The upcoming release from Los Angeles psychedelic trio Dead Meadow, titled Three Kings, is nearly as difficult to conceptualize as it must have been to execute. Teaming up with the film company Artificial Army, the band (Steve Kille, bass; Jason Simon, guitar/vocals; Stephen McCarty, drums) captured a live show at a warehouse space called Little Radio in their adopted hometown and proceeded to intercut it with narrative film clips portraying the titular three characters — as played by the band — being morally beset on all sides on a journey they know not where, coming together finally for who knows what. Just to make matters more difficult, the audio companion to the DVD intersperses the already-mentioned live recordings with brand new studio tracks — and, get this — it all sounds pretty much the same.
Now that you’re as out of breath as I am trying to wrap your mind around the ambition of the Three Kings project, to be released via Xemu Records, I’ll take a second to remind you that everything is bound to work out just fine, since after all, this is Dead Meadow we’re dealing with, and for a decade now we’ve been able to rely on them for lysergic experiences few bands can match. If anyone is about to pull off the above and come out of it with mustaches in tact, well, it’s probably going to be Dead Meadow.
Steve Kille recently took some time out for a phone interview to discuss the band’s latest meisterwerk and how exactly it all came together. Fortunately, for anyone who might want to read it, Kille proves infinitely more adept at explaining the undertaking than I.
Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.
Was Three Kings something you knew you’d be doing going into the last tour?
No. We started out for the last album and it wound up being really extensive. We just kept getting one tour after another. We ended up playing a show a night for about four months, with maybe about four days off (laughs) or something insane like that. As any band you could ever interview would say, you play that many shows, you’re going to get really tight and start doing things you never expected you could do, just because the amount of practice and routine gets unbelievable. By the time we reached Europe, we were like, “We should record a live version of this,” because there isn’t a good live version of any of our stuff. There’s bootleg things and the Jonestown thing that came out, which was also bootleg, which we didn’t have anything to do with, but nothing that was really quality sounding. When we got back to L.A., the return show ended up being in a friend’s giant warehouse space downtown that was advertised as a party. There was no regulation as far as us bringing all of our recording equipment in. We were able to bring in all of our ProTools gear and actual microphones. It kind of spun off from there. After we tracked it, we realized we captured something special, and it was captured visually by some really great cinematographers. So after having the material that was recorded sitting around for a couple months, we said, “Well, let’s put this together and really make something out of it.” It’s been a real organic sort of approach. One thing led to another. We had always had an idea that we were going to release an album called Three Kings. Even back when we did Old Growth, it was a joke we had. It just ended up falling into place that this live album and this movie became that concept, but we had that concept floating around for a few years now.
After playing for so much on that tour, do you feel like the warehouse show that you got on tape, is that the peak? Is that as good as it gets for Dead Meadow?
I don’t know. Definitely at the time I would say that’s probably the best, in some ways, live and visually that it was captured, that we’ve gotten. You never know what the future holds. That was an extremely tight show, with little or no production put into it. If somewhere down the line you have tons of money to play with and you can have shooting rockets and a giant Eddie robot coming out from behind the stage… You never know. The world is open to us that somewhere in the future maybe there’ll be way better shows. But at that particular time, as far as the tightness of the band itself as a unit, I think it was a really great representation compared to the stuff I’ve seen from bootlegs and things. It’s a show I’m really proud of. For that moment, and the fact that it’s very rare that you get a chance to actually record your music with pro recording equipment. Most nightclubs don’t allow it, or they want some insane piece of the cut. A bazillion dollars put down on the line to do it. That alone was great, to actually be able to record a live show with the audience that sounds the way a studio album would sound. That was a really cool experience.
I haven’t seen the full, finished product yet, but in terms of intercutting the narrative shots with the live performances, is it one after the other, or are they blended together in each song?
They’re sort of blended together. As we started filming the scenes, we realized the template that made the most sense. It’s the Led Zeppelin Song Remains the Same template. It’s a tried and true (laughs) way of going about things. But we did branch off. Our stories overlap and wrap around, but there is always constantly going back between the fantasy world and the reality of the show. Hopefully one or the other doesn’t leave anyone too bored (laughs).
Can you explain the story of Three Kings?
There were so many ideas when we started with it, and then it’s come together where it’s basically these character roaming throughout the whole storyline, and you don’t know exactly what’s going on with them, and they’re just watching this whole thing unfold. Meanwhile, in the individual stories, both me, our guitar player and our drummer, we each have mini-adventures that lead us to the same place. In those mini-adventures, we’re tempted by this other side, the devil’s trying its hand to convince you to go one way or the other, and in the end we all meet at one place and basically it’s a moral challenge.
How did it all develop? Does it capture the initial ideas you had going back?
