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...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead on “X: The Godless Void and Other Stories”

Dec 04, 2019 …And You Will Know us by the Trail of Dead
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...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead are back on January 17 with their 10th album, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories, via Dine Alone. Founding members Jason Reece and Conrad Keely tell Under the Radar about the new record and how a complete clearout revitalised the band in their 25th year of existence.

It’s been an eventful 2019 for ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. Having spent the previous four years on a public hiatus of sorts, Keely and Reece regrouped and recruited a new line-up.

X: The Godless Void and Other Stories has been in the making for quite some time. Some of the songs date back to 2016 when Keely was living in Cambodia. Sonically, the album represents one of the most diverse collections in the band’s extensive canon

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead spent the first part of 2019 touring their 1999-released second album Madonna. It was their breakthrough record for many and is now enjoying a well-deserved revival to mark its 20th anniversary. In between times, they’ve also played the odd festival, mostly in North and Central America, which is where Under the Radar caught up with them in Rouyn-Noranda at Quebec’s annual FME showcase event.

In a few hours time, the four-piecethe aforementioned Keely (vocals, guitar, drums) and Reece (vocals, guitar, drums), plus recent recruits Aaron Blount (guitar) and Alec Padron (bass)will slay those present in the ornate Petit Theatre Du Vieux Noranda with as ferocious a performance as they’ve ever delivered.

Beforehand, Under the Radar talks to both founder members about the past, present, and future of one of Austin’s most revered and influential acts.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): You’ve played two festivals in Canada this year. One in Montreal and one in Quebec. Why did you choose to play here?

Jason Reece: I feel like we’ve had a little bit of a resurgence. Montreal wasn’t our strongest spot, then we met some younger, cooler bands and they asked us to play Distorsion festival, which opened up an opportunity to play this one. In a way it’s like we’re starting over again here. In the early days, we had a lot of people come to our shows in Montreal but then we didn’t play there for years.

How do you go about choosing a setlist for an event like this? For example, is it different playing a festival to a headline show?

Jason: We’re playing an old album this evening. We’re doing Source Tags & Codes in full, then a few older songs at the end. It’s cool going through some of these older songs that we’ve not played in a while and trying them out.

Conrad Keely: We’ll probably play a few more songs that we haven’t played in a while when we next tour too. We’re going to challenge ourselves. Maybe play some So Divided material. Who knows? We’re not playing any of the new material, yet. We have played some of the new songs a couple of times in Austin but the album isn’t being released until January so we’re holding out from playing them again before then.

Jason: Now the album’s finished we’re going to be touring Europe and the UK next year as well. We’re working on a video for “[Into the] Godless Void” at the minute.

Conrad: We want to have everything ready to go for when we release the record, so hopefully we’ll have lots of videos and other things that make it fun for people.

Wasn’t the album originally meant to come out in September?

Conrad: Nothing was completely set in stone. We’ve always rushed album releases in the past so with this one, we just wanted to see what happened if we took our time and built up more content before it came out. Just give it more of a chance rather than hurrying to get it out before the end of September.

Jason: I didn’t feel like we had a lot of content with the last record we did. Certainly not as much as we could have, and that’s why I think it ended up being lost.

Conrad: I feel a lot better about what we’re doing now.

Tell me about X: The Godless Void and Other Stories? It’s five years since your last album came out. When did you start writing for this record?

Conrad: I started writing some of the songs three years ago when I was working on my solo record. So that would be around 2016.

Jason: Conrad lived in Cambodia for a long time so we were kind of… not exactly on hiatus but not really that busy either. We ended up firing a bunch of people, then Conrad moved back to Austin two years ago and we started writing again. That was where a lot of it started, and we wrote a lot of music. Mainly improv jams and stuff like that. We have hours of tape.

Conrad: Most of which we didn’t do anything with. I remember when we were making the last record; we had hours of material left over. Whereas with this record there’s some but nowhere near as much.

Jason: We were spending days just trying to write.

Conrad: I think the improv sessions helped as a warm-up. It got us into the whole feel of playing as a band again even though there might not necessarily be any songs come out of it all.

Were any of the songs written in 2016 considered for your [Conrad’s] solo record, Original Machines? Do you write in a different style for yourself than when you’re writing for the band?

Conrad: Originally, I had some songs that were going to be on my solo record but now I’m working on something that’s going to be totally different from the first record. So the songs ended up being more like Trail of Dead songs. This was the longest we’ve ever spent putting a record together. Two years is a long time for us. We’re normally a four months kind of band.

Jason: We did Lost Songs in a month and Tao of the Dead was pretty fast too, no more than a couple of months in total. So it was the first time we’d taken anywhere near this long. It took a little time to get things going but maybe it’s better that way? We were a little more picky with this one and wanted to put out something really good.

Will any of the left over material from this album or its predecessor ever see the light of day?

Conrad: It might do in one form or another.

Jason: We could but it would be very instrumental sounding. A lot of them are long instrumental jams. They’re very raw and not really produced at all.

Was there a specific concept or influence running through the songs?

