Trail of Dead [HOB, March 25, 2005]

February 22nd.  3:00 pm.  My first interview.  I would have been nervous if I were talking to Ballzack, or even my friend’s house party band.  But  here I am, preparing to make a  long distance call to Sweden to talk to Conrad Keely, lead singer of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.  Vomit bag ready in case my nerves finally decide to explode, I phone House of Blues to be connected to Conrad via conference call.  I wait, uneasy and impatient.  After several beeps and hold please‘s, the female voice clicks back in.  “Marty?”
“Yes.”
“Okay, Conrad?”
No reply.  The bastard has hung up on me before I even have a chance to make a journalistic error!  Shit, Leo’s gonna kill me!  Before I can manage to hang up my end of the line in sick defeat, Keely slurs back a thick “Helllooo.”
It seems I have awoken him, probably from some dream of Ukrainian folk art history or some other concept foreign to my Louisiana-educated mind.  In Sweden it is only midnight.  The average rock star does not go to bed by midnight.  Conrad Keely is not the average rock star.  Trail of Dead’s latest album, Worlds Apart, is a sprawling ode to the past, and I’m not talking about 80s dance music.  There are Russian folk breakdowns; philosophical odes; and portraits of Joan of Arc, Bach, and a six legged horse named Hexiope.  There are strings, female choruses, guitar swells, and orchestral arrangements.  Yngwie Malsteem be damned; this is classical rock.  Once he woke up a bit, I stammered my way through a conversation with Keely about art, history, culture, and a bit of rock and roll.

Marty Garner:  Worlds Apart is much poppier, and more symphonic, than your previous works.  Do you feel that this record is a departure from your previous albums?

Conrad Keely:  No, we’re just growing, and this is the direction that we’ve always grown, so we don’t feel like it’s any departure or anything as much as it’s an evolution.  The next album may be noisier than anything we’ve ever done.

MG:  You seem to have total control of your released work, all the way down to actually designing the cover art yourself.  Do you think it’s important for an artist to have total control of his image?

CK:  Well I think it’s important to care.  Many people who don’t have control are simply people who didn’t ask for the control.  The reason that they didn’t ask is because they didn’t care.  Which is sad.

MG:  So Interscope gives you guys full control over your released product?

CK:  Yeah, but we did ask for it in the first place.  [Bands with no artistic control] don’t really see it as an aspect of what they do, they just see what they do as the music.  I see everything involved in the band as being part of the band.

MG:  Your artwork and lyrics often cite Romanticism.  What is it about that period that influences you so much?

CK:  Well Romanticism…you’re referring to a period that preceded Classicism…the Romantic movement?  I wouldn’t say that the Romantic movement is our primary inspiration, rather just history in general, and that spans many, many periods, including the baroque, the renaissance, post-romantic, the impressionist.  We’re people that are fascinated by everything, we have an innate sense of wonder and awe and a real thirst for learning, and I think for us the only way to communicate that is to show our fascination with those things and hope that other people may be interested and fascinated, especially young people.

MG: Yeah, because so few bands today actually give a shit about the world outside of music.

CK:  It seems like it’s rare for people, not just musicians, to give a shit.  I don’t know what it is.  I think in the 90s, it was cool for people to not care and feel blasé, which I think is a very, very destructive attitude.  People, especially young people, I think, should be infused with a sense of wonder and curiosity rather than a sense of apathy.

MG:  So do you find it hard to balance the life of studious intellectual and traveling musician?

CK:  No, not really.  They go hand in hand.  Whatever you really wanna do, whatever you have time to do, you do.  The fact that we’re on tour in Europe right now is a great opportunity to get some culture; see museums, study architecture.  Not just on the academic side of things, but just the simple act of talking to people from these countries and asking them what it was like before the [Berlin] wall came down, or what is was like living in the East during the war.  ************Leo, I’m not certain if he meant Vietnam or WWII, so I guess just use your best judgment here.****************** There’s just so much stuff to learn, and it’s really fascinating.

MG:  How do you think American culture and history compare to that of Europe?

CK:  Well, it’s certainly not like European history, but there’s a lot of rich American culture.  You just have to have your eyes and ears open to it.  It’s there, it’s there.  Despite what many people would want to believe about America, we’re so rich in culture.  It’s just right in front of a lot of people’s faces, and they don’t realize that what they’re experiencing is culture, but it is, it’s really vibrant.  America is extremely vibrant.

MG:  So which cultures excite you the most?

CK:  I love Texan culture, that’s why I live there.  I don’t know that there’s necessarily a favorite.  Obviously when you go to New York City, you get a little bit of everything, which is nice.  Culture is something that is constantly being invented, and it’s funny for me to go to L.A. where everything is so new and it’s always in the now, and then just realizing how people are going to look back thirty years from now and they’ll stereotype it.  It’s kind of hard to get that perspective when you’re looking at it, when you’re there, but if you step out of it and use your imagination, you can see distinctive points of that particular culture.

MG:  You’ve been to New Orleans several times, most recently during the hurricane evacuation of 2002.  What draws you back to New Orleans as a tourist?

CK:  New Orleans is a very dark place, I think the darker side of it is what appeals to people who live there.  That’s where our van got stolen with all of our equipment in it, so you have to kind of respect its seductive power. (laughs) But for me, New Orleans is especially exciting, because it’s one of the rare cities in America where I am able to find French book stores.  I’m studying French right now, so I love going to the bookstores there, like the Arcadia.

MG:  Yeah, we manage to hold that over other places.
Alright man, that’s all I’ve got.

CK:  Wow, that was really short.

MG:  Well, we’re a pretty short magazine.

CK:  (laughs) Right on, man.  Take care, we’ll see you in March.

This column is dedicated to the memory of Hunter S. Thompson.

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