What was the impetus to return to Tao of the Dead? Was the album always planned as three parts with songs and ideas left unfinished, but meant to return to, or are these mostly newer works?

In interviews we’re often asked questions about decisions we made that required no thought.  It wasn’t an active decision to return to Tao, or to make it three parts.  It was a suggestion we made amongst ourselves one day, agreed upon in a matter of seconds, and no further thought was given as to the why or wherefore of what we were doing.

I think from an outside perspective it would be easy to accuse us of a sort of negligence, indifference, perhaps nonchalance.  But it really isn’t.  Rather, it’s simply part of the fluid creative process, that when a suggestion is made, and everyone agrees upon it spontaneously because it feels right, because it’s a good idea, no further discussion needs to be had on the subject, there is no deliberation afterwards as to “why did we do that?” or “were we planning to do that all along”?  The decision is simply made, and the creative process takes us the rest of the way.

Will there be a story to go along with the EP or purely music?

There is always a story.

While on the topic of EP’s your last was The Secret of Elena’s Tomb, and I was listening to it again and wondering if it possible that record could have become an LP? Could that have been the next direction after Source Tags & Codes veering into a more romantic nature and perhaps building off Source Tags rather than a shift to somewhat more classic rock and prog of Worlds Apart?

I suppose the answer is no, it could not have been another album, because it was never intended to be.

Was it more of an, “Odds & Sodds,” ala The Who compilation? Listening to it again it seems a lot of work was put into it on the transitions and layers. Certainly “Crowning of A Heart,” is breathtaking with the melodies, layers of vocals, and cello. It definitely seems like a side to the band that had not been explored previously.

I had originally intended for Crowning to be on Source Tags, I’d recorded the demo during that time, the song was complete and ready to go.  But we were at the end of the session and it was decided to leave it.  The other songs on it were similarly all written previously, before Source Tags, with the exception of All Saint’s Day.  I believe that was the only song that was written more or less at the session.

Trail of Dead have tried numerous different styles and genres. Is there anything left you’d want to do that hasn’t been touched so far?

I can’t say, because I don’t ever try to classify our music as a genre or style.  I think of each song, sometimes a group of songs, as an expression of an idea or a mood, an emotion if you will.  And the music is an attempt to personify a feeling, rather than a style.

Can you give more details on the new remasters and reissues that have been released of your first two records? I read that Madonna was not remastered or remixed at all due to legal issues with recording as Mike McCarthy snuck you in during off hours.

That’s right.  But I don’t have much other information.  It’s something I would have to think about, and there are other things right now that demand my immediate attention.  I don’t think there should be any problems though.

What exactly was done to the eponymous album? It seems like there was perhaps some additional recording done, but I’m assuming more than likely those are elements that were just too low in the previous mix that couldn’t be heard.

I left it to Frenchie.  I think it sounds the same, but I’m a very poor judge of sound quality.  I don’t even own a record player.

What reflections do you have on that era? The albums hold up very well in my opinion though they seem to be coming from a different place of course than today just naturally as one grows older. A few pissed off 20 years olds getting together making music, if better songwriters than your average pissed off 20 year old. Is there anything you’d change about them?

Not of those two, no, because they sum up a happy creative time.  The only album I’d like to go back and change is Century of Self.  I would have preferred to have done the entire album with Frenchie.

I know your tastes tend to veer elsewhere, but are there any new punk rock bands you enjoy these days? Any new artists or musicians see out there or are you sticking with the classics.

Yes, there has been a lot of new music I like.  I really like the War on Drugs album Slave Ambience.  The band Wolf People from London.   I some songs from the band Life on Earth, and other things I’m probably overlooking right now.  I think it’s still a good time for music.

What do you recall of Austin in that time in the mid and late 90’s? How did you see it change in 2000’s, and how now do you see it as a visitor than a resident?

How have your experiences been now post-Interscope for many years, what was it like during, and before?

I thought we were still on Interscope!

It seems that only now we can actually reflect now on the impact the Internet has had on music, let alone other forms of art and the media, but it’s been a slow if definitive impact of the last dozen years that started right around the time that your band was signed to Interscope.

On one hand it can breed democracy and communication like never before on the other hand there is the problem of information overload.  What are your thoughts on the impact of the Internet on music specifically, but also on art, and the media? Has it been a good thing, or a bad thing?

