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Violent rock, lush reverberations and unworldly rumbles are some sounds I associate with ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. The Austin-based band has been creating masterful musical moments for a few years, but is finally gaining much required respect in the US with their 3rd full length album, Source Tags & Codes, their first on Interscope Records, is a masterpiece consisting of intoxicating melodies and apocalyptic rock, usually at the same time.

I was lucky enough to witness two nights of mayhem at Emo’s in Austin, Texas; Trail of Dead played two sold out shows featuring many local favorites divided conveniently into a mellow night and a rock night. The first evening was something special, as the Tosca string quartet backed up the band in a carefully constructed set-list comprised mainly of the new album plus couple of songs from their upcoming EP, tentatively titled, The Secret of Elena’s Tomb. Pure aggression could have been the theme for the 2nd night as they plowed through old classics and current favorites. And they played Half Of What. I spoke with Conrad Keely; singer, guitarist and drummer; a couple of days before the double bill in Austin.

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HYBRID: Firstly, congratulations on the success of Source Tags & Codes, it is a great album and deserves all the good reviews. Any work on a 4th album yet?

CONRAD KEELY: Not physical work, but the sort of preliminary psychological work that goes into deciding the feel and concept of.. a future work. I'm trying to flush out this past year’s experiences and influences, and I'm seeing how I'm going to channel them into my composition. We've been exposed to a lot of things this year, both positive and negative, and all those things inevitably find their way into our music.

How was the tour with the Queens Of The Stone Age, any exciting incidents that spring to mind immediately?

Like Jason (Reece)'s fight with Mark Lanegan?  No, that was all fun and games.  For me the tour was really a test of stamina. I'd never been on tour for eight months straight before, and it was ... horrendous? No, but it did make me appreciate Austin in a way I will never forget, and coming back here during the tour was probably my favorite night. The Queens guys themselves were all very easy to get along with, and more than supportive. I think they understood our difficulties. We're different, I think, though, as bands. They are somewhat traditional in their rock, and we're slightly more ... obtuse.

Do you mind going into that incident you just mentioned?

Oh, Lanegan.  Well, Jason went onto the Queens bus and stole their porno, and Mark chased him off again.

I want to ask a quick question about THAT show at SXSW at the Red Eyed Fly a couple of years ago. Rumor has it that your instruments were at the bottom of the creek before the end of the night, what went on there?

I think we had some sort of beef with the club... oh yes, that was it, we played a show there, and they dared to charge us all this money for broken mikes. Which were not broken. So when we heard that our booking agent had booked his SXSW showcase there, we planned, before hand, that we would demolish the place. Actually, we didn't do half what we wanted. I was seriously ready to take the drums and smash them against the bar. I wanted to burn the place down. I don't take well to being shorted, and I only wish I could have skewered the owner with my cymbal stand that night.

I think I was elsewhere that SXSW night, how many songs did you manage to finish before the demolition?

Oh, we did four songs. THAT was an accident, we really did plan to play more, but when our bass drum broke, no one would lend us another one because of our reputation. So FUCK THEM.

You have had relatively a much bigger fan base in the UK than the USA (at least until recently), how has the UK experience been in general?

Well, I grew up for a time in England, and I have a lot of family there, so for me it was definitely like going back home. I got to see cousins I'd not seen in fourteen years, and some I'd never seen, and aunts and uncles would come to our festivals.

Where in England?

I grew up in a small town called Bedworth, just outside of where I was born, Nuneaton. They're both near Coventry, Birmingham, where the specials and all the Ska stuff happened in the eighties.

I bet the cousins loved you.

Yes, the family in general found it quite novel.  Well, I was always pretty peculiar to them, my mother was the adventurer of the family. And I was the only child raised abroad, so they kind of looked upon me as somewhat special.  Especially bratty, that is.

Go to any soccer matches?

I didn't attend any soccer matches, but we've been invited to by Nottingham Forest, because somehow they found out that I wear a forest shirt.

You do? I will bring you a Texas chapter for Liverpool Football Club supporters shirt at the next show, will you wear that?

