So for the first time since this whole “playing-the-whole-album” craze has come into fashion with bands that have been around the block at least once or twice, I’m going to be seeing a band play an album whose tour I actually attended the first time around, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s Source Tags & Codes. It was either late February or early March 2002 at The Black Cat in Washington DC. It was within a week of the album’s release. I was 17, front row, pressed up against the stage. At one point Conrad Keely thrust his guitar into my hand with enough force to make it bleed (That was back in their days of equipment destruction… whose extremity seemed to be the thing that first got them a blip on the map.) The post-hardcore album, which I have often heard referred to as “The Daydream Nation of our generation,” propelled the band into the position of critical darlings (Pitchfork famously gave the album a perfect 10/10 score) and afforded them a handful of years playing to mostly-packed 1,200-capacity, mega-halls.
In the 12 years since Source Tags & Codes dropped the band have been through evolutions in both sound and lineup. They’ve delved into art rock and baroque pop and explored prog far more thoroughly. Their lineup has fluctuated from 4 to up-to-nearly 10 and back down again to four (albeit a different four.) …Trail of Dead are currently working on their 9th full-length, a sequel to their 7th LP, Tao of the Dead, but the band (which now includes Jamie Miller on drums and guitar and Autry Fulbright II on bass, in addition to founding members, who man nearly every kind of instrument, Jason Reece and Conrad Keely) are about to embark on a tour which will have them playing their 2002 effort, which still would seem to remain the favorite of fans, in its entirety (in addition to other music). The tour kicks off here in Philadelphia next Wednesday, March 26th, at Underground Arts. Supporting the band are French surfery garage rockers La Femme and Midnight Masses, the primary project of TOD’s Autry Fulbright and also including Jason Reece, who are both more than worth showing up early to see.
I recently got a chance to chat with Jason Reece (who, I’m not gonna lie, is sort of a childhood hero) about Source Tags & Codes and what led to this idea for a tour of this nature and he explains that it’s essentially a gift to those who have stood by and made the band’s career possible: “The Australians came up with the idea and we did it over there and it went over really well and we thought it would kind of make sense to do it here, but it’s really more about the fans than anything… I mean there’s no point if your fans aren’t happy.” And while that was more or less what I expected, when I ask him about what he considers to be his personal highlights from that period of the band, expecting to hear about crisscrossing the country (and beyond), playing to giant crowds and alongside some of the biggest acts of the era, I’m slightly surprised to hear that it was the recording process of the album itself that he finds most enjoyably memorable.
“I just remember when we recorded the album that was when we left Austin for kind of the first time. We went to California… Northern, California, wine country, which was really nice. And we got to record in the studio where Tom Waits recorded a lot of his stuff, and it has a bunch of his homemade instruments strung about, which was cool. He had all these loops of things like factory machines he would record, and we got to use them. There were all these personal little touches in that studio that made it really cool.”
And despite the fact that … Trail of Dead have come seemingly such a long way, sonically (far more so than most bands) in the amount of time since then, when I ask Jason about what he considers to be the biggest differences in the band that recorded Source Tags & Codes and the band working on their 9th album, he tells me it’s all truly more organic and logical than one might assume. When I ask him about the band’s influences over the years, he tells me, “I think it’s changed in some ways, but the main core influences are still there: early punk, My Bloody Valentine, Public Enemy, Pink Floyd, Black Flag, Genesis, prog stuff.” And when I ask about the difference in the band’s mindset and creative process, he explains, “Back then, I don’t want to say we were more naive, but we’re a little more experienced now because of the time. I mean, when you’re doing something for 10,000 hours, you become better at it, you learn something over that time. But, in general, every album is gonna be different from the last, so it’s just an evolution of sorts.”