I don’t think you can think of it in terms of “good and bad”.  The whole idea of good and bad is such a moralizing Christian concept, isn’t it?  Like the good and bad guys in a Disney movie – villains and heroes.  But what you’re asking about is far more complex.  The issue of creativity and commerce is not now and has never been a subject of good versus evil, villains and heroes.  There is a creative impulse, it abides in us all but some people decide to chose it as a profession.  There is the function of economics, and it is a complex way in which nations and societies exchange goods.  Now those two things seem to conflict, but then they also get along quite well.  The beauty of creativity is that no matter what outside limitations are imposed upon it, it continues to thrive.  In fact, it could be argued that creativity, like biological evolution, thrives even better under adversity, and tends to stagnate when everything is going smoothly.  So this whole thing about the internet, piracy, the recession, oversaturation – creatively speaking, these can only be “good” things, as you put it.

With no filter on bands getting out there and heard and a sheer overload of music do you find this detrimental to the progression of music?

The only thing that would ever detriment the progress of human music is if all humans were to suddenly die.  Then our music would cease to exist.  But as long as we’re a species, with ears, our music will continue to thrive.  It’s part of our design.

If there is anything that threatens new music these days, it’s simply the fact that old bands – like bands that have been around since the sixties, seventies and eighties – don’t break up, like they used to.  We have a whole industry these days made up of revival concerts and reunions.  That must be hard on new bands, because they’re not only competing with each other, but also with practically every act that’s ever had a hit in the last forty years.

On the other hand, they don’t have to consider us much of a threat, because we’ve never had a hit.

What currently excites you of other artists out there in music today. Is there anything fresh?

I enjoy a cleverly produced album.  By that, I mean something that is clearly not meant to be a pop-friendly radio song, that coalesces a certain ambience, a mood, that references the past in a way that lets me know the people making the music cared a great deal about the art of recording and are firmly grounded in a tradition of quality, the beauty of sound recording.

Do you believe being more isolated in the past without the Internet to other acts and other influences of media were important in establishing scenes such as Liverpool in the 60’s, New York in the 70’s, DC in the 70’s and 80’s, Seattle in the 80’s, and I’d include Austin in the late 90’s and early 2000?

No.

I’ll tell you why.  Yes, it would be easy for you to look back upon those times as isolated, not as connected as we are today.  But you’d really be deceiving yourself.  When the Beatles returned to Liverpool from Hamburg they were anything but isolated.  They had been living in a thriving port town with tons of musical influences and they were gobbling up every recording they could get from America.  Liverpool was another port town, and interviews with the Beatles will attest to the importance of this in their acquisition of vinyl records from the States.

Seattle in the late 80’s was anything but isolated – I was there.  Another port town, a capitol of the burgeoning tech industry, lots of people (including my family) moving there from everywhere in search of jobs.  And the bands of that time were soaking up influences from everywhere as well.  Everyone I knew were avid music collectors, researchers – they were practically scholarly on the subject of punk music.  Dave Grohl, who added the missing link to the band Nirvana, wasn’t from the Northwest, and he would not have come there had it been isolated.  He toured there with his band Scream because by then Seattle was already known as a musical hotbed, it was an essential stop for any band touring the country.

The only thing isolated about Austin in the ‘90’s was that it was a long drive from anywhere.  But people were moving there to go to UT, or just to move there.  We had the internet – not as much, but it was there.  And airfare was becoming affordable, people were flying out to attend SXSW.  Austin was hardly culturally isolated – it was in the early stages of becoming what it is now, a creative hub.  Jason and myself certainly would not have moved to Austin in 1994 if we’d never heard anything about it, if we’d not already heard rumors of it being a creative scene.  And we weren’t alone – friends of ours from the Northwest had also moved there to be part of something new.  If anything it was simply that – it was new, fresh, budding.  But it was not isolated.

Isolation does not foment great creative movements.  Quite the opposite.  An exchange of ideas allows scenes like these to spring up and thrive.  If you want to see the effects of isolation on culture I would invite you to read more about the Jawara tribe in the Andaman Islands, and let me know what you think about their music scene.

 Any additional thoughts on the Austin scene at the time?

It was really fun, but we all had shitty jobs.

 

Jeff Tom

Jeff Tom

Owner and Editor-in-Chief at The Austin Current I'm a native Austinite. In 1998 I founded one of the first successful blogs on the Internet, and have been writing daily since. I'm a singer-songwriter with my own band, have started multiple successful businesses as an entrepreneur, and have been an avid participant of the music, comedy, technology, and film scene of Austin for over a dozen years.