Proto/art/punk/noise band And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead has had a chaotic 12 months. Their third album, "Source Tags and Codes" was released by Interscope Records early in 2002, and quickly climbed the indie charts. That success was followed by a series of cross country and international tours with the band headlining as well as opening for Interscope mates, Queens of the Stone Age. While on a recent tour of Australia, band members Conrad Keely and Jason Reece settled down with Semone Maksimovic to discuss their touring adventures, where they REALLY grew up, and their obsession with anthropology.
Semone: I've heard a few different stories about where you grew up, could you help me set the record straight?
Conrad: Jason and I grew up in an island where there was a lot of ethnic diversity.
Jason: (laughs) Another part of our vast history. We travelled a lot. I guess it's weird cause half of the band is definitely from Texas and they grew up there. That's Neil and Kevin and they spent most of their lives in Texas while Conrad and I kind of lived everywhere. Most of my family is from Texas, so I feel like I have some history there, like I can say I'm Texan. But in the end, the reason why we lied about our history is because people will always brig up your past, which doesn't really apply to the band. The band started in Austin, Texas, so we're an Austin band, we chose to represent Texas in that way.
Conrad: And also basically, to try to simplify our history, cause every interviewer who asks where we live and where we're from would take up the whole interview with just us answering that. So, it's just easier for us to say, yeah, we're from Austin, we've always been from Austin and we met at a local youth group for Jesus Christ.
Semone: Is that why you guys are so influenced by all different types of music, including world music?
Jason: Yeah definitely, I think it's sad when people limit themselves and stay in their own world of music, they don't branch out and try to take the time out to see that there's so much more out there. We've always been the opposite, we've always enjoyed every genre of music, whether it hip hop or reggae or metal, we can find some good within all of it.
Conrad: There's so much music out there in the world now, that you're never going to hear it all you can spend the rest of your life researching everything that's out there and you'll never hear even 1/10th of it. But, as a musician you're also a music scholar, you have to be a scholarly musician to understand it on that level, that it's a constant learning process, the most you can do is to keep your mind as open as possible to influences, once you've heard something you can say 'ok, I don't really like that, I don't need to hear it again' but it doesn't mean you have to stop listening to music. In art there's always been this emphasis on idolatry, in idol worship or idol creation, so I see art and religion as similar, connected in that way.
Semone: Would that also have an effect on your anthropological interest? Can you explain that?
Jason: I don't really think that there's any straight doctrine [to religion and evolution], I just think that, yeah, there is a metaphysical realm and we acknowledge that.
Conrad: We're not really religious, but in the way that we're fascinated by anthropology, we're also fascinated by theology, because theology is like another part to the human study, part of the human psyche. It's really interesting, the way that our relationship to whatever created us is always turned into this manifestation like an idol or something. And I think that it's a really common parallel with that and with what we do as rock musicians, because in art there's always been this emphasis on idolatry and idol worship or idol creation, so I see art and religion as kind of similar, connected in that way.
Jason: I think there's a similar aspect, when you go see a show and if everyone's mutually excited and they feel the music it becomes like a very spiritual event. You can't really deny that, even if you're an atheist.
Conrad: That's a whole other study, like performance ritual, what we do as a ritualistic thing. I think that it's good to keep those things in mind, cause you don't realise that it has the power of ritual, and that you are really welding a great power there that you're not really conscious of or that you don't take full responsibility of, so I think it's almost an obligation for a performer to understand that side of it, because it can be very powerful and reduce people to heights of ecstasy and agony.
Semone: So what you guys are really trying to find is the anthropological means behind the creation of art?
Conrad: Yeah, because the urge to create is a common one, for Teras to build a pyramid and for us to start a punk band, would be the same thing in other words they came from the same creative urge. To do what? That's what the question is, what is it that we want to do? What is it that we seem to need so strongly to leave behind? Or to want to leave a legacy of for some reason or another? We know that art is done for all different reasons and all different cultures, but on one level it's kind of done for the same reason, their representations of ideas of experiences.
