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Conrad Keely: Going It Alone With 'Original Machines'

Friday, 26 February 2016 Written by Laura Johnson

Conrad Keely has fronted ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, through various lineup changes, for over 20 years. The band, which began as a duo when Keely paired up with old friend Jason Reece in Austin, Texas in the early ‘90s, soon expanded, fleshing out their abstract take on rock through an unpredictable live presence.

Nine albums, countless laps of the globe, his fair share of studios and a move to Cambodia later, Keely has recently gone it alone. The result is his first solo release, ‘Original Machines’, which is an album of epic proportions despite its low key beginnings.

Opting for the DIY approach, in part out of necessity due to his transient lifestyle, Keely has managed to create a piece of work that, as a whole, has the impact of something much bigger than its constituent parts. Its charm lies in the disparity of its competing musical influences.

We caught up with him to discuss the background to the album’s creation and his future plans prior to his arrival in London for a headline show at the O2 Academy Islington.

Having spent so long in a band, why did you decide now was the time for a solo record?

I never thought of myself as a solo artist. I always felt pretty dedicated to the idea of being in a band and didn’t consider a solo career ever. But, ironically, it was actually my bandmates that kept begging me to make a solo record. Specifically Autry [Fulbright II, ...Trail of Dead bassist], who was keen on helping me produce it and record it. But after a while it seemed like the right time. I think there was just some time when ...Trail Of Dead wasn’t doing anything and I still had this really strong creative urge to write an album. So I was like: “Well, if I can’t do it for the band right now I’ll just do it for myself."

Why did you decide to up sticks and move to Cambodia?

It wasn’t anything that I planned. It was just, you know, when you travel and you come to somewhere that makes sense to you. It was almost [that] I felt recruited by the city [Phnom Penh] in some weird way. There was so much potential to do things here and to live in a way that just felt more free, more liberated. It’s weird because on one hand I’m a performer, but on the other hand there’s a shyness about me and I don’t like being in these cities, these western cities, where I know people. It was fun to just come here and know nobody, you know? It has a very small town atmosphere that reminds me a lot of Austin back in the day.

You travel a lot. Did you write the record on the road?

Travelling is such a big part of my life and it always has been. I was born in the UK but the first time I got on a plane I was six weeks old. It’s been like that pretty much consistently all my life. There’s this one period, basically when I first moved to Austin, where I didn’t, for the first time, do much travelling, just remained in Austin working on the band.

But, once the band kinda went underway and tours started happening, since then my life has been half touring and half at home, and the times that I’m home the first thing I think of is: “Where can I go now?”. I wanna take a trip or I wanna take a holiday to some place I’ve never been. So even in my time off I’ve ended up getting back travelling, getting back on the road. So in a way there was really no other way to write this record other than when I was travelling, because that’s what I was going to be doing anyway.

So, you wrote the record on the road, but it sounds like a massive production. How did you do that?

I used GarageBand. I really relied on a lot of things that come with a programme I work with called Logic. It’s a programme that’s becoming one of the more popular production applications and it’s one that I’ve actually been using for years and years. It just keeps getting better and developing. And now it’s come to a point where it’s, in a way, putting studios out of business because we no longer need to rely upon the dedicated work spaces of these multi-million dollar sound recording facilities anymore.

The samples and drum sounds that we used for beats, those are already recorded in a studio in a very high end way, so there’s no reason to do that twice. For me it was also a real statement because I’m a real believer in the influence of technology over art. I think that all art has advanced when there’s been a technological advance in that field.

An obvious example is the printing press. The printing press allowed for literature to come to a new level, in the same way that the digital revolution we’re  experiencing right now is creating a new style of composition, a new style of art. I wanted this album to be a celebration of that.  

In the end I went to my friend’s studio and did the mixing there, but by then pretty much the record was written. He was just kinda facilitating the last step of the journey. But I would definitely not take away from his contribution, because he made it sound big. I think the big sound that you were referring to was something that was done once we were mixing, to take these audio files and to make them sound like an actual production.

Is your future going to continue in the solo direction or can we expect a … Trail of Dead album next?

I’m actually already plotting the next [solo] record. Once we start touring this I’ll probably use that time to start composing again. At this point it’s so much easier for me to make a solo record than it is to get the band together. I’m not saying that we’re not going to do that because that’s obviously the plan down the road, but for now, I think, I’ll probably focus on another solo album before doing another ...Trail record. They know that, we talked about that. Autry was like: “Yeah dude, you should make another record.”

‘Original Machines’ is out now through Superball Music.

Conrad Keely Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed March 02 2016 - LONDON O2 Academy2 Islington

Click here to compare & buy Conrad Keely Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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