There are albums you love and albums that alter the way you listen to music. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's 2002 masterpiece, Source Tags & Codes, fits squarely in the latter category. Damn near everyone loved this thing; Source Tags was like a long-lost Led Zeppelin album, made thirty years in the future by black-shirted American boys.
"We were being ambitious, but not in the sense that we wanted to be famous," recalled drummer and co-frontman Jason Reece when we spoke with him at South by Southwest last month. "We weren't trying to be an arena-rock band. We just wanted to make something that would last and would be relevant."
They succeeded. Trail of Dead is currently on tour, performing Source Tags & Codes in its entirety. The tour started in Philadelphia and will finish up at Summit Music Hall on April 3.
When we spoke with Reece, he was acting as a stage hand, helping set up for a Future Islands show. The next day, he was supposed to work at the same stage, as Bob Mould's guitar tech. "It's an honor to be his guitar bitch," he noted.
Reece first landed in Texas in his early twenties, with just $30 to his name. He signed up for a medical-research study and spent two weeks in a facility, getting hourly blood draws and taking drugs that he knew nothing about. But it was for science, and the pay was good.
"It was funny -- I met people out of that who were musicians," he said. "We all got money to do our thing and buy equipment." One of his fellow guinea pigs was Trail of Dead singer Conrad Keely. "I guess I had him to pal around with. We were discussing music a lot, definitely," Reece remembered. "You can't go anywhere; you have no contact with the outside world."
Tempting as it is to imagine pharmaceutical tests altering the bandmembers' brains (and inspiring Source Tags & Codes), Reece remains unconvinced.
"Indirectly, it all inspires you," he said. But more than that, "we were interested in a literary approach to music. We wanted to provoke. We wanted to write about end-of-the-world shit -- Apocalypse Now, Mad Max shit."
Mission accomplished. Reece and Keely spent two years writing and rewriting the songs that would eventually make up the album. It was Trail of Dead's major-label debut, and unquestionably the band's most successful project to date.
After playing some of Source Tags during a string of dates in Australia last year, the bandmembers decided to make it the focus of their current tour. Trail of Dead is also working on a new album that, in Reece's words, "does things that haven't been done with guitars."
The way he sees it, Source Tags & Codes tapped a vein that few other albums have in recent memory. That may sound like bluster, but he's really trying to make a point about the current musical landscape. "I'm trying to think of younger bands that are doing this, like in their twenties, and I can't think of any," he said.
"I'm wondering if Trail of Dead is playing some outdated music. Maybe we're fooling ourselves. But I can't relate to bands coming out today. There's no energy to [their music]. I like the visceralness of rock and roll -- the blood and guts."
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