Semone: How has the tour been treating you for the last exhausting 8 months?
Conrad: We've been on tour a long-time now, I think we're getting homesick, ready to go back home and be a bit domestic. Touring hasn't really afforded us the time to compose, that we need to have for our new record, so I think that getting back will be a time for us to gather up all the influences that we've received in the past year and synthesize them into some new songs. It's been a fun eight months of solid travelling, but definitely by the end of eight months, you're just ready to go home.
Semone: So the tour calmed down a bit after your last post to the TOD yahoo group then Conrad?
Conrad: (laughs) Yes it did. It didn't actually calm down until we got to L.A. really though. In L.A. we had a meeting with our label and we were able to put everything into perspective as to what we were going to be doing for the next few months and what we're working at now and how things are looking.
Jason: It was like we were kind of in the dark about our progress, what the point is and a lot of things that would have made us feel better about being on a Mid-Western shitty American tour that we didn't seem to think was our target audience anyway. In the end there was so many shows that really did make a difference but then at the same time when you're playing with Queens of The Stone Age their fan base is a little different to our fan base, so sometimes in certain cities we just had to play harder to people to reach them, which was almost like a challenge every night, with these people thinking that you were just this sucky opening band.
Conrad: One of the things I love to do when we play shows is to go and meet our fans and just hang out with people, but, what would happen is that after we played and QOTSA came out all our fans would leave, so we were stuck with all their fans and that sucked.
Jason: Don't get us wrong, it was fun to tour with them, there was definitely some good moments to the tour like social aspects and touring with a band like them. Peaches, she came aboard for the last two weeks of the tour, that really evened it out a bit, cause she had to deal with way more trouble than we did. She had to really piss the audience off and it was fun touring with her.
Semone: Speaking of fans, you seem to keep well in-touch with your yahoo group, and have lots of supportive friends on there.
Conrad: At a certain point, people that are fans become friends, because they like you cause obviously you appeal to something that they're into, so in other words you have something in common with them. I like when they give us honest opinions about our shows and stuff.
Jason: That honesty that some of our fans have with us helps us gauge what we're doing right and wrong.
Conrad: Then there are the other types of fans, they are kids that are going to be musicians, you can tell, they're in a band, they're like sixteen, they came just to watch you not to see you play or get wild, but just to watch how you play guitar and that's great I think. I want to encourage all those kids to do it, I mean, it's one thing to sit around and complain that there's no good bands and that music sucks these days, but what are you going to do about it, the only thing you can do about it is start your own band and show people how you're going to do it. You know, if you've got a better idea, then by all means, show us.
Jason: Then in the UK, some of our fans there are different altogether, we were walking around Reading or Leeds and these kids were like tackling us.that was a little weird.
Conrad: (laughing loudly) Yeah, they're the more dangerous fans, they just want to hug you and kiss you. Photos are fine, but when they start wrestling you and kissing you that's a little different.
Semone: I also heard a little about an incident over there in Manchester, which involved your sound guy and Neil losing some teeth. Can you fill me in on how the story really went?
Conrad: There was this one night we decided to go out after a show in Manchester some of us were hanging out with Elbow, and went to another show with them, just as they were about to close this bar and we were about to head back to leave Manchester, the doorman out front of the club was getting pummelled by 5 scallies (which are thugs looking for violence) and our sound guy jumped in and started trying to break it up and got his ass kicked (cause they were pretty well armed with pipes and knuckle dusters), so there was this chain reaction where someone would step in and try and break up the fight but they'd get hit over the head with a pipe or punched in the mouth with brass knuckles, there wasn't much anyone could do, everything went haywire and luckily the cops came right when things just started getting more and more ugly and Neil ended up swallowing his front teeth, it just felt like a movie and we were outsiders watching it all happen.
Jason: We love being in Australia, this has been quite a treat, really refreshing and friendly. It's such a nice ending to a long tour.
Read our more recent interview with Conrad Keely
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