AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Monday (October 22). $10. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
you don't call your band andYou Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead without expecting to get your hands dirty. And these Austin-based punk hombres have had their share of guitar-busting, club-trashing trouble since moving south from Olympia, Washington. However, they've never experienced anything quite like what might be in store for them now that they're on a major label.
Even though Interscope boss Jimmy Iovine signed the Trail of Dead himself, there was no question that label VP Fred Durst would find their roughhousing shenanigans a perfect fit with his own "break stuff" aesthetic. With the 90-page contract signed and notarized and their big-budget album completed at three different studios, the Trail of Dead are too busy counting their blessings to wonder why the label reps were so willing to go along with the band's creative-control demands.
For the Trail of Dead, finally having the chance to make the huge honking epic they've always envisioned -- complete with strings and horns -- is cause for celebration, not second-guessing.
"Coming from the indie rock tradition where major labels are considered the "corporate ogre,'" explains singer/ guitarist Conrad Keely from his Austin pad, "we were naturally suspicious going in. We tried to get as much creative control as possible, and I think we got it. People who've seen our contract say we're pretty lucky.
"With the budget that our previous label (Merge) was offering us, there's no way we could've made this album without stealing studio time. I mean, we couldn't even get the thing mastered for $5,000.
"We spent three months recording this summer, starting in Austin, then moving to a studio north of San Francisco before finishing up the string and horn overdubs in Nashville. Still, we didn't want to go over the top with the strings, because you soon get into Little Mermaid territory -- especially with the type of rock we're playing now, which is a more progressive form."
You heard right, Keely just admitted to playing progressive rock. Although I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt -- maybe he just meant they're experimenting with more improvisationally open song structures while maintaining a pointedly punk sense of understatement. Apparently not.
After hearing some of the Trail of Dead's sprawling, as-yet-untitled new album, due out in February, it's clear he actually means prog-rock as in Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant and Genesis. Evidently, there's a concept behind the new album, too.
"There has always been some larger theme to our records. We try to set a certain mood with the first song and have it continue through the album. The idea for this record grew out of our experiences on the road over the last three years.
"When you travel across the U.S., you're confronted by the vast expanse of the Midwest, where you can drive straight for a very long time without hitting a single town. It got me thinking about how agrarian society has been left behind in the wake of the information age.
"Originally we were going to create a character and develop a whole narrative, but that kind of concept record, where you're forced to put all your ideas in the context of a story, can be limiting, and you end up with The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or something."
So while flying guitar fragments are still a good possibility at the group's highly anticipated Toronto debut at the Horseshoe Monday, Peter Gabriel-inspired foxhead wear looks unlikely.
"Oh, man," roars Keely at the costume suggestion, "I loved all that Genesis stuff. That shit was so cool! Have you seen any Tool shows lately? That Maynard guy is making himself up just like Peter Gabriel now. You know that shit is coming back!"