...Trail of Dead
Silent Uproar: I know you guys are in Park City doing the Sundance thing. How's that going?
Conrad: It's snowy and kinda weird, and I miss my beautiful home in Austin where it's sunny, but we saw a moose yesterday.
SU: Cool. Do you mingle well with celebrities?
Conrad: I haven't seen any celebrities, but I don't know. Celebrity in my mind is a little bit different than what other people might think of. Lot of times people point out celebrities to me and I've never heard of them.
SU: Well, Interscope is really giving this album a big push. Do you feel any pressure for it to be a commercial success?
Conrad: Well, pressure? I don't know. I just want the fans to like it really.
SU: Right, but I mean if you care about your relationship with the label, then you know you've got to at least do a certain level to keep them happy, in a sense.
Conrad: Yeah, I also can't live my life about financial or commercial successes. I mean, that's not the type of writer that I am. I guess to answer your question, no, I don't feel pressure.
SU: Well, that's good that you're still able to have the support of a major label, and they don't make you feel that way.
Conrad: They haven't made me feel…I mean, there's a push to make a video and we're doing this kind of as a label thing. I don't know. Interscope is very lenient...maybe they won't be forever, but, you know.
SU: Right. You also played on Letterman recently, right?
Conrad: Yes, we did.
SU: So, what is a band like Trail of Dead doing on Letterman?
Conrad: Um, what's any band doing on Letterman? Just playing a song I guess.
SU: I mean, did you ever think that that's something that. I mean it just says a lot to me as far as where you're guys are at that they feel like it will appeal to enough people that they would want you on the show.
Conrad: Well, it was our second time - it wasn't our first time on the show.
SU: I didn't realize that.
Conrad: Yeah, we were on there two years ago when we came out with Source Tags & Codes. We have a really good publicist at the label.
SU: Right. You gotta give yourself a little credit there.
Conrad: I know; I know; I ought to, but....
SU: So, what's different about this album? Do you feel like the band has progressed musically, and is it a kinda evolution of the past stuff? Or is it just a whole new direction, or….
Conrad: I don't know. I was just writing songs they way I wanted to hear songs. That's all I've ever done, you know. We grow up as people; we don't stay the same person all our lives.
SU: Is it important to you to feel like you're moving forward with your music?
Conrad: Well yes, of course. I mean, I guess the band since the beginning has been based on a sort of a type of a vision as music and what music can be - what rock and roll can be…the possibilities of it…and the band is simply an exploration of those possibilities.
SU: Say you were sitting down to write a record though, and you found that the songs that were coming out sounded too much like Source Tags & Codes or something before that, would you make a conscious decision to say, “Maybe we need to make sure we're pushing it,” or do you just kinda go with what flows out?
Conrad: Oh, definitely just kinda go with it. I mean, every composer or artist that I've ever read about who describes their creative processes always describes the same thing of just kinda going with it, not forcing it.
SU: Are there any new recording tricks used this time around? Anything new you tried in the studio or maybe a different way of tracking things?
Conrad: Yeah, We start with a piano track actually, and that was very unusual, rather than starting with the drums. We have the drums play along to a piano tract I had recorded, so that was very unusual.
SU: Well, a lot of people have been asking, and I don't think I've ever read a direct answer... what happened with Neal?
Conrad: Well, he just kinda decided that he didn't really want to do music any more, you know, and we had to respect that. I mean, I guess I could understand there are certain sacrifices that you make with your life when you're doing this, during your life. Playing in the band, sometimes you can kinda feel like you're not in control, or like you're not at the helm, and I guess Neal just was really feeling a little bit disenfranchised with the whole thing, so he just decided that he wanted to do other things.
SU: All right. Well, we're big fans of Forget Cassettes, and actually one of our guys did some design work for them, so I was curious how you hooked up with Donnie?
Conrad: Through our producer Mike McCarthy. He was recording Forget Cassettes, and we met them in Nashville. Beth sang on our EP, and Donnie played on the record, so there was kinda this whole friendship, an old friendship.
SU: So he blended in pretty quickly?
Conrad: Oh yeah, definitely. Having two drummers was something that kinda was written into the record as well.
SU: Well, what was it about the summer of '91 that made it worthy of a song?
Conrad: Well, it was a very influential year for us in music. We were living in Olympia, Washington, at the time, so we were experiencing the whole love rock revolution and the rise of grunge, and there was all this optimism in the air and stuff, and it was very...it was a moving year.
SU: Would you say it was better than the summer of '69?
Conrad: I wasn't alive back then.
SU: Alright, and I know that you guys have started playing shows again, and a touring machine is in full motion. You're known for your really energetic live shows. Do you ever, toward the end of tours, get worried that maybe you need to kind of tone it down a little bit so that you'll last through the end of the tour?
Conrad: Maybe it has occurred to me once or twice, but it's one of those things that seems similar to composing. It's not something that you necessarily control or want to dictate. You just go with it. You allow it to take place. So that's how our approach has always been.
SU: When playing live, would you rather sing or play drums?
Conrad: I don't have a preference. I like doing both a lot. I want to actually incorporate more chances for me to play piano live but haven't had a good opportunity to practice that yet, so in the future perhaps.
SU: Cool. Well, everybody seems to be talking about Pitchfork these days. Did you happen to read the review of the record that they did?
Conrad: Yeah, I did. I'm the worst thing in the world.
SU: Do you care about things…I mean everybody says they don't care, but does it say anything to you? I mean, do you just think, “Well, they're just not getting it, or I mean it's just one guy's opinion, so the relevance of it is not all that great.”
Conrad: I tend to take things very personally, so I get my feelings hurt when I read stuff like that because I write music for people to enjoy, I don't write music to hurt anybody or destroy anything. Yeah, I care about what people say. I always will. I don't think I'll ever change. Even though people tell me that I shouldn't. But you know, I think I've always cared really.
SU: It's good to care. It's hard to separate yourself from it, I would imagine. You can look at it one way and say, “Yeah, it's just one guy's opinion,” but then he's still talking about stuff that you put your heart into.
Conrad: Yeah, plus it’s kinda a personal attack on me, but um…I don't know. All I know about the guys from Pitchfork is that none of them have had sex in a long time, and they're really bitter.
SU: All right. Well, whose idea was the limited edition DVD that's been coming out with the first couple of albums?
Conrad: Ah, it was our idea. We wanted to put that video out, and we wanted to include a bunch of stuff. I wish we'd had time to do more, but there was just so much work put into it. I spent like three months working on all artwork and stuff. It was grueling. It was so grueling that it's kinda left me feeling pretty weak and edgy. It's going to take me a while to get my wind back from all the work that went into it.
SU: So you once threw a guitar at me during a show in Chapel Hill. Were you trying to hurt me, or was it an accident?
Conrad: Well - I was trying to hurt you. I didn't like the way you were looking at me.
Conrad: Ha,ha. Did you get hurt?
SU: No, I moved quickly. I avoided it, but it was a little surprising.
Conrad: I don't remember that Scott, but please forgive me.
SU: If you had to put the band through a musical life timeline with one end being just getting started and the other end being ready to throw in the towel, where would you say you are right now?
Conrad: Well, it depends on what day you catch me. Cause it definitely feels back and forth sometimes. You know, like, I think when I worked on this album I kinda felt like well, if people don't get it, then I'm just going to go into a different career. Like, I'm going to start teaching or something; I'm going to get in the academics.
Then, at other times, I feel like that everything we've done so far is simply just a starting point for what potentially we have in us to do. So, it's one of those back and forth things. But I think that on a grander scale, it's kind of how you feel about every day of your life, you know?
SU: Right. Everybody has good days and bad days.