Published on March 22nd, 2006 | by The Beige Baron0
Dead Meadow — The Feathers Interview
This four-piece group creates the kind of music that invites hyphenated genre tags from writers struggling to describe an elusive sound. According to Dead Meadow’s bio, “the band plays an unusual blend of flawless Sabbath/Hendrix riffage, dreamy psych, heavy undulating rhythms, and dirty blues rock with eerie high-pitched vocals. [They] encompass everything from ambient guitar drones to surging psych-funk sludge, blues-folk tunes to barbiturate space rock, and some southern boogie thrown in for good measure… it’s as influenced by the droning modal character of Eastern music as by classic rock riffs.”
Fans of obscure stoner, doom, drone and psychedelic music have no doubt discovered Dead Meadow long ago through word-of-mouth in the underground music community, driven in particular by the promotional efforts of resource websites like stonerrock.com. After all, bands that fit into these categories often find it hard to break the mainstream because of a perceived lack of sales potential, and the reluctance of major labels to take a risk and invest in developing talent who might not be interested in cloning themselves into the last biggest thing.
Fans are relying less on the radio and more on the internet to discover fresh new music, and Dead Meadow were waiting to be found. But to its credit, Matador Records understood Dead Meadow had more potential than the average garage band content with reinterpreting Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The label was savvy enough to snap up the band in 2003, and its confidence was rewarded with a pair of superb records which
Dead Meadow appeal to music fans whose collections bulge with records by Electric Wizard, Goatsnake, Earthlings?, Kyuss, Desert Sessions and Slo Burn, but just as much with listeners who have never heard of any of these bands, but have an appreciation of where the music is coming from. Dead Meadow’s most recent album, Feathers, is a triumph of songwriting and musicianship, and is undeniably their most refined, ambitious and impressive work to date.
Brown Noise Unit asked bassist Steve Kille how the band dynamic has changed since being signed to Matador, how Feathers was recorded, and what it’s like being a band in Washington DC.
“Yeah, it’s always surprising when your band suddenly takes off,” he laughs. “But it certainly didn’t happen overnight. All the members of the band have been involved in the DC music scene for years, playing in different outfits. At first we played a lot of punk and really cut our teeth on that. But when we were kids, our older brothers introduced us to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath and we have all been lifelong fans of the music, even while we were off doing punk and other things.”
Dead Meadow formed in 1998, and in 2000 signed with Fugazi bassist Joe Lally’s Tolotta Records “almost as a joke band playing derivative Sabbath and Zeppelin” according to one scribe. The deal yielded the band’s second record, Howls From The Hills, recorded in a barn in Indiana, and accordingly attracting a huge following on the local live circuit.
“We just wanted to play the kind of music we loved,” says Steve. “That’s how Dead Meadow came about. But the music took on a life of its own… we all contribute to the writing and just jam our ideas out, and that will always allow the music to remain fresh and take off in unexpected directions.”
Dead Meadow, as well as sharing a love of 60s psychedelic music and 70s riff rock, had respect for the work of HP Lovecraft, JRR Tolkien and Alistair Crowley. Like Robert Plant, vocalist and guitarist Jason Simon began writing lyrical stories based in the realm of fantasy and often referencing the natural world. Instead of singing about the sordid realities of politics, war and money, Jason was writing psychedelic themes celebrating escapism – which fitted into the group’s often dreamy, other-worldly sound. And in a strange way that’s “political” in and of itself: the world’s gone to the dogs, so let’s get back to nature, trip out to some swirling stoner and leave the lickpennies to it.
“Jason is particularly interested in Crowley and is a huge Tolkien fan. We do a lot of rehearsing and recording at my place [in the hills outside Washington DC] and we love getting out into nature, camping and travelling around the country touring with the band,” says Steve.
As well as developing their lyrical style, Dead Meadow has invested countless hours creating a “sound” which has made them the envy of heavy bands everywhere. Through use of vintage equipment and painstaking research into acoustics, the band has achieved a gloriously fuzzy, earthy, organically warm tone which provides a solid foundation for disembodied guitar explorations.
“Well, that certainly didn’t happen by accident. It literally took us years of experimentation to arrive at a sound we were happy with – and we’re still trying to get it right. In the beginning it involved pushing your equipment too far; pushing your amps into the red, but later we developed more of an understanding of acoustics for recording—it’s about fiddling all the time; a real trial-and-error process. We play live a lot and that’s a good place to learn what sounds good.
“With our other albums, we recorded in basements or barns and sort of did all the tracking at once. With Feathers, we did the tracking for the rhythm section in New York before coming back to DC to do the guitars. It really worked well; the sound is much more defined and it allows the brighter colours of the guitars to really be more expressive and not get lost in a mess of fuzziness.”
Just back from a tour of the US and Europe, Dead Meadow is gearing up for another round of shows and is keen to play to Australian audiences. But with finances tight, it could be a while before the band makes it over here. In the meantime, fans will have to be content rocking out to Feathers—it’s an album with enough depth that you’ll probably not find the bottom on the first dive, but one which will refresh and reward with every listen.