and you will know us by the trail of dead

Even among arty indie rock bands, Austin’s …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead is something of an oddity, and not just because of the verbose name.

Like many similarly minded bands, Trail of Dead is fiercely independent, artier than a melting clock and boasts a stage show that “chaotic” and “explosive” scarcely begin to describe.

What separates the band is not just that it has a major label deal, but that its relationship with Interscope has seen an intensification of the band’s sound and wide-ranging ambitions.

For example, when POLLSTAR spoke with Trail of Dead’s Conrad Keely, the group had just returned to Texas from the Reading/Leeds weekend in the U.K. The band preceded the festival not with a series of club dates, as might be expected, but as an art installation at Documenta Europe’s largest exposition of contemporary art held in Kassel, Germany.

The act played simultaneously for the crowd gathered for the exhibits and for the local rock kids who trained in just to see Trail of Dead, a perfect example of its art project/rock band hybrid status.

But considering the band’s beginnings, its current state should come as no surprise.

“We kind of started as just a project; I don’t think it was necessarily going to be a band per se,” singer/guitarist/video director/album cover artist Keely told POLLSTAR. “We wanted to be pretty open-ended as to what we could be. So we experimented in ensembles and doing things with films, things with performance such as doing music for plays.

“And I think the band aspect of the idea was the one that really worked, so we just went along with it.”

The group began gathering a name for itself in the burgeoning Austin scene and signed to Trance Records, which was one of the few labels representing local music. Trail of Dead began to tour the U.S. on its own, supporting its self-titled debut and eliciting the first of the chain saw media buzz that still follows.

The second full-length record to come out of the act was Madonna, which was released on indie haven Merge Records in 1999 and garnered critical favor among edgy rock publications. Shortly thereafter, Trail of Dead headed overseas for the first time and was immediately gobbled up by European fans, who had access to the band’s material for years through Trance’s distribution abroad.

and you will know us by the trail of dead

Despite the critical success of Madonna, Keely said there really wasn’t any kind of bidding war for the next album; a major label wasn’t even necessarily part of the equation.

“We never really solicited ourselves as a band; we never really were proactive about that,” he said. “I think we always felt that whoever would get us would have to get us on our terms. We just felt that as long as we were playing our music and touring, we would attract or magnetize those people that understood our music.

“And I think that’s what happened with Interscope. … We just appealed to Jimmy Iovine and he immediately wanted to work with us.”

Of course, along with a major label deal comes the handing over of a certain amount of independence and a delegation of responsibilities to a “team.”

“Management for us is a very recent and strange new world that we’ve ventured into,” Keely explained. “We’ve always been self-managed. For the kind of independence that we’ve sought, it’s been important for us to have control over those aspects, but as soon as things began to get hectic, we got Pat Magnarella and all those guys (at Mosaic Media Group).

“There are times I feel there are things that, as individuals, we could probably do just as well as anyone but the truth is that when you get to a certain point, you have to delegate some work to other people.

“As we expand the idea of the band to other things, such as one day maybe producing a film or doing more with our artwork, then maybe we’ll rely more and more upon other people. It’s just inevitable.”

Magnarella told POLLSTAR his approach to managing the band is more like a support staff than a product development team.

“They know what they want to do,” he said. “Conrad does all the art work and he directed the new video. But that’s the beauty of them; they’re a band with a vision. We just help them with that vision.

“They’ve been a band for a long time. They’ve been on the road for a long time. They’ve toured around the world three or four times on their own on indie records, doing it themselves.”

Magnarella said he worked with the band’s longtime agent, Kork Agency’s Christian Bernhardt, on a touring strategy for this year to support the Interscope offering, Source Tags and Codes. Since Trail of Dead had played overseas extensively on the record, the team decided that hitting the States would be a priority.

For the fall, the band has teamed up with label mates Queens Of The Stone Age for a co- headline U.S. tour of clubs and theatres, which began at the end of August and stretched through October 5th.

Trail of Dead later heads to Australia for the five-date traveling Livid festival, possibly followed by dates in Japan and Hawaii. When the band returns, a two- to three-month break is scheduled for preliminary work on its second major label record.