Conrad Keely, the creative force behind American alternative prog rock band ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, is seeking inspiration in Cambodia.
The Texas-based rockers received world-wide critical acclaim for their 2002 album Source Tags and Codes, and this year released their seventh full-length studio album Tao of the Dead to enthusiastic reviews. The BBC described it as “one of rock’s most beloved bands hitting as rich a seam of form as we’ve seen before.”
Fresh from a tour of the US, UK and Australia to support the album’s release, Keely has been performing locally while drawing inspiration from the Kingdom.
“I wouldn’t call it a holiday. My art is a continuous, ongoing process that reflects my experiences,” he said. “The environment I’m in, its music, art and culture all add to the inspiration.”
This broad-minded approach to his craft is reflected in the diverse range of musical, artistic and literary sources that influence the Trail’s expansive sound, which Keely casually describes as a result of the desire to create music “that has never before been heard on this planet.”
Widely noted for his musical versatility, the Trail’s chief lyricist provides keys for the outfit while sharing drumming, guitar and vocal duties with band-mate Jason Reece. Also proficient on the cello and violin, the student of “fiddle methods” has sought lessons on the traditional Khmer Tro Sau during his stay, although his initial efforts were met with some confusion.
“I got up for the appointment, like really early, and when I got there they thought that I just wanted to meet the teacher,” he said.
A modern day Renaissance man, Keely designs the cover art for Trail releases, providing the band with its distinctive aesthetic signature. The special edition Tao digipack includes sixteen panels of an ongoing graphic novel as well as the first chapter of his unreleased Sci Fi “masterpiece”.
“The music is the soundtrack to the writing, and the art provides the visual component to the overall narrative,” he said.
Keely’s humble manner and easy-going attitude quickly belie any notions of self-grandeur that might be perceived from his bold artistic ambitions. And with band-mate Reece attending to domestic duties back home in Texas, Keely has taken the opportunity to perform solo for local audiences.
Appearing on stage last week at Sharky and Equinox, he offered up a stripped-back mix of material from the Trail’s catalogue, along with a first-time number on the fiddle and the two hundred year old Scottish war-ballad Battle of Trennant Muirs, which Keely said with a boyish grin “sounds strangely like punk.”