“I was actually working at University of Texas Press at the time, and they published a lot of books on Maya. So I’d been reading the [Maya] Codices and just wanted to work that into the idea of a mythology. At the time, we kind of got off on telling lies to the press, just to make up interesting stories. But the name Trail of Dead — we invented it. It’s not a reference to anything,” he says.
While Keely read up on Mayan mythology — he doubts there will be an apocalypse when the Mayan calendar ends next month, in case you were wondering — Trail of Dead plugged away on the US indie circuit for seven years before finally hitting big with their breakout album of 2002, Source Tags & Codes. On the tours that followed, the band swelled to six members, including two drummers. The sound was rapturous and overpowering, and reports came back from shows of a band that dared to be epic and also pulled it off. They harnessed the loud, fuzzy and sometimes droning sound of America’s post-Sonic Youth indie scene, but instead of shoegazing and internalizing it like so many other bands, they projected the intensity outwards. Keely and Reece alternated on vocals, crooning plaintively or else savagely screaming out lyrics that were never without an edge — or a footnote.
Looking back through the band’s songbook — which stretches back 17 years and eight full albums — the density of references to literature and myth could easily merit its own bibliography. There are at least two songs named after the Egyptian goddess Isis, and several more from other world myths. There are songs named after novels (Far Pavilions), poets (“Baudelaire”) and historical figures (“The Betrayal of Roger Casement and the Irish Brigade”). Much of the last album, Tao of the Dead, was inspired by the ideas of Joseph Campbell, a Jungian scholar who proposed “the hero with a thousand faces” as a universal archetype for literature and myth.
But for the new album, Lost Songs, Keely is referencing his own stories instead of those by others. And in the process, he’s turning the band into one big meta-narrative.
“On past albums, there has always been a song or a book, and I could say, that song is about a specific book. But on this album, the songs are actually about the book I’m writing,” he says.
The current tour will take Trail of Dead to Phnom Phen, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan.
“All this is being done in the hopes of making Asia just as regular a stop as Europe,” says Keely.
Taiwanese fans will be glad to hear that.