By Blake Garris
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead has been playing a unique style of art/indie rock since 1994 and they've been touring the world promoting their latest critically acclaimed release, "The Century of Self," which they put out on their own label, Richter Scale Records. We recently got the chance to talk with frontman Conrad Keely who not only writes, sings and plays guitar for the band, he also drew the cover art for "The Century of Self."
A lifelong artist, Keely's been sketching since he was three, would gladly do cover art for your band and has a sci-fi novel he's working on that he's keeping hush-hush about. He will, though, talk candidly about comics and his love for THE NEW MUTANTS and artist Bill Sienkiewicz. His three favorite characters? Magik, Cypher and Warlock… all of those New Mutants.
Marvel.com: To begin, when you're not writing or playing music, you're a pretty hardcore illustrator. What is your background with that?
|Keelys artwork as featured on the Trail of Dead album "The Century of Self"|
Marvel.com: I've read somewhere that before Trail of Dead, you wanted to be an artist for Marvel. Now that you have their ear, is there anything you want to tell them to plead your case for employment?
Conrad Keely: Haha. Well, I would love to do a cover for a comic book, if ever allowed, but I think I'd be a terrible employee for any serious work, because I'm awful with deadlines. I'm sort of on my own clock, as it were, which is synced to the constellation Virgo.
Marvel.com: Rumor has it you're a big fan of the THE NEW MUTANTS. Why?
Conrad Keely: It's hard to pin point why, but it was a combination of the artwork Bill Sienkiewicz was doing and the extremely abstract storylines that Chris Claremont was writing at the time. They just seemed to be easier to relate to than the X-Men. I could actually imagine myself applying for and being accepted to the school, and taking classes with those kids. They were angsty, outcast teenagers like myself at the time. It also seemed that because the X-Men was Claremont's focus, he allowed the New Mutant story lines to be a sort of playing field for him, and the stories were far more surreal and in some ways more complicated, like avant garde Dada-ist film. Am I reading too much into that?
Marvel.com: Rumor also has it you even wanted to include a New Mutants character in the cover art for your album "Worlds Apart." What's the story behind that?
Conrad Keely: I don't know how you uncovered that rumor, but yes, it was true. It's a depiction of a massive battle, and I wanted Cannonball to be in the fray. We had actually approached Bill Sienkiewicz to do the artwork. He'd started a design he never finished (he seemed to be swamped with other work or something), and I mentioned to him how cool that'd be to stick Cannonball in there, firing across the battlefield.
As an aside, we do name-drop Kitty Pryde on our first album. On our song "Ounce of Prevention" the lyrics "Kitty Pryde so sweet and innocent, you're all we talk about", which is actually a song about the character Magik ("I can feel the demon burning in me" and "I can feel the human I had once been/screaming for your mercy"). So yeah, we're serious geeks.
Marvel.com: What Marvel stories are you into right now?
Conrad Keely: Well, the tragic end of my love-affair with serious comic collecting and reading was that our house burned down in 1990, and my entire collection was lost (of just UNCANNY X-MEN alone, I had issues 128 to 210 with no gaps), so I never had the heart to start up again. I buy comics now only if I like the artwork, but I hardly bother to read them, for fear I might be tempted to start again, haha.
Marvel.com: What about all-time?
Conrad Keely: Of course I loved the X-Men and New Mutant stories, especially their cross-over special editions when they all went to Valhalla. But I think one of the greatest Marvel epics of all time would have to be SECRET WARS, and I really hope this gets adapted to screen, because it would be amazing. It would be like a Marvel Universe version of "Lost."
|NEW MUTANTS #21 cover by Bill Sienkiewicz|
Conrad Keely: Sienkiewicz definitely, because he was just totally out there. I loved how when I would tell my friends how much I loved his art they would laugh at me, because they didn't get it. You almost had to be an artist to appreciate how outré he was. I liked Michael Kaluta's work with Conan, Art Adams work in X-Men, and the Paul Smith/Bob Wiacek stuff on X-Men. I liked Frank Miller's paneling schemes, they were very original. And Jon J. Muth, who painted in watercolors a comic book called MOONSHADOW which was out on Marvel's short-lived Epic brand.
But of course, these are all old-school. I know that the artists these days are doing crazy stuff with inking and computer-aided coloring that makes this older stuff appear very dated, but you know when you grow up with something it always retains its sentimental and nostalgic value.
Marvel.com: And writers?
