An interview with Autry Fulbright II | By Morgan Y. Evans
Two of the best records of the year are called IX, between punk metal vets Corrosion of Conformity and indie rockers …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. The band may have members scattered across America and the wider globe (Cambodia) these days, but it has only added to the constantly evolving flavor of the long running outfit’s sonic palette. I spoke to bassist Autry Fulbright II about the current outlook of the group, the personal versus the external, their cool jigsaw puzzle album art and much more. Heck, I even managed to somehow give Autry some big secret idea he won’t even reveal to me! Read on.
So, Autry…let’s talk this record IX. “How to Avoid Huge Ships” is massive! The intro “Jaded Apostles” reminds me of Rush. (laughing) It’s awesome.
Well, cool. That’s one where Conrad and I switch. I play guitar and he plays bass. We do that couple times this record between band members.
It seems like this is a good time to be in the band, kind of a new frontier. The