Posted July 15, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

On the Road with Jason Reece: …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead


Once banned from clubs in its Austin hometown, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead  has regularly toured and recorded since forming some 15 years ago. Last year’s aggressive and noisy Lost Songs offered politicized lyrics along with the Sonic Youth-like soundscapes. The band’s currently on tour to kick-off of a PledgeMusic campaign for a Tao Of The Dead Part III EP, tentatively set for a September 24th release.  The band has already launched a pre-order for the EP (available on limited edition CD and 12” vinyl) that will give fans the opportunity to be involved during the creation of a brand new 20-minute long composition that long-time collaborator Chris “Frenchie” Smith will produce. Multi-instrumentalist Jason Reece recently phoned from a Connecticut tour stop to discuss the band’s history as well as its current tour.

I think I read that you first met Conrad [Keely] in Hawaii. Is that the case?
Yeah. I was living on this one island and I met a mutual friend of Conrad’s. I was 16 at the time. He told me that Conrad was living in the same town that I was moving to and that we should hang out. It was non-committal. There weren’t any phone numbers exchanged. The first day at the high school, I was meeting random people and trying to make my way. I saw this dude wearing a Rush T-shirt. I had a feeling that was Conrad.

What made you guys think that you could form a successful band together?
He was starting to get into some punk rock. He was getting into the Ramones. He was definitely into the prog rock and Pink Floyd and stuff that nerds who like Dungeons & Dragons would like. I had a bunch of punk records and we would exchange records and tapes and have listening parties. It was one of those things where I had a bunch of music that was new to him and he had stuff that I hadn’t heard before. I listened to a lot of Zeppelin and Black Sabbath but I didn’t listen to the prog stuff. It was that exchanging of rock music. That was a big change and broadening of the horizons.

What was the Austin scene like when you moved there?
At first we ended up in the Northwest.  Conrad went to high school there and I wanted to get out of Hawaii and followed him. We started a band that didn’t really work out. I started a bunch of hardcore and punk bands. He started a bunch of bands on his own. We were just having a rough time living in Olympia and things were going to shit. I had this brilliant idea to go to Austin. I had this friend who was doing well with his band and talking about this place called Emo’s. Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid came from there. There was a folklore about the city and that movie Slacker came out about that time. It was like, “Oh shit, there’s a weird film scene, too.” We moved to Austin. We didn’t fit in. We were too arty for the hardcore kids and too aggressive for the people who were into the mellower elements of Austin. There were a lot of bar bands that were middle of the road and these bar rock bands and then bands that were super shoe-gazer like Bedhead and then there was us. We started finding our little niche there after a few years of getting kicked out of venues and just trashing places and finally Trance put out record out and it legitimized our band. We weren’t just pulling a bunch of stunts and jumping around and creating chaos.

We didn’t fit in. We were too arty for the hardcore kids and too aggressive for the people who were into the mellower elements of Austin.

Talk about the Interscope years. Was that a good time period for the band?
Yeah. We were on Merge after Trance folded. It was by chance. Superchunk took us on a tour and they really liked us. That helped us get over to Europe and there was a lot going on over there at the time. NME was flipping out about us. They were going ape shit and we would come back to America and play to nobody. Interscope caught wind of that.

Do you think they thought you could be the next Nirvana?
Maybe they were thinking it could be their next Nirvana. They never said it outright. They’re always looking for that new cash cow. We invited them to come down to a local show with our friends’ bands playing. We didn’t really think we would get signed. We just thought it was funny and kind of strange. It turned into this meeting with all these label honchos and Jimmy Iovine was among them. We liked his attitude. He was a good salesman. He used to make records and he was behind some of the more interesting records of rock ’n’ roll, like Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Tom Petty and U2. He used to work with John Lennon. We fell for that. Being on Interscope was good for us. It got our music out to more people. We quit our day jobs because of that. That was a big turning point. We could just tour. Our job was to play music and make records. It didn’t matter if it was a minimum wage job, we were working for ourselves. The funny thing is that we didn’t look at is as becoming a number one band or conquer the charts. We looked at it as having a budget to make the records we want to make. They were supportive but they stopped believing in us. They weren’t as available as they used to be. The people we used to work with had left or had been fired. When the downloading started happening, they panicked and focused their attention on the cash cows, the one-hit wonders and trivial non-artistic commercial music.

Talk about how The Lost Songs is inspired by the public’s apathy to real-world events.
I think we were writing a real aggressive, heavier record and were definitely inspired by the events going on at the time. Pussy Riot was kind of a big deal. The trial was happening and Syria was going on. That’s still going on today. It seemed very relevant. It was food for thought. That helped us with lyrics and trying to at least reflect the current state of affairs. There are people who write about what’s going on in their lives and it’s usually about a relationship or love gone wrong. We weren’t thinking of lyrics in that way, we wanted them to describe the state of the world at this moment. We were trying to dig deep. It’s not trivial. When you listen to the record, there’s a sense of urgency and we’re trying to put a little substance into the music. That’s always been very important to us. We haven’t written any love ballads lately.

I think you recorded the album in Germany. Do you guys live there?
That was just so random. Part of our indie label is over there and they were totally supportive about us going there. It fit in with the amount of money we had. It was the idea of taking an adventure and going out of your comfort zone and making the record you might not make if you were in Austin where you know everybody and have friends and family. The fun thing about making a record where you’re a stranger in a strange land is that you have a tendency to get internal and focus on the music a lot more. You’re a little more focused and serious. Not to say that you’re not if you’re making music in Austin. The idea of going out and making records in different parts of the United States or going to Europe helps stir up the pot a little bit and gets you more into a different state of mind.

The fun thing about making a record where you’re a stranger in a strange land is that you have a tendency to get internal and focus on the music a lot more.

What keeps you guys going?
I just think being obstinate and stubborn and not giving up. We’re also somewhat self-righteous. We think this band is the best band around. We believe in it. For us to throw in the towel seems like all that effort would be wasted. We’ve managed to get through the hard times and continue to do what we love.

Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates

July 15

July 16

July 18

July 19

July 20

July 21

July 22

July 23

Firebird, St. Louis, MO

Record Bar, Kansas City, MO

Double Door, Chicago, IL

Cactus Club, Milwaukee, WI

Pitchfork Festival, Chicago, IL

Pike Room, Detroit, MI

Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH

Maxwell’s, Hoboken, NJ


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.