Sometimes known as the band who’ll never die, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, or for short, Trail Of Dead, have been making music since the mid ‘90s. The band’s latest release, Tao Of The Dead, has been received well and landed them a co-headlining spot with Florida band Surfer Blood. Recently, I talked to vocalist/guitarist/drummer Jason Reece about recording the new album, the upcoming tour, how European fans are different than those here, the future of MindSkyping and FaceTime and how people in Germany aren’t fans of instrument smashing.
How was recording Tao Of Dead different from recording some of the earlier albums, like Madonna and Source Tags & Codes?
Well, in a way, it was more similar to Source Tags & Codes, where we went away to go somewhere and got out of Austin, Texas and kind of isolated ourselves from many distractions. The same thing we did with Source Tags & Codes, we went to California and with this new recording we were in the Pecan tree ranch, farm, orchard—whatever—and it was just a really awesome studio that had tons and tons of goodies. Ladies that would cook for you, automatic weapons to shoot and illegal, class-A Drugs to consume. I‘m joking about the drug part (laughs).
Either way, it sounds like a great time! You’ve seen quite a few member changes since the band’s beginning, how does the current line up feel?
It feels a lot better now, it feels more like a unit, streamlined group of people who have the same intentions to take this new record out and play it to its fullest extent. To go out in every show and we have two drummers, keyboardist and a lot of people on stage, there’s a big sound that comes out of that. We managed to get that same feeling with just four people. There are less ego classes and it is much easier to manage I feel. With more people, the dynamic becomes a lot more complicated. I like the people we’re playing with; they have a good attitude. It has been very positive.
How did it feel working with Chris “Frenchie” Smith again?
Definitely a really great experience. One of the better producers out there, just a very motivational speaker kind of a guy; he’s just so positive. (Laughs) He’s down to Earth too. He’s not always going to be the complete upbeat guy 100 percent of the time. But for the most part he had a really high interest in making things exciting and he was really excited and that helped us make the record. Because the last couple of records we’ve done have been with producers who are a bit darker, and that’s their thing, they like to stew in negativity because they think that’s good for art. But I don’t necessarily believe that you need to make everything doom and gloom to get somewhere great, we’ve already had enough set backs as it is that we kinda needed a more positive atmosphere and a rejuvenation as a refresher. Like a reboot button that needed to be pushed.
How was it decided to co-headline with Surfer Blood?
There’s a lot of different reasons why that came about. Surfer Blood are fans of our music. That kinda helps. They were really into a lot of our earlier records. When the opportunity arrived, they had an EP coming out and we had our record coming up. It was a mutual respect of their creativity and we’re going to share a bus, which should be interesting because I’ve never hung out with those guys, but from what I’ve gathered we should be all right. We just shared a bus with Rival School. We did a bus tour with them for a whole month in Europe and we didn’t know those guys, so we thought this should be strange. But, at the end of the day, it brought us closer; new friends were made, and it was a blast! I hope it’s the same with these guys. The reason why we’re doing this is that it obviously makes sense on budgeting a tour, and the bands can sleep. When you’re doing a van tour, sleep is your enemy.
What are some of your expectations for the upcoming U.S. string of dates, and then the European leg of the tour?
My expectations are usually pretty low, I just want to be able to show up to the show and we just want to play our best. Am I expecting to change the world with our new album? I doubt it but at the same time I’d love for people to find this album and have it be an important part of their lives. We worked hard on it and we believe in the music. It’s kind of one of those things—when you put out new music you always hope that people will understand it and get it. But if they don’t, you try not to worry about that either.
Speaking of Europe, how are you perceived in Europe compared to over here?
We’re definitely a bigger band there. We’ve done two sold-out shows in London. We’re talking like about 3,500 people came to see us. Compared to maybe America [which is] like half that in some of the bigger cities. You see the difference. You definitely notice Columbus, Ohio, or some smaller town, and it’s not going to be a big, massive arena rock show. I don’t think it ever was for us, but we’re quite use to that. It’s not something we’re completely devastated by, like, ‘Oh my God, we’re only playing for 200 people.’ No, it’s like if we feel that people are into it then we’re into it. That’s always been the way we approach our music. We’ve seen so many different sizes of crowds from thousands and thousands of people at festivals—playing for like 50,000 people—and then going to play like a show for 110 people. You just kinda have to not worry about it too much and enjoy the show and the music part. It always helps when there are people who’ve come to see you and enjoy being there with you. It definitely makes a big difference. If they are there and they are miserable, you’re not doing the right thing.
Do fans over there have different favorite songs that they want to hear in the set than your fans here do?
There is a difference. When Worlds Apart wasn’t well received, and Pitchfork gave it a really horrible review here in America and everyone was like, ‘Oh, they’ve fallen off the map here,’ we got bigger in Europe. We started playing places like Norway, and Sweden and we’ve never got to go over there until Worlds Apart. It is really interesting to see what European audiences like and don’t like. They don’t like us to smash our instruments. They want us to play two and a half hour sets—at least they do in Germany. They want us to be like a classic rock band that plays for four hours (laughs).
Well, you better be ready for that!
No, no, no, I could never do that. I wouldn’t want to bore anyone to death that way.
How will the set list be determined for the tour? Will there be any surprises thrown in?
There’s always a surprise; we try to change it up for every show. What we’ve been doing is opening up with “Strange News From Another Planet,” which is a 17-minute long track off of the second part of the record. Opening up with that is a statement within itself like, “Are you in for the long haul?” It doesn’t seem like people get bored with it, people seem really into it, because it changes a lot throughout the song so there’s not one repetitive thing going on throughout the song, instead there is a lot of change and a lot of time signature changes and people are always caught off guard. Like the people who went to see Rival School and caught us were like “Wow, this is crazy. I never knew anything about you guys. What album should I get?” It is really hard to tell them what album to buy because we’re all so into our music. We definitely are playing older music; we like to play new and old songs.
We feel that our older music is just as valid as the newer stuff, it’s not like we’re sick of it and we’ll never touch the old music again. For us, our older music, we view it how the Rolling Stones view playing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” In one way, I think they’re like, “Shit we’ve played that a million and one fucking times” but they know that that’s one of their songs that made them who they are. We view our old music as ever changing in a weird way; we get to improvise a bit too. Who knows, maybe Surfer Blood and Trail Of Dead will do some Springsteen covers, or maybe some Bon Jovi. No, we’re just gonna cover The Gaslight Anthem.
Do you have any basic tour necessities?
The obvious is clean laundry. It’s so boring but that’s what everyone in bands wants when they’re traveling around. But one of the cooler things: I like the idea that I have this phone that I can do face time with my kid, and that really helps. It’s kind of a necessity right now so I get to see him and talk to him. So that’s kind of nice. And I feel like I almost need it now, maybe I need to build one into my head. Ah, Skype! I could Skype him with my mind! That’s the way of the future, Skyping with your mind. MindSkype!
After the tour is over what are your plans as far as Trail Of Dead is concerned?
Well, we’re probably going to take some time off and work on some more music because that seems to be what we do. We get restless if we’re just sitting around for more than a month, we just start wanting to play music, write songs and record. There’s always an itch to hit the studio or to return to making music. I know that Conrad is working on a book right now, so that’s also coming together. He’s got a publisher now. I kind have some ideas that are creative that are not necessarily musical but might tie into music some how. We’ll see how the year pans out; it still seems so early! It’s only April, I’d like to do a lot this year! It already seems like we’re doing quite a bit and I’m excited about that.
Make sure you check out Trail Of Dead at The Music Hall of Williamsburg on May 13. For more information, go to trailofdead.com.