Firstly, Trail of Dead have been around for about 18 years now, yet this will be your first tour to Taiwan. Why’s it taken so long to get you here?
Ahh.. I dunno. We actually make a point of trying to visit places we’ve never been and this is actually our first time to play a lot of places in Asia. It’s something we’ve really had to push because I don’t think our booking agents would’ve done it otherwise.
Will you be performing material off all your albums?
Probably. Perhaps not off every album, that gets harder and harder to do as we put out more albums. Playing all of them is hard!
The reason I ask is because after Taiwan you’re going to Japan and just playing Madonna (their 2nd album, released in 1999). Was that a request by the promoters?
Yeah it was requested because they’re re-releasing the Madonna album in Japan.
For a while you were using dual-drummers live, which was amazing, and I’m wondering why you stopped. Was it a logistical thing?
Definitely. It was too expensive and difficult to do often. I think stripping down to a 4-piece felt very natural as there’s a certain type of chemistry that’s hard to duplicate when there are too many band members.
Listening to Up To Infinity off your new album, it sounds a lot more raw, more hardcore, than recent albums. Is this song fairly representative of the pace and style of the rest of the album?
Yeah actually it is! It’s definitely an edgier album.
You’re responsible for much of Trail of Dead’s album artwork. Do you treat the music and the artwork as two separate projects or are they very much intertwined?
I do think of them as two facets of the same thing. I don’t consider them separate in any way. To me the artwork and the album are part the same thing, and that’s how I’ve always looked at it.
Will there be any extra goodies in this album like there was with the last (the Tao of the Dead ‘limited edition’ CD included a 20 page graphic novel which was written and drawn by Conrad Keely)?
Yeah this one is going to have an 180 page book, which is the two continuing chapters of the story I started on the last album with the comic.
180 pages… err seriously?
Wow, that’s impressive!
So, what is Lost Songs, the album title, in reference to?
One of the songs on the album is called Lost Song. When we were compiling all the ideas for the album we wrote a list, and one of the songs we had we couldn’t remember who had written it originally, where the idea came from, so we just called that one Lost Song, and when it came time to write the lyrics I just took a cue from what it was called on the list and wrote a song about lost songs.
Does it get harder putting out new albums, with pressure from fans and critics to try and be even better than say ‘Tao of Dead’ or ‘Source Tags & Codes’, or can you distance yourself from that?
Not really, actually in some ways it seems like it’s getting easier. I think because we’ve been learning to sync with each other and we have a certain ease about it. So it doesn’t seem to be getting harder at all.
I’ve been eager to hear one of your new songs, Catatonic, which was released last week on Spotify, but that software doesn’t work in Taiwan due to region-blocking. Clearly that’s annoying to fans, so I want to ask, what do you think of the way the music industry is handling things in 2012?
It’s odd. It’s one of those things, the music industry seems like it’s scrambling for straws trying to make things happen. The internet is moving forward in a way that is difficult to predict, and also impossible to stop. But I’m all for technology and everybody having access to it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the future as far as music is concerned.
Regarding that song’s title, do you think that today’s youth are catatonic, less politically aware, or is it that through Facebook and other media that we’re more aware of just how stupid some people are?
That particular song was written with American youth in mind and it’s something I’m concerned with. Kids in America don’t seem to care. They have a very limited outlook on what’s going on, and that concerns me. But there is the other side of that, with the internet we should be getting more information, it should be easier. Perhaps it’s the sheer amount of information which makes it difficult for some people… they just put their blinders on. It’s all too much for them.
Which issues would you like society to take more notice of?
One of the subjects on this album is tyranny and it’s something I feel strongly about, and it’s also something that’s addressed in my novel. People using power to inflict atrocities on their own people, and that’s going on now in places like Syria. It’s hard for me knowing that people are just standing aside and not doing enough about it.
You also dedicated the album Lost Songs to the jailed Russian punk band Pussy Riot…
Right. It’s weird to think that even at time like this we can take freedom of speech for granted. It’s just crazy that people can go to jail for singing a song.
You’ve been living in Cambodia for a year or more now. How did that happen?
My father is from Thailand and we were just traveling around... we came to Cambodia first. I loved it and decided to stay.
You weren’t originally planning to settle anywhere else, were you?
No I wasn’t actually, I was just wanting to travel around. It didn’t occur to me that I might end up here.
With you there and the rest of your bandmates back in the States, does that put any stress on Trail of Dead?
Not really. I don’t think so. Sometimes it’s hard to call, just with time differences, but the band is going to come here for the first time and we’re working on the show here. I’m like the Asian headquarters.
Were you in Cambodia when you and Jason Reese (singer/guitarist) were writing Lost Songs? How did that work?
I didn’t actually start writing until I got to Austin (Texas), and then we just starting writing really quickly. That was something we made a point of, we would do it very spontaneously and so the songs were written very quickly. All music on this album was written in that short period of three weeks.
Has being overseas given you a more fresh opinion of America?
You get different news here which I think is interesting. Most of my attention lately has been more on what’s happening in and around Asia, and there’s a lot that I think should be called to attention, like deforestation. Here in Cambodia it’s really really bad.
Is that something you could see yourself getting involved with, raising awareness of these things in Asia?
Definitely. It has to be done. Things [like deforestation] can’t continue to happen at this rate.
There are a few videos online of you performing with a local band, Kampot Playboys, in a small Cambodian bar, and it looked fun. Do you enjoy doing smaller, intimate shows like that?
Oh definitely. Over here it’s so casual, like last night I was out watching some friends play and they invited me on stage to play something. It’s a really informal way of playing music.
Would that sort of thing happen back in Austin?
In America when you have a band you’ve got to rehearse a lot before you play a show, but here it’s a very informal thing, you can just go out and play with people, and I like that. It just feels natural.
Is it going to be tough for you to give up that relaxed lifestyle and get back on the road? I know you’ve got a really hectic tour lined up.
I enjoy touring and I enjoy traveling. So much of my book is about traveling and I use that inspiration to write. Traveling is a very important part of life.
If time permits, what else do you hope to do in Taiwan?
The thing I always look forward to is trying the local food, more than anything. I hope we have time to get to the markets and have a look around because I want to try all that Taiwanese cuisine! I’m looking forward to it!
Do you have a favourite song off your back-catalogue?
I have a favourite from this album, though you wouldn’t have had a chance to hear it yet, it’s called Awestruck. As far as the old stuff, it’s hard to say. The one I’m looking forward to playing most on this tour is Worlds Apart from the album Worlds Apart.
You had quite a reputation for smashing your instruments at gigs. Will you break anything at your show in Taiwan? I want to see you break something!
Ahhh no, we’re renting all our gear for this show. But if you can bring something for us to break, we will break it!
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are playing at Neo Studio in Taipei on November 1st with Dinosaur Jr. and Thurston Moore (from Sonic Youth) - details here.