To coincide with 20 full years of existence, sludgy neo-psych D.C. band Dead Meadow have returned with a new album, The Nothing They Need, a collection of heavy rock songs that embody deep layers of nostalgia, with all former members returning.
Dead Meadow have been based in Los Angeles, creating their entire album from the ground up in the studio and making a very personal record that clings to the DIY ethic they indulged in during the early days. Founding members Jason Simon (guitar and vocals) and Steve Kille (bass) spoke with us via phone about the record, the band and more.
Who came up with the album title, The Nothing They Need?
STEVE KILLE: That came about as a joke. The name came from me. I was recording a band and I’d been thinking a lot about content. I work in film, and it’s funny with all these people who write [television shows] — in the end, there’s a whole industry side that is nothing but content.
It stops being a passionate thing, so I was just joking with a friend of mine — give them the nothing that they need. Everyone wants to chew up mass media and spit it out. It’s almost this really gross time that we live in where nothing is special. You could either make a TV show or record, and it seems like it’s a nut or a bolt or sprocket. So, it’s a play on that, and I mentioned it to Jason and he was really into it for an idea for the record title.
Does the first track on the album, “Keep Your Head,” delve deeper into that idea — as a creator and a person who works for a capitalistic corporation, do you have to balance and keep your head together?
KILLE: Well, the songs were coming out before the album title came about. But it does kind of work all together. It’s weird when you pull out a name like that, and it’s really interesting but it does also cement the tunes you’re working on. It all fit together but it wasn’t on purpose. It isn’t a concept record by any stretch of the imagination, but as little bits and pieces start to come into play, all of a sudden it did start to become more conceptual. It was almost like someone else was dictating how these songs were flowing together, and we just had to be there to pick it up. It all kind of works and reflects the sentiment.
JASON SIMON: I don’t think it’s any less [conceptual]. I don’t think any of the albums are conceptual. They always end up having certain themes emerge, but it’s not intentional on our part. It’s more about what’s going on with us and what’s going on in the world where things filter in.
This album seems a bit more percussive than your last album, Warble Womb, which was a little more melodic. Is that accurate, and if so, why did you make that compositional choice?
SIMON: Yeah, I think it’s a little thicker and fuller in a lot of ways. Honestly, I think the ideas I had came through more on this album than Warble Womb just because everything was done in-house. We wrote it all, we recorded and mixed everything, and feel like in that regard a lot more of the weird ideas came through.
The Nothing They Need is an interesting album because you invite back all of Dead Meadow’s former members who recorded and toured with you over the last 20 years. How did that come about?
KILLE: That was what got us to get the other people involved. It felt like a good time. We had all reconnected and had good vibes from everybody who had been in the band. And this record coming out will be the 20th anniversary of the band, so it made a lot of sense to see how everyone else in the band could be involved and bring some other collaborators, and not have it be a standard Dead Meadow record.
SIMON: It’s been 20 years of the band and we love playing with [drummer] Juan [Londono], but everyone’s in town and there were certain songs that were calling for Mark [Laughlin]’s swing. And once we had Mark, Cory [Shane] and Juan on the record, we thought it would be pretty special to have everyone [play on the album]. So we reached out to Stephen.
Stephen McCarty and Mark Laughlin came back to play on the album, but who else returned?
KILLE: Cory [Shane], who played on Feathers, briefly. But he was really actively involved when we started the band, even though he wasn’t in the band — we shared a place with him. Now he doesn’t play music very much at all, but he came back and played some guitar on the album.
How did all the drummers, Mark, Stephen and your new drummer, Juan, get along? Was it weird to have them all around?
SIMON: Yeah, it wasn’t too long since we’d played with Mark, but it was really interesting [to play] with Stephen McCarty because it’s been 10 years since we played together. We didn’t know how it was going to be, and I don’t think he plays drums that often, but sitting down with him was like no time had passed at all. It felt great. I think when you spend so much time playing with people, playing that many shows and in that many musical environments, you just jump back into it.
Cory always had great taste and adds interesting parts that add to whatever he’s doing. So, when he came through on “Unsettled Dust” and added those clean chords, I felt like, “OK cool. There’s the song.” There was a certain movement lacking and I wasn’t sure which way to go, so I sent it to Cory and he just took care of it.
KILLE: It went really well. It’s funny because we had just filmed a music video and in the storyline we wanted all the drummers. Everyone in the band lives in the L.A. area. The only person who doesn’t live here is Cory, but everybody came over and it was a fun party and we did this pretty cool video.
So what’s the secret to keeping a band together for 20 years?
KILLE: I don’t know. I record bands a lot, so I see the intimate side of other people’s bands and working relationships. So many bands I’ve recorded were super cool and a few years later, they break up. I’ve seen bands who seem like they’re going to make it big and keep going, and they fizzle out. I don’t know what keeps us empowered to keep it going. Maybe egos get on top of them.
I think it might be because we’re from the part of the world that we’re from: the East Coast area, D.C. It was like if you do something you kind of stick with it. Maybe [Dead Meadow] didn’t start the band for reasons other bands start bands, that’s just what we did other than trying to become super big. We got a lot of lucky opportunities and somehow fate would put up another cool opportunity where we were like, “OK, let’s keep doing it.”
Were there any inspirations culturally, socially or politically for the songs?
SIMON: I think living with this sense of impending doom, whether it’s from political, economic, climatic — you know, there’s so many things going on, everything seems to be spiraling down. It’s something you have to deal with, as anyone who is alive right now. So I feel like we weren’t trying to make a record about an oncoming apocalypse but there is an element of, “OK, how do you continue? How do you live and strive and do what you can do best?” while also having this feeling that things are really crashing down at the moment?
KILLE: It’s exciting for people to have their voices heard, but it has to be [this way] because as you know, the world we’re in politically, everything changed the minute this election happened. And all these things people thought were hidden in the background and all these dark forces of our society are out there, and they’re even worse than you thought they were. It has to be this way because it’s the reaction that we’re having, but it’s a shame that this evil empire kind of shit had to happen to inspire people to come together.