Published Mar 13, 2014Twelve years ago, Texan rockers …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead released their major label debut, the excellent, career-defining Source Tags & Codes. The album was a major creative leap forward that was met with universal acclaim, earning a now-legendary perfect score on then fledgling music site Pitchforkmedia. It was just the statement they needed to complement their much-hyped live performances, which often ended with the band destroying all of their gear, night after night. There was even a point where the band were on the brink of unexpected commercial success. But Trail of Dead went the way of many indie bands that upgraded to majors, losing crucial supporters at their label Interscope, refusing to play the game, and eventually get lost in the shuffle. However, eight years after the band (with different members) parted ways with Interscope, they're still as active as ever.
As they prepare to write and record their ninth full-length, the band will hit the road for a short tour to look back on halcyon days, by revisiting the fan favourite and classic album, Source Tags & Codes. Exclaim! tracked down co-founder/drummer/guitarist/singer Jason Reece in Austin, Texas to discuss why he and co-founder Conrad Keely are doing the tour, whether they'll smash up all their instruments again, and if that Pitchfork score mattered.
How does it work for the band now that Conrad is living in Cambodia?
Logistically it can be a bit of a challenge. But when we're all in the same location we get a lot of work done. We spent about two weeks here recently just hanging out at this cabin in the woods jamming out some ideas. It's doable. I don't think every band can work like this. But we've been at it for a while so we feel more comfortable with each other. And the other two members Jamie [Miler] and Autry [Fulbright II] have been in the band for four years now.
Do you ever go to Conrad?
We have been over there and played a show. It's a little more of a nightmare [laughs] finding equipment in Phnom Penh. It's a third world country still in a lot of ways. [In] Austin, the equipment is everywhere.
What made you return to Source Tags & Codes 12 years after its release?
[Laughs] Well, I think what really happened is people have been wanting to hear the album in its entirety. That seems to be happening a lot with bands. It kind of makes it special for fans. I think that album was special for a lot of people. It's our most successful album, so it seems to be the smart thing to do. In a way it's for the people who like the band and that album.
Would you say it's your favourite album?
I'm very happy with the album. We've played a lot of those songs throughout the years, so it's definitely something to be proud of since I'm not cringing while I listen to it. The albums are like babies — I love them all the same. But then again I go through stages where I do like certain albums or songs more than others.
Was there any talk of doing this two years ago for its tenth anniversary?
Yes there was and it just didn't happen because we were working on a new album. I think the idea was to do something new.
What do you say to the naysayers that think touring classic albums is a "stupid, inauthentic exercise"?
I don't know. I mean, Conrad was not into at first, for the same reasons you gave. He thought it was the status quo thing to do. But then we did it in Australia and it seemed to make a lot of people happy. And that outweighed the negativity! [Laughs] It's one of those things where people come to see them play and it's good to challenge them, and I believe in that. But at the same time it's nice to be inclusive and have this celebration of something that brought positive light into their lives. That being said, it's definitely catering to something that is popular right now. It's "the thing to do!" [Laughs]
Have you seen any bands do it well?
I saw Sonic Youth do Daydream Nation and it was awesome. I never thought I would see that whole album come to life. I've seen Sonic Youth a few times, but that's one of my favourite albums, so to me that was a really exciting moment.
Was there any discussion with Neil and Kevin about getting the original members back to play Source Tags & Codes?
They express no interest in playing music at all. [Laughs] They're so over it, which is funny. I don't think they really care. But some of our past members have jumped up and played songs with us. Though not Neil and Kevin, unfortunately. They were important to that album. That was the album they contributed the most to. It kind of sucks because it would be ideal if they were a part of it. Even if it was just for one show somewhere. But the band did start with me and Conrad as a two-piece. It's been a revolving door.
I saw you guys play four or five shows on the Source Tags & Codes tour cycle. You were such a volatile band back then. How do you think the shows will compare to when you'd smash up the stage?
Well, in one way we are fucking old as shit! [Laughs] Like you said, it was 12 years ago. We're fucking middle aged dudes now. Trail of Dads! [Laughs] I have two kids. Conrad has a kid. Would it just be contrived and silly if you see middle aged Conrad and I smashing up the stage? Would it be pathetic? I don't know. We sometimes still smash things. It just depends on the show. It's always been that way. Usually it's out of frustration or celebration. It's really dumb, but it is fun to do. There is a satisfaction you get out of trashing the fuck out of everything.
Will you be playing anything extra on top of the album?
Yes we will. A bunch of songs that will likely be different from the last time. We'll change it up and hopefully people will dig it.
Which is your favourite song to sing from Source Tags?
For me, "Days of Being Wild" is this sort of anthemic bloodlet that seems to go over really well. There are some real stand-outs we feel comfortable playing, like "Relative Ways" and "Another Morning Stoner." But there are some we don't play often, like "Hand in the Heart" and "Baudelaire," which are songs that Neil sang. It's cool to revisit those songs though. When we played the album in Australia we were like, "Wow, I can't believe we haven't played this in ten fucking years."
Who sings Neil's songs?
I don't know. We'll take turns in rehearsal and decide.
The album's review on Pitchfork has become something of a legend. Obviously, that website has more cachet now than back in 2002. What did or does it mean to the band to get a perfect score?
It was like, "Oh cool. Some website gave it a 10." Only the real indie music heads were into Pitchfork. It wasn't some influential website back then. But it's funny to think back and go, "Oh yeah. Wilco and Radiohead also got tens, so I guess we're respectable."
In hindsight does it matter to you?
No. It's not like it did any favours. In fact, we've never reached that amazing 10 ever since, so… It's not anything we take seriously.
In retrospect, was signing with Interscope a regret or a life lesson?
To us, it was a choice we made and we don't regret it. We benefitted from it sure, but we also learned a lot of hard life lessons too. It felt like the right thing to do at the time and definitely opened some doors. It helped us live off our music. It helped us go to places like Europe. The negative was that there wasn't much of a connection. The artists we related to were Queens of the Stone Age, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and later TV On the Radio. But for the most part we were the oddballs. It was a strange scene at times to go up there for a meeting. There were all these guys going, "Yeah, we can do this! And we can do that!" And we're just thinking, "Okay." And then Conrad would go, "I fucking hate all that shit!" We said no a lot. [Laughs]
Any plans to reissue Source Tags on vinyl? It's quite rare.
Really? There was a vinyl release. Both that and Worlds Apart. I don't think we did So Divided on vinyl.
You reissued your first two albums on Superball. Would you consider doing the same for your Interscope records?
Well, that's the thing. Our contract is over with Interscope so we will be reissuing Source Tags. Interscope was allowed to have it for a certain amount of time. That's the deal you make when you jump into bed with the big old label!
What's up next for you after the tour?
We did an EP for Pledge Music, so that should be coming out soon. And we've started the writing process for a new album, which we'll be recording a few weeks after the tour ends.
Are you writing more songs these days? I feel like Conrad often complains that you don't write enough?
Yes, I am writing songs! I always write songs! Conrad just writes more songs. He's fucking Conrad Keely, the ball-hog. It's a challenge, and we butt heads over that all the time. I have two other bands I'm involved with and do a lot of writing. Let's not make it negative. I think this new album is going to be a lot of my material too. It's not about who's writing most, it's about what's best for the record. If you get trivial about that it doesn't become about the music anymore.