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The landscape of the music industry has been a strange place of late. Even a cursory glance at page three of any issue of Rolling Stone published since the New Year will reveal what looks like an obituary column for high-level record label executives, in-house publicists and A&R folk as well as bands that have been downsized out of their offices and the cushy confines of their lucrative multi-record contracts, respectively. People are worried and, conspicuously, bands are on the road tirelessly this year, hoping that the sky won’t fall or the ground won’t open up beneath them and threaten to swallow them whole. Not everyone is worried though; as Washington D.C.-bred stoner rock band Dead Meadow can attest, there are cases that can be made for longevity set through a methodical pacing in both touring and recording schedules.
Bill Adams vs. Stephen Kille of Dead Meadow
SK: You’re actually calling the other Steve in our band. We’ve been renting a trailer for this next leg of our tour so, I’m sorry about that.
BA: No trouble. Is now okay? Would you like to do this later?
SK: Right now’s good.
BA: Okay, so if you’re renting a trailer, it stands to reason that you’re somewhere near home….
SK: Well, hmm. Home—we’re where home used to be, we’re in Washington D.C., but two out of three of us have relocated to Los Angeles.
BA: Oh—that’s got to make it difficult to rehearse.
SK: Yeah, but we’ve been together for so long that we just kind of only get together for writing records and doing tours. It does make it a little weird, but not as weird as you’d imagine.
BA: See, I’m envisioning that as being really surreal. So you’re on the next leg of the tour, how’s it been going so far? How’s the new album been received?
SK: The reception has been great in terms of show attendance it seems like people are finding out about us for the first time which is cool. It seems like the new album has been getting people interested in the older stuff too. It seems like a lot of people will hear the new record, go back and check out the old records and then request older songs at shows just to prove their cred [chuckling].
BA: Just to illustrate that they’ve heard them before. Now you guys have six albums under your belt, has there been that moment on stage when something gets called out and you turn to each other and say, ‘Does anybody remember how to play it?’
SK: Yeah. There are definitely a lot of songs that we haven’t played in many years. There are certain requests where we can say, ‘Yup we’re on it.’ But it can be pretty unpredictable, we’ve always played material from all the records at the shows, but it depends on where we’re at in terms of what we’ve practiced for the current tour of the moment.
BA: And as far as the current tour is concerned, are you relying heavily upon material from Old Growth?
SK: I’d say about half to three-quarters of the sets—depending on the show—are material from Old Growth.
BA: What was the difference for the band walking into the studio this time? How long were you in?
SK: It was probably about three months in the making because we started doing basic tracks in September, and then we sat on them for a while before we finished up all the mixing in January of 2007. It was done being mastered by February, but then the record label decided to wait for a year.
BA: Oh really? Had these songs been getting play live before the album’s release?
SK: Yeah and even before we recorded in September of 2006, we had the opportunity to play a lot of them live which is really good for us, because there’s a lot of jammy improvisation going on. Certain directions of that will fall flat immediately in front of live audiences and that tends to let you know what direction you need to go to.
BA: I see, so even six records in, there’s still an element of trial and error involved with breaking it in on live crowds.
BA: So what we hear on the record is the best moments of what you worked out from a live setting then?
SK: Well, about three-quarters of the songs—maybe two-thirds—we had played live before and other were just ideas that we fleshed out while we were in Indiana doing the basic tracking. It’s kind of apparent, too, if you look at which songs have more extended jams; those are the ones that we had been trying out live and the ones that are more just straight-up songs, those are the ones that could just sort of be born. But then, once you’ve written them and recorded them, you know them in a different way; even though we’re not playing them that much different, we feel like we know them in a different way because we approach them from different angles from when they were first born.
BA: So it stands to reason then that, by degrees, these songs were largely written—or at least gestating—before you headed into the studio.
SK: Musically they were. Some of the lyrics were added later, but the music was all finished before we recorded. Even when you’re recording yourself, it’s hard to just spontaneously create music in a studio environment I think.