Initially we always had, I guess even in the first few times we did music videos and we got into more visual media as a band, we’ve always been fans of ‘70s horror films. Really into the old Hammer films — especially me and the guitar player, since day one. Even the second album, the album cover — no one’s ever mentioned this — was kind of a throwback to 1970s cult films. And we always tried to incorporate that spookiness into the videos. It never really worked out as well, mainly because we never worked with people that could do things without a budget. It was always limited. When we finally were able to do this project, some of the ideas we had early on — everything from swamp monsters to spooky clowns and all this stuff that’s basically just ridiculous — is stuff we thought would be funny to interject visual representations of some of the aspects of our music. We never had the budget to until now, and so we were able to pull some of these ideas that have been sitting around for a while. Finally, we can have the crazy monster from the ocean, and we do (laughs). You’ll see it in the film. It’s so funny, but in a sense, I feel it’s funny to talk about this stuff since it’s so different. When you’re making music as a band, you take it all so seriously. Sometimes I think bands take it too seriously. But I think when you’re doing the visual, what better way in being a band, to throw all the stuff you’d want to do if you were an actor but you can’t because you’re too embarrassed to? But with the music video, sure, you can have the spaceship come down and blow away Godzilla while you’re playing guitar. There’s a little bit of leeway with that, and I think it’s good to blur that. Hopefully, at least people that are fans of the band, will get that it’s tongue-in-cheek, but you’re supposed to enjoy it and have fun. There’s no other way as a band you can pull off that level of comedy without making a Weird Al record.
Explain to me how it worked with Artificial Army, setting up the scenes for the storyline.
This warehouse space that we have [for practice], it’s divided up into different areas, so if you want a practice space and recording studio. Since we lived in L.A., we never had a designated area to do that. When we set up shop there and did the film and the recording, we became better friends with Artificial Army who were the in-house film company that also had their office space there. We would work on our recordings late at night, and they were the only other people there, down the hall working on video editing, and we would meet up, share a beer and start talking about stuff. We realized they were in the same sort of frame of mind and had the same viewpoint on things. Eventually, when we started talking about ideas, they became the fourth, fifth and sixth members of the band. We were all in the same agreement on how to do this for the first time. In the past, from people working the album covers to people doing other videos for us, there’s always been a lot of butting heads, which is natural. But it’s been a really great experience working with [Artificial Army] in terms of the story ideas they bring to the table. Either me, Jason or Steve would have thought of that same thing too, but they got to it first. It’s been really great working with filmmakers that are so on the same page. There are very few instances, I should say, where they’ve brought something in, that made us feel weird or cringe. It’s been super-organic.
Yeah, it really is. I never thought we would ever have this ability to do this. Just because it’s usually not the case, and I have enough friends in all sorts of bands making all sorts of music, and it’s really rare you meet someone in the visual media that’s totally on the same page as you. It’s been great.
How did the mix of studio and live tracks come together? Usually they’re split up. Is that just how it goes in the movie?
Yeah, the studio stuff. In doing the big tour, we had a bunch of extra songs we had been working on that easily could have been part of the Old Growth album that had never been tightened up or finished. A few of the songs ended up being played live on that tour. So we always had them, and as it became more evident that this was going to become more of a concert film with narrative, getting a lot more wealth of information going on in it, we figured it would be great to have some brand new songs that were never heard before, that were studio, to use for transition and things like that. We set about, after tightening up the live material, to go in and record these new songs, basically on the same equipment we used to record the live material, and just capture a similar sonic quality, to create some extra songs. I think now that it’s been edited together as one piece of art, it seems to make a lot of sense to have the new songs mixed in with the live concert tracks. I think it makes it like a Pink Floyd More sort of thing, where it’s a studio soundtrack sort of thing, as opposed to, “Here’s our concert DVD.” I think the peppering of the studio tracks, the peppering of the narrative, it becomes more of a timeless piece of art, hopefully, for our fans, than if it was a run-of-the-mill concert DVD.
Listening to it, the tracks really flow one to the next very well.
We worked really hard on that, really hard. We actually mastered it with the same guy who mastered the last record, Howie Weinberg. He’s cut a ton of records and he’s a great person to work with, and he helped bring consistency and flesh it out. I’m really proud of that too, that it seems seamless. I was always scared, since any music collector, you’ll have a lot of bootlegs, and I didn’t want it to be like that. I wanted it to flow and, if you put it on your CD player, nothing would be jarring in the in-between parts. It would be one solid piece of music.
Now, let’s say, for the next four months of straight touring, are you going to be able to bring this experience to shows?
We’re throwing around that idea and trying it budget out if it’s going to be possible to do that sort of thing. This is the first time I’ve mentioned this anywhere, but for the record release in Los Angeles, we’re renting out a premiere indie film showcasing venue, this place called Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and they have this huge castle built on there that’s part of the cemetery, and they show movies there. We’re actually going to do that very thing. We’re going to show the movie and play live to it, the songs we’d play if you were to watch it on the DVD. Hopefully it works out pretty tight (laughs). We’ve been experimenting with that and hopefully we can try and do that [on tour], we’re just not sure about space and ability in the venues we’re playing. Maybe in some of the bigger venues we’ll be able to do some of that. I would think it would really add to the whole experience.
When is the release show?
What are the tour plans? Do you have US shows confirmed yet?
Around that release party, we’re going to set out and do a tour heading from the West Coast, up to Canada, across the north and then down to the East Coast. We’re on the East Coast for a little bit to hang out with friends and family, then we head off to Europe for a month. Then we come back and tour across the US.
And what about writing? Are you focusing on this, or are there more songs in the works?
We are working on new songs for a new, regular full-length album. No movie or any of that stuff attached (laughs). That’s going to be our upcoming Matador release.California, Dead Meadow, Los Angeles, Xemu