Music » Music Lead

A Sign of the Times: ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead delves into world affairs



...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's singer-multi-instrumentalists Jason Reece and Conrad Keely first met in Hawaii when they were teenagers. A mutual friend told Reece to be on the lookout for his friend Keely, who lived in the same town.

"He told me that Conrad was living in the same town that I was moving to and that we should hang out," Reece recalls. "It was non-committal. There weren't any phone numbers exchanged. The first day at the high school, I was meeting random people and trying to make my way. I saw this dude wearing a Rush T-shirt. I had a feeling that was Conrad. It was. I found out he lived two blocks away from me."

Though Keely's taste in music veered more toward classic rock, Reece was able to get him to start listening to punk rock. The two exchanged music like a couple of kids swapping toys.

"He was definitely into the prog rock and Pink Floyd and stuff that nerds who like Dungeons & Dragons would like," says Reece. "I had a bunch of punk records and we would exchange records and tapes and have listening parties. It was one of those things where I had a bunch of music that was new to him and he had stuff that I hadn't heard before. I listened to a lot of Zeppelin and Black Sabbath but I didn't listen to the prog stuff."

The two became friends and when their respective families relocated to the Pacific Northwest, they formed a band together.  

"That band didn't really work out," Reece says. "I then started a bunch of hardcore and punk bands, and he started a bunch of bands on his own. We were just having a rough time living in Olympia [Washington] and things were going to shit. I had this brilliant idea to go to Austin. I had this friend who was doing well with his band and talking about this place called Emo's. Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid came from there. There was a folklore about the city and that movie Slacker came out about that time. It was like, 'Oh shit, there's a weird film scene too.'"

The guys moved to Austin and started ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead in 1994. A noisy second cousin to Sonic Youth, the band would eventually attain a cult following that has stuck by it to this day. In fact, the current tour serves both as support for last year's Lost Songs and as an effort to drum up interest in a PledgeMusic campaign for a Tao Of The Dead Part III EP, a sequel of sorts to 2011's Tao of the Dead. But initially, the band didn't really fit in.

"We were too arty for the hardcore kids and too aggressive for the people who were into the mellower elements of Austin," Reece says. "There were a lot of bar bands that were middle of the road and these bar rock bands and then bands that were super shoe-gazer like Bedhead and then there was us. We started finding our little niche there after a few years of getting kicked out of venues and just trashing places and finally Trance Records put our record out and it legitimized our band."

By that time, the band was essentially banned from playing Austin because its shows would become too rowdy and unhinged. But it didn't matter. It had a big following in Europe and major labels had started to take notice.  

"[Indie rockers] Superchunk took us on a tour and they really liked us," Reece says. "That helped us get over to Europe and there was a lot going on over there at the time. NME was flipping out about us. They were going apeshit and we would come back to America and play to nobody. Interscope caught wind of that. A lot of labels did. DreamWorks and Geffen, too. They could see all the press."

The group eventually signed to Interscope for 2002's terrific Source Tags & Codes and would have a good four-year run on the label.  

"Being on Interscope was good for us," Reece says. "It got our music out to more people. We quit our day jobs because of that. It helped that scenario. That was a big turning point. We could just tour. Our job was to play music and make records. It didn't matter if it was a minimum wage job. We were working for ourselves. The funny thing is that we didn't look at it as becoming a No. 1 band or conquering the charts. "

Inspired by the public's apathy to real world events, the band's new album, Lost Songs features politicized lyrics and a more aggressive and heavier sound. That's apparent right from the notes of the discordant opening tune, "Open Doors."

"We were definitely inspired by the events going on at the time," Reece says. "[The Russian punk band] Pussy Riot was kind of a big deal. The trial was happening and Syria was going on. That's still going on today. It seemed very relevant. It was food for thought. That helped us with lyrics and trying to at least reflect the current state of affairs. I think it's funny because there are people who write about what's going on in their lives and it's usually about a relationship or love gone wrong and we weren't thinking of lyrics in that way. We wanted them to describe the state of the world at this moment. We're trying to dig deep. It's not trivial. When you listen to the record, there's a sense of urgency and we're trying to put a little substance into the music. That's always been very important to us. We haven't written any love ballads lately."

Recording the album in Germany helped the band focus.

"It was the idea of taking an adventure and going out of your comfort zone and making the record you might not make if you were in Austin where you know everybody and have friends and family," Reece says. "The fun thing about making a record where you're a stranger in a strange land is that you have a tendency to get internal and focus on the music a lot more. You're a little more focused and serious. Not to say that you're not if you're making music in Austin. The idea of going out and making records in different parts of the United States or going to Europe helps stir up the pot a little bit and gets you more into a different state of mind."

Despite the lack of major label support, the band has fully embraced the return to its DIY roots.

"We're somewhat self righteous," says Reece. "We think this band is the best band around. We believe in it. For us to throw in the towel seems like all that effort would be wasted. We've managed to get through the hard times and continue to do what we love."


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.