...And You Know Us By the Trail of Dead has come a long way from the Mayan Book of the Dead in 15th century BC that they based their name on. After releasing the critically acclaimed Source Tags and Codes and touring the United States, they followed up with an EP, The Secret of Elena's Tomb, and are currently planning the recording of their next full-length album. This anthropologically fueled band has defied most genres, especially the "emo" genus, where many reviewers inaccurately tossed them. Their implementation of haunting chords and delicate yet shattering guitars makes their music rise and fall like a heaving chest, with a style that's unmistakably their own. Kevin Allen, lead guitarist of ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, recently spoke with Prefix Magazine's Kimberly Bourque about the band's newest release and his musical influences. From burning tour vans to cows and Cadillac's, Allen tells us of his experiences as one-quarter of the band with the longest name in Texas (or in the world, for that matter).
Prefix Magazine: Do you have a muse?
Trail of Dead : I don't think there is a particular individual. Our music is influenced by so many different kinds of people. But my old roommate Chip Patterson kind of inspired me. He played a weird style of chords. They weren't really power chords but more double stops with two or three notes. PM: Do you wish that you played a different instrument, rather than the guitar? Trail of Dead : Well, I started out playing the violin and the drums. I started the violin when I was about seven and then the drums when I was around 13. I didn't start playing the guitar until about 10 or 12 years ago. I've always wanted to play the saxophone. I like the saxophone. It's something I've always wanted to play but never picked up. PM: If you could open for any band, who would it be? Trail of Dead : The Beatles. PM: Any others?
Trail of Dead : If we could bring My Bloody Valentine back together, we would definitely love to play with them. PM: Critics constantly compare you to My Bloody Valentine. That must be flattering. Trail of Dead : Yeah, it is. We are a little rougher around the edges. They are much more ethereal and beautiful. Still, I think we both try the same thing, combining beauty and noise. PM: You are also often compared to bands in the "post-rock" genre, such as the White Stripes and the Strokes. Is that an accurate comparison? Trail of Dead : We aren't at all musically like the White Stripes or the Strokes. I mean, the White Stripes are a blues-rock band. I think we sometimes get compared because we are all grouped into the category as the "saviors of rock," but that is the only comparison you could make. You can tell that we are different simply by our name. I think they call it post-rock because real rock happened in the '70s. Still, bands influence each other not as much directly as indirectly. PM: How so?
Trail of Dead : We were recently on tour with Guided by Voices. They were so fun to watch. We really raised the level of our live shows after we watched them. They would do gymnastics and high kicks on stage and just have a good time. PM: I noticed that most times you are on stage, your band makes quite a spectacle, throwing instruments, breaking things, getting hurt, etc. When you performed on Conan O'Brien's show, you destroyed your equipment right onstage. I think many people were wondering what was going on there.
Trail of Dead : We were just trying to outdo everyone else and we couldn't do it musically (he pauses and chuckles). PM: Why do you still live in Texas?
Trail of Dead : If I were in another state otherwise than Texas, it would be hell. (Laughs) That could be a bumper sticker. I like to drive my car and lay in the grass. I like the heat and the cows and the Cadillac's and the oil. PM: Isn't there a rather conservative vibe in Texas?
Trail of Dead : I think most of Texas is like that, but Austin is really liberal. It is the "liberal oasis." PM: Do you support President Bush?
Trail of Dead : I voted for Nader. I think Nader is truly there for the people and he is honest. He has done so much for the consumers and the environment. PM: Would the Trail of Dead convey a political message at a concert or awards show?
Trail of Dead : We are not as much of a political type of band. If it was a statement that needed to be made, then maybe. PM: You must realize that being famous is a perfect vehicle for spreading a message.
Trail of Dead : I don't think of myself as famous; far from it. I'm definitely not famous. That seems absurd. PM: I saw that you have videos for both "Another Morning Stoner" and "Relative Ways." Do you often think of your music visually?
Trail of Dead : Yeah, I do. The video for "Relative Ways" was really weird. Conrad's (Keely, who founded the band with Jason Reece) roommate came up with the idea, and I still don't really understand it. It is about the dawn of man's intelligence and that we are all really aliens. I think that our song, "Homage," sounds like it should show a tour van driving down the highway at 90 miles per hour, completely covered in flames. It happened one time. PM: That sounds interesting. Go on.
Trail of Dead : Long story. It would be boring. PM: Come on, a tour van on fire couldn't be that boring.
Trail of Dead : We were speeding down the highway and all of a sudden the van was on fire. The wood on the floorboards caught on fire and it just kept spreading. It was pretty old and I think there was a problem with the exhaust pipe. We had to put all of our equipment on the side of the highway. We left it there until we got some water and we could extinguish the fire. We still had to drive the van because it was the only one we had. We had to pull over every thirty miles or so and pour water over the exhaust, which left us in a haze of smoke. It was hilarious. We went from Dallas to Austin in a van that was burnt and smelled really bad. It comes to a point where you just have to laugh. PM: (I had to finish laughing to compose myself to ask the next question, in fact.) What is your favorite book?
Trail of Dead : The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain. PM: Do you have an idol?
Trail of Dead : I have a little statue that someone gave me of Wagner, the Nazi composer. I don't really like him or his ideas or his music, but I just have him. I also like the work of Kubrick. I've always wanted to be an editor of a film. I used to be a tape editor at a TV station and it was so cool. You could have all of these different options of putting the story together, like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. PM: Are you pleased with the artistic and stylistic direction that Trail of Dead has taken?
Trail of Dead : With this past record, definitely. Our direction isn't something we envisioned, just something that kind of happened. PM: I didn't hear nearly as much about The Secret of Elena's Tomb as I did for Source Tags and Codes. Was the reason for that because The Secret of Elena's Tomb was an EP?
Trail of Dead : We definitely promoted Source Tags and Codes much, much more. PM: When should we expect your next release?
Trail of Dead : I think we are going to try to get something out next summer.