The Who invented it. Nirvana perfected it…. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead got accountants thinking about it.
Closing a show in a bout of destruction is one of the great traditions of rock and roll, but when it becomes a routine the spectacle isn’t exactly priceless.
Fender bass guitars (approximately $900), Marshall amplifiers (approximately $800) and run-of-the-mill drum sets (approximately $600) – the instruments behind Trail of Dead’s beloved rock – make expensive confetti.
So when this buzzed-about band of multi-instrumentalists toss drum and guitars around like balloons waiting to be popped, they are conscious – at least a little – about their expenses.
“You don’t want to be foolish, you definitely have to watch your costs,” drummer Jason Reece, who also trades off on guitarist and bass, admitted before a recent show, which, of course, ended in a trademark trail of scattered instruments, damaged but not broken.
“It’s like being a stuntman – you have to learn how to fall, or know how to throw it so it looks like it breaks but it doesn’t actually break,” revealed bassist Neil Busch, catching flack from his bandmates.
“No, no, come on, that’s not actually true at all, man,” Reece countered. “You might do that! What about that speaker that fell on you and cracked your rib? That was so not a stunt at all!”
Oh yeah, the cost of instruments isn’t the only money at stake here. There are hospital bills. Stitches, which Trail of Dead have had plenty of, and even Band-Aids aren’t free.
There were some who speculated that the Austin, Texas, natives – who successfully released and toured behind two independent releases before issuing their recent major-label debut, Source Tags & Codes – signed with Interscope Records to help pay their performance costs.
Not true, singer Conrad Keely said. A label deal “is like a loan. You can borrow that money, but then you have to pay it back.”
To keep costs down, Trail of Dead have learned how to repair damaged gear. “We have become masters with the soldering iron and the wires,” Busch said.
While the bandmembers admit to being influenced by the Who (“definitely [Pete] Townshend and [Keith] Moon!” guitarist Kevin Allen chimed in), they were well on their way to becoming destructive before they started paying attention to music.
“I think it started when I was about 2 years old, when the Tonka trucks came out, and they are very durable,” Busch said, motioning the smashing of one.
Added Keely, “People that know us know that we are very accident-prone. Even when we were kids, we always broke our toys. It wasn’t unusual for us to break things, so for that to translate to what we are doing musically is not so unusual.”
Plus, Trail of Dead say, their concert-closing spectacles are spontaneous. Not only would the audience be able to tell if it wasn’t, so would the band, which makes choreographed chaos easy to avoid.
Their fans, and especially the media, do talk about it, particularly an infamous South by Southwest performance that caused them to basically get banned from the conference. Some bands might get concerned it would become a clichÃ©, but Trail of Dead, whose single “Another Morning Stoner” is red-hot at radio, have too good of a sense of humor for that.
“Demolition derbies have been happening in the South for decades and people never get tired of that – monster trucks, smashing cars, people really like that,” Busch said.
“People that like us,” Keely said, “like us for the record, not for what happens live. That’s just like icing on the cake.”
Reece, playing into the hype, said their current show is nothing compared to what lies ahead. “I think we are going to go for heat-seeking missiles for the next tour.”