Lots of festivals are dropping their line ups for 2020 which has us dreaming of warmer days, oceanside sunsets, and the feel-good music we all love. One of the first big festivals of the year will be Skull & Roses Festival in Ventura, CA, April 2-5, 2020. With Billy and the Kids and Oteil & Friends headlining, let’s dig into more artists that will also be playing. Shred is Dead fronted by Marcus Rezak has a special place at this festival as they formed there four years ago and are ready to rock the stage again this next year, or should I say, shred the stage? No doubt Rezak will be inspired by the special place and time and we are all anticipating his throw down set. Grateful Web had a chance to check in with Marcus on the road and chat about the upcoming Skull & Roses set.
GW: Hi! How are you?
MR: I'm actually in the car right now
MR: Cool. What's going on? Don’t I know you?
GW: Yeah you gave me the vinyl for Gateway to the Galaxy for five bucks off at Dockside, bless your heart.
MR: I remember you. Nice! I hope you’re enjoying it.
GW: F yeah! It's very nice I love vinyl and I love that you have artwork and lyrics in it and everything.
MR: Thanks. Glad you appreciate that.
GW: I just got a vinyl for Black Friday Record Store Day and I was so excited for this pre-order to come in, but it was just a white sleeve. It is a beautiful violet to yellow tie-dye colored record but I guess my expectations were too high.
MR: Yeah, that’s my fault, I guess... Ya gotta have the pictures, ya gotta have the lyrics, ya gotta have the free digital download in there.
GW; I almost lost my lil’ digital download card that night, heck yeah! Heck yes. So, I am familiar with Be Here Now, Digital Tape Machine and now I’m really digging your solo album Gateway to the Galaxy, but digging a little deeper I didn’t realize you played with 56 Hope Road too?
MR: Yeah 56 Hope Road was the first band I was ever touring with. 2005 until 2009, maybe 2010?
MR: I was 20 years old, fresh out of college and hopped on the road with those guys. They were all 10 years older than me at the time. It got my feet wet. I took all the stuff I learned in school and let it sprout in that band out on the road. It was great. I learned a lot.
GW: I could have possibly met you earlier in life, I’m not sure but I hung out with those guys at Cervantes and Sancho’s when I lived out in Denver. I was on the bus.
MR: I was in the band at that time. I was the young gun.
GW: I know Wilson and Ryan Behling so...
MR: Oh yeah! Good guys, good times
GW: You are everywhere! I thought you were from Chicago but I see that you recently moved to Denver, you went to school in Boston, you used to live in LA, yes?
MR: I live in Denver now. I was born and raised in Chicago, moved to Boston for college at Berklee School of Music when I was 18-21 basically. I moved back to Chicago and did the 56 Hope Rd thing in 2006, lived in Chicago for about 10 years then I started my own group called the Hue which is an instrumental prog-rock group. We recorded a couple of albums. Beyond Words was one of the big albums we did and Unscene was another one. We did that at Rax Tracks Chicago, did a bunch of Umphrey’s after shows. Those guys sat in with us and were really supportive. Out of that band came Digital Tape Machine. I joined Digital Tape machine in 2012, I think? 2011? Yeah. We had a good time playing with Kris and Joel from Umphrey’s McGee, played a bunch of festivals. Then 2014 I moved to LA where I started doing new projects. Shred is Dead began there. I was doing stuff with the Frank Zappa guys, Arthur Barrow, Chad Wackerman, Robert Martin, all part of the original lineup. We had a band also.
GW: So let’s talk about Shred is Dead. So this happened at the Skull & Roses Festival four years ago?
MR: Yeah, that happened four years ago at the first original Skull & Roses Festival, the first year.
GW: Tell us how that came to be.
MR: Well, I have always been a Grateful Dead fan my whole life, always playing the music, studying the music. I was the guy in high school always playing guitar in the courtyard, skipping class, all that. Basically, I had been wanting to do a Grateful Dead project for a long time, I just never had the time to do it. It popped up that I was in LA, I was feeling the vibe, and I found some good musicians to play with me. We decided to just start the project and make it happen. There were a lot of good supportive people out in Los Angles who were into that music and they stuck with me on it. It just took the spark of motivation in that time period, moving to LA, being inspired by everything there, the Grateful Dead community.
GW: So then you went on, each city a different show, a different group of players?
