...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have accomplished a lot in a decade and half. They've toured the world countless times over and have released a slew of recordings that have garnered them praise from fans and critics. Scene Point Blank spoke with guitarist, drummer, and vocalist Jason Reece on their most recent headlining run about The Century of Self, touring experiences, and the band's vision of art and music.Scene Point Blank: 2009 has been a pretty productive year for you guys as far as touring; there was the previous tours of U.S., Europe, Canada, and Australia. And you're roughly two weeks into the six-week tour. What's it like transitioning from a year of not touring and writing a record into being on the road?
Jason Reece: I think it's one of those things that you have to force yourselves back into. Once you get back on the road, it takes a good week before you fall back into the way of life. But once you get into it, there is the energy that you've got to exude, where as before when you're in the studio, you're being cerebral... you're not being very physical. But, we're definitely used to this kind of lifestyle; we've been doing it for so long. Seeing other places inspires us, and that really helps. When you get out of the comfortable, the different cultures and trains of thoughts have influence on you. For example, we went to the White House where we got to meet President Obama's dog. We didn't get to meet the president, but we met his dog. We have a friend that is a diplomat at the White House; he's a diplomat by day and DJ/photographer/rock enthusiast by night. He took us on this tour and we're on the White House grounds and there is Kal Penn from Harold and Kumar. That was surreal moment for us because it's obviously a different administration. And you can see the immense change on the surface. And it gives me a sense hope where as before it was so bleak. And I'm not saying that Obama is going to save the world, but it's better than what it has been.
Scene Point Blank: How did you come to choose Secret Machines and Future of the Left as tour mates?
Jason Reece: In a way we've been fans of those bands for years. McClusky was the band before Future of the Left, so when we started hearing new music from them we wanted to do something. And it was great that they were ready to go on tour. Same with Secret Machines, we've known them for a long time as friends; it's been seven years since we did a tour with them, and it was their first tour of the United States. So with both, the camaraderie is there. We fell like everybody has a positive attitude and are trying to inspire each other. There are a lot of creative influences being thrown around, and that doesn't always happen. I've been on lots of tours and it's been, "Oh they're really nice guys." And that's cool, but I think with this there is more.
Scene Point Blank: Do you feel a tour such as this is a lot more cohesive experience as opposed to a label-coordinated tour? Such as Dethklok or Queens of the Stone Age were in the past?
Jason Reece: The Adult Swim tour and Queens of the Stone Age tours were great ideas at first but once they got going, it was different. You think that everybody is going to mesh, but then you find out the reality of things. When you get on the road their fans are completely different from yours. The Queens of the Stone Age tour was rough, but we had some amazing moments with them and had some great shows together. Especially when Peaches jumped on the bill., which made it even weirder. With Dethklok, it was hell. I loved the opportunity to see that whole production; it was just a bad mesh.
Scene Point Blank: Definitely apples and oranges.
Jason Reece: Haha yeah. One is not real and one is...
Scene Point Blank: Turning to the new record, there was a push to call it a "return to form," which I have seen the band decry in other interviews. Do you see the press labeling it in this matter as a limiting agent and short-changing your songwriting?
Jason Reece: I think that we looked at our past work and kind of incorporated everything that we'd done up to that point in a new way, instead of rehashing the past. There is no point to do that. But it is good to reference your previous work, just not as a template though. That's kind of the idea. For example, we're writing a song that has a heavy, melodic quality; we have to ask ourselves how do we throw in something that is noisier to give it a more raw edge, "Remember how we did this with that record?" Or, "Isis Unveiled" references "Ode to Isis" on World's Apart. And on the first record we had a song with "Isis" in the lyrics. So, subtle connections.
Scene Point Blank: What led you to recording "The Century of Self" in a live setting as opposed to recording each part individually? Do you feel this showcased a more natural sound of the band as opposed to the glossy approach that most studio recordings can?
