Neither wholly new nor derivative, Dead Meadow's trippy, slow-moving fugues call to mind a lot of records that are older than the band's members (bassist Steve Kille, guitarist Jason Simon and drummer Stephen McCarty). But the players are creative and earnest in such a way that instead of writing them off as recyclers, you want to add Dead Meadow to the shelf where you keep Weld and Umma Gumma and Seconds Out and your other feedback-heavy psych-freak pets. At the end of the day, Dead Meadow sounds like Dead Meadow. And that's a fine thing.
Dead Meadow released Three Kings, their sixth album, in March. Three Kings is a combination of new music recorded in the studio and live performances of songs that have evolved since they were last recorded. Part of the CD package is an hour-long DVD of the same name, featuring concert footage interspersed with fantasy scenes consistent with the rune-ish mythology that finds its way into DM's lyrics.
"We didn't set out to do that," says bassist Kille of the conceptual elements of the film. "It was something that I never thought about doing. All we wanted to do was record a live performance, both audio and video, at a time when we were really well-practiced. All the other stuff kind of came out afterward. The director [Simon Chan and Joe Rubalcaba] would say, ‘let's try this or that.' It was kind of like making a sculpture or something—you just kind of keep adding pieces to it to make it a little more interesting.
"I think that we're lucky in the sense that we're kind of in a weird genre, the psychedelic music. There's a lot of leeway. The more you add to the stuff, the better it goes over with people. In other media or other types of bands or other types of art in which I've experimented before"—Kille is also an accomplished illustrator—"less is more. Luckily in this one, you can tell we let our freak flag fly and people still kind of respect you for it."
People suffer famously from stage fright. Some artists simply refuse to perform, like The Beatles toward the end or Glenn Gould. Others just can't perform well. Two out of six Dead Meadow records are live.
"We've always been more of a live band," says Kille. "We think people should hear it the way our fans hear it and enjoy it the most. We put a lot of work into our studio albums. But what we always hear from the diehards is that they really love to hear the stuff live."
Got Live If You Want It was released in 2002. Kille says that record is a special case. The band tolerated its shortcomings because it captured Mark Laughlin, the original drummer, just before he split for law school. And it was produced by Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe.
"Got Live was almost a bootleg," says Kille. "With Three Kings, we were trying to make an official live album. And there have been so many bootlegs, with fans of the band filming us and stuff like that… Some of it's cool, but some of it doesn't look so good. So let's make one that sets the bar as far as live documentation.
"We never wanted to make Kiss Alive II. But who knows? Maybe we did."
Additionally, Kille says that the stage is where the music becomes fully formed.
"The stage is more of a Petri dish than the studio," Kille says. "We have a lot of stuff that starts out as a jam, and then we slowly develop it, maybe more chord structure that we bring in. Even then, I think that once you start playing it live, all of a sudden there's this Zen thing that kind of starts happening and you really start knowing where to go with it.
"All of the songs on Three Kings started out differently than what you hear. The song ‘The Narrows,' when it started, was just a jam at the end of ‘Sleepy Silver Door.' We kind of played this groove part, and we played an entire tour with that, without any vocals, without many changes. And then it just sprung up on its own, like it was a plant or something."
According to Kille, the shows are also where he and his bandmates look for signs of collective or personal progress.
"Maybe," he says, "in the live sets there are things we can do that we weren't able to do before; a certain level of fullness in the playing, or smoothness. You only get that in time. It takes a lot of time. I think every musician tries to keep moving, trying new things.
"Until they're totally out of touch," he says and laughs. "But hopefully there are some years for us before that happens."