Published on April 17th, 2015 | by RS0
Interview: Jason Simon
There is no band out there like Dead Meadow. Forming in the late ’90s, they stood out from Washington DC’s mostly punk scene with bold dreamy landscapes of heavy bass, earthy twang and fantastical imagery.
I didn’t discover the band until 2008; they had just moved out to LA and released their new album, Old Growth. It hit me like a bullet: who is this band? What is this music? I hadn’t ever heard anything like it before.
Dead Meadow’s sound is apathy and love married through pure creative expression. It was an awakening for me, to the world of psych/alternative music. A stoned high-schooler at the time, I voraciously ate up their back catalog. It’s amazing how fully formed they emerged—their 2000 self-titled album and 2001’s Howls from the Hills are truly pieces of inventive and iconic psychedelia.
However, 2005’s Feathers is the album that really crystalizes who they are and what kind of music they make—the album just washes over you, drawing away your fears and doubts, filling you with pure wonder and beauty.
Old Growth marked the beginning of a new era for the band, which had just moved out to Los Angeles. From there, they released multi-media project Three Kings in 2010 and most recently Warble Womb in 2013 on band member Steve Kille’s Xemu Records.
Jason Simon, Dead Meadow’s vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter also released a 2010 solo album and is a member in the recently formed psych/Americana group Old Testament.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Jason to talk about the new Dead Meadow album due late this year, and how the band was born out of the confluence of punk and stoner in DC.
It was all recorded in the Fugazi practice space to 8-track reel-to-reel
BNU: Your Peel Sessions recordings from 2001 are some of the rawest psychedelia I’ve heard. What was it like recording with Jonathan Peel, and at such a young age?
Well, truth be told, we never met John Peel. He reached out to us after hearing our first record about coming on the show when we were next in England. Being that we were a young band with no touring plans as yet to play overseas it was arranged that we would supply him the recordings. In the nature of his show, we wanted to go real raw and live with it. It was all recorded in the Fugazi practice space to 8-track reel-to-reel over two days. I think it was the first time a band had recorded outside of the BBC for his show.
I also grew up in DC. I actually caught you guys playing the back room at the Black Cat once; it was a really great, intimate show. That was after you guys had moved out to LA though. You guys got together when you were really young, in high school right? Where did you perform, who was coming to your shows?
We actually got together a bit later than that. Steve Kille [bass] and I had DC punk-type bands when we were in high school that used to play together in DC. Usually spots like the Artslab or The Beehive Collective. Both of those spots were tiny DIY spaces on U street… they’re probably both upscale restaurants at this point. After high school Steve and I started playing together in a band called Impossible 5. Dead Meadow began when I was 21 I think.
At first no one was coming to our shows! [Laughs] We played Backstage Black Cat (the old Black Cat), the Velvet Lounge, the original Ottobar in Baltimore. Eventually we started playing with both the punk side of DC and the heavier stoner side. We would do shows with Fugazi and the Make-Up, and we would do shows with bands like Spirit Caravan. We dug all those bands though we never quite fit into either scene.
You guys seem to tour like crazy. Any good stories?
Lots of good stories, though few fit for print. We just got home yesterday from a month in Europe and at the moment I can’t think about anything involving tours.
How has Los Angeles treated you? Is it really the Mecca for psych bands that it seems to be?
Los Angeles is cool, California is great. I dig the climate and the nature and the weed, though now DC is legalized and that is pretty amazing.
At the moment in LA it’s pretty saturated with the “beach”-sounding bands like The Growlers or Allah-las and a whole grip of “garage” Burger Records-type bands. A lot of it references ’60s psych, but for me it takes a lot to be truly psychedelic. There is certainly a ton of bands though I’m a bit out of touch these days… I usually prefer to stay home and listen to some Sun Ra or Yabby You or some shit like that.
How did Old Testament come about? What does it mean to you compared to Dead Meadow?
Old Testament started out as my finding some cool folks to play with for some solo shows I was doing. As we all started playing together it felt like much more of a band-type thing. I was looking for a name that referenced a bit of the Old Americana with its songs of murder and vengeance; something with an Old Testament feel and we just went bold with it and called it Old Testament.
I guess it would be odd if it weren’t compared to Dead Meadow, as that’s where my songs have primarily gone for the last 15 years. There is a certain freedom to not having a history though. With Dead Meadow there is a certain thing the listener is expecting, and though I feel we always push things farther with each LP, each Dead Meadow record can’t help but be viewed in terms of other Dead Meadow records. Not so with Old Testament or the solo LP.
With Dead Meadow there is a certain thing the listener is expecting
That solo record was really excellent. Can we expect another one in the future? What about more side projects like Old Testament?
Cool, glad ya dug it. Yes, I’m actually working on another solo LP at the moment. It’s definitely a less stripped-down record than the first one. I’ve actually been using a lot of old Maestro-type drum machines on it ala There’s a Riot Going On or something like that… There’s a whole grip of new Old Testament songs as well that will be recorded at some time for a new LP as well.
For me, your music has always had an escapist, womb-like quality. When I want to feel comforted I put on some beefy headphones and blast Feathers. Nothing relaxes me more. Is that escapist quality the intention? What kind of effect do you want to your music to have on people?
I think we’ve always strove to make music that captures some of the feel of the music that inspired us. We love music that the listener can get lost in, music that lets you step away from the everyday and the mundane for a moment. So yes, I think the escapist feel is something we intended.
It is important to remember that a great deal of the music industry is built on taking advantage of the musicians
Though possibly the word “escapist” can be seen with a negative connotation, as a running from the real world. I would definitely argue that possibly what great music does in letting us “escape” is a turning towards something profoundly more Real than the day-to-day concerns and affairs that tend to occupy so much of our time.
It ain’t easy making a living doing anything creative these days, but it is definitely a calling that can’t be turned away from.
I would say, above all else, to do your own thing and don’t let anybody tell you to do it different than how you envision it.
… And careful what you sign! So many young bands are eager to get their music out there whatever the cost, and it is important to remember that a great deal of the music industry is built on taking advantage of the musicians.
We’ve been very fortunate to work with a number of great and honest people, but we have also signed things we later regretted and that caused us a lot of difficulties down the road.
What music have you been digging lately?
On this last tour we did a gig with Faust. The show was alright, but it sent me back to listening to a number of krautrock records I haven’t heard in years. Faust IV is rad and I’ve been pulling out all my old Can records. Kinda been digging JJ Cale a bunch… that’s some mellow shit. And always old blues and folk. I can’t get enough of that stuff. I love 1920s Appalachian banjo music…. really spooky stuff. I actually play more banjo at home than guitar these days.
What’s coming up for you guys?
Dead Meadow is working on a new record. These days we work at our own pace, which tends to be akin to that of a snail… but it is coming. I’m hoping for a late 2015 or early 2016 release. I think we’ll be doing some shows up the coast in early summer as well.
Dead Meadow’s most recent release Warble Womb is available from all good online and bricks-and-mortar music outlets or on Xemu Records. For the latest news and tour information, follow the band on Facebook.