Jason Reece: I feel we incorporated things better. We performed a lot of the stuff live and then we layered. And we've always done things live. But with So Divided and Worlds Apart, it started out as piano line or a drum beat and we built on it. Where as with this record, we were in a rehearsal space banging away coming away with the basic live interpretation and then going and recording it as six players. It's the entire band in one room. A lot of that was a conscious decision to go against the grain form the last two records.
Scene Point Blank: Did the separation of band members have any impact on the songwriting process?
Jason Reece: We worked on some of the record in Texas and we were planning to finish the record there. But we ran into some problems with our producer. We managed to get Chris Coady, who has done work with TV on the Radio and is a friend of ours to help produce the rest of our record.
Scene Point Blank: Do you think it changed the dynamic?
Jason Reece: I think there was a bit of drastic change. Chris is into busting out toys and keyboard and weird shit that we've never seen in our live. And hanging out in NY, there is a NY state of mind. It just happens, you cannot escape. So it definitely had an impact.
Scene Point Blank: The title "The Century of Self" is rather intriguing. Just curious on the meaning behind it as it evokes an evaluation on present day society.
Jason Reece: It references how we're all living in this day and age. Like "Halcyon Days" is about being in an urban place, like a New York, that is almost teetering on the edge of destruction, and yet you're happy to be alive and be a part of this lively place. You're trying to celebrate your life as much as possible, but you're also witnessing something that is ultimately very bleak. It's kind of a paradox. The title came from a documentary we were watching when were making the record. It was about mass consumption and mass marking that ties into the way we buy products and the way those products define us. When we live in a world where almost everything is commercialized. It's hard to escape it. It's good to be aware of it; but I don't think some people even think about it. We're not trying to be on the pulpit and preach.
Scene Point Blank: On the topic of materialism. Given the current economic climate with failing sales of records and the crumbling music industry, are you better off to be directly involved with matters of the band as opposed to your days on Interscope?
Jason Reece: You're definitely working with less money and you definitely don't have the resources that a major label has. Even when we were a part of that world it seemed they funneled their efforts into the wrong places. At least with this, we have our hands in everything. We know what we like and don't like. We talk about it with the people that work with us and try not to make the wrong decisions. Records these days don't sell, so it is a very daunting pursuit. We don't make records to make money; it's a way to express ourselves to the audience. On the major label, it was never a problem with the creative part. I think they just didn't follow through with getting the record out to the people. Then again, maybe they tried and nobody wanted to listen... so you never know. It could be that too.
Scene Point Blank: ...Trail of Dead makes it a point of emphasis on the music as art verses sounds. How important is it to distinguish what you do in this manner?
Jason Reece: The visual art aspect ties into everything we do. You know it's a ...Trail of Dead record when you see it. It just has its style. That style is uniquely Conrad; that's his strange mind at work. He's always been doing art; he's just focused his efforts lately. I think it really does define us and sets us apart from bands. We have an aesthetic, and not many bands have that. We're also coming from a mentality of album art from back in the day, and that's lost on a lot of people today. But there are people doing it today, the new Mastodon record is incredible looking and a good example. Even with the digital version you get a copy of the art.
Scene Point Blank: The band now has their own imprint label, Richter Scale Records. Do you have any releases planned?
Jason Reece: We definitely want to have a label where it has its own identity and our goal is to put out bands that we know as people that we have something in common, which is Austin, Texas. That is definitely the approach that we want, to make it our personal tastes. I think of some of the bands that have gone on to bigger and better things that we could have done in the past... Explosions in the Sky, we took them out on their first tour. The Sword, we did their first tour as well. So all these bands have gone and done there thing and they're doing really well now. The Sword toured with Metallica. Explosions in the Sky, they're huge. Looking back, we didn't have that experience to help them, but now that we have a label we can offer that.
Scene Point Blank: Looking forward, what are the future plans for ...Trail of Dead?
Jason Reece: We're going to start working on a new record in December and hopefully put that out on Richter Scale next year. I don't know how much more touring we can do on this record, unless we go to South America. We've been pretty much everywhere now.
- Official ...Trail of Dead Website: http://www.trailofdead.com