Interview with: Conrad Keeley (...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead)
Via email (2001)
When you first came to the attention of the UK press, you were lumped in with a few other U.S rock acts such as 'Queens Of The Stone Age' and 'At the Drive-In'. Why do you think they did this? Why do you think they felt the need to create a scene and unnecessarily pigeonhole bands?
I imagine the NME were looking desperately for something to keep the readers buying the magazine. Many periodicals and media entities have a real dilemma, and it isn't to expose good art or to even inform people of what's going on, but to create or if need be, fabricate a sense of "something is happening here", in order to keep themselves from becoming obsolete. It isn't easy keeping a magazine above the water, in fact it's a real chore but sometimes there really is just nothing 'going on'. So if you can imagine once something remotely interesting happens they have to jump to it and find an interlinking pattern in order to declare that they've just discovered a movement, when in all actuality all they've done is see a coupe of bands in the same month that have absolutely nothing to do with one another.
Comparisons have been made to late 80's Sonic Youth and recently a London band called 'Ikara Colt' were dubbed 'Camden's answer to ... Trail of dead. On a personal level, how does press like this make you feel?
I suppose that if I were a journalist with no imagination and I had a press deadline and I had some boss I didn't like breathing down my neck that I too would make sloppy comparisons because I was too lazy to get into the heart of the matter. I don't think anyone's going to be comparing our new record to Sonic Youth, but i'm sure they'll find something to compare it to, for lack of anything better to do. So I suppose when I read these comparisons, I just feel a sense of pity for the writer, the way I feel a sense of pity for a poor slug dragging itself across the sidewalk, before I run it over with my bike.
When you throw your instruments around, how can you afford to replace them all?
We don't replace our instruments, we re-use them and re-use them until they are completely unplayable. Then we buy cheap replacements. Like I've said before, a nine hundred dollar guitar sounds exactly the same as a two hundred guitar when the distortion is on and anyone who says otherwise is probably a salesman and should be eaten and killed.
Your reputation as a live act is incredible, is it a lot pressure on you when you think people are coming to your shows with an idea of what to expect from what they've read and word of mouth, and you have to try and live up to this?
Sometimes it worries me until we go onstage. Then I stop worrying. Really, the greatest expectations so far have been the ones we place upon ourselves, which are not light by any means. I mean, when we look at our heroes, bands like The Who or Led Zeppelin or Nirvana, when they played live, we can only think "How are we ever, in a million years, going to top that?" and the answer is, of course, that we can't. We can't come close, that's the bottom line. So we do what we can and hope it's good enough for the kids today, knowing that it's been done much better. That shouldn't discourage you, but inspire you. I would love it one day if one of our showslooked like a scene from 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon', but I'm not about to tie a wire to my waist or anything. It will always remain a spontaneous thing.
At Reading 2001, you played before Frank Black, how did it feel going onstage before one of the most influential musicians of the last Twenty years?
Frank was a really nice fellow backstage, and so were all his band and I do like a lot of their songs, but he was never a hero to me, so to speak. He couldn't be, he's far too contemporary. It's not like opening for Little Richard or Chuck Berry, or even Chuck D for that matter. I know he's a big influence to a lot of people, but the music of the Pixies is almost too close to what we're doing to call it an influence. I don't know if this makes sense, but usually I am influenced by music that sounds nothing like what we are doing, something completely unrelated. The magic for me is turning, say, a Depeche Mode song into a rock song. Re-writing a Pixies song though, is silly because they already did it perfect, y'know? Sorry, that probably doesn't make much sense. It was nice to get off stage and hear 'Monkey Gone To Heaven' wafting across the green fields of Reading like an English rain.
I've seen a number of fanzines strongly support you, do you think 'zines are still relevant against the power of papers such as the NME?
Absolutely yes. At least I hope so with all my heart, otherwise I wouldn't be doing this interview, right? It's just people printing their own opinions, un-besmirched by financial necessity or the need to increase subscriptions. What could be more noble? It's a great medium and so totally unique to our times, as well as a relatively recent development. I believe in the art of journalism, I believe in people being told things, I believe in the virtues of communication. If there is anything that has changed the face of the planet in the last few hundred years, it's the fact that now more than ever, there really can be a global community, and we are breaking free of the limitations of regionality. Whether you think this is a good thing or not, you might as well accept it because that really is the future. One day, assuming things go well for us, we're going to be citizens not of individual nations but of the planet Earth - hopefully with the option of joining a larger galactic community. . . and this will all happen with the help of zines. So keep up the good work.