If it's medium. I can't wear big things, like Mogwai do.

Did you go to the University of Texas here in Austin?

No, I worked there for four years though in the education building, Special Ed. department. That was where I found all the time to design our website and album covers! I guess it was more like three years, but that was the longest job I ever held down.

Sorry to bring politics in, but what are you views on the current “war”?

We're at war?  No (laughs). Well, I decided I wasn't going to bother having a view, because it's already set into motion, and there really is no stopping it now. I mean, obviously war is atrocious, but I think in our life time we've been fairly lucky, we haven't had any big ones, and in some ways I wonder if we've been too lucky. I am still curious to travel over in that area; to me war always means that that country must be very fascinating.  At one time my dream was to be a war correspondent photographer.

I have done my research, but for our readers, why “And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead”

Oh, can't talk about that, sorry. Next question please.

How did you guys get together? First shows?

Jason and I met in Hawaii, where the sun is green and the woman carry knives. My first show ever, really, was the Melvins with Nirvana and Beat Happening, 1988. Nirvana sucked at the time, and the Melvins were awesome. I was just a wee bairn, and it was in a room about the size of... half the size of B Beerland.

What do you remember as your first show as Trail Of Dead (as per my research, it was only you and Jason the first few times, and it was somewhat of a mixed bag, like music, comedy, skits, etc?

When we first came to Austin, we couldn’t' get arrested in this town. So basically we had to INVENT a venue from scratch. Jason went to a coffee shop on Congress (Ave.), I think it was called Cafe Soleil (it's gone, but it was next to the Paramount), and asked if we could put on a live show. The guys said yes, and so that was our first show. It just happened to be coincidental that an Austinite musician named Paul Streckfus and his girlfriend Lauren happened to be riding their bikes past us, stopped in and loved it.  Paul was in the band Glorium, and they asked us to open for them. That was how we got our start here.

On to this weekend’s two shows at Emo’s, I am so ready for that! I read that Tosca is joining you on stage for the 1st night, what is that going to involve?

It's going to involve me staying home all day writing string parts, is what it'll involve! Luckily, I have a couple strings lying around, so it shoudn't be too painful.  I generally arrange on piano.

What have been some of your favorite bands that you have been lucky enough to play with?

Explosions In The Sky is one. Obviously I always mention Mogwai, but there you go. Um... I don't know, the Sex Pistols were pretty great. Obviously, I judge that by a careful balance of loving the music and liking the people. It has to be both.  And the pistols were really nice folks!

What are your (and the bands’) biggest influences?

(I thought I was asking for bands, but Steven Hall from the Young Heart Attack answered Tequila to this, so I am guessing it can be anything)

Yes, Tequilla.  He's right. Well, I'm pretty influenced by Bach.  I just got into this violinist named Nadja Solerno-Sonnenburg, I love her playing. I am very much into Chopin, and as a child I was raised listening to Kate Bush. of course, the Beatles rank high on my all-time influences, but so does early Pete Gabriel Genesis. It's really all in there. As producers we borrowed a lot from Public Enemy, I think Chuck-D has always been a role model for me. But then, so were the Sex Pistols, and that's why I was really excited to play that show.

Quick facts with Conrad Keely:

  • Last album bought: I haven't even listened to all the ones I've been given, I’m not going to buy any.
  • Favorite restaurant: My favorite Tex Mex is Maria's Taco Express. Favorite Asian is Kim Chi Sushi, and favorite Bar-B-Que is Sam's on the east side 12th St.
  • Last movie watched (and enjoyed): We watched Quest For Fire last night, one of my all-time favorites.
  • Religious affiliation: I don't agree with religion, I think it needs to be left behind, and I think a new awareness of personal spirituality needs to replace it.
  • Favorite sports team team: Nottingham Forest?
  • Favorite file sharing software: I use Limewire.

Thanks Conrad, appreciate your time.

No problem.

Adi Anand is a hybrid staff writer, based in Austin.

Thanks to Neil Schield for the header photo.
Pull quote photo by Adi Anand.

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