Conrad Keely is always keeping busy. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead returned to the area last month and played the Highline Ballroom and the Williamsburg Hall of Music— and the band is, as their MySpace page informs, still “on tour until they die” in support of last year’s incredible release, So Divided. In our area this month, they will be playing NYC’s Bowery Ballroom on Nov. 23.
I recently spoke to Conrad about the many instruments he plays, and his early life in Olympia, WA, and Austin, TX.
Hey, Conrad. Thank you for taking some time to chat with me today, it is most appreciated. I thought I’d start off today with something a little bit basic: How old were you when you first started playing music?
Although I had violin lessons for a year when I was eight, I didn’t really take music seriously until I was around 13.
Could you give our readers a rundown of all the instruments you play?
My mother says I had a drum set when I was two, but I don’t remember it. I started with the piano at age 11, then learned guitar shortly afterwards. In high school I joined the orchestra and played upright bass. Around this time my late friend Brady Gates lent me his saxophone and I picked that up, applying fingering I learned from playing recorder. And then I painstakingly taught myself drums shortly afterwards. I only recently began to learn the viola and violin, and I recently bought a clarinet which I was able to apply my knowledge of saxophone to.
You’ve moved around quite a bit, right?
I was born in Nuneaton, England. Six weeks after I was born, we moved to Thailand and I was raised by my father’s family in Bangkok. Then we moved to Hawaii when I was four. We moved back to England for three years when I was eight, then returned to Hawaii, then moved to Olympia when I was 16. That’s more or less the whole story.
Were there any underlying circumstances that prompted your move to Olympia?
We had originally intended to move to Seattle, but while we were there we met a person who had a house for rent in Lacey, what you might call a suburb of Olympia. That was how we ended up there.
A lot of stuff has come out of Olympia; it’s the home of record labels like K Records and Kill Rock Stars. There was the whole Riot Grrrl thing, and in general it pretty much became a Mecca for young musicians. What was going on by the time you got there?
All that was going on while I was there. The first show I ever went to was The Melvins, Nirvana and Beat Happening. I noted Nirvana in my diary as ‘a shitty metal band,’ which they probably were at the time. Then two years later, they were the mind-blowing band people now remember. Beat Happening were my favorite, but there were a lot of great bands, some of which only a few people still remember. The number of bands at the time was definitely a bizarre abnormality, as if there were something in the water.
Like Olympia, Austin has quite a music scene of its own. By the time you relocated there, you had played in a couple of different bands. How much did life start to change once you got to Austin?
It changed completely, and I have to equate a lot of that simply to the weather. In Olympia, I suffered from the lack of sunlight and felt depressed a lot of time. In Austin, I felt an explosion of pent up energy and immediately surrounded myself with a youthful and energetic circle of friends with whom I am still close to up to this day, even though most have moved to all different parts of the world.
I found this quote from a website called epitonic.com, regarding your album Source Tags And Codes. It says, ‘The record will likely be regarded by history as a Daydream Nation for the rock generation of the early 21st Century.’ That’s quite a compliment. What do you think when you hear things like that?
I think, ‘That’s very flattering, and although I’d rather write Dark Side Of The Moon, I realize that both those albums have already been written and I ought to just write something new.’
Your next album, Worlds Apart, is probably one of the most brilliant albums to come along in a quite a bit. The sound of the band definitely evolved on Worlds Apart, and to me, the transition between the two records seemed very natural. But, even still, there were people who felt that the record was too ambitious. What are your thoughts on the record now?
I think those people who thought the album was too ambitious were absolutely correct—it was. But without ambition, would we have gone to the moon? Built Mt. Rushmore or the pyramids? I read somewhere that there’s a personality type that exemplifies the ‘thrill-seeker,’ sort of a reckless risk-taking, and I would definitely put myself into this category of people, those who tend to do absurd and impulsive things for the sake of… I don’t know, the wind in their hair or something.
(With So Divided) most people seem to agree that there is a logical progression from Worlds Apart . Some of the percussive influences are taken from mine and Jason’s (Reece, TOD’s co-founder) childhood home in Hawaii… Actually, it’s more Tahitian, but Polynesian nonetheless. If there is any one thing I took particular care with (on So Divided) it was the vocals, after the sting of the Pitchfork review that called me the worst singer in the world. (laughs)
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are playing at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on Nov. 23. For more info visit trailofdead.com