Trail of Dead Returns with Two-Part 'Tao of the Dead'
Trail of Dead Returns with Two-Part 'Tao of the Dead'

After reclaiming its independence following a rough streak at Interscope for 2009's "The Century of Self," Austin art rock band ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead continues blazing its own path for its latest release, the two-part "Tao of the Dead."

The set, due Feb. 8 on the band's own Richter Scale Records and Superballmusic, finds the group exploring a new approach to the album format, recording it in two parts, or sides, in two different tunings. Part 1, in the tuning of D, was recorded in 10 days with longtime friend Chris "Frenchie" Smith at the Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas, and is divided into 11 tracks; Part 2, in the tuning of F, was recorded with former producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio) in upstate New York and is a heroic 16-minute track broken up into five movements.

Although the album is divided into essentially two long tracks, Trail of Dead singer/guitarist Conrad Keely is quick to clear up a misconception: "People ask if it's a concept album or not, and I tend to think it isn't," he says. "There is no one concept; it's multiple themes."

Among the ideas explored in the psychedelic-tinged, Pink Floyd-inspired music are the demise of rock radio (the immediate rush of "Pure Radio Cosplay") and environmental art (guitar-squealer "The Spiral Jetty").

Several songs touch on mythologist/writer Joseph Campbell's narrative concept of "the hero's journey," including "Ebb Away," which Keely notes "is almost symbolic of death, but also symbolic of rebirth." Part 2 is inspired by the "Tao Te Ching," an ancient Chinese text the group encountered while in the studio.

Superballmusic, which put out the group's last effort overseas while Justice Records handled stateside duties, is heading the worldwide release of the new set in conjunction with the band's own Richter Scale and the Century Media family of labels (distributed by EMI).

Having parted ways in 2007 with Interscope, which released 2002's critically acclaimed "Source Tags & Codes," as well as 2005's "World's Apart" and 2006's "So Divided," guitarist/singer Jason Reece says there wasn't any deliberation as to whom to sign with for "Tao of the Dead." "We would never have that [label] conversation," he says. "All we care about is that someone is interested enough to put it out."

As with past Trail of Dead albums, Keely's artwork will accompany the release, this time in graphic novel form. Different album packaging contains either the first 12 or 16 panels of the novel, which will be unveiled episodically throughout 2011. The artwork will also be on display at concerts throughout the year.

Superballmusic North American product manager Marc Schapiro says one of the unique aspects of the group's material is its marriage of music and artwork. He also notes that the band members' depth as musicians broadens its appeal. "Trail of Dead have always pushed the boundaries of musical genres," he says. "They've influenced alternative and rock bands for over a decade, and even toured with metal and country bands in the past."

The act will continue that touring tradition this spring on a co-headlining North American tour with power-pop band Surfer Blood. Trail of Dead has also teamed with Baeblemusic for an exclusive art show and performance at Brooklyn's Littlefield on Feb. 8. The group will play "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" the night before.

Though seven albums in, Trail of Dead is just beginning a new musical journey, as Reece and Keely hint that "Tao of the Dead" is part of a sequence of records. "It would be really nice for us to keep that going," Reece says. "Have people realize that we're not slowing down -- we're speeding up."