X Marks the Spot

A Q&A With ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s Jason Reece

Punk rock, post-rock, post-punk, Euro-rock-post-punk: ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead fits neatly into a lot of musical categories. Headed by Jason Reece and Conrad Kelly, you can expect them at Meow Wolf this week. Reece sat down with SFR to talk about the influences on the band’s new album X: The Godless Void and Other Stories, some thoughts on where punk and rock go from here and the current state of metal in Cambodian youth culture.

SFR: Can you give me a breakdown of your new-ish album, X?

Jason Reece: We were making it in 2019 at Scary American Studios [in Austin, Texas]. Our band kind of fell apart, and it was just me and Conrad and our friend Charles [Godfrey] putting together this monstrous kind of album that we made. It was a hard process to make this record, and we hadn’t made a record in, like, five years. There was a ton of uncertainty. So it has a lot of that throughout the lyrics—this darker outlook on life, sure, but it can be somewhat uplifting too. [X is] a journey, a way to escape for a bit. It definitely has more of a Brit-pop influence, like Peter Gabriel’s earlier stuff. British sounds from the ‘80s and post-punk, plus influences from The Verve, Oasis and that time period of Mass Attack—it doesn’t sound like that, but it nods to them.

A lot of your music is in response to happenings in society or some kind of general discontent—like how “Worlds Apart” from your fourth album references 9/11 and the War on Terror. Given all that’s happened in the country and in the world recently, does X respond to similar societal discontent, or is this really more of a personal journey?

I think X is more personal—it’s closer to what was around us at the time [we were writing]. There are worldly moments to the album, but it’s not as political as “Worlds Apart.” X is just more of the existentialist woe you’re feeling as a human being—this fact that you are older, you are dealing with a lot heavier adult things. It’s not like our youth anymore when you had a lot of freedom outside of things like rent or whatever. It’s more of us thinking about the adult shit. There’s a lot of metaphysical moments to it—a lot of it is staring into the abyss, this insanity you can get caught up in.

Conrad Kelly recently came back from six years living in Cambodia, and he’s talked about the sounds there, from wildlife to Buddhist chants to urban life. I’m curious if him being over there was a major influence on this album.

Oh, yeah. The opening soundscape has Cambodian monks chanting, something he took a recording of when he was over there. Cambodian music is interesting because there’s a whole scene of this psychedelic rock that’s coming out over there. Conrad was part of a pub-psychedelic rock band. Grinding metal resonates with the kids there. So we’ve got traditional music mixed with metal and psychedelic. There’s a disconnect with the traumas of the past—the youth there is over it, getting more Westernized. Conrad had, like, a two-story crazy apartment and paying, like, $200 in rent, so he was focusing on his creative stuff.

Sounds a lot like the ‘80s in East Berlin. The track “Something Like This” channels a kind of frustration with memory, where you seem to be trying to remember words and chords and if you can even still sing them like you used to. Does that channel a specific feeling or more of a general fear?

That’s where Conrad was coming from, lyrically. It was all from an uncertainty and ominous feeling—we were dealing with him maybe getting deported from the United States since he’s actually an Irish citizen. He had to come back to America [from Cambodia] to retain his green card, and so a bunch of immigration issues are always tied to the band like that.

When people put X on, what’s the thing you’re hoping people feel from it and also take away from it?

It’s hard for people to really know where you’re coming from with this band, there’s a lot of interpretation. If you just like what it sounds like, I get it. If you like the lyrics, that works too. It’s all just kind of a personal choice you can make with this music. Some people just really like the energy it gives off. When I listen to songs, some of them you gather right off the bat. Some songs are just nice on the ears even if the lyricism doesn’t take the forefront.

I know you live and breathe music, but do you have any creative pursuits outside of music that let you get away and decompress for a while?

I’m kind of just a house husband, frankly. I cook meals, I’m like Martha Stewart. That’s my other job. I skateboard, but I do it like an old man.

Punk, rock and all that—some see it as synonymous with a bygone era, but it still feels like it’s thriving in a lot of places. For you guys, what’s the importance of keeping the punk and rock flame burning?

For us, it’s something that we just do. I can’t think of anything else—if the creativity is still there and we’re making art, it’s important that we go on. It’s funny, because younger people sometimes don’t listen to us and then it’s like, ‘Holy shit—you guys exist!’ Hopefully some younger generation can check out what we’re doing, and we can thrive in that sense.

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: 9 pm, Fri, Dec 17. $18.50. Meow Wolf, 1352 Rufina Circle, (505) 395-6369

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