On January 17, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead released its 10th album, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories, a ferocious encapsulation of the Texas band’s sonic influences: surging punk, thundering post-punk, moody Brit-rock, and atmospheric art-pop. Drummer and vocalist Jason Reece, one of Trail of Dead’s two co-founders, checked in with the Weekly to talk about the new record, lyrical themes and a milestone anniversary.
The album took a couple of years to come together. How did the writing process differ, and how was it similar, to previous records that you guys have made? I feel like every time we make a record it’s different. There’s always something new about how we approach it. With the new record, we were starting out with a lot of noodling and jamming for hours, going nowhere with it, recording all of it, and then throwing it away (laughs). But it started to come together when we met [engineer] Charles Godfrey—well, we’ve known him for a minute, but he moved his studio from El Paso to Austin.
Working with him was this good partnership that helped us along as far as the direction of the songwriting. From having a What the f*ck are we doing? sort of moment [which changed] to, All right, it’s starting to make sense here, and we have something to say. It started making more sense to us. The beauty of creativity is that you don’t know what you’re doing at first and you have to peel back the layers and dig deep and find your version of the truth.
And sometimes you need to get things out of your system until you hit on the right direction. We’re very aware that we’ve been around for a long time, and that if we are going to release a record, we want to it to be good.
We were inspired by a lot of newer things in our lives: personal moments, listening to Hans Zimmer soundtracks and finding old ’80s music that we haven’t really visited in a while. We were definitely inspired by Talk Talk and Peter Gabriel, like the Melt era. It’s kind of a mishmash of that, and the darker pop of the ’80s, which is kinda funny, because we’re not an ’80s band.
[We’re] using some keyboards that are sort of synth-y and ’80s-sounding and bringing that into the mix of our noisy guitar rock—not doing it in a New Wave fashion but that darker pop. I love Echo & The Bunnymen and Bauhaus and all of that music, and there’s definitely British influence to our music. I think about all the bands that I loved growing up with, and I’m like, “Holy sh*t, they’re all from England” (laughs).
And the way it influences your music is that you put your own spin on it? You’re trying to use that as a springboard, but not copy it. We were very lucky that we have that in our musical history. That’s the world we live in at this time. That’s what people are doing—using old music to revitalize and innovate, and change it up to become something entirely new. It’s definitely what makes us motivated and [to] make records and be creative.
Lyrically, once the record was done, were there any themes that really stood out to you as you were surveying it? There’s a lot about loss, because we’ve lost friends. Some relationships have been lost. And then there’s sort of a melancholy … crazy thing about America having its existential influence on our psyche right now. Maybe it’s always like that, but for some reason, you can’t help but think about it, and it does seep itself into your writing.
With us, we’re not being obvious about what we’re writing about. We definitely try to be metaphorical, and sometimes it’s even abstract. But that’s the beauty of writing lyrics—they make sense to the writer more than anything.
You did some 20th-anniversary shows for [1999’s] Madonna and then some Source Tags & Codes full-album shows. Do you think that influenced the current album? Definitely. With the sequence of playing those live, we were very like, “OK, this is why we did this.” We had an idea of how we wanted to present the music. It’s always important for us to sequence the music like you’re reading a bunch of short stories [and that] they all connect. Or it’s like you’re watching a movie with a climactic ending. We like having these albums that somehow reach a peak at that part of the record, and then there’s a meditative moment where if you let go of the record, you’ve kind of taken a little road trip with us.
We like that idea of making a cohesive piece of work. Right now, we’re in an age when people are just streaming various songs on a playlist, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re totally into that, too. But it’s nice to throw on something, and then for like 45 minutes, you’re transported. That’s ideal to me.
Do any Las Vegas performances or experiences stand out to you from over the years? We haven’t played there in a long time. It was at the House of Blues [in 2006, with Blood Brothers]. That’s when I met the [then-]owner of Beauty Bar [Paul Devitt], and then I ended up opening a Beauty Bar in Austin, Texas. I had that for seven years. That was an interesting connection. Then I started going to Las Vegas more often to hang out there and do things that were connected to that bar.
Another time that we were there, we were playing at [UNLV] with Dethklok [in 2007]—the Adult Swim tour that we did with them. That was an odd teaming of bands. It was weird, because we were opening for a cartoon.
On this tour, how much of the new album do you plan to play? We’re probably going to play about five tracks off the new album. We’ve been rehearsing them, and we feel like they fit within a set of music that we’re going to present. and it’s not going to be like, “Oh, they’re just playing their new album” or “Oh, they’re just playing their old music.” We’re very aware of how we want to present [to] people what we’ve been up to in the last 25 years.
This year does mark the 25th anniversary of the band as a recording entity. Are you guys thinking about that at all? It seems very crazy. I mean, I know I’m older, but I don’t feel like this band is that old. It seems weird that all this time has gone by—but at the same time it’s like, yeah, we’re resilient motherf*ckers, man (laughs). We’re too stupid to quit.
…AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD with The Acid Sisters, Suryacandra. January 25, 9 p.m., $15. Bunkhouse Saloon, 702-982-1764.