20 years on... in conversation with Dead Meadow
In 1998 in Washington, D.C, a new kind of sound was emerging. Known as the birthplace of Hardcore through the likes of Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Fugazi, Dead Meadow are treading new waters of heavy psychedelia influenced by 60s and 70s rock. “We all grew up on D.C punk rock, we loved Fugazi,” vocalist Jason Simon states. “Before that though, when we were younger, we were Led Zeppelin fans.” With regard to their sound, Simon found that no band seemed to be creating what they were creating at the time. “We thought it’d be cool if we could just hang and kick out some jams, you know, like early Black Sabbath, 1969 or 1970 style. Recalling the early days, drummer Juan Londono laughs about the responses they often got from their long guitar solos and stoner sound. “It did piss some people off,” Londono says. “We played with Fugazi at the 930 Club and people were just talking trash about us, people complained that we sounded just like really slow Black Sabbath, as if that’s an insult!”
Back in the early naughties, the band found themselves touring a lot with the Brian Jonestown Massacre, a somewhat dramatic opposite of supporting bands with fans consisting of pissed off kids throwing themselves at each other. “Those were crazy times,” Simon remembers. A lot of this tour was documented in the notorious Brian Jonestown and Dandy Warhols documentary Dig. The tour came around in an unexpected way for Dead Meadow. “They just hit us up out of the blue when we were in D.C. Our first L.A. show was with them. We played shows with them to about thirty people.” This was the start of something new for Dead Meadow, who would eventually find themselves moving across the country to live in California. “It was cool because there was a psych scene there that wasn’t in DC,” Simon continues. “Even though Dead Meadow was heavier we found it to be a really cool group of people.”
The move from Washington to Los Angeles was a big step for Dead Meadow. “D.C was good,” they all agree. The cheap rent was a pro in their home city which allowed for a rise of house shows that became a staple of D.C’s punk scene. Bass player Steve Kille lived in the house that hosted some of the first ever Fugazi shows. With the rise of rent a lot of bands found themselves leaving D.C. Simon notes that bands moved to New York, but for them it seemed natural to move to the West Coast. “I think it kept us feeling positive [moving to L.A.],” Kille says. Now it comes down to simply the lifestyle of living on the West Coast, which they all seem to enjoy. “There is a certain fight to D.C that I miss,” Simon admits. “Even when the punk scene was at its biggest it was pretty tiny, the city was basically full of aliens that you can’t communicate with in anyway. There was a certain feeling that you were really fighting against something, whereas L.A. seems that everyone is on their own weird little trip.”
The band’s latest record, The Nothing They Need, is their eighth studio album. It sees Dead Meadow dealing with very real subjects, a lot coming from the current negativity found in America and its political climate. “I think these days whether you look at climatic, economic or political themes, especially in the States with Trump going into power, you inherently have this sense of incoming doom,” Simon muses. “Things don’t look good for us, mankind in general. But we didn’t want to make a negative record, we wanted to look at how you deal with it and be positive.” These are feelings that seep into the record, Simon is unsure if this is directly or indirectly attributable to his current mindset.
Beyond the music, influence draws from various forms of culture. Perhaps Simon’s interest in literature was something to note for the band’s early days. “I did really want to do something with more fantastical type of imagery,” says Simon. “It was an effort to move away from how dry things were in the late nineties. It was really punk, but I wanted to try and paint cool pictures in people’s minds with farout lyrics.” Though not a direct influence, it seems Simon’s subconscious when writing was affected by ethereal approaches to writing.
When you’re first introduced to pioneering artists such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and 13th Floor Elevators you get a feeling that your mind has been expanded. Bands that were experimenting with something new and creating such powerful music inevitably make you feel a sense of wonder and new-found openness. This is something Dead Meadow felt when first discovering these bands and something that they’d like to see continue. “I’d hope to have that effect on people,” Kille admits. “There’s an escapist element,” Simon adds. “First hearing those bands I found myself putting crazy images in my head to the music and it transports you. You want to play music that you can get lost in.” This translates to Dead Meadow’s live shows which are very close to how the recording. The band always track live in the studio and try to keep it like this as much as they can. “We’re not purists,” Simon states. The band record at Kille’s house and thanks to the studio equipment that the band have collected over the years it’s not so DIY, but there’s still the do-it-yourself mentality there that the band enjoy. The Nothing They Need is the first record that the band did entirely by themselves, including the mixing and mastering. “We do it all ourselves normally, but usually go to someone to mix it,” Kille tells, “but now we just thought why not.” This freedom of time enabled Simon, Kille and Londono to explore more ideas together.
Now, twenty years later, the band are still going strong and touring off the release of their new record. “That kind of creeped up on us” Simon says with a laugh. “We were recording this record when we realized that it’s been twenty years, that’s one of the reasons why we brought everyone along to play on it, everyone that had been in the band over the years.” The prospect of releasing new music, constant flowing creativity and hitting the road is something that still excites the three-piece. “Opportunities keep arising and so it rolls on!”