Thursday, September 1, 2011
...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD SAMSON MCDOUGALL – INTERVIEW WITH CONRAD KEELY
Conrad Keely, one half of Texas’s ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead brains trust, seems pretty relaxed. When I catch up with him in his – spiritual at least – home in Austin, he’s recovering from a hangover (it’s about 9pm his time, must’ve been a pretty big one) and lamenting the mixture of tequila and beer. It’s OK though, because outside of his media commitments this evening he’s living in some kind of dream existence by the standards of many. At the moment, he informs, he’s putting the final touches on some visual art for an exhibition before heading into the studio at some indeterminate future time to work on what will be the eighth ...Trail Of Dead album in about sixteen years. All this means that his other, more recent, creative endeavour, a novel, will have to wait for a while as he negotiates the rigors of life as a multi-faceted renaissance-type man. Yet when explained he’s living the dream of millions he offers, “It’s nice to hear that because in some ways I feel like I’m the consummate slacker.” Bastard.
...Trail Of Dead was born out of Austin in the mid-‘90s. The product of the fusion of, for the most part, two young creative minds, Keely and Jason Reece erupted onto the scene and by the release of their third album in 2002, the Pitchfork perfect-scoring Source Tags & Codes, they had the medium to heavy rock world in a spin. Their sound melds elements of psychedelia, punk, Brit pop, even classic rock, and somehow manages to defy identification with regard to time and place. By Keely’s estimation, their sound resulted from the converging and alignment of two differing music pedigrees. “When we first met as kids our musical backgrounds were more contrary,” Keely says. “As soon as we established a common ground they’ve pretty much been parallel since then with the real exception that Jason’s been into ‘90s hip hop and I’ve been more into folk than he is. As far as common background, now it’s very complementary, but when we met, he was the hardcore punk rocker/skate punk; he turned me on to Dag Nasty, the Descendents, Fugazi and all that stuff. I was the ‘70s prog rocker, I turned him on to Pink Floyd and Rush and Genesis, the classic rock.”
There is a Britishness to ...Trail Of Dead that distinguished them from the US grunge and hardcore explosions of the mid- and late-‘90s and strangely brought them into line with much of the Brit pop of the same period. This different-ness, and the growing reputation of their wild stage shows, allowed ...Trail Of Dead to sidestep the attachment to any one ‘scene’ and develop their material on their own terms. “I was born in the UK, I’m an Irish citizen, maybe that’s where it all comes from,” Keely continues. “I’ve never thought of it in those terms, it’s something that we do almost subconsciously I guess. Other than that I don’t think that there’s any way for us to explain it. We’ve never really wanted to sound like our time period, to me we’ve always wanted to sound futuristic, that was always the goal. In a way it was our goal and personal mission to ourselves to create a type of music that we pictured being played in another time. It’s difficult to articulate but every album we’ve done has basically been a product of our environment at the time.”
For good and bad, the band have been able to push forward with each release without the constraints of actually writing for a particular audience. In doing so, they undoubtedly alienate listeners through a constantly morphing aesthetic. But, as Keely explains, it’s allowed the band to develop a continual narrative, of sorts, across and through all of their releases to date. “For me, every album is an experiment launched from the previous album,” he continues. “And although I’ve heard feedback that each album we do is drastically different, I don’t see them as being that drastically different at all. I see them all as being part of a continuous journey. I’m not strict about the narratives. I don’t tell the story of Tommy, the deaf dumb and blind kid you know? It’s more about leaving as much up to the listener as possible in terms of how they want to build that narrative.”
The novel Keely is writing centres on a character featured on the artwork (also by Keely) on the cover of this year’s release Tao Of The Dead. In fact, he reveals that the narrative is intertwined with Tao... and somehow the band’s music and the novel are interconnected. “The book that I’m working on is more of an accompaniment, [the record and the book] accompany one another,” he says. “I’ve been working on the book for years. When I did the artwork for Tao Of The Dead I introduced the character for the first time. It’s a sci-fi fantasy, steam punk in aesthetic, set in a future world where it surrounds the boy that’s been on the last two album covers, who’s a type of telepathic savant.
“I think it’s a great time for literature and books in general. There seems to be a lot of great stuff coming out now and a real sense of resurgence and interest, especially among the young adult crowd. Novel writing is very challenging; it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When I’m in book mode, that’s all I’m doing that day. But at the moment it’s my art, there’s an exhibition coming up so I’m finishing a piece for that. Then there’s the record, so the book has to take a back seat, which is fair enough because the book is going to take longer than any of these other things and I don’t want to rush it.”
Thankfully ...Trail Of Dead have set aside a little time to pay a visit to Australia in September (only their third visit to date). We’re hoping their devastating live performance hasn’t slowed too dramatically, as their two previous visits have registered as entries in the rock mythology of the last decade. As far as Keely is concerned, the passion for creating music under the ...Trail Of Dead moniker is as alive as it’s ever been – they still have unrealised creative goals. “We try not to kill ourselves,” he says of touring. “We used to be far more aggressive about touring but not so much now. Jason’s got a kid, he’s raising his son, so he has to have time off which frees me up to work on the book. The thing that feels the best about it is knowing that we haven’t achieved our goals. There’s these musical and artistic goals and visions that we are still striving for, still searching for. Perfection eludes us and in some ways I don’t want to necessarily achieve it, I always want to be striving for it and as long as I still have that sense then I’ll always feel we have something to accomplish.”