Finally liberated from major label shackles, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are back with newly independent bow The Century Of Self.
Sparking with epic, vital energy and joyous chorus crescendos, it may very well represent the album they should have made post-Source Tags & Codes, before embarking on the audience-splitting discography duo of Worlds Apart and So Divided.
We spoke to Jason Reece, drummer, sometime front-man, and one of ...Trail Of Dead’s three self-appointed ‘founders and chairmen’ (alongside Kevin Allen and the outspoken Conrad Keely) about the record, humorous Internet rumours, and playing poker with Steve Albini...
DiS: So what is The Century Of Self?
JS: It’s a reference to a BBC documentary [of the same name], a Freudian concept of consumerism. We were thinking of what would point to something a little more meaningful rather than some random esoteric, ambiguous album title. We were watching that documentary and it interested us. It’s really good. It’s about this guy Edward Bernays, who’s created the whole ‘wants’ society that we live in. We’re not really a needs-based society; we want something new at every moment.
Are you quite cynical of that mindset?
Yeah definitely, but you can only do so much, you live in a consumerist society. The whole idea is to be aware of where it all comes from.
It’s been mooted as your most personal album yet, exploring themes of childhood and the like...
Well some songs point towards growing up and moments in time where you reflect, see your origins, what makes you tick. When you write songs you discover little things about yourself. If you write something that’s personal and you’re thinking about a time period of your life, you’re like ‘Oh shit, that’s why I feel this way’. Not about your youth and how angry you were, as much, more how certain moments in time made you feel alienated, I guess.
Your press folks have kindly labelled this album ‘prog’...
Ha ha ha, fuck that...
Not prog-rock fans then?
Prog is a very pretentious and dangerous world. It can be so over-indulgent to the point where it’s repulsive. So I don’t think we’re prog. Prog is like Pete Gabriel getting into costume, four-hour shows. We’re really into painting this whole big picture rather than a pop song, but...
Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth, when I listen to that album, that’s like fucking prog. It’s so fucking intricate; there are a lot of different breakdowns. So we’re about as prog as that.
There seems to be a much more joyous undercurrent to this album? Is that a product of escaping major label constricts?
Y’know, the major label system is very bogged down with red tape. You got to talk to five different people in order to get an answer; it’s absurd. So in a way by leaving we simplified matters. I don’t know if we’re going to sell as many records. Do I care? No, I don’t really give a shit. But we’ve never been the type of band that’s been like [adopts dumb voice] ‘Okay we’re going to make a radio hit’. I’ve talked to other bands on our same label and they’ve had A&R people come in and tell them what would be a pop song for the radio. Fortunately, we’ve never had that.
Do you hold any resentment for Interscope or are you just glad to be out of there?
For us it’s a new experience. We’re doing our own label in the States. It’s exciting. Flaming Lips, they’re on Warner Bros, and they have a fun time doing whatever the fuck they want. They’re doing well and it’s seems to be all right. But they’re an anomaly. With us it just didn’t fit. Interscope had this crew of people that were pretty supportive, there were familiar faces and they were very aware of our music. And then they left, got fired or moved on, so you’re dealing with a whole different group of people, and they don’t give a fuck about your music. So you’re in limbo.
The crazily detailed ballpoint pen artwork for The Century Of Self is drawn by Conrad; is he a huge doodler on tour?
Yeah, he’s always painting and drawing. Ever since I’ve known him, since high school, he’s always been that way. It’s cool because it’s developed a lot. It started pretty amateurish. Now it’s very intricate.
The little boy on the front cover almost looks like him...
Ha ha. No, no. It’s more about when you’re young and you discover mortality, and there’s also the historical context, books surrounding the child looking out at the world. And the world is full of information, wisdom, pain and the whole spectrum of humanity. Actually the boy is Lukas Haas, he was a kid actor in the ’80s in a movie called Witness with Harrison Ford.
The band – Conrad particularly – has endured, shall we say, a ‘changeable’ relationship with the press in recent years. What are your own feelings toward the media right now?
They have to do what they have to do. Journalism can be an art form as well as music. It just depends on how serious the journalist is about the subject. I’m always into the whole Lester Bangs approach to journalism, where the journalists take you to a new level and almost write about a movement or critique an album in more of a literary way.
Has touring become any less of a destructive experience?
Touring has always been destructive. We’ve never shied away from destruction. You have moments where you feel like ‘It’s time’, then you have moments where you feel like if you do it, it’s in vain. If you’re going to destroy your equipment, you have to do it with conviction, man. You can’t fucking fake that shit otherwise you’re a complete fraud. When we’ve destroyed our stuff it’s out of sheer jubilance or frustration.
Speaking of destruction, the tale of Kevin Allen smashing up your bar after an overly competitive game of Guitar Hero made it as far as DiS. Was that actually true?
Ha ha ha. You can’t believe everything you read, man. That was on Wikipedia. Sometimes I treat Wikipedia like an actual good source for information but actually people can lie. It’s up to you to decide what’s the truth and what’s not.
So are you competitive guys generally?
Well, I play poker. I guess I consider myself competitive in that. But as far as serious-about-sports competitive, it’s very selective competitive behaviour.
Is the professional poker tour your fallback career then?
Ha ha. No, I’m not that good. But I’m trying to be a better poker player, so watch out...
You should get some tips off Steve Albini. He’s supposed to be pretty sharp...
I played him at All Tomorrow’s Parties and I took money from that motherfucker. Ha ha. He’s a good poker player, really good. I was really drunk. I managed to, for some reason, clean out a couple of people of their money. At the end of the night Steve was giving me my cash – he was the guy who kept all the cash – and was like ‘Yeah man, you’re not a bad poker player’. I was like [appropriating shock] ‘Thanks’! He’s very stoic. He didn’t really talk to anyone. I was just surprised that he even acknowledged my presence!