Interview w/ Conrad Keely of ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

By Semone Maksimovic
July 1st, 2003

The adventures of ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail Of Dead continue: When last seen, they had completed their major label debut record, and traversed the world several times over. Currently they are supporting their sophomore release, an EP entitled "The Secret's of Elena's Tomb." Operating from the land down under, Semone Maksimovic makes a transatlantic call to TOD frontman Conrad Keely for the details.

Semone: What's the story behind the name of the new EP, "The Secrets of Elena's Tomb?"

Conrad: It's about Carl Von Cosel, he was a German doctor that lived in the early part of the 20th Century and was treating people for tuberculosis in Florida and as the story goes, he'd fallen in love with one of his patients and believed that she was his soulmate, but she didn't survive the treatment. When she died, he dug up her corpse and preserved it and kept it in his house for many years and when the authorities found out they jailed him for necrophilia and when he was released he wrote the book "The Secret of Elena's Tomb" and it's a true story and they're his memoirs of his love for this decaying corpse. They had a special on it recently on HBO where they autopsied the remains of the body and stuff, it's pretty intense stuff.

Semone: So was that title inspired by you because of all the recent specials on tv?

Conrad: No, what actually happened was my roomate's father got the rights for the book and he's putting it out on tape later this year, so the two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other except that James happened to be working on some stuff right next door to my room and I liked the title, so I said 'hey, can we use that?' and he said 'Sure, why not?'

Semone: So have you heard the whole story on tape yet?

Conrad: Nah, I've heard bits and pieces of it and it sounds really disturbing (laughs) the guy is so insane! And they got this old man to actually recite the thing right [so it sounds like it could be him in old age] and he goes on about how much he loves the smell of this thing and how beautiful the smell is, when as a reader you know that it must be this horrible stench. I really ought to finish listening to the whole thing, but it's 4 hours.

But the title didn't have anything to do with the artwork on the cd at all, which was Inspired by the golden age of royalty the Victorian era, I can't remember who that old man is on the inside, I think he's a painter from the 19th century -not a very well known one, he was just one of the lesser stars of that period, but the other one is St. Vasily [of Kineshemsk] in Moscow.

Semone: How long did it take you to write most of the songs in the studio?

Conrad: We didn't write them in the studio, we wrote them before. They were at different times, one of them is a really old song of ours "Mach Shau," that was one of the first songs that we played like 7 years ago, but we never recorded it, we just had it around, and then the other songs, the next song was brand new and then the two before it were written a couple of years ago, so it was really spread out.

Semone: What does "Mach Shau" actually mean?

Conrad: Literally in German it means 'make show' and it was something that The Beatles had said that the crowd would yell at them when they were onstage, they would demand that they Mach Shau or make show basically to entertain them anyway that they could and I think that was an early philosophy of ours.

Semone: How did "All Saints Day" come about? I can't believe you made Jason's voice sound like that!

Conrad: (Laughs) Yeah, that was one of the new ones we just kinda based the start of that song right before we went in to the studio and it just came about as it were.

Semone: I couldn't believe how calm Jason's voice was, it came as quite a surprise. I had thought it was you to start with until I saw the clip on the enhanced part of the CD

Conrad: Yeah, the way we were able to make it sound like that was to have him rubbed down by 20 geishas while we recorded the vocals (laughs all round).

Semone: And also with "Crowning of a Heart" you choirboy-esque vocals came out a little bit, is there any reason for toning it down a little on that song?

Conrad: No, not really, I thought it was actually Mogwai-esque which is kinda what my inspiration was, it's almost orchestral and I think when I'd written that I was really inspired by Mogwai cause we were touring with them over there in Australia, so those were some of the sounds that I'd liked that I'd tried to settle for.

Semone: At the end of "Crowning of A Heart" is that your new tenor sax I hear you trying out?

Conrad: Yeah, yes it was, well there were a couple of things, there were also bagpipes in there. (Laughs)

Semone: So have you learned to play the tenor sax yet?

Conrad: Yeah, it's really not that hard, it's the soprano one that I'm struggling with.

Semone: How did "Intelligence" come about? It's just so different to any sound you guys have tried before, very New Order sounding.

Conrad: Well that was actually a collaboration with a fellow named Tyler Jacobson and he does a lot of electronic music, in fact he and Jason were in a side project called The Roman Scandal and they're kind of a hardcore techno band.

Semone: Like along the lines of a ATR kind of sound then?

Conrad: Not so digital hardcore, but more like techno .. Subcrafted electronic music. But we all played on it and stuff, that was a fun one, I think at the time we were recording some of that stuff we didn't really care what kind of music we were making and that it was totally out of left-field. We just left it open and that is why it sounded all eclectic.

