The guys in Austin outfit ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are total smart asses – and we mean that in the best possible way. Drummer Jason Reece’s cackle after every answer is a tad unsetting at first, but he’s down for serious jawing about drums. Just don’t ask any stupid questions.
The personality quirks and tongue-in cheek song titles – even the band’s name is a kind of joke – are at jarring odds with the serious business of Trail Of Dead’s music: epic space-rock undulating between molten riffs and fuzzed-out exploratory scree. It’s the kind of fearless instrumental forays that haven’t been in fashion for decades.
But since Reece, 35, just had a baby, we’ll cut the slap-happy new dad some slack while he’s on the horn from Austin. “Well, actually, it was my wife who had the baby,” he deadpans.
See what we’re up against?
We’ve heard of prolific, but Trail Of Dead must have been mainlining Starbucks the last few months. After releasing full-length Century Of Self less than a year ago, they’ve already whipped out their eighth release, Tao Of The Dead, a double-album colossus of which Part Two, “Strange News From Another Planet,” is a single 16-minute track, which, as the concept album—loving Reece proudly points out, cannot be consumed piecemeal.
The hectic release schedule is one more indicator of a music industry in freefall, but these days an unstinting output of material from musicians is increasingly the norm. “It was kind of like one of those things where once it’s released you start touring on it and it becomes kind of just like, All right, this is a cool album but we want do something different and better. It’s kind of like you get bored with the past and you just want to see what’s new and what’s next.”
Odd that 13 years into their career and no longer on a major label, Trail Of Dead has finally hit its stride with Tao Of The Dead, where for every warp-drive guitar-and-keys meltdown, one of singer/guitarist Conrad Keely’s big-money hooks and indelible lyric refrains slings you back into orbit. With, we might add, a crashing-fill/accent-as-beat assist from Reece.
No mere foundational thing, drums inform the gargantuan
unraveling of thought and feeling that is Tao Of The Dead. And like any
two-way street, the chiming guitar notes and thrumming bass lines
galvanize the rumble of drums – it’s the place where melody and
rhythm become a single throbbing, gorgeous sound.
“Whatever’s written on guitar, we’ve always considered the drums just as important,” he clarifies. “In this record, there’s no, like, straight 4/4 – I mean, there are some 4/4 beats – but I am just saying that standard pop music has the guy who just plays the drums in the background and it’s almost like they hold back on the cymbals. It’s almost sterile.”
We’re glad Reece brought up cymbals. A gauzy, continuous wash of bronze is a Reece-ian signature, flanked as he is by a pair of constantly see-sawing Istanbul Alchemy crashes. Ride cymbals, who needs ’em?
Back to the drum philosophy: “There is definitely some thought put into every aspect of drumming and percussion,” he says. “We’ve always considered Keith Moon and Neil Peart and all of those crazy drummers from the ’70s and the ’60s our teachers in a sense. Those people were collaborators with the music. Pete Townshend always wrote with Keith Moon in mind, and I guess we try to have that same approach. You’re not, Oh, I’m writing a song and everybody has to follow me. No, we kind of almost try to write it for the drums.”