The Return of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

About 15 years ago, a novice reporter with no credentials whatsoever attempted to interview a member of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. That reporter was me, and the best resource I had was a Myspace page. Not a lot to work with, I admit now. So consider my surprise when a member of the band (co-founder/singer/guitarist Conrad Keely) actually wrote back and agreed to chat with me. Nonetheless, Trail of Dead’s accessibility was endearing to me and their live shows—still thunderous to this day—were epic in scope. They were a band rather dear to my heart, you could say.

Chatting recently with Trail of Dead’s other co-founder, drummer/vocalist Jason Reece, about my triumph of 15 years ago, he laughs, saying “That’s so crazy, man. Now we don’t even have [a Myspace page]!” Indeed, much has changed since then: Reece and Keely have remained the band’s anchor, while a revolving door of players have all contributed at different points to different albums and tours. And although they weren’t exactly dormant—they did play sporadic dates in Europe and Asia to celebrate anniversaries of their Madonna and Source Tags and Codes albums, respectively—the band hadn’t put out an album of new material in six years until this month’s release of X: The Godless Void and Other Stories, their tenth album.

While gearing up for dates on the West Coast and preparing for more dates on the East Coast this spring, AQ spoke with Reece a week before the release of The Godless Void. 

Let’s talk about the band’s hiatus, the six year period between albums. It seems almost strange considering how prolific the band’s output has been throughout the years, but from what I’ve read, it seems to have been time well-spent for both you and Conrad. Would you agree?

Yeah, I mean, it’s not like we were completely not doing anything. We did some little one-off tours, and stuff. We did a Madonna album tour and a Source Tag album tour, and that brought us to Asia and to Japan and Europe, you know… so there was some activity going on. I guess we just didn’t work on any new music until like a year and a half ago.

Artistically, I always felt you and Conrad have been at the center of the circle of the band. But there’s been many lineup changes throughout the years. So, is Trail of Dead officially as a band just Conrad and yourself at this point?

Yeah. It’s been that way since we started as a two piece, so…. I don’t know, man, people have just joined at very different stages of their life. Some got more out of it than others, you know? It’s one of those things where we’ve always had our friends kind of join the band… and we’ve retained interesting relationships and creative relationships throughout that time. Like Autrey Fulbright (bass) and Jamie Miller (drums) were with us for at least seven years. We have a good run doing different things with them and, you know, I guess in the end, we were always the central writers of the band. It’s always kind of been us from start and then there have been contributions from people here and there. You know what I mean?

Contributions that, I would imagine, both you and Conrad felt like enriched what you were doing within the band, right?

Yeah…. Like when Neil Bush joined Trail of Dead, he played bass on the first record. He didn’t even play bass! But as time went on, Neil contributed to Madonna and Source Tag. He was definitely an interesting part of the band. Then Autrey Fulbright contributed songwriting and so did Jamie Miller, you know? Their writing was definitely kind of more in the spirit of what Conrad and I were doing, so it was like they were contributing to the band as a whole.

So with that being said, how did you guys go about writing and the recording of The Godless Void. Who accompanied Conrad and yourself in the studio for this one?

Well, we were writing it. Autrey Fulbright was living in Los Angeles at the time. Jamie Miller joined Bad Religion. So we were trying to get those guys to contribute, and so they did record some music. And then, it was one of those things where Conrad and I were both living in Austin… and it seemed like it was just me, Conrad, and (producer) Charles Godfrey after a while. But we did have people contribute…. I mean, there’s a list of musicians that helped jumped in on this record. Basically it was up to us to fucking cobble it and make a record, you know? And at times it was a little daunting…. We had all of these songs that weren’t finished, but they were recorded. So we had a lot of skeletons and a lot of half-made songs where, the music was there, but maybe the vocals weren’t there. With being with Charles, we had more time to find it and really make it something that we’d be very confident in and had more of a vision. And that’s the funny thing: with time, you kind of get more perspective and more vision. Some of our last couple of albums we’ve done in like a matter of two months or a month and a half. With this album, it took pretty much like a year.

The album sounds raw and direct—what was it about these songs that were pulling those particular vibes into the recordings?

I think for us, the influences were eighties dark pop music, not necessarily new wave, but maybe more like TalkTalk and Peter Gabriel, and even Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ocean Songs. That kind of sound was more like where we were coming from…. Listening to Hans Zimmer, and more soundtrack music. And I guess more textural [music], just a lot of layering and a lot of stuff that comes with an album that you can make in a studio. It’s got a certain rawness and rock and roll to it…. Like very edgy rock ‘n’ roll, and within that, some very progressive rock moments to it, too. 

The band has been together for 25 years now. Do you ever reflect on that and what it means to you personally?

Well, I mean, we’re reflecting on it more so than ever because that seems to be mentioned a lot in the last couple of weeks. Thinking about the record coming out in 2020, and all that. So yeah, I guess you kind of look at it and it seems kind of surreal because I don’t feel like we’ve been around for 25 years, but we have. If I really think about it, I’m like, ‘Holy shit, we’ve done a lot!’ We’ve done numerous tours, been on numerous labels, lost and gained band members, you name it. We’ve seen it all as far as what kind of different things can happen to a band. We’re pretty resilient. Resilient motherfuckers. You know, we’re too stupid to quit. We’re like cockroaches. Not going to die out. Plus, we’re pretty young on the inside still, very immature, and we just extended our teenage years and our juvenile delinquent years into our late thirties. So yeah, I mean we’re now just becoming more adults. We are adulting, as they say.