Conrad Keely: Oh, hard to say. Obviously Miller was very cutting edge and Claremont really developed the X-Men, but I'd probably get in trouble for saying that I didn't really read comics for the writing, haha.
Marvel.com: Do you have any favorite Marvel characters?
Conrad Keely: My favorite was Ilyana Rasputin, or Magik, from the New Mutants, because she was hot, and she was a perfect blend of good and evil. I also really liked Warlock, the techno-organic alien, especially when he was teamed with Doug Ramsey (Cypher), another favorite. Being an underdog lover, I somehow thought that Cypher was pretty cool, his only mutant ability being that he could understand and translate any language. I mean, that's a pretty awesome power if you ask me. You have all these super heroes flying, teleporting and spouting flames, and I gravitated towards the one who translates languages.
|...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead|
Conrad Keely: No, sorry, I can't. Honestly, I don't want to talk about something that's still a few years in the making. I have no intention of being done with it anytime soon, so rather than talk about I'd rather just hack away at it. I will say that I'm considering publishing a couple short-story prequels in the interim, to develop the background story, and one of the ideas suggested to me was that one of these be in comic-form.
Marvel.com: You illustrated the cover for The Sword album "Age of Winters." What do bands need to do to get you to create album covers for them?
Conrad Keely: I'd work with any band who was interested, to be honest, if I had the time, and if they liked my style. For me, creating album art is definitely one of the most rewarding things to work on, and I hope to keep it a viable artform, despite the challenges facing it because of changes in format.
Marvel.com: You recently released your sixth full-length album "The Century of Self" on your own label, Richter Scale Records. What made you go your own route this time?
Conrad Keely: Probably the easiest answer, without getting too deep into the details, is simply the spirit of the age! I think a lot of people want to do things independently right now, the Internet allows us to do so, and it's just a smart decision, unless you're a Top 40 artist. And sorry, we don't write Top 40 music.
Marvel.com: How does that differ from past Trail of Dead records?
Conrad Keely: I don't know that the music itself is affected in anyway, we've always been very obstinate when it comes to doing what we want. Our own musical development is more routed in our personal growth, so changes in labels and the industry are simply surface-level changes that happen in the realms of commerce.
|...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead|
Conrad Keely: We just finished America, which was very uplifting, considering how hard America can sometimes be for touring. And tomorrow I leave for Europe, then Australia and the East.
Marvel.com: How do you keep up with comics while out on said world tours?
Conrad Keely: Mainly, I keep up on art and artists in general. I buy art periodicals like High Fructose and Juxtapose. I know that a lot of illustrators that I'm currently into like James Jean got their start as comic artists or concept designers for video games and role playing games. I'm constantly buying monographs of my favorite artists, such as David Bower, Alex Gross and Paul Bonner, and comic book stores tend to still be the best places to pick these up. But even large mainstream chains seem to cater to some of these. Since comic book art and manga and fantasy illustration are all still considered "Low Brow" by high brow art intelligecia (who for some reason are still into abstract art), they usually all get clumped together in book stores like Barnes and Noble.
Marvel.com: You live in New York now. Where do you buy comics when you're in town?
Conrad Keely: Forbidden Planet for me. They carry all the large format books that I tend to collect. My personal favorite is Spectrum, the annual anthology of Fantasy, Comic, Illustrator and Graphic art, which is currently at Volume 15. And I'm still a lover of sundry paraphernalia like lunch boxes and figurines.
Marvel.com: What does the rest of the band think about your comic book addiction?
Conrad Keely: The only thing that affects them is that I need a drawer on the bus to myself to store the books I acquire on the road. Other than that, they see me as just a solitary eccentric who's mostly harmless, and they know not to give me sugar.
Marvel.com: And finally, what's up next for Conrad Keely?
|Artwork by Conrad Keely|
Art-wise, my next planned series is going to be water-color works, to sort of force me out of this monochromatic phase I've been stuck in, and challenge me with colors, which has always been my biggest weakness. We're talking about doing a tour of the U.S. where we have a touring art installation, and I hope that becomes a reality. I believe it is important to keep the bond between art and music alive, and bridge the creative gap between the two. Hopefully the kids of the up-and-coming generation will feel that it's effortless for them, with computers and the Internet, to be both artists and musicians, and film-makers, and writers, and switch between disciplines as easily as Mystique is able to shape-shift between disguises.
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead is currently touring the globe. For dates in your area and a way to hear tracks off their album "The Century of Self," visit www.trailofdead.com.
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