Dead Meadow: Still the same
by Halee Hastad
photo by Aaron Giesel
Dead Meadow grew from the outskirts of Washington D.C. some time just before the turn of the last century. They came up in veterans halls and basements with the elements of DIY punk that had a heavy influence on the area at the time (think Fugazi). The original formation, Jason Simon (vocals, guitar), Steve Kille (bass), Mark Laughlin (drums), has more or less remained for the last two decades, and the band, too, has stayed true to many of their early sentiments, sounds and influences.
They are a band that is unwaveringly dependable. Like a restaurant whose menu goes unchanged for 30 years and is still your favorite. Why? Because you know what you’re going to get when you go there and you know it’s going to be damn good.
While the band moved to Los Angeles 12 years ago, and sifted through different drummers to fill the shoes of Laughlin (who came and went to law school), the band’s unique sound remains strong in its 70s heavy metal and 60s psych-rock influences. Imagine Earth meets The Entrance Band in 1969 and makes a date of it.
Kille, who seems to always have at least a little bit of hair hanging in front of his face, described to me last month how he met Simon not long after high school and the two became friends and started jamming soon afterward. They shared a fancy for the likes of Hendrix, Sabbath and the slew of artists and bands that follow from there.
“From the beginning we were asking ourselves, ‘Ok, how do we push the punk rock we are surrounded by to another level?’ And decided that we would try pushing back the clock and combining it with the earlier, more psychedelic stuff.”
He remembers D.C. at the time as “a cold place with a lot of political influence” (I doubt that has changed much either). Coming from the suburbs worked to their advantage, he said, because they didn’t get involved in the intricacies and dramas of the older generations of rockers there, he said. “When we started coming up people were like, ‘Who are these guys?’ But the truth was we had been there the entire time,” he laughed.
They spent time listening not so much to studio recordings, but instead focused on the live performances as a way of self-teaching the jam that resonates naturally in their music. This taught them that songs don’t always have to be incredibly polished and perfect, Kille said. The recorded product is going to be different than the live on all occasions, which is where the magic can really happen. A lot of a song’s integrity depends on time and place.
Their first album was a self-titled piece released in 2000 on Tolotta Records, a label run by Fugazi Bassist, Joe Lally. Certain songs from that album still remain as top tracks on Google Music and Youtube, as they drone on slowly with a careful indulgence in heady bass and guitar. Laughlin left the band in 2002 and the album that followed his departure, Got Live If You Want It, documented one of the last shows Laughlin played in up to that date (he has since returned for tours, etc.) and was produced by Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Dead Meadow signed for a brief time to Matador Records in 2004 and have since released albums on Xemu Records, a New York City based label Kille runs alongside filmmaker, musician, producer and artist Cevin Soling.
There is no real rhyme or reason to their practices, Kille said. They’ve been together so long that there’s a groove more or less built in to the process.
“For better or for worse we’ve kind of remained the same,” Kille said. “We don’t have any pretentious drama and don’t take being in a band too seriously so we get a better chance at being creative.”
They also edit a lot, working to make the songs more and more simple. Kille works out of his home/studio where he produces music for Dead Meadow and a variety of other bands that come through.
“I see a lot of bands where they feel like they have to be so on all of the time,” he said. “But what they don’t realize that they don’t have to be the next Jim Morrison or something. You have to be able to sit back, laugh and pull away from the ego.”
See them at The Shakedown on Feb. 26 alongside Dallas Acid. For more about the band, see www.deadmeadow.com.