Published Feb 21, 2009Having reached what was arguably a career zenith in 2002 with their brilliant third album, Source Tags & Codes, elaborate indie rockers ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead had a rough ride in the years that followed. Members came and went, albums didn't live up to the benchmark set by ST&C, and the band were constantly clashing with label Interscope. Finally they got their emancipation and from there established their own indie label, Richter Scale, which has just released their new album, The Century of Self.
But unlike every other band that gets dropped by a major and falls into obscurity or dissolves soon after, Trail of Dead now sound as mighty and resolute as they did seven years ago. Front-man Conrad Keely views it more as a recovery of sorts. "It feels to me like the healthiest album in years," he says. "We had a lot of criticism over the last two records, but I don't think people realize that they were indicative of things that were going on in our personal lives and had a lot to do with the turmoil and stress that we were undergoing. And I think we freed ourselves from a lot of those negative things on this record and were able to focus on the positive. So for that reason I feel that this record is a reflection of the healthier, happier mindset that we're in and not coming from a dark place like the last two records were."
What are you up to?
We are on tour and I am making prints of my artwork to sell at the shows. I actually just got off a service call with Epson to see why the black ink is so light.
What are your current fixations?
I've been watching a lot of documentaries and wrote a blog about it on MySpace. It's a genre of film that I think has developed a lot over the last few years. It's so diverse now and so well-done, it's just an amazing time to disseminate information like this across the internet.
Why do you live where you do?
[Brooklyn, for] the energy. I feed off energy, I'm vampiric that way. I need stimulus all the time.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Stanley knew how to incorporate music in film. I think he was one of the only directors that really did it in a way that his films were two-hour music videos. And I love horror, I love being scared. I'm terrified of the supernatural possibility of an unseen world that can torture us on a psychological level instead of a physical level.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
Melvins at the North Shore Surf Club in Olympia, WA circa 1991. They were I guess still playing songs from Bullhead. It just inspired in me the potential that music has over an audience. It was the audience reaction more than the band; it was their interpretation of the music and this overwhelming sense of unity and solidarity on an almost telepathic level that was going on. Yeah, there was a mosh pit and everyone was going crazy, but they were going crazy in such - if I could only say - a loving way. There was no violence or animosity or aggression. It was almost like an orgy.
What have been your career highs and lows?
There have been plenty of both. Probably the tour with Dethklok last fall was one of the lows. Their audience was really hostile and seemed to have taken this cartoon band quite seriously - a lot more seriously than they took us. So, that was a low. But it led to a high, which was writing this album. We definitely got a lot of ideas from what we were doing on that tour. We were playing great, by the way, we weren't doing badly at all. The obvious career high was the point right after we'd signed with Interscope where it was possible that we could make a difference. Yes we made a difference to people who heard what we had to say, but I don't think that it changed the course of rock music the way I had hoped. Maybe it has yet to happen.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
No one's ever said anything mean to me at a gig. I'll tell you one of the meanest things said about me in a review though. Pitchfork said that I couldn't sing [on Worlds Apart]. I took that very personally.
What should everyone shut up about?
I think they should shut up about how Obama is gonna save planet Earth. The more pressure they put on him to do it, the more disappointment they're gonna feel when he succumbs to the same pressures and trials the office has in store for him. It's fucking stupid. Y'know, I'm happy that he's president, he's one of the most eloquent presidents since I've been on this planet, but he can't save the world. The world is in a really bad spot and idol worshipping somebody is not gonna save it. People have to fucking convert their cars to ethanol or whatever they have to do, but when this happens and people get really excited about some political figure that they put all of their hope and dreams into it leads to a big letdown down the road. And there's already this economic crisis that looms ahead and Obama is gonna suffer the blame for it if he doesn't fix it. In a way I feel worse for him. He seems like a smart guy and he seems like he'd have a strategy to counter it, but even though the most intelligent leaders that society has ever had succumb to over-adulation. Look at Napoleon.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like my sincerity and I hate my temper. I have a terrible temper.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
I think the perfect Sunday for me was if I was knighted by the Queen [laughs]. No, a typical Sunday would be sitting at home with the cats listening to music and drawing. That's perfect simplicity. And not having to get on the subway.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
Yes. Indifference on both counts. Not necessarily towards me, but life, passion, love towards music. Anything I interpret as indifference and not living passionately I can't tolerate.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
Loonies and toonies. I wish that we had dollar coins. No, the people, obviously. I have a lot of friends in Canada, on both sides - Vancouver and Toronto. They're both great places.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
Rick Wakeman, Journey to the Center of the Earth. I was seven years old.
What was your most memorable day job?
I worked for the University of Texas, Department of Special Education. I was the senior office assistant and I did a lot artwork and web design for the band at this job because I had so much down time. This is when the internet was actually starting up, so they encouraged us to use email and surf the internet. And I learned a lot about a field of study that I never had any intentions of getting into.
How do you spoil yourself?
I like to eat expensive food. I like steaks, lobsters and Korean food. And I like things that I probably shouldn't eat because they're going extinct, like Chilean sea bass. Not every day. But when I choose to spoil myself I usually do it with a meal.
If I wasn't playing music I would be...
I want to be a war correspondent. But if I was not playing music now I would probably put all of my energy into writing my novel. I started it years ago, it's just... it's a novel. I don't expect it to be done for years and years to come. It's kind of an epic.
What do you fear most?
I fear the ignorance of certain populations of people. I'm aware of them by what I see on television. Specifically right wing Christians in America. Some of them come to our shows and love my music, and it's not like I have anything bad to say about their faith... other than the fact that it defies science and common sense is something that I could see as being potentially hazardous to the upcoming fate of our planet. [Laughs] Is that too heavy?
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
A combination of Red Bull, Vitamin water, vodka and marijuana. Yeah, that's my mixture!
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
Oh! Jason and I were at this bar called Cedar Street right after we just moved to Austin, TX and we ran into Lou Diamond Phillips. I was very, very drunk at the time and I went up to him and told him that I was a nihilist, and I believed that everything should be destroyed and rebuilt. He was very polite and accommodating, and he had a conversation with me and we talked about nihilism, and I think he could see that I was just wasted. Suddenly, Jason on the other side of the room got into a fight with these frat boys who were dressed in tuxedos, because apparently there was some kind of debutante ball going on there. And then a brawl just sprang up and I picked up a chair and I was gonna throw it, and then Lou Diamond Phillips came in and helped us get Jason out of the brawl.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
There are a lot of people I consider heroes who I don't think would be entertaining dinner guests, but since we're talking dinner, and it would have to be someone that would be great to have for dinner... I'd like to have dinner with Casanova, and eat a lot of quail, stuffed pigs and that decadent 18th century French cuisine you think about when you imagine all of the starving peasants outside that are about to have a revolution, and you're inside eating massive, extravagant dinners [laughs]. Isn't that terrible? Maybe do it at the L'Ouevre, because you'd want to see the masses outside.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
I think my mom is very happy with what I'm doing. She's our biggest fan, always in the front row.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
It would be a happy song, a funny song, certainly not sad. I would want my funeral to be a party. A big par-tay! "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" by the Beatles.