Usually we like to post these interviews, like, before the band actually plays their show, but this time we just couldn't get it done. Dead Meadow has been a bit hard to reach for the past couple of days as they have traveled through the wastelands of Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas, but we were fortunate enough to get a hold of them as they arrived in Denton before their Hailey's
show with Chief Death Rage
. We talked with drummer Stephen McCarty about the band's music and their place in the ongoing saga known as "psychedelic rock." Here are the results:
Do you guys have a new record coming out some time soon?
Yeah, in early September. Its all in the can and sounding good.
Did you approach the new record with any kind of substantially different philosophy or intent than you had on the previous albums?
Yeah. We did the basic tracks ourselves in a house, and everything was done by us other than some vocals, and we also recorded some stuff at Sunset Sound which was amazing. I think it sounds a lot clearer than some of our other stuff.
You guys all started off in different D.C. hardcore bands, right?
Yeah, but Steve and Jason have been playing together in bands for a long time. The band they had before Dead Meadow was called the Impossible Five, and they weren't really hardcore. I don't know how to describe it, but I know it wasn't hardcore.
And your first record was on (Fugazi bassist Joe Lally's label) Tolotta, right?
Yeah, the first two Dead Meadow records were put out on that label.
I guess D.C. is obviously most well known for its hardcore scene. Were there any other psyche rock bands in D.C. when you started?
No, but thats kind of what made us start in the first place. Joe didn't want to hear hardcore music either, which is what got him interested in us because we didn't sound like them at all.
Obviously your music doesn't sound anything like hardcore, but do you think that punk or hardcore has influenced your take on psychedelic music even though it has nothing to do with your sound? Like I know that I started off listening to hardcore and began to embrace psychedelic music later on in life, and I feel like I constantly see things through that lens of punk.
I think what it influences more is the process of actually being in a band. Like instead of waiting for a major label or manager to take interest in you, you just do it yourself, which is a very punk rock thing. And we still play tons of shows that are put on in a more punk rock spirit, like independent promoters booking shows in unusual places. It all kind of grew out of that spirit of independence.
Yeah, and you can almost detect a harder edge in Dead Meadow, or an awareness of punk in the way you guys sound and record and present yourselves. Do you think thats true?
Well, probably the darker side of our sound is influenced by other heavy bands like Sleep, and also shoegaze and things like that, but not really DC stuff at all.
D.C. isn't really known for its psychedelic rock, and a lot of people would probably guess that you guys are from the west coast. How do you think D.C. influened your sound, or did it not have an influence at all?
Well, only in like a negative way. Like we're working against something as opposed to working with something. But thats good, and its especially good when you're first starting out. Its good to feel like you're rebelling against something. But now we're at the point where these isn't any reason to be in D.C. any more, so we've all moved out.
Where do you live now?
Los Angeles. We've been there for the past two months. We finished our record there, and we're just temporarily living there. We're kind of tired of being identified with D.C. and talking about it all the time. We just didn't really want to deal with it anymore. It kind of had a lot to do with the inception of the band, but for the last five years we've been touring, so we kind of don't really identify ourselves with any one place. You kind of become a citizen of the universe.
Yeah, it seems like you guys are constantly on tour. Do you do it simply because you like it, or its a good way to make money, or what?
I like to do it. And its also a good way to make money, and a good way to get better. As far as I'm concerned, its the only way, if you're not recording or writing songs, being on tour is the best thing to do, especially when you're in the writing process, trying things out for people. Its a kind of cool tradition to participate in. The band on the road. And it beats working, for sure.
So there has certainly been a new interest in what people call "stoner rock" over the past couple of years, especially concerning bands like Sleep. Have you noticed that?
Well I don't really know how to comment on that, because I've always thought that stuff was cool.
Has that new interest created a rise in interest in your band?
I don't know if its because of that, but I know a much bigger scene has emerged with a lot of different kinds of music that kind of relate to things we've been doing on our records over the past few years, like the psychedelic rock and neo-folk things, and both are kind of picking up steam. I find a lot less pure stoner rock people at our shows these days, and its kind of getting into a lot more regular rock fan territory, so maybe thats partially an explanation. You also kind of hope that thats happening because you've been on tour for a while and people are starting to come around.
Well you guys got a lot of good press for your last album, Feathers, and it seems that Feathers incorporated more shoegaze elements than previous efforts, with more of a focus on melody. When you were making that record, did you find that you were incorporating elements in your music that hadn't been there before?
Yeah, it just kind of feels like a natural progression, when you start off doing heavy riffs and a lot of volume and just that alone is enough to keep you interested, but the longer you have to work on the songs, you want to do something that can translate outside of being a loud band playing loud. Like a song that could live on after your band, you kind of have to work at it from a different angle.
I'm sure you guys get asked a lot of questions like this, but what does the term "psychedelic" really mean to you? Because to me, dance music can have a lot of the same properties as what people think of as traditional psychedelic rock, and I wonder what you think is incorporated into the term "psychedelic?"
Thats interesting because it doesn't have much to do with an actual sound, but it has more to do with a spirit that you feel more than you hear. When you hear something you identify as psychedelic, it can be something that sounds like 13th Floor Elevators, or a dude playing a guitar alone in a room, or a lot of the old blues stuff seems really psychedelic to me. I don't know, anything that makes you feel like you're tripping out. And that dance music connection is an important one, with trance and all that stuff.
