Dead Meadow: ruffle Feathers, produce stellar fifth album
Somewhere between 2002 and 2003 – 2002-and-a-half, perhaps – the then Washington DC-based Dead Meadow became A Big Deal in the music world, relatively speaking, as they forged a deal with the much-respected Matador label for their third studio long-player, Shivering King & Others. The first ‘Meadow LP this critic let infiltrate his senses – bought from a second-hand record store in Crouch End for a bargain £3 – it was a signal of things to come in terms of compositional ambition, but also an echo of an already colourful past of psychedelic jamming and never-ending drone-scapes.
The band was founded by Jason Simon, Steve Kille and Mark Laughlin in 1998; drummer Laughlin would be replaced by Stephen McCarty in 2002, ahead of the release of Shivering King & Others. Barring an experiment of sorts with operating as a four-piece, bringing Cory Shane into the fold, the trio has remained firm since their Matador debut. Their debut album proper, Dead Meadow, and its follow-up Howls From The Hills have both enjoyed re-issues via the Xemu label between album four Feathers and their newly released fifth, Old Growth (review).
While the re-issues have kept the band’s name in the press between Matador releases, the can be no doubt that their greatest critical success to date has been Feathers (review), and album so universally acclaimed that the thought of not improving upon its formula (realised as a four-piece) must’ve weighed heavy on the band when making Old Growth. DiS calls the band, on tour in Texas at the time of our conversation, to see where their heads were at during the gestation of another brilliant Dead Meadow LP.
Video: ‘At Her Open Door’
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Hi Steve, how’re you doing?
Good man, good.
Let’s talk Old Growth. Was there any additional pressure on the band, compared to previous recording processes, considering the acclaim for Feathers?
I think you try to not have those thoughts, but it can be hard to get past that sometimes. Making a record is such a long process, anyway – it’s taken a couple of years to make Old Growth. We feel this album’s another progression, and it has a little more of that live feel. We’re looking to go more in that direction.
You’re looking to close the gap between your live experience, as energetic and acerbic as it is, and your on-record material?
Yeah, I think so, and I think with the next one we’re going to be pushing the envelope more in that respect. It’s tough to try to capture the energy of our performance in the studio, y’know.
You must have better equipment at your disposal now, compared to those pre-Matador LPs?
Yeah, of course, but we’re not into taking a Beatles approach, and adding all these overdubs for some super psychedelic effects. You can go overboard with that stuff.
I suppose that’s what keeps you from being categorised as a progressive rock band above everything else, that natural restraint you exhibit.
You really need to be able to self-edit yourself. While recording we’re quite aware of when something’s a little ‘too much’. I think, in the excitement, there can be a lot of experimenting, but from quite a scientific approach. It’s all with reason.
And moving back an album, do you feel that Feathers has established itself as the fans favourite amongst Dead Meadow followers?
It’s interesting, I wonder which record’s the one people get into us through. When we first came out… Well, it’s been a slow growth, so it’s weird to think of any record as a fan favourite. Oh, hold on, Jason’s gonna talk to you – I need to jump in the shower.
Dead Meadow (l-r): Steve McCarty, Jason Simon, Steve Kille
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Hi. Yeah, the line’s bad. Where are we?
The fan favourite being Feathers…
Do you think that one’s the fan favourite? I’m not sure – you get people into all of ‘em, especially the first one.
Shivering… was the breakthrough for me. Would you say that’s the case with a good few more people, given it must’ve been the first to receive good distribution?
I guess, although when that first came out it kinda went over a lot of heads, or something. The reviews were saying that they liked the older albums better, but now that one is often referred to. So who knows? We play stuff from all the albums, anyway.
Do you get any, not obsessives, but regulars at your shows? A friend of mine had a dream where she missed your show. She freaked out.
Really? Cool. Yeah, you get a lot of the same faces coming out, and they have done for a long time, and that’s awesome. We were rolling pretty slowly to start with, but with the re-issues coming out now it’s picking up. There are definitely people now who travel to see us a lot of times, and even fly in to see us from other cities.
You feel that the re-issues came at a good time?
Definitely. I think this type of sound has come more into line with popular tastes during that time, so it was nice to get those albums back in print to show that the sound’s been around for quite a while!
And the band has, too, which must mean you get referenced as an influence on other, newer bands more and more?
Every once in a while you read something that references us, like a band’s in a ‘Dead Meadow vein’. All of a sudden we’ve become the old guys of this! It’s definitely rewarding to see us written about like that, hell yeah. I don’t read all that many reviews, but through talking to people you hear that a certain band has been influenced by us. You remember when you were younger, there would be these bands that make an impact – like Fugazi, for instance. These bands make people get their own bands together, and get in a van and get out there.
You’re now based in California. How’s that working for the band?
Oh yeah, it’s nice. We had a good time in DC, but that time’s passed – we were all living there, but there was nothing happening, and we hardly ever played there. The west coast was always the best place for us to play, and we’ve made tonnes of friends there. We had to get out of DC, so it made sense to move there, and to somewhere warm. It was sort of a home away from home already, and we finished this record out there. A lot of the new record was recorded in a farmhouse in Indiana, but we finished up all the tracks out west, like the vocals.
It has a slightly looser feel than past albums, and there’s a greater clarity I think…
Well, these days we need to balance the psychedelic jamming with some really good songs! Also, I never properly sang before with Dead Meadow, so I was learning how to use my voice. There are aspects at the forefront of this album that have never been so prominent before.
Do you think people come to see you live who aren’t into the albums so much?
Totally, but we are a lot crazier live. We’ll capture all that someday and put a live album out. We’re talking about doing that, perhaps recording shows on this tour because it’s so long. Y’know, our older material that we play live today, it’s changed from how it was at the time of recording. Stephen didn’t play on the first two records, but now he’s been playing them the songs have become very different. He does his own thing, y’know, so it’d be great to go back and do those songs again.
Your touring schedule keeps you on the road ‘til May – are you in the right frame of mind for that sort of work yet?
Yeah, and when we get going we like to keep it going. We usually like it like that – once we star touring we don’t really enjoy taking days off. If you’re somewhere beautiful then it’s cool, but usually if you’re touring America it’s just somewhere ordinary. We’d rather be playing.
And I will see you doing just that in March. See you then, dude.
See you man.
Video: ‘What Needs Must Be’
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Dead Meadow’s Old Growth is out now on Matador, and their full tour dates can be seen on MySpace, here. The band’s UK dates, including a Local/DiS promoted Scala show with Youthmovies, are as follows:
2 London Scala with Youthmovies, The Owl Service (TICKETS)
3 Glasgow King Tut’s
4 Newcastle The Cluny
5 Manchester Night & Day
6 York Fibbers
7 Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach
8 Brighton Freebutt