. . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead’s explosive indie-prog is defined by the push and pull of Conrad Keely’s epic mysticism and Jason Reece’s primal punk surge. But when it came time to write their eighth studio album, Lost Songs, the two songwriters weren’t even living in the same country: Reece remained in Austin, the band’s longtime home base, while Keely had relocated to Phnom Penh, the vibrant capital city of Cambodia. Fittingly, the raw, guitar-driven urgency of Lost Songs was inspired by disconnect – mainly the juxtaposition of American cynicism with the cultural freedom Keely has experienced abroad.
Earlier this year, the band (which now includes drummer/guitarist Jamie Miller, along with bassist Autry Fulbright II) regrouped in Austin, where they rented a house and spent a month writing new music.
“A lot of the ideas were so fast and aggressive,” Reece says. “When we started shaping them into songs, it felt like they were angry. There was this intensity, this urgency.” At the recommendation of their label, the quartet relocated to Hanover, Germany, recording at a studio previously used by metal bands like Celtic Frost and the Scorpions. “Isolated from America and from friends,” Reece says, the album’s intense lyrical themes started taking shape.
“There was a lot on our minds at the time,” he continues. “We were thinking about what was going on in the world and all the conflicts and wars going on around us. It was kind of food for thought. We just plugged into that and used it as inspiration.”
Inspired by the Syrian civil war and dedicated to Russian punk-rock activists Pussy Riot, “Up to Infinity” finds both singers snarling and shouting over grimy distortion before a trippy mid-section breakdown. “Opera Obscura” swells to a proggy, percussive climax (“We were just trying to play as loud as possible,” Reece says, laughing).
The album’s most aggressive track, however, is Reece’s show-stopper “Catatonic.”
“The music was there first, and I kept thinking ‘Catatonic Youth,’ he says. “I just ran with the idea of ‘Catatonic/ always looking for something new.’ We need something new every day, something to make us feel alive. That was kind of the impetus, the fuel for the song – that, in a sense, everybody’s pretty complacent in America.”
Lost Songs clearly flirts with political and social commentary, but as Reece notes, “It’s really more observations and reflections. We’re not trying to shove any sort of gospel down someone’s throat – we’re just trying to question things for ourselves. As kids in the Nineties, we were into bands like Fugazi and Public Enemy – bands that were very politically wrapped up in a bunch of stuff. It seemed like there was a sense of trying to find the truth, or at least speaking out.”
And even as Trail of Dead continue to expand their vision outward, Reece feels the band’s internal chemistry hasn’t been this rich in years. “It felt like we were really bonding and becoming a band again,” he says.