...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (Conrad Keely): Interview
Under T for Texas Music
I'm so fucking lazy. I found myself first trying to come up with questions for this
interview during my flight down to Texas. It was after I had slept through most of the trip, and actually, not until after the landing gear was once again down. That's my excuse for the shitty questions. I could be honest and just tell you that I'm not the best at interviews, but I have a reputation to uphold. Anyway, I arrive at the Texas airport, plug my laptop into a payphone, and begin emailing the man his questions:
D (tinymixtapes): On your web site, you asked the public not to consider Secret of Elena's Tomb as a follow-up to last year's Source Tags and Codes. You say that the EP is its own idyllic excursion into a separate Arcadia, a land populated by melancholy figures and phantoms. Care to explain that... in musical terms? In other words, how would you like the EP to be considered?
Conrad Keely: I don't think I could put it plainer than that – this is sort of a divergent project, we just sort of thought we'd throw it out there, for your amusement, or mal-amusement, as it might be. Some people have reacted negatively, others not. But we appreciate polarity in opinion, as it seems to be the norm in our society at the moment – the previous presidential election would attest to this.
D: You also instruct us not to take the EP as a taste of things to come. What can we expect, then?
Conrad: You must free your mind of expectations.
D: What's your favorite cut on the new EP and why?
Conrad: I like that tripped-out segue between "Mach Schau" and "All St. Day."
D: I noticed that most of the tracks on the EP feature your vocals. Does this mean you did a better part of the writing? Why aren't the other members' songs present?
Conrad: Well, that's not entirely true. I have three songs, Jason sings
"All St. Day" and "Intelligence." Neil didn't have a song on this one, but that was probably more to do with us having to do it in a rush.
D: The EP has an obviously lighter edge to it than Source Tags. Was this a conscious decision?
Conrad: I don't think that when it comes to composition we necessarily make conscious decisions. Writing happens on a subconscious plane, and has a lot to do with just putting down what happens to come out where and when you are. If there was a deliberateness about it, the overt sentimentality may simply be a reaction to the seeming lack of sentimentality in most music today.
Even the artwork I tried to make Romantic, because romance seems to be something people disdain for whatever reason, opting instead to affect a callousness or disaffectedness – as if afraid of how others might perceive them, were they to actually betray the fact that they possess emotions. I find this modern trait deplorable.
D: It also seems to be a bit more experimental for you guys. You guys seem to have a wider instrumentation than the LP. It sounds like you're using more effects as well. What kinds of toys were you trying out and why?
Conrad: I'm really bad at remembering effects or amp settings, I usually let Mike McCarthy take the helm in those instances. We had a cellist and a horn player, nothing extraordinary. But if you think there are experiments here, you can expect a lot more of that in the future. I'm hoping to be able to track a choir next time.
D: What was your purpose in writing/recording/releasing the EP?
Conrad: It is simply one in a series of acts of self-discovery.
D: Is this different than your Source Tags purpose?
Conrad: Our purpose has never changed – to be better than Pink Floyd.
D: ...and how about the next album?
Conrad: Yes, the same there.
D: After receiving such praising reviews of Source Tags and Codes, did you feel a lot of pressure when writing and recording the EP?
Conrad: Well, for the fact that it was an EP, no. But on a personal level I think we're always inclined to place pressure upon ourselves. Still, we don't usually allow praise or criticism (other than that coming from our close friends) to affect our opinions of our work, or choice of clothing.
D: And what are your thoughts and fears about recording the next album?
Conrad: Starvation, famine, the end of the world.
D: So any word on when we can expect this follow-up?
Conrad: I think it would be safe to assume that it will be released within the incumbent time period known as the “future”.
D: Can you explain the band's writing and recording process a bit?
Conrad: No. For the simple reason that there is no process. Only a random series of accidents. Similar to that scene in
Apocalypse Now when Brando asks Martin Sheen what he thinks of his methods, and he replies “I see no method, sir”.
D: With multiple singer/songwriters in the band, how do you all go about deciding what makes a record?
Conrad: With pain.
D: Tell me a little about your trip to Thailand. Have you picked up any exotic instruments, as you hoped to?
Conrad: Thailand was very insightful. I visited the ancient city of Ayuttayah, walked among ruins, and ate a lot of food that made me not want to return to America.
I found a small flute-like instrument made of skin. I wanted to buy something called a Lanat – a sort of xylophone - but it was too large to place in a suitcase. Instead I contended myself with Javanese masks and wall hangings celebrating the pachyderm.
D: What sort of differences have you faced with signing to a major label?
Conrad: I think the biggest has been having to clear every bit of artwork through a legal department. Even the cover for
Elena, where I made a pencil sketch on canvas of Princess Margaret of Sweden, c. 1905. I had no credit for the piece, but I had to convince them that it was too old to illicit any legal suit. Basically, I lied.
D: Was it a sort of monumental point in your life when you were no longer responsible for holding down a job while working with the band?
Conrad: Well, I took it in stride. Even after we signed, I went ahead and got a job at a local music store, because I felt like sitting around listening to new music. I was later told by co-workers, after I'd quit to go on tour, that I was a very poor employee.
D: How has this changed your attitude concerning your role as a musician?
Conrad: It hasn't. I was a musician years before I ever had a job.
D: Have you taken much criticism for signing major? If so, how have you dealt with it?
Conrad: We haven't received much really, and if we had, it usually came from generally uninformed people.
We're not really in this thing for some socio-political or economic battle between corporations and private business. We're artists. Art is transcendent, and exists on a higher plane, whereas those things are earthly, and in the end transitory. Who cares about them? If you do, you shouldn't be an artist, you should be a business major.
D: Typically when bands sign to major labels, their production becomes more polished, less sloppy, yet Trail of Dead retained the sound of the previous albums. Was there pressure from the label to clean it up a bit?
Conrad: None whatsoever.
D: Your web site has a lot of character. Any pressure from the label to start one that's a bit more professional looking?
Conrad: Again, no. When they signed us, it was because they liked what we already were.
D: Any chance you guys will post our review of Source Tags and Codes on your site?
Conrad: If you ask us to, most certainly. At which time, we promise to do it eventually, as we're lazy bastards.
D: Out of curiosity, what do you want your CDs labeled under at stores? They could be anywhere! A, T, Y, ... , or E (for elipse)!
Conrad: I want them under A, and if they have to they can put it under T for