Stephen Michael Spencer, left, Sean Jones and Julian Remulla are The Dreggs. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

'Bottom of the barrel' band rises to the top

The Dreggs — Stephen Michael Spencer, Sean Jones and Julian Remulla — took its name from a collection of old instruments pulled out of storage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Soon after being cast in roles for the festival's 2016 production of "Timon of Athens," the actors and musicians — along with a fourth: Carlo Albán — found themselves part of director Amanda Dehnert's musical vision for the play.

"The band's name started as a joke," says songwriter and string player Spencer. 'Timon' opened late in the season, and initially it wasn't expected to have as much music in it. The 2016 season featured music in almost every show, and there was 'The Wiz,' a big musical. Many of the festival's resources for live music were already utilized. By the time we got to the instruments, the only ones left were from the bottom of the barrel, guitars that sounded like crap, cellos with messed-up bridges.

"We joked that we'd been left with all the dregs," Spencer says. "It was appropriate really. We're just ragtag musicians, as well. I can read music, but I'm not a textbook musician. Sean is. Julian plays violin and cello by ear. We were a ragtag assortment of people playing all of these bottom-of-the-barrel instruments, so the name The Dreggs stuck. It also sort of fit into our place in 'Timon.' "

Dehnert recognized the individuals' characteristics as musicians, put them together and developed their sound. Made a band out them, essentially.

"She had an idea that we would work well together," says bass and tenor ukulele player Jones.

The band served as commentary on the play's themes and added another character, much like a Greek chorus.

"The sound became an energetic, acoustically driven rock quartet, now turned trio. Albán left OSF for a show on Broadway. Think Mumford and Sons meets Yellowcard. It's guitars, ukes, basses, violins, cellos and lots of sweating," Spencer says.

The Dreggs will perform at 6:45 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1, at OSF's Green Show, held on the courtyard stage in the pavilion between the Allen Elizabethan and Angus Bowmer theaters, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland.

"About half of our set is songs from 'Timon of Athens,' " Spencer says. "Some are standards Amanda arranged for 'Timon.' The rest is music she composed for the band while it was in the show. She's an extraordinary composer and really wrote specifically for us."

Dehnert was trained as a concert pianist when she was young and also learned to play harpsichord, flute, trumpet and French horn. Later, at Illinois Wesleyan University, she discovered musical theater. An associate professor at Northwestern and a regional theater director, she worked at OSF as director, music director and conductor for "Into the Woods," director and music director for "My Fair Lady," and director for "Julius Caesar" and "All's Well That Ends Well."

Now the trio wants to explore its own sound. Spencer has about 100 songs to his credit, he says, and the trio has put together a few of those to balance out their set.

"I'm influenced by all kinds of music," Spencer says. "Most recently a lot of hip-hop. So there are a lot of rhythmic lyrics in my songs. I also love certain jazz musicians, and jazz chords find their way into my songs. They're all from the heart and on the emotional side, but the band likes to have fun. Audiences always have something to say about what's going on with my feet. I like to move around."

"We're something in the vein of an uptempo folk band, but with a little more angst," Jones says. "Stephen's definitely got his own sound. There's thought and emotion running through the music. He's got something to say with each song."

"I think every song tells a story," Spencer says. "My songs are raw. They mean a great deal to me."

"I hold down the fort with the bass," Jones says. "We enjoy playing with each other, and it becomes easy once we get going. I think that's the heart of our band. We were serendipitously put together, and through the rehearsal process found our own sound and decided to continue outside of 'Timon.' "

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