Trail Of Dead to play Birmingham Academy
For someone who clearly has an extravagant imagination and vocabulary, Conrad Keely can be a frustratingly monosyllabic interviewee, writes Ian Harvey.
For someone who clearly has an extravagant imagination and vocabulary, Conrad Keely can be a frustratingly monosyllabic interviewee,
Keely, frontman for Texas-based alternative rockers And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, is on the phone to talk about the band's forthcoming appearance at Birmingham Academy on Monday April 18.
With a European tour already under way, the band is promoting its seventh album, Tao Of The Dead, which mixes a frenetic punk energy with creative sweeps of prog rock grandeur.
But either Keely is already worn out or just not in the mood for an interview.
How's the tour going?
"Great," he drawls.
And the reaction from the fans?
Your album covers are very extravagant so what sort of stage show are you bringing along?
"Nothing. We play our music."
At this stage an interviewer could be forgiven for starting to panic. Surely this cannot be the same Conrad Keely who has created the quite beautiful graphic novel which forms is the CD and album booklet for Trail Of Dead's latest opus?
'Strange News from Another Planet – The Voyages Of The Festival Thyme' is the opening of a yet-to-be developed story involving space whales, a mysterious character with a fox's head and the voyages of a flying ship.
Luckily art is the key to getting Keely to break out of his elusive mood. One mention of the graphic novel and he's off.
"I intend to stretch it out to the next couple of records but right now I'm trying to just self-publish the first few chapters of the story," he explains.
So will it be a concept album? "The art side of it is but the music is kind of independent. There is no connection between the lyrics and the story."
He is also enthusiastic about the creative energy that saw the band create Tao Of The Dead.
"It was actually the most fun record we've done. We just decided not to get hung up with anything and we decided we wanted to have fun making a record, to enjoy the process rather than suffer pain over it like we have in the past. We've been under some absurd preconception that you have to suffer and we just threw that out of the window. . . it's rubbish. So the recording was a blast."
Back to his art, I ask what sort of art schooling he had.
" None," he replies. "I went to an alternative college (the Evergreen State College in Washington state). It was the same college that Matt Groening who made The Simpsons went to. He was a couple of years before me but he had a comic going in the same college newspaper I worked at.
"They weren't really into teaching us technique, they were more into allowing us to express ourselves which I kind of resent now. I'd much rather have learned technique, because I never had a problem expressing myself.
"I would have very much liked to have gone to a proper art school."
So what are Keely's major influences?
"I love 19th century art; The romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites, the symbolists and Victorian narrative art. But there's also a new wave of contemporary artists that I'm particularly influenced by; James Dean, David Bowers and Alex Gross. I'm also into the golden age of children's illustration."
Surprisingly, he's not actually a great reader of graphic novels.
"I'm in touch with the media part of it, with the way that it crosses over into movies and computer games. I wouldn't say that I read graphic novels, I tend to more collect them for the art. If I like the artwork then I will get the graphic novel. But usually I'm reading novels."
"I would love to do a travel show, you know, like An Idiot Abroad. It would be fun to do something that was tied in to the band. It would be fun to do a travel show about the band doing the tour. We're really into different cultures and trying out food.
"We really like trying out weird food. So it would be kinda fun to do something like that.
"But as far as actually projects that we are planning it's going to mainly be based around the narrative theme that I'm working on right now. We actually have a video coming out that is tied around the first chapter of the book."
I tell Keely that I'm intrigued by Trail Of Dead's sound. Having being raised on a musical diet of 70s prog rock I can detect elements of that in their music.
"I was raised on that as well," he says, "Yes and Genesis and Mike Oldfield and Steve Hillage. Pink Floyd too definitely, but then I guess later when I got into punk rock at high school I think The Replacements and Fugazi were a big influence and Kate Bush. She's so brilliant."
Keely says he is looking forward to playing in front of British audiences again.
"I like their enthusiasm for the music. It's far more refreshing than the kind of self-conscious American audiences. British audiences are far more emotive. We always have a great time over there."
He'll also take some time out to visit family here. Although he has lived in Hawaii, Austin and New York, Keely was born in the UK.
"I'm going to stay a few days and visit my family in Bedworth. I was born in Nuneaton, and my uncle and cousins live in Bedworth. My mother and I moved to Hawaii when I was about five years old."
* And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead play Birmingham Academy on Monday, April 18, 2011. Tickets cost £12.77.
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