Trail of Dead Unveil The Century of Self: Exclusive Track-By-Track Preview

Feature by Dave Kerr | 04 Feb 2009

…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead return this month with The Century of Self, inspired by what front man Conrad Keely considers “a sense of renewal, especially after getting off of Interscope and having a sense that we’re doing it for ourselves – not having the pressure of some idiotic A&R guy asking us for a progress report”. Here, exclusively, he gives The Skinny a track-by-track insight…

Giant's Causeway was originally called The Betrayal of Roger Casement & the Irish Brigade: the title of a book my great grandfather wrote. I decided to shorten the title of the song to Giants Causeway, so as not to inflame anyone politically. He was an Irish national who started the Irish Brigade and the book is an anecdote of his time spent as a POW in German prison camps. It’s a fascinating story, but unfortunately there’s a little bit of family drama preventing it from being published. Every record we’ve done has had some sort of instrumental introduction, it goes back to the overture of the orchestra or a symphony in the opera. We wanted something that opened it up to feel like a singular work and not just a collection of tracks.

Far Pavilions is the name of a book by MM Kaye about the Great Game – the power struggle between Russia and Great Britain during the time of the British Empire in India. I saw a lot of parallels, reading the book, about what’s going on in Afghanistan now and how the Khyber Pass has always been a playground for war, ever since the time of Alexander the Great. The song is role-playing in a way, expressing the wistful feeling of trying to live your life past the place you were born, to try and reach a distant goal or dream, which the character in the book is doing.

Isis Unveiled is a heady topic. It’s a summary of the whole Biblical story from an agnostic Christian point of view but also from the point of view of an early Christian sect that believed there were two great Gods in the Bible. There was the Old Testament God and then there was the God of Christ who overthrew the Old Testament God, which I guess was their way of explaining why there was such a difference in the way that God was portrayed in both. It was difficult to come up with lyrics for that because the music was so intense, they had to be appropriately apoplectic.

Halcyon Days is pretty personal; it’s specifically about my experience moving away from Austin, Texas. I lived in Austin for 13 years and recently moved to New York City. I didn’t leave because I hated it, I loved it but I wanted to grow. This is about saying goodbye to the wonderful time I had there while facing the future with fortitude.

Bells of Creation is about Theophany – heavenly music. It was inspired by a documentary I was watching on TV about Mormons, and after I’d read the book Under the Banner of Heaven, a very scathing indictment of Mormonism and a crazy story. Basically, the founder of church, Joseph Smith, had a vision which he described as hearing the song of angels. I’ve always wondered – because of the universality of music and the way it’s governed by laws we didn’t invent, I guess I took that one step further to ask the question - if we’re governed by these universal laws here, what would music sound like that was made by aliens? Or what would music be like that was made by beings of a spiritual nature – non-material beings?

Fields of Coal is the only song I’ve ever written on tour. Sonic Youth were playing at Pukkelpop Festival, we were just about to go on stage and I wrote this pretty spontaneously in the back of the bus. It’s about the feelings I have sometimes about not wanting to get on stage, not always wanting to be in the limelight and scrutinised. It’s really hard to compose on tour, to find the space and the clarity of mind. I just forced myself to do it and this was the result. I’d like to do more of that, I always hear about other composers who can. I mean, The Beatles wrote some of their best work on the road. Maybe it’s my own lack of trying, but with the momentum that I feel from this recent record, I feel as though I’m undergoing this creative surge and I want to continue to mine that.

Inland Sea was also written pretty spontaneously. I was working on the artwork, at home in my apartment, looking out of the window and on to the streets of Brooklyn – getting inspiration from the ambient noise. It just hit me and came into my head, then I moved over to the piano and worked it out – it was as simple as that. The lyrics took a little bit more work but they ended up being about meditation. My parents were into transcendental meditation when I was a kid. I did it out of my own fascination, even though I was only seven years old, but it was really beneficial. It’s still something that to this day I try to do when I’m feeling very off-centre.

Luna Park is Jason Reece's (drummer/guitarist/co-vocalist) song, he was the one who decided to write about this theme park in Coney Island that had been burned down in arson numerous times. I think he used that as a metaphor for burning down something that he loved, destroying something that was close to him.

Pictures of an Only Child is actually an old song, I wrote this about 14 years ago – before we started the band. It’s about as personal a song as I’ve ever written. It’s about my photo album and looking through pictures of my parents and of our travels. Eric, who I mention in the song, is my step-father. My mum’s family lives in the UK and my dad’s family lives in Thailand, but I’ve spent most of my life growing up in America and I felt like I was just so distanced from my family. I was always jealous of people that had family reunions and had the closeness of their extended family nearby.

Insatiable One was written for a film soundtrack that never came together. They never called me back, but I had this song that I’d written for it. When I wrote the lyrics if became a lot more metaphorical, but I guess it’s about what the title of the record’s about – The Century of Self.

Jason started the work on Ascending and I co-wrote the lyrics. It’s about growing up in Hawaii and how difficult and angsty our teen years were, just the sense we had of needing to get out – the old cliché of island fever. It was tough growing up there, but I think it’s a lot better now - less violent. Jason went back this Christmas and found out one of his father’s friends went to high school with Barack Obama, he showed him a yearbook from Punahou with Obama in there. He was a total local: what you’d call a guy who talks the talk and, ‘y'know, like, stuff’, a brogue spoken by locals called Pigeon – as in Pigeon English. And now we have a local in office, so maybe he’ll bring a certain down-to-earthiness. I couldn’t ask for a better background in a president than to know that he grew up in Hawaii.

An August Theme is just a segueway – there’s not much of a story behind it. It’s just an interlude!

Finally, with Insatiable Two – that chorus of “I’m a Monster…” – it's about the Orang Pendek: the Bigfoot of South East Asia. It’s the idea that there’s this very close relative of the human race living in the forest observing us, seeing our dominance of nature and feeling similar to us but in a sad way seeing how destructive we are. There are scientists who are seriously looking for this thing because there are too many stories of it being spotted. I think there’s a lot more chance of us finding an unrecorded primate than there is the Loch Ness Monster. There’s been recent evidence to say that there’s some strangely intelligent primate out there that hasn’t been recorded. I think it’ll show up within the next decade or so, some intrepid adventurer is definitely gonna nail it.

The Century of Self is released via Richter Scale / Justice on 23 Feb.

...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead play Òran Mór, Glasgow on 17 Apr.