The Lost and Damned: ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead return with a fury
A little good will can go a long way, something fans of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead are well aware of. Having weathered some adventurous, yet ultimately disappointing albums on the heels of their seminal 2002 opus Source Tags & Codes, the outlook for the once mighty Texan rock veterans was looking decidedly iffy during the tail-end of the last decade.
Yet fans held out hope and with hindsight the albums in question, 2005’s Worlds Apart and its follow up So Divided, polarised rather than galvanised any particular opinion. When Trail of Dead make a great album, we put out the bunting. If a somewhat disappointing record emerges instead, we count its charms, cough politely and await the next chapter. Eighth album Lost Songs is about to land later this month; prepare to celebrate.
Following quickly on the heels of last years’ Tao of the Dead, it continues the unlikely winning streak kick-started by 2009’s Century of Self, the band’s first album after leaving Interscope Records amid a very public spat. For many, it was something of a return to form and whilst its follow-up had a reach that perhaps exceeded its grasp, it was nonetheless a grand, and at times exhilarating listen.
In contrast, the latest finds Trail of Dead cutting their wares to the quick. If Tao was a prog extravaganza, then Lost Songs is the eviscerating spectre of punk rock, obliterating ostentation and theatricality with a raw, vigorous intensity. “It just naturally went in that direction,” begins founding member Jason Reece, speaking to The Skinny from London. “The last record was definitely more kraut and prog-rock. This time the songs just came out three-minutes long instead of seventeen! I guess we just wanted to get to the point.”
In an odd turn up for the books, Lost Songs was actually recorded in Hanover, Germany, a country that’s certainly no stranger to the strains of progressive guitar music. “We thought that some of the songs were going to be ‘super-krauty’,” laughs Reece. “But we went the polar opposite. It’s comical because we made our kraut-rock album in Texas and then went to Germany to make our punk record.”
The reasons for the move to Hanover were born from a stated need to escape hometown life, yet it also doubled as a focal point for the album's political undertones. “We wanted to get out of Austin and the distractions of living there,” says Reece. “[It helped] to be out of our comfort zone and in a place where we didn’t necessarily belong.”
Of those distractions, Reece is unequivocal. “A lot of people [in Austin] are pretty apathetic and play in their little indie bands, staying out all night, doing cocaine and partying. It’s a very selfish kind of scene.” It’s a sentiment that rings true on a macro scale as Lost Songs' press release, written by frontman Conrad Keely himself, makes clear; “The music was inspired by the apathy to real world events that has plagued the independent music scene now for over a decade.”
Reece is happy to take up the baton of his bandmate’s typically curt statement. “The writing was inspired by some of the bands we were into as kids,” he elaborates. “Back in the nineties, bands would actually have some sort of politics to their music, whether it was Public Enemy or someone more socio-political like Fugazi. I know it’s not cool in this world of irony to try to say something, or to have convictions, but some of my favourite bands, like The Clash, were moved by what was around them. They didn’t turn a blind eye. Speaking about Reagan’s policies or the issues in El Salvador, you know, I wouldn’t have known anything about that if it wasn’t for them.”
And so lead single Up To Infinity focuses its fury on the current Syrian civil war, and is dedicated to the plight of Russian dissidents Pussy Riot. Yet while Trail of Dead have never been seen as apolitical, Lost Songs is unlikely to turn off those who believe politics and music don’t make comfortable bedfellows. Their lyrics invariably come with a keen poetic sense, letting Lost Songs be enjoyed as a straight-up rock album, should you wish.
“Our music is always open to interpretation,” agrees Reece. “But no one’s going to listen to our new record and think it’s like Sandinista! We’re just trying to point things out, things in our world that we feel are unjust, things we need to hold a light up to. Sometimes you need someone to speak about stuff that isn’t in your comfort zone.”
It is perhaps this attitude which has helped Trail of Dead endure the highs and lows of almost two decades together in one form or other. The relative safety of a major label in Interscope brought huge praise but also crushing blows, yet Reece, Keely and co. did nothing if not challenge themselves musically throughout. “The whole idea of this new record is that we’re not trying to re-tread anything,” claims Reece. “Every record for us is embedded with the idea of moving forward.”
More fool anyone for assuming that Lost Songs could be a collection of rarities and out-takes. Trail of Dead are far too pioneering to be raiding the vaults or cashing in on the nostalgia circuit currently engulfing veteran rock acts, right? “As it happens, we’re doing a show in Japan where we’re playing Madonna in its entirety,” laughs Reece. “But it’s a special show. We’re definitely not trying to hop on that train.” Actually, that sounds fucking amazing The Skinny must confess, with some embarrassment.
Scottish gig-goers, meanwhile, can look forward to the trimmed-down quartet arriving in Edinburgh this month, providing Reece with the perfect opportunity to brush up on our local lingo. “We’re a bunch of clatty mingers,” he informs us, with no small amount of enunciated effort. “No, wait! We’re bawbags! We always have a Scottish crew that work with us when we’re in Europe, so we’re familiar with all the different slang terms.” On a sincere related note, Reece admits to feeling somewhat at home on our soil. “The first time we ever made it across the pond was to play in Scotland,” he recalls. “We were playing with Mogwai in Glasgow and then Edinburgh. It felt like there was a real bond with Scotland at the time, you know?” It goes both ways sir, and we’re happy to have you back over. You’ll have had your tea though, right?