “If we want to do something, we just do it.”

By way of where current writing is at, Chris envisions the next release from DREGG to be really personal; something they’ve never done. Feeling great about the process, Chris shares that this is “the most confident I’ve felt about anything I’ve ever written. Without sounding like I’m the biggest tosser ever, I’m feeling like maybe we’ve found our sound. We may have found how all of this fits in and a really cool way of making music. Up until now, it’s been an experiment.” He refers to relationships as well as the experience of being alive and connections; “a clusterfuck of my last year, I guess”.

Chris also shared that he and most of the guys of DREGG rap just for fun, and that once a week they get together, “put a beat on and freestyle” to get stuff off their chest and everyone feels better. He refers to it as ‘brain vomiting’ and feeling relief when everything is out.

By way of music as a release, this idea continues into the DREGG shows. Chris doesn’t mince words, saying he wants it to “almost be like a fuck. Like, come here, let loose, go home, ‘I feel so much better’.”

Kel: “And have a cigarette afterwards?”

Chris: [laughs] “Yeah have a cigarette, lay in bed with your homies, like ‘Yeah that was good. That was what we needed. We’ve been bottling that up for a week!'”

 

DREGG-ilosophy #8: Blunt Honesty (With Yourself Too)

By way of the collective of DREGG, Chris says that they don’t fight, and no one says anything behind anyone else’s back, purely because of the raw honesty they give each other. While this isn’t always easy, everyone is aware that the honesty is an attempt to ‘fix something’, not that they are no longer friends.

Chris’ perspective is that this raw honesty is distinctly lacking in heavy music, where no one wants to talk abruptly to their friends. “But if someone’s being a piece of shit, you should be able to tell them”.

I asked Chris if he’d lost people in his life at the hand of honesty. “100%! We’ve had a lot of people bail on the DREGG life. It’s never really because they can’t handle how we talk, it’s because they can’t really assess themselves. If you’re not 100% real and raw with yourself, it’s the glass house effect. You don’t want to throw stones if you’re made out of glass. Our whole thing is turning glass into wood, so we don’t have anything you can insult us for. We laugh at ourselves over everything. We all laugh at ourselves. If someone can pick fun, you should be able to laugh at yourself, to stop them from doing it.”

DREGG-ilosophy #9: Be Unafraid To Go Deep

According to Chris, deep conversations are ‘the good stuff that makes life awesome’ (and also the stuff that doesn’t happen often enough). He shared how the members of DREGG very easily go from ‘mucking around’ to talking about something interesting “like how their brain works and trying to work out why they think a certain way.”

As well as going deep conversationally, Chris talked about being courageous enough to take a seed of an idea and watch it grow into something bigger, and never being afraid to go all-in for your dreams. He feels that “the more different you are and the more weird you are, the more people will pick it apart”, but that the difference is part of what creating truly is; innovating and doing something ‘next level’ great, versus doing what has already been done.

 

DREGG-ilosophy #10: Express Yourself Outwardly

By way of the DREGG collective, Chris shares that everyone’s got ‘their own little character that they kinda rock with’ that they bring on stage, as well as change up as they see fit, allowing each other to grow within the character they’ve made. “The best way to see it is what you see up there is how we’d love to walk around all day every day. That’s genuinely how we feel and how we like to dress. Our end goal is to have shows where people rock up in their own weird character.” It’s a living breathing expression of individuality and acceptance.

Matt Henley – Studio member and vocals

“Matt rocks his Jason mask and all of his streetwear. He likes to be an angry cunt but he loves his streetwear. Loves his hardcore. It goes with that vibe.”

Jordan Mcquitty – Guitar

“Jordan just likes to paint his body and his face. Like some weird fucking lizard thing. I don’t know why. He just fucks with that hard for some reason.”

Glenn Romano – Bass

“Glenn’s just obsessed with blue. I don’t know why. He drove a blue car. Everything that dude owns is just blue. I just reference him to the blue alien from Space Jam. He just wants to be that like so bad.”

Horhay Delalopez – Drums

“Horhay loves his rap. He loves his gangster shit. So he plays in sunnies, bling and grills. I guess dresses very NOT hardcore kid.”

Sam Yates – Guitar

“Sam’s a music producer. He’s more into recording bands and loves the behind the scenes stuff of writing and all that. Keeps his face covered and sticks to the art of it all. It looks creepy as fuck.”

Kel: “The white mask yeah, with the black eyes?”

Chris: “100%”

Kel: “How can he breathe in that thing?”

Chris: “He can’t. He can’t at all. It’s fucking hilarious. He’ll come out of a show and be absolutely dripping.”

Kel: “He needs to make a mouth hole or something…”

Chris: “We’ve thought about changing the mask so he can breathe. And he can actually sing! It’d be good to have his voice on a fucking record so you could hear it.”

Christopher Mackertich – Vocals

“I’m just being me. I dress how I dress on stage every day. I think it’s almost funny that I don’t dress up. I haven’t really seen that in a band before where the frontman tries to be normal. I want the rest of the band to be as popular as I am. If I tone it down a bit, they can have a bit more of a following than I do.”

I left my conversation with Chris feeling inspired to throw some DREGG flavoured philosophy at my own areas of creativity. So much more than loud and weird hardcore dudes, DREGG seem to want to show people that even the ‘dregs of society’ can make something of themselves and achieve things they’ve dream of. As a high school drop-out, Chris is clear that he’s not a perfect person, but that he has found a way of life that works for him. Chris accepts of his flaws and is unafraid to look at darker parts of himself with honesty. In his view, life can get you down, but it comes down to how you handle it, how you get back on your feet and how you can ‘learn to laugh at yourself a bit.’

Photos of DREGG courtesy of Brooke Harley.

Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it.

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