Touring to support their newest studio album, Old Growth, Californian psychedelic rockers Dead Meadow wound up on the road for nearly four months straight with little to no breaks along the way. Aside from tiring and straining on any and all interpersonal relationships guitarist/vocalist Jason Simon, bassist Steve Kille and drummer Stephen McCarty may have had, this also had the effect of making Dead Meadow the tightest live unit they’ve ever been. As such, no better time for a live record than at the close of the tour.
At Little Radio, essentially a warehouse space in Los Angeles, Dead Meadow captured what would become the crux of Three Kings, audio and video. To go with the live set, the band worked with film production company Artificial Army to create a narrative story to intercut with the shots of the band playing. On the CD, there are five new studio tracks spliced in—though the live songs sound so damn crisp you can hardly distinguish one from the other—and the result more than anything else is one of the most flowing grooving releases 2010 will see.
It’s complicated, but Kille has a knack for explaining it, so perhaps it’s best left up to him. The bassist checked in via phone for the following interview:
Was the Three Kings project something you knew you’d be doing going into the last tour?
No. When we got back to L.A., the return show ended up being in a friend’s giant warehouse space downtown that was advertised as a party. There was no regulation as far as us bringing all of our recording equipment in. We were able to bring in all of our ProTools gear and actual microphones. It kind of spun off from there. After we tracked it, we realized we captured something special, and it was captured visually by some really great cinematographers. So after having the material that was recorded sitting around for a couple months, we said, ‘Well, let’s put this together and really make something out of it.’ It’s been a real organic sort of approach. One thing led to another. We had always had an idea that we were going to release an album called Three Kings. Even back when we did Old Growth, it was a joke we had. It just ended up falling into place that this live album and this movie became that concept, but we had that concept floating around for a few years now.
After playing for so much on that tour, do you feel like the warehouse show that you got on tape, is that the peak? Is that as good as it gets for Dead Meadow?
At that particular time, as far as the tightness of the band itself as a unit, I think it was a really great representation compared to the stuff I’ve seen from bootlegs and things. It’s a show I’m really proud of. For that moment, and the fact that it’s very rare that you get a chance to actually record your music with pro recording equipment. Most nightclubs don’t allow it, or they want some insane piece of the cut. A bazillion dollars put down on the line to do it. That alone was great, to actually be able to record a live show with the audience that sounds the way a studio album would sound. That was a really cool experience.
I haven’t seen the full, finished product yet, but in terms of intercutting the narrative shots with the live performances, is it one after the other, or are they blended together in each song?
They’re sort of blended together. As we started filming the scenes, we realized the template that made the most sense. It’s the Led Zeppelin Song Remains The Same template. It’s a tried and true (laughs) way of going about things. But we did branch off. Our stories overlap and wrap around, but there is always constantly going back between the fantasy world and the reality of the show. Hopefully one or the other doesn’t leave anyone too bored (laughs).
Can you explain the story of Three Kings?
There were so many ideas when we started with it, and then it’s come together where it’s basically these character roaming throughout the whole storyline, and you don’t know exactly what’s going on with them, and they’re just watching this whole thing unfold. Meanwhile, in the individual stories, both me, our guitar player and our drummer, we each have mini-adventures that lead us to the same place. In those mini-adventures, we’re tempted by this other side, the devil’s trying its hand to convince you to go one way or the other, and in the end we all meet at one place and basically it’s a moral challenge.
Explain to me how it worked with Artificial Army, setting up the scenes for the storyline.
When we started talking about ideas, they became the fourth, fifth and sixth members of the band. We were all in the same agreement on how to do this for the first time. In the past, from people working the album covers to people doing other videos for us, there’s always been a lot of butting heads, which is natural. But it’s been a really great experience working with [Artificial Army] in terms of the story ideas they bring to the table. Either me, Jason or Steve would have thought of that same thing too, but they got to it first. It’s been really great working with filmmakers that are so on the same page. There are very few instances, I should say, where they’ve brought something in, that made us feel weird or cringe. It’s been super-organic.
Yeah, it really is. I never thought we would ever have this ability to do this. Just because it’s usually not the case, and I have enough friends in all sorts of bands making all sorts of music, and it’s really rare you meet someone in the visual media that’s totally on the same page as you. It’s been great.
How did the mix of studio and live tracks come together? Usually they’re split up. Is that just how it goes in the movie?
Yeah, the studio stuff. In doing the big tour, we had a bunch of extra songs we had been working on that easily could have been part of the Old Growth album that had never been tightened up or finished. A few of the songs ended up being played live on that tour. So we always had them, and as it became more evident that this was going to become more of a concert film with narrative, getting a lot more wealth of information going on in it, we figured it would be great to have some brand new songs that were never heard before, that were studio, to use for transition and things like that.
We set about, after tightening up the live material, to go in and record these new songs, basically on the same equipment we used to record the live material, and just capture a similar sonic quality, to create some extra songs. I think now that it’s been edited together as one piece of art, it seems to make a lot of sense to have the new songs mixed in with the live concert tracks. I think it makes it like a Pink Floyd More sort of thing, where it’s a studio soundtrack sort of thing, as opposed to, ‘Here’s our concert DVD.’ I think the peppering of the studio tracks, the peppering of the narrative, it becomes more of a timeless piece of art, hopefully, for our fans, than if it was a run-of-the-mill concert DVD.
What are the tour plans? Do you have U.S. shows confirmed yet?
Around that release party, we’re going to set out and do a tour heading from the West Coast, up to Canada, across the north and then down to the East Coast. We’re on the East Coast for a little bit to hang out with friends and family, then we head off to Europe for a month. Then we come back and tour across the U.S.
And what about writing? Are you focusing on this, or are there more songs in the works?
We are working on new songs for a new, regular full-length album. No movie or any of that stuff attached (laughs). That’s going to be our upcoming Matador release.
Three Kings will be available next month on Xemu Records. More info at deadmeadow.com.
JJ Koczan is not a cardiopulmonologist, no matter what you’ve heard. firstname.lastname@example.org.