Conrad: For me, a lot of it was about leaving Cambodia and moving back to the States. Leaving things behind. Then we got philosophical.

Jason: I feel like the writing is always philosophical in a lot of ways. It’s whatever’s in your head at that moment. The Godless Void originally started out in the same kind of way as The American Void. More like a statement about what we have here at this moment in time. Without being too obvious, that was my way of trying to write a little more abstract and taking that as inspiration. There’s definitely some dark moments to the record. Also, we were listening to a lot of Talk Talk, which was weird. We were really into that band for a minute.

I read you were also listening to a lot of Laurie Anderson.

Jason: Laurie Anderson, Talk Talk, a lot of ‘80s New Wave production. Killing Joke, some early shoegaze, Ride. It’s pretty obvious when you listen to the record. All we listened to were British artists! A lot of the music is influenced by that era.

One of the reasons why ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead are still relevant today is because you’ve never really become attached to or fitted in with any one particular scene or genre. Is that something you’ve always been conscious of?

Jason: Yeah, ever since the beginning. I remember just playing around Austin before we first toured. We were too arty for the punks yet too punk for some of the more arty, indie people. We were stuck in a limbo! It wasn’t too bad, and we found people that accepted us in the end.

Conrad: The hip-hop guys loved us!

You toured Madonna earlier this year for its 20th anniversary. How was it revisiting some of that material for the first time in over a decade?

Conrad: We feel old! We feel really old. It was kind of cool because it helped me remember what I felt like writing those songs. I think it also helped us find some of the newer stuff on this record because we were playing the Madonna shows at the same time as recording some of the new material. It put that thought into our heads. So next year might be interesting if we do a Worlds Apart anniversary tour. When you are playing those older albums its surprising how fresh they still are. Maybe not to everybody but to me they are. They don’t seem outdated, which is what we wanted to try and do when we were writing those records. Have it be as timeless as we can possibly get it. That was the goal.

What advice would you give a new band just starting out now?

Conrad: Get into the techno industry! The future is in electronic music.

Jason: Every new band is going to have this whole new set of… not rules, but approach that they need to take. We were a new band once. If I were to say anything to a younger band it would be just innovate.

Do you still get the same thrill from playing live now that you did 25 years ago?

Jason: I don’t think about it too much. I think we just approach it how we always have. Kind of in the same vein as how Fugazi would approach a show. Just play really hard.

Conrad: I think a lot of it has to do with the audience. If the audience is there to give us back what we’re giving then its very warm. It can also be the opposite where the audience sucks and that makes us more ratty than usual. Or the equipment sucks. It just depends. We played in Brazil recently and they were a great audience. We ended up jumping in the crowd, which I haven’t done for a while. That was really fun.

A lot of bands have cited you as an influence over the years. Are there any you’re particularly fond of?

Conrad: We got told we were a huge influence on this one band so I listened to their music and we don’t sound anything like them at all. They’re really poppy and happy sounding. Apparently they love our music but they sound nothing like us at all. I’d say we’re definitely a musician’s band. The people that like us mostly tend to play music. Justin [Chancellor] from Tool and one of Mogwai as well for example, which is cool. It’s very surprising but nice too I guess.

Jason: We’re big fans of IDLES. They’re great. I watched footage of their Glastonbury show the other day and everybody was going nuts. They write great songs about what’s happening around them with Brexit and everything.

Conrad: There’s a band playing with us tonight called Atsuko Chiba who are really cool. We met them at Distorsion festival then we played a few shows together in Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City.

Do you think austerity and a dark political climate can also be a breeding ground for great art? I see parallels between now and the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when Thatcher and Reagan were in power, yet all this great music was being made in the UK and America.

Conrad: I was hanging out with Neil [Busch], our original bass player and he was saying the same thing. I was hoping when Trump got elected that music would suddenly get a lot better but it hasn’t. I was hoping there’d be a punk revival but a lot of millennial bands in the States sound like they’re making music to be synced for commercials.

There’s a lot of those in the UK as well, and also bands whose material is specifically written for algorithms and Spotify playlists.

Conrad: I don’t listen to Spotify. Well I do but not playlists hosting 20 new bands from America or whatever. I guess I’m only judging it by the Austin scene but I do believe that’s an accurate cross section of what’s going on nationally.

You [Conrad] moved to Cambodia before the Trump administration and came back to the States after he was in power. Did you notice any significant changes on your return?

Conrad: A little bit, but not big changes. Just the political climate I guess. It’s always a topic of conversation. I don’t think I see enough of the parts of the country where that type of change really is happening. We’re talking about small towns in America where they’ve now boarded up storefronts and stuff. I know those exist. Not so much in Texas but states like West Virginia where they’ve shut down cities and towns. It’s happening everywhere but it’s not affecting Texas as much. Austin has always been an oasis away from anything else that’s fucked up. You always feel insulated in Austin. It’s got its own community and atmosphere. Where we feel more of an effect is whenever there’s a natural disaster in the gulf or a hurricane, and we get this migration of people moving out from the south.


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December 5th 2019

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