Conrad Keely of Trail of Dead | Interview
The Trail of Dead frontman talks comic books, Pre-Raphaelite art and giving up guitar smashing.
Fortunately, helmets are no longer required at a Trail of Dead gig. Ten years ago, seeing the Austin, Texas, rockers live meant having a kick drum or black-clad body thrown at your head. Though it has settled down with age, the band’s latest, Tao of the Dead, is a baroque punk epic. Equally complex is the ornate artwork created, as always, by singer-guitarist Conrad Keely. We reached Keely on the road.
You are playing here on Free Comic Book Day.
Sweeeet! I know the day well.
Who are your favorite comics artists?
After a lifetime of collecting comics, you get so many it’s hard to pick out ones. When I was a kid, I was a Marvel kid. My favorite was The New Mutants. Recently, I got to take a tour of Marvel, and they offered me to do a cover for New Mutants. Now I’ve just got to come up with the time where I can illustrate my favorite character, Magik. But as I got older, I got into the Victorians, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Romanticists, the Orientalists.
That certainly shows.
I’m in Birmingham right now. I went down to the museum of art, and they were having a pre-Raphaelite exhibit. I got to see some of my favorite paintings on display. Seeing them in real life was stunning.
Which paintings in particular?
There was Ford Madox Brown’s Work, a celebration of the everyday worker. I love paintings that tell stories—down to the animals in the pictures. They’re really important. He don’t put a cat in there just to put a cat in there. It has to symbolize something.
I definitely see that influence on the album cover you did for Worlds Apart. Wait, this is in Alabama?
Oh, no no no, dude. I’m in Birmingham, U.K.!
[Laughs] I was going to say. I grew up in the South and don’t remember many pre-Raphaelite exhibits.
[Laughs] It’s funny, when I put “Museum of Art Birmingham” into my phone this morning, it did give me directions to Alabama, and I was really confused. But you know, in America, you do find art in weird places. St. Petersburg, Florida, has the premier Dalí museum.
Are you getting musical ideas from your artwork, or vice versa? Which comes first?
No, it’s symbiotic, so closely intertwined that it’s hard for me to separate the two. I have to work on them together and think of them as one and the same.
Do you have fans who discover you through your artwork first?
We played a show in Hamburg the other day, and all these art students came and they didn’t even know our band. That was shocking.
Did you destroy your instruments?
We’re not as destructive. Our guitar tech handed me a shitty guitar for me to smash at the end of the show. Obviously, I’m getting old.
Trail of Dead visits Bottom Lounge Saturday 7.