And early rave culture was probably the closest thing to the 60's psychedelic culture that we've seen in our lifetimes.
I think the other side of it was that with rave culture, the music and the lights and the whole eperience had to be put on by a very large scale crew, not necessarily a large number of people, but it took a lot of gear and money, whereas with the 60's it could be three or four or five dudes playing instruments, and I think that going in that direction is a more meaningful political statement for our times because it seems that with the whole rave thing, its an all encompassing experience but its also kind of dehumanizing, because all you see is a DJ spinning records, but when you're playing in a band, you've got the whole production right there in front of you, and if anyone screws up, thats part of the whole human element. Its a lot harder to feel that connection when you're just listening to a giant PA.
So you feel like you can create a more profound connection with people when you're playing live instruments on a smaller scale?
I think so, and we've played a lot of shows where the live bands will have the early part of the night, and then they'll be like "get the heck out of here, its time for the DJ and all the girls to come!" Its discouraging, and I'd rather not participate in anything like that.
Its interesting that you say that because "indie" culture has really embraced dance music a lot more in recent years, so you'll find a lot more shows where rock bands are playing with electronica DJs. Do you not like that development necessarily?
I definitely don't. I like dancing and hearing music, but I don't think it should be put above people making music. If theres going to be a hierarchy, I think it should be musicians above DJs. Its cool, everyone likes to have a good time, but its kind of just like listening to the radio or something like that. Its not providing a service thats unique to that moment and place.
Would you feel the same about someone getting up on stage and playing their own original electronic dance music live?
Yeah, that stuff is cool, but when they get up and play electronic music on a computer, it seems like its not really live most of the time. Usually its a lot of prerecorded preprogrammed stuff. Its really hard to play electronic music live because you're looking at someone touching a laptop or you have a set of gear bigger than the first IBM computer.
So to you, the actual experience of watching someone perform live is a pretty big key to the whole thing?
Yeah, knowing that a sound is being produced live by a human. If you can't screw it up live, then there really isn't any triumph in doing it right.
Well the renewed interest in stoner rock is coming at the same time as the rising popularity of classic acid house, both of which might be called "escapist."
Sure. The escapist connection is a meaningful one right now because people don't necessarily want to celebrate whats happening now in this country with the government.
And I read somewhere that the lyrics on Feathers are more directly political than anything else you guys had done previously.
Yeah, and there are lyrics on the next one that are even more so. Not that we've ever wanted to be a political band, but the times seem to just call for some kind of reaction. Its just too crazy and horrible not to say anything about it. We sort of feel responsible for it.
So, you did this purposefully, like it wasn't just a part of your lives, but you felt compelled to address politics in the current environment.
Yeah, and especially living in DC, you just can't get away from it.
And its interesting because we were talking about that escapist element in your sound, and people can certainly use that phrase to describe your music, but the lyrics have become more of a direct reflection of living in DC and being around politics and things like that all the time.
Yeah, we started out as more of a total fantasy, escapist kind of thing. But the more you live through it and get used to it, the more (politics) becomes a part of your life, so whatever you're thinking and feeling has to get channeled through the music.
And you said you just got tired of living in D.C. Did that have to do with the negative political climate or more with the music scene there?
Well, the negative vibrations have had an influence on the music scene. I moved to D.C. in 97, and every year its gotten worse and worse and less and less. Every summer, more people would either move away or quit the scene because they were either getting older or just didn't want to do it anymore, and at the same time, D.C. was becoming less and less inspiring of a place to be, and we were traveling farther and farther out in the country and the world, and it gets to the point where you ask yourself why you're living there because it keeps getting worse and everywhere else starts looking better.
What attracted you to L.A.?
People respond well to us there, they always buy our records and go to our shows. Its the same as New York City, but New York is a very expensive place to live. LA has a lot of available housing since its so spread out and huge, and theres a lot more happening there in terms of random connections. You can encounter a lot of different music or different types of people in LA as opposed to D.C., where you only ran into political people, which didn't do too much for us.
Have you had time to settle in there and see whats going on locally in music and art?
Yeah. All the people we've been staying with are friends of ours, and we kind of just jumped right in to what they've got going on. Its exciting because there are new friends to be made and old heroes to connect with. Its been really cool. There are some cool bands in LA too, like we're on tour with a band called Spindrift, and another group called Winter Flowers that are more of an acoustic prog kind of band, and they're really cool. And theres a guy named Jonathan Wilson who one of my roommates plays with, and he also plays with Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes.
And you guys did a live record with Anton Newcomb a couple years ago. Are you pretty good friends with the BJM guys?
Yeah, Anton actually lives in New York, but most of the BJM stuff that was done in LA was done at a place that is owned by a guy named Rob Campanella, and we do stuff there too. Everything and everyone out in L.A. is really linked.
Did you have a problem with the way the band was portrayed in Dig?
Well that took place way before I ever knew those guys or toured with them, so I can't comment on whether it was accurate or not, but it definitely did get a lot more people out to Jonestown shows, which is good for them. And theres always been a bunch of people that have come out to their shows that aren't interested in the music and just want to see something crazy happen, but as long as they pay their covers, you know, its ok. I don't know whether the movie has been good or bad, but as far as I can tell its been good for them.
So you have the album coming out in September, anything else going on?
We're going to be doing some touring in England in August, but as far as any of our individual stuff, its all in such early stages that I can't really talk about it right now.
Labels: dead meadow, interviews