Heavy Meddle Music

9 July 2012 | 9:54 am | Staff Writer

“I’m not a purist,” he admits. “I am not opposed to people using loops and visual effects, but I dunno … we just play our songs!”

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It was Dead Meadow's second tour of Australia, the third for Jason Simon who toured his eponymous solo album here last year. The trio is now in its 13th year, having gone through various incarnations. They recorded one album, Feathers, as a four-piece. Original drummer Mark Laughlin is back with the band and has witnessed Dead Meadow's progress from both sides of the fence. “It's a little more song-oriented,” is Mark's first impression of the current version of the band. “When we first started, it was like, 'let's play the most tripped-out thirteen-minute-long song.' It's a little more dynamic now I think.” Jason agrees. “All of the elements from the beginning are still there … the heavy riffs, the psychedelic jams. We want something that really evokes images and is also powerful but we've got more comfortable writing songs. We've got stronger vocally and we all know when to restrain and when to go for it, instead of just going for it all of the time. We're all more tasteful players I would say … swing a lot more! That's what we really dug in the bands we really like … The Beatles, Led Zeppelin … is the subtleties and how you can relate to the music on so many levels. The songs almost become simpler. There are less parts but so many more things going on because you realise how many different ways you can shift it … in subtle ways.”

Although Dead Meadow make use of visual projections on stage, their show is essentially just three guys jamming on songs. In an era where the spontaneity of many rock shows is diminished by a musician's need to be alert to lighting cues or receiving staging instructions via their in-ear monitors, a freewheeling band like Dead Meadow is a joy to experience. Drummer Mark Laughlin isn't so scientific about it. “I'm not a purist,” he admits. “I am not opposed to people using loops and visual effects, but I dunno … we just play our songs!” Jason interjects enthusiastically.  “Yeah, I think that's the only thing you have real control over in this day and age. That's why we do it. We play all sorts of shows, anywhere. It's what we do and we do it because it's fun. We like to play music. It would seem really difficult to go on tour and have to play everything exactly the same every night; it would become so stale. What makes it fun is that there is room for change and actually be live!”

Tonight's gig has an 'old home week' feel about it. Dead Meadow's main support are their incredibly talented Canadian friends Pink Mountaintops. The opening act, Immigrant Union is the new band for former Dandy Warhols' member Brent De Boer. The Dandys (and Brain Jonestown Massacre) have close ties with Dead Meadow. Steve Kille believes that those close creative relationships are vital to keeping your own music fresh. “I think it's really important and really inspiring,” he reckons. “The more people you know who are these cool special musicians … and becoming friends with them … we've had some really interesting relationships over the years. It is probably one of the best parts (of what we do), the people you meet. There's definitely a scene that is developing over time too. When we get back, we're going to play the Psych Fest in Austin, which is the Black Angels' festival, and probably ninety per cent of the bands on the bill we've become friends with. It is interesting that internationally there is this group of like-minded people doing this thing, somewhere between psychedelic music, rock music, pop thing where it all meshes and there's this scene which is pretty exciting.”

But what's the point of talking to such a fuzz-laden, distortion-hogging, wah-crazy band like Dead Meadow and not discussing their gear… Let's get down to business! Frontman Jason Simon has always been a Fender Telecaster kinda guy. He's owned his main guitar since he was 14 years old. “You just get used to it and it becomes your instrument,” Jason admits. “I never really thought to play anything else. I've always liked the Orange and the Fender (amps); I have both. Either without the other wouldn't be as cool. The Orange is so dark. It has this dark, cool mid-range and has the power but the Fender's highs and lows and the spring reverb … I am such a fan of good spring reverb. The combination works well and being a three-piece, having more than one amp is super cool because it widens the spectrum.” With regard to his pedalboard for this tour, “I have had the same pedals for a long time. I have a Rat, Big Muff, Vox Wah, Rotovibe. Then there's a company called Catalinbread who made some cool pedals for me, the Dead Merkin and Fuzzy Meadow with a blend knob, you can dial things in.”

Bassist Steve Kille is also fond of Orange amps and back at home often uses two Orange stacks. “I like the darkness of them. There's a tone. When we were in New Zealand, we weren't able to use Orange amps and used whatever they had there. It didn't seem to have quite the same effect. There's something to those amps for one reason or another that adds something to the overall dynamics and tone and feel of the band. You can push them just enough so you sonically get it, but it doesn't have too much blowing out of the sound. There's like a tone at a level where you can get bass just right, where it can really make people in the front row's insides move around and it's kind of an experiment to get it to those levels.” He plays a Rickenbacker bass, the second bass he ever owned. “It's sort of family at this point. It is such a part of me and my playing.” Apart from occasionally flicking the switch of a reverb or compression pedal, he runs his bass pretty straight.

Mark, the drummer, is into Ludwig. “That's my favourite drum company but when I am on tour, I play what I'm given. Back home, I like the Vistalites, acrylic drums that Ludwig make. I have one from the early '70s, clear plastic. They're just really cool … really loud. I always wanted one because of John Bonham. He had the orange plastic one, and I also play Zildjian cymbals … old ones.”

It's been a couple of years since Dead Meadow's last album, Three Kings, a compilation of live performances and studio takes and at time of this interview, the guys were around halfway through recording their next. Completing the album is a case of whenever they can get into their LA studio space. “You know, I think it's definitely tripped-out,” Jason suggests. “We're trying to get a really good recording and an awesome live feel but there's some more psychedelic layering going on, maybe more akin to the Feathers era. I think after doing Three Kings, which was ninety per cent live, it's really cool to take advantage of what the studio has to offer.” “Yeah, we're getting our Abbey Road on,” Mark chipped in.

As with most things in the life of Dead Meadow, there's never any grand plan. “It changes all the time,” said Jason. “It's like, 'let's do this, let's make this kind of record,' and then it becomes another kind of record and that's cool. It's an organic process. I was hoping to get it out our Fall, your Spring. Hmm … our Fall, your Spring … I think that could even be the album title!”