BA: I’ve heard that before. Is it a matter of feeling like a really sterile environment?
SK: Yeah, I there’s just nothing coming back when all you’ve got to work with is the playback. It’s easier when the three of us are on stage together looking each other in the eye as we go. If you don’t have at least the basic idea of where something’s going to fit in, it’s difficult to get it to fit. On stage, doing that is all about spontaneity and that tends to work better than trying it in a studio environment; in that sort of situation, it just feels analytical.
BA: I gotcha. So how long is this next leg of the tour?
SK: I know it’s six weeks and I don’t think we have too many days off. The last leg was thirty shows in thirty-two days and that was all over Europe so we’ve definitely got our sea legs.
BA: Clearly. Is Dead Meadow the type of band that likes staying on the road almost in perpetuity?
SK: We don’t like touring nine months out of the year—we tend to tour around six months out of the year because you need to have some balance in your music-making like and your non-music-making life. It seems like, when younger bands do that whole ‘We’re just going to stay on tour until we get signed’ thing, they just end up breaking up because they’ve lost any and all sense of who they are aside from music-making machines. Even with our kind of music where you can make a song new every night and play it slightly different each time, when you play that many shows back-to-back, there’s good and bad things to that auto-pilot kind of feeling; it can make you a lot more confident on stage, but you have to be bringing some of your original soul to it.
BA: The only reason I ask is because I did an interview about a week ago with Liam of Cancer Bats, and every time I talk to him he’s on the road—constantly and perpetually for the last two years. I think he told me that the longest stretch his band has taken off in the last two years—other than while they were making a record—was eight days. So now of course I’m curious to know how that works for other bands; if it works for other bands. I’m sure you guys have pulled similar tours where you’re just out constantly.
SK: Well, it’s definitely hard on your pets and your girlfriends. We’re on the road a lot right now just because our record just came out and that’s the best time to tour. We’ve done a lot of tours in the past just so we’re able to keep paying our rent, but when it comes to just putting your stuff in storage or in your parents’ house and hitting the road for a year, that doesn’t work for us. I think everyone needs some sort of non-music life—I know everybody in this band does.
BA: That’s understandable. With that said then, what’s the rest of this year looking like for the band? More studio? More shows?
SK: Well, I think we’re going to be doing some recording on this last leg of our live shows either to go into a live album or just into sessions to practice for recording a live album and then once we get back to L.A. at the end of may, we’re going to be doing some writing for our next record.
BA: That fast?
SK: Well, as I say, we’ve been sitting on this material for quite a while. We kind of had to take a long break in 2007 because we didn’t have a record out yet and we’d done so many tours without a record out that our label was getting nervous. Fans don’t usually care, but industry-type people get a little irritated with that. Writers get a little cranky about it too; they started to ask a lot more regularly why we were coming through again when we didn’t have anything new to sell.
BA: I don’t think I’ve ever asked that of anyone.
SK: Yeah, well, each writer is as different as each musician of course, but in September we’re going back to Ireland and the UK to do some festivals and possibly more mainland Europe. The last time we were there was the first time that our work had been a little more solvent and lucrative at all. You’re always renting so much and paying so many people there that in the States you just own. It’s hard to take any days off over there because everyday you’re losing money on the things that you’re paying for.
BA: So what else am I very obviously forgetting to ask about? What else would you like to see in this piece?
SK: Hm. Well, I’ve been really happy with your avoidance of the Washington D.C. questions and the stoner rock questions—I tend to think about interviews as what I’d subtract more than what I’d add. Sounds good to me man, I think you’re doing a pretty good job Bill.
BA: Well, thanks for taking a couple of minutes to do this, hopefully I’ll catch you when you hit Buffalo.
SK: No problem. I hope to meet you there.
BA: Take it easy man.
SK: You too—take care.
For more information visit www.deadmeadow.com or myspace.com/deadmeadow