Interview: Jason Reece, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
This touring lark; it’s not all freewheeling rock and roll mayhem, you know. For the Trail of Dead’s Jason Reece, domestic duties sometimes feature higher on the agenda.
“The tour’s going good; I did laundry today. Oxford is the traditional laundry stop on our UK tours.”
The clothes weren’t washed by hand, surely?
“Well, no. We use machines these days. There’s a launderette near the venue, and it seems to be the only one in the northern UK.”
As our conversation threatened to get bogged down in a comparative analysis of launderette facilities in the US and the UK, I moved Jason on to other matters.
Playing in Glasgow last week, some over-enthusiastic use of the percussion had resulted in a broken bass drum pedal – a reminder that the band haven’t always enjoyed the best of luck with their equipment over here. At a show at the Boat Club in 2000, they recklessly dismantled their drum kit and passed it over the heads of the crowd – now, there’s rock and roll mayhem for you – only to find themselves missing a cymbal at the end of the night, and sheepishly having to ask for its return. Seven years on, do they still get the urge to hand out pieces of kit to their audience?
“The urge might be there – but we don’t usually do it until the very last day of the tour.”
Because things still have a habit of not being returned?
“It’s probably a worse problem in the UK. But I don’t think that we emphasise the kind of spectacle that we used to, back in the day. We’re a little bit more focussed on playing music.”
Back in 2000, the typical Trail of Dead set was speedy, thrashy, and full-throttle. Listening to the most recent album (So Divided), it’s clear that the music has gone through some big changes. How would Jason describe the band’s musical journey over the past seven years?
“As an increase in maturity. It’s also had its moments of disillusionment: starting off with an optimism about the state of music, and then seeing that such hopes were futile. Then coming out of that tunnel, to realise that you can’t really force people to appreciate music other than the way they want to. So you’ve just got to go with it, I suppose.”
That initial sense of optimism, so evident in the early shows, stands in marked contrast to many of the lyrics on So Divided. One song, Eight Day Hell, sounds at first like a surprisingly sweet, conventional pop song – but it in fact describes a pretty miserable tour of the UK. Are we always that bad, or was that a particularly awful tour?
“Well, it was opening up for Audioslave, if that explains anything.”
Oh, bad luck…
“It wasn’t really playing for our audience, but more like playing for someone else’s audience. What’s that guy’s name, Kurt Cobain? Oh, sorry – Chris Cornell. I get those two mixed up.”
Meow, Jason. Claws away!
“It wasn’t very fun at all, and it was very disillusioning – especially thinking that’s what fandom is about. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we’re creating worthwhile music – but at the end of the day, you’re filling stadiums up with people who want to listen to freaking Black Hole Sun, you know? So you’re like: OK, if that’s what they want, then they’ll burn in hell…”
Was there a deliberate irony in wrapping those feelings inside an atypically chirpy, bouncy pop tune, with the risk that people might just hear the bouncy pop and miss the message?
“To me, songs are all about the lyrics. If a person isn’t really listening to the lyrics, then I don’t think that they’re getting the song at all. It doesn’t matter whether it’s happy sounding or sad sounding – if you don’t listen to the lyrics of the song, then you are obviously appreciating music for the wrong reasons. The lyrics are the message; it’s like the libretto of an opera.”
The same lyrical themes are evident on the song Wasted State of Mind, which takes a similarly bleak view of touring. (“You can run, but get no further than three city blocks from where you began.”) Does travel not broaden the mind?
“It can, when the travel is good. However, you’ve got to understand that by the time that we did that tour, we’d played the UK and Germany and America eight or nine times – and I don’t think that going back to the same places over and over again is necessarily travelling. I can get excited about us going to Russia or Greece for the first time – but us going to Cologne, Germany for the eighth time is hardly exciting.”
So travelling as part of a rock band is essentially like anyone travelling on business. Airport, hotel, the usual dull routine…
”Yeah, and especially when you’re somewhere as boring as Cologne, Germany.” Ouch.
“But believe me, all of that beats touring in America, which can be really, truly tedious. It doesn’t always come down to the “excitement of travel”. It can sometimes come down to the tedium of having to go to a dead-end town, and the reminder that outside of your happy metropolis is just a wasteland of culture, you know? It’s what millions and millions of people are seeing day to day, growing up there and dying there. That’s a pretty bleak picture.”
Following disputes with the record label over a perceived lack of promotion for So Divided – and particularly over a recent promotional video, which was filmed without the band’s knowledge or consent – will the band be looking for a new label for the next album?
“You know what – if they want another record from us, we’ll put another one out. I feel like I tried really hard to get them to drop us with this record – but they seemed to like it, so there you go. To me, a label is about as arbitrary as anything could possibly be. It doesn’t really matter what you come out on. It doesn’t even really matter whether the label supports you at all. Promotion has so much more to do with the way that the band promotes itself, rather than anything that can be generated in the press.”
One of the band’s defining characteristics is the way that they swap instruments with each other during the course of their live sets. Is this swapping as arbitrary as choosing a record label?
“No, that’s not arbitrary. It’s very pre-meditated. That goes back to a philosophy of the band: that whoever is suited to play an instrument on a song, ought to. It doesn’t have to do with musicianship, and it’s not to do with who played what instrument when the song was first recorded. It’s more to do with how we can make the song sound best for the live performance. And that changes from tour to tour.”
On the basis of our decidedly downbeat conversation, it sounds as if the Trail of Dead are a band in sore need of cheering up. In which case, why not come along to the Rescue Rooms on Sunday night, and see if you can put smiles on their faces. Just don’t go touching that drum kit, OK?