Lost Songs, the eighth album from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead, is, in a word, intimidating. Though the Austin rockers are known (and revered) for their volatile live shows and haltingly candid lyrics, Lost Songs is a dense volume that requires an open mind and ample time for reflection in order to digest the record’s intellectual subject matter alongside its musical counterparts. Below, Conrad Keely walks us through the creation of the record, the evolution of …Trail of the Dead’s songwriting process and how Lost Songs has reaffirmed their ability to speak their minds through an unstoppable wall of noise.
You touch on a lot of themes on Lost Songs, from Game of Thrones to political discourse to disenchantment within the music industry. Did you have a direction in mind when you wrote the record?
Conrad Keely: Not really—we kind of allowed the creative process to dictate itself. If anything, our only goal was to do it quickly and allow the spontaneity of the writing to determine the direction it went. I don’t think about what we’re doing as something different from what we’ve done before, as much as we’re trying to evolve in what we do and grow as composers and writers, and to frame and address what we’re going through personally in our lives, in the media or what’s going on in the world right now. Because we’re making the songwriting process a really quick one, sometimes these things just come out on paper. Most of the lyrics were written five minutes before we sang the rough vocal track on the demos, and they didn’t change that much from the originals that we wrote right on the spot. All of the writing for the music came really fast, so fast so that we didn’t have much time to think about the direction it was going. We just let it carry us through the process.
That sounds like the definition of an organic creative process.
Keely: Yeah, I think that approach was something we learned from Tao of the Dead and something we wanted to continue. We wanted to just let it flow. If something’s not working, go to the next thing; if you let it flow, most of the things you try just work somehow. It was a really collaborative writing experience. We were all coming up with ideas together, which is a lot different compared to how I wrote in the past.
When it comes to broaching the topics of politics and your take on global news with your fans through your music, how has that experience been?
Keely: The response has been typically very positive, especially in places like Germany, where young people seem to be a lot more engaged in politics than they are in the States. I do think we’ve always been political in our music; it’s just never been overt, or we’ve not drawn attention to it. I don’t think that anything has changed with our approach or our own personal politics so much as that the changes in the world have created a climate where things really need to be said, and people do need to take a stance. The apathy that has been affected by the general populace in the last 10 or 15 years simply won’t do anymore.
Do you feel similarly about the music industry? (I’m thinking of “Lost Songs” here, which you guys described as a “cynical observation” in the album’s liner notes.)
Keely: Yes, it’s been like that for a while now. We grew up during the early punk movement. People were outspoken back then, and it was exciting. Now we’re in this situation where I feel that as we’re getting older we’re becoming more radical, and young kids are becoming more conventional and boring!
Are there any artists you’re channeling in your writing that reflect this?
Keely: We were very influenced by Fugazi. I think when they went on permanent hiatus they left a large vacuum in the music scene. Bikini Kill has always been an inspiration as well. As far as other bands currently, I don’t think of us as really having any colleagues musically. We are on our own.
What have you learned from Lost Songs, and what is it about the record that will inform the future pursuits of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead?
Keely: I want to continue to explore the spontaneous lyric writing process, where I pen whatever comes to my head a few minutes before singing a rough demo vocal. That really worked on Lost Songs, and it saves me from what has in the past been a particularly slow and painful process. There’s a sort of “letting go” involved, when you aren’t so much concerned with the outcomes, and it allows you to enjoy the process far more.
… And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead US Tour Dates:
Austin, Texas @ Fun Fun Fun Fest 8-
San Francisco, Calif. @ The Independent 9-
Los Angeles, Calif. @ The Echoplex 10-
San Diego, Calif. The Casbah 15-
Washington, D.C. @ Rock and Roll Hotel 16-
New York, N.Y. @ Irving Plaza 17-
Cambridge, Mass. @ Middle East 18-
Philadelphia, Pa. @ First Unitarian Church 20-
Toronto, Ontario @ Lee’s Palace 21-
Chicago, Ill. @ Bottom Lounge