Semone: When was that recorded? Cause I have a copy of that track on my Relative Ways EP.

Conrad: Yep, that was recorded right before Source Tags.. same as with "Counting Off The Days," so when we went into the studio this time we only had to record the first three songs on the EP, the other two were ready to go.

Semone: Where did you get the inspiration for the cover artwork of the new EP?

Conrad: That is Crown Princess Margret the queen, it's an old old ... , I don't know I just wanted to do something on canvas, I've never really sketched anything on canvas before and I wanted to do that cause it sort of has that pixelated look to it. It was fun getting all the artwork together because this time I worked solo which made it harder, but it also made it a lot free-er because it meant I could do whatever, very stylised in one way, in some way I feel that I did more art on this one than I did on the last record.

(Phone call come through, Conrad goes to answer it...)

Conrad: I'm sorry, that was our producer Mike 'the wizard' McCarthy. Have you heard stories about him?

Semone: No, not yet, just a few whispers about an incident involving he and Kevin and some flying equipment when you were in the studio recording the new EP.

Conrad: Flying? (laughs) What did you hear?

Semone: Something about Kevin getting a little frustrated with Mike and some equipment heading in Mike's direction.

Conrad: Oh, I guess yeah, that kinda happens. Mike's a pretty interesting fellow, he's produced our last three records and he's kinda this hermit that lives in Nashville and lives an almost monk like existence.

Semone: It's cool, that he understands you and the directions you decide to take since he's been with you from the start since you were all church choirboys.

Conrad: Well, that's what we always wanted to use it, just kinda keep it in the family. I think working with a producer that's like-minded is important.

He has this old detrola that his grandmother gave him, and it records on really soft vinyl. You can just make a recording right there on vinyl and it sounds really old and crackly. That's how on our last record we got the sound of that girl singing the Patsy Cline song at the end and that was actually his grandmother and she recorded that, so we used it this time for a lot of the sound, like with the old violin and the horn that sounds really crackly and old. So that was pretty trippy.

Semone: That's great to have a toy like that in the studio, I would imagine that would be one of the only ones left in existence that's still in working order.

Conrad: Yeah, and it kinda makes you feel like you're going back in time, like you're in the 1940s or something, I think that time period has been fascinating us recently and I think that maybe the next record will be really old sounding, like the whole thing will sound like a bunch of crackles and pops.

Semone: How long did it take to do all of the artwork for the EP? The detail is almost of picture quality in most of them.

Conrad: I don't know if you've put the enhanced CD in yet. The artwork that's in the sketchbook of the enhanced CD, those took longer to do, the ones that are actually on the artwork of the CD itself were done really quickly, right before the artwork was due, but a lot of time was spent doing all the pictures that are on the enhanced CD and one of them is actually from Australia, of a goat titled 'He Tendeth To His Flock' is a drawing of a goat from the Taronga Zoo that I did while we were there.

Semone: What are the plans for ...Trail of Dead this year?

Conrad: Well, they've been left pretty open-ended, we didn't really set up any other priority other than writing and recording, I imagine that's all we'll be doing for the rest of the summer, we're not doing a lot of touring, we're doing some which we'll be leaving for in a couple of days.

Semone: Yeah, you also managed to get hand picked for the All Tomorrow's Parties bill.

Conrad: That's right.

Semone: How did that come about?

Conrad: Apparently Matt Groening who does the Simpsons is putting it on this year, I don't know how he heard of us, but it'll be our second (ATP), our first was our first time in England, the one with Sonic Youth, Mogwai, Sigour Ros etc. And then just pretty much recording a lot.

Semone: Are there any ideas for the new album?

Conrad: Kind of, I just figure that it'll all pretty much come out at once, cause that's kinda the way I like to work, but no real specific plans, we've been listening to really eclectic things, so it's going to be pretty varied.

Semone: Any plans to come back out to Australia soon?

Conrad: Oh, I SURE hope so, we had a great time when we were there.

Semone: What was your favorite part of the Australian tour?

Conrad: Favorite part? I think I really enjoyed getting into a feud with The Dropkick Murphys, I liked it all really.

Semone: So has anything further happened between you guys and TDM since you left Australia?

Conrad: Nah, I think they may have just forgotten about us or whatever. (Laughs) I just thought it was funny cause usually bands get along really well.

Semone: Do you have any messages for the people of Australia?

Conrad: Um, just that it's not our fault and we're really sorry.


Check out Semone's Previous TOD interview

Check out Conrad Keely's Acid Logic material:
Conrad's Night in the Big House

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