MR: Yep, it’s always a different setlist. It’s not always different players but most of the time it is because I get guys from different regions, different friends of mine from different places depending on where the tours are going and we put it together. We’ve had a lot of great shows before with Jay Lane, Reed Mathis, Russ Lawton from Trey’s band recently
GW: Who is going to play with you at Skull & Roses this time?
MR: Well, I haven’t exactly let the cat out of the bag yet but... I think I can tell you now. It has been pretty much confirmed. My friend Scott Zwang from Ghostlight will be on drums. We are gonna have JP from Melvin’s Jerry Garcia Band play bass and I’m pretty sure (Richard) James on keys from Pink Talking Fish.
GW: Wow! Nice!
MR: It should be a solid group, all good friends and great players. You heard it here first!
GW: With each city, do you switch up instrumentation? Do you always have keys? Do you work with what you can get or…? Do you have a vision for what you want at each show?
MR: Oh yes, we change the instrumentation for sure. For instance, the last show we did, I had an eight-piece band with me.
GW: I heard you had tablas at the last show in Chicago.
MR: Yes, I’ve had tabla before, Kalyan Pathak, legendary percussionist was up there. I’ve had a horn section, a full horn section with the tablas, keyboard, bass, drummer, guitar, so yeah. The biggest we’ve done is an 8 piece band so far - trumpet, trombone, saxophone, one back up vocalist, percussion, then bass, drums, keyboard, guitar. That was our recent show in Chicago at Reggies
GW: With back up singers, do you ever get into the Donna years?
MR: Eh, sure. All eras! We try to put our own spin on it. Instrumentally, we do things with different arrangements than typical, different from other things that are out right now. We do updated sounds with improv sections, the jams go into different territories rather than standard. There is some traditional but more modernized.
GW: So speaking of different spins on traditional takes, you are a music fan. It’s not often I get to ask a Berklee graduate about music. What do you think of the Black Crowes reunion? Chris Robinson dipped into the pool of the Dead for a while. He couldn’t be more different than the version you are bringing to life. There are a lot of differing opinions out there about this tour. Do you have an opinion about that?
MR: Well, what do I think about the Black Crowes…? You know, I look at things as a whole and then I separate them musically, for the musicians themselves, and then the whole picture. To be honest, I kinda like a lot of the black Crowes stuff musically. I think it’s really cool. I would be interested to see what they come up with next.
GW: I was just curious because you are someone that has a lot more musical experience than your average listener. It seems to be the thing to do to have these reunion tours and some people are hating on it. I don’t know...
MR: Yeah, it’s not my music exactly. I like a lot of music. I take things from all kinds of music. I think their sound is kinda cool.
GW: So you are heading to Pennsylvania, what’s going on there?
MR: I am taking a secret 24-hour road trip to go see Phish tonight. I figure it’s Wednesday, I have the night off, so I’m gonna go enjoy some Phish. Why not, right? It’s a fairly intimate venue, smaller than usual. It’s gonna be a great show. Trey knows I’m coming so… Totally Kidding!
GW: Guitar noodling bromance rendezvous?! Giggles
GW: So that would be my last question, obviously you are inspired by Phish. Who are some other inspirations, current listenings as you embark on this road trip?
MR: I am really into the more modern sounds, I am into Tame Impala quite a bit right now. Snarky Puppy, I’m into classics like Hendrix. I like a lot of Bill Frisell, John Scofield, all across the board. There is a lot of great stuff out there right now.
GW: I think this project is really appropriately named, Shred is Dead, because you are definitely known for your shredding. Gateway to the Galaxy has got notes of Rush, old Zeppelin, but yet you are so smooth and jazz-influenced. It’s hard to label you with a genre.
MR: We are starting a new album in January. That’s gonna have some good shredding in it but I want to make it a little more groove-oriented this time. I want to keep pursuing more vocal jams, more lyrics more fuzzy psychedelic jams.
GW: I gotta ask cuz I’m a girl, will there be any female influence on this new album?
MR: Yeah! I’ve been having fun performing with artists and musicians always, just recently in Vermont, we played out at Nectars in Burlington with Hayley Jane, a great friend of ours, a great artist. She sat in for a few songs with us. I definitely have some fun ideas for the future as far as other artists as well.
GW: Great! We are looking forward to hearing that and seeing you shred at Skull & Roses Festival 2020! Thanks for sharing some time with us today
MR: Thank you! I’ll see you around