Dead Meadow: Tweaked ‘Kings’

With Dead Meadow having recently announced the March 23 release of their Three Kings CD/DVD – a multimedia package combining new studio material and live songs – here’s a look back at a hard-to-find 2003 interview with Steve Kille, Jason Simon and Stephen McCarty.

Punk rock wearin’ ya down? Dead Meadow knows the feeling.

Sprung from the same city that spawned hardcore some 20 years prior, Washington, D.C.-based brain-blasters Dead Meadow justify concentrating your energies in thought – not in hurtling your chest into someone’s face.

“You know, Fugazi’s an awesome band,” sympathizes lead singer/guitarist Jason Simon, who begot the group in 2000 with bass-slinger Steven Kille, “but there started to be so much similar music to that: angular rhythms and a certain mentality that went behind it. Eventually, we got so inundated with it that we started getting back into what we used to be into: Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.”

Got your finger on the channel-changer? You oughtta have it on the “play” button, instead. For those dying to swap Op Ivy, NOFX or even newcomers like the Blood Brothers out of rotation, look no further: a true alternative has arrived.

Starting with two far-flung plunges into the depths of psychedelia – released, as it just so happens, on Fugazi bassist Joe Lally’s own Tolotta Records – Dead Meadow reminded D.C. mainstays of wacky rock phenomena like feedback and the distortion pedal. Having hopped over to Matador, the clan just stepped up with its finest work yet, Shivering King and Others.

“The weirder it is, the more it lasts,” Kille chimes in. “If you love music, you’ll first get turned onto punk, and then you’ll eventually move on. I think most people who are musicians end up collecting tons of crazy records… you just want to explore different avenues.”

With unending spirals of guitar noise, explorative rhythms and haunting vocals to top it all off, yeah, a word like “different” might apply to these freak-a-zoids. “Tweak” suits them even better, though; the word crops up more than a half dozen times in our 45-minute conversation.

Dazed and confused? Definitely. Nevertheless, artist and critic alike agree that Dead Meadow is in better standing than it’s ever been. Proof? Day jobs are a thing of the past.

“Yeah, that’s been for the last six months,” Simon says. “Matador gave us some money to record with… but we didn’t really go to a studio, just bought some gear and did it ourselves.”

Furthering their DIY ethic, the guys were so hands-on with the making of Shivering – recorded with mixer Brendan Canty at the same D.C. den Fugazi’s Repeater and multiple Make-Up records were captured – that they wound up mixing it twice. What resulted is an open-ended record that, in relying on unusual drone and modal sounds, redefines the headphone experience.

“The last mastering session was one day before deadline,” Simon continues. “Everyone else in our band was totally satisfied… I was tweaking out on such little details that probably no one would notice.”

Kille concurs: “Jason was tweaked out for a couple weeks.”

Geared up for some heavy-duty touring with Rye Coalition and others in support of the record, it appears that Dead Meadow is more decisive about its current plan of attack. The band also beams over its especially broad demographic: a typical turnout will find young skaters brushing elbows with collector geeks.

Simon notes that “because our records are ones you often put on alone, when you’re chilling out, they pull a person from here, a person from there. I really like it when we get the 40-year-old guys that have lived through it all.”

Similarly, even though Simon and his companions – percussionist Stephen McCarty included – latched onto the classic-rock crowd in high school, social diversity has always been a central part of their collective character. All claim to have dabbled with ’boarding, at least for a short period of time.

“I was a Bones Brigade-era skater,” Simon discloses. “I used to watch Search 4 Animal Chin back in the day… every now and then, we’ll bring our boards on tour, just to cruise.”

Former art-school student drummer McCarty was even more engaged in the sport.

“When I was skateboarding, the whole big-pants thing was just being taken from skaters by ravers,” he says. “It was kind of a delicate time. I think the skaters of today are pretty cool. There’s definitely no more big pants, which is cool.”

Originally published in Thrasher, summer 2003.

If you dug this interview, you might also like:

• “Cave In: ‘The Longer We’re Around, The More People Don’t Like Us’
• “Isis’ Aaron Turner In ’02: Oceanic Is ‘The Best Material We’ve Ever Written’
• “These Arms Are Snakes Bite The Dust; ’03 Interview Rises From The Grave

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