Q&A with Conrad Keely of ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
The past two years have served as a period of transition for ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead. After splitting with Interscope Records in 2008, the Austin-based sextet started their own label and drew on its own funds to record and release its latest effort, Century of Self, which boasts a decidedly rougher and edgier feel than the group's earlier material. We caught up with Trail of Dead frontman Conrad Keely to discuss the band's new directions, his recent move to Brooklyn from Austin and his creative output with a ball-point pen.
Westword (A.H. Goldstein): It seems like the band has had some breathing room since the last official release - it's been about eight months since Century of Self came out. Have you had time to work on any new music, or has the fall tour featured mainly featured material that has already been released?
Conrad Keely: We work on music constantly. Today, Clay and I were experimenting in the back lounge of the bus with some new Electro-Harmonix pedals we've been collecting, playing my violin through the vocoder and running that through a Nord Lead. I think being a song writer or composer is not just about those times you're sitting in your room in front of your piano in acts of deliberate composition, but also those times when you're just making music and noise for fun, and anticipating how you might use your most abstract ideas in upcoming compositions.
WW: It's been more than a year since the band left Interscope and struck out on its own. How has the departure from a mainstream label affected your creative process?
CK: I don't think our creative process ever really had much to do with what label we were on. Maybe what drugs we're on, maybe what book we're reading, or what movie we saw recently, but never what label we're on.
WW: Related to that, what have been some of the challenges in launching your own label, Richter Scale Records?
CK: Launching a project is never really the challenge, is it? It's more like finding land after months of being at sea that's the challenge. Just like any business venture, we're still in the outset stages of developing our vision and a concept for later potential. The challenge for us will be to create something that has a lasting significance.
WW: The recording process that led up to Self seemed unorthodox, in the sense that you entered the studio without a label and that you drew on your own funds to finance the record. Do you think the fact that the band had such a large role in the production and promotion of Self impacted the sound of the record?
CK: Again, no, not really. Finances and promotion are usually the last thing I'm thinking of when I'm working on a record. The inspiration for the record had much more to do with our personal lives and what we were experiencing. For me, I was feeding off my excitement of playing with a new rhythm section, namely Aaron Ford and Jay Phillips, and trying as much as possible to put onto tape a new type of improvisational style that we had recently developed playing live on tour.
WW: The band also drew on the YouTube to offer fans live clips and previews of the tunes on Self before they were released. Have you continued to use the web to get the word out about your current tour and any new material?
CK: Yes, not just about upcoming tours and material, but also day to day stuff. For instance, I just jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, and that's been entertaining. I don't think we've ever been the type to glamorize or make fictitious our tour lives. I think the reality of touring for me is far more exciting than some mystified Almost Famous stereotype of what touring was like back in the '70s. No it's not all about sex and drugs like it once was, but for myself it's about visiting museums, going on bike rides, making camp fires on our days off, and I'm fine with that. The only thing I hope to bring back are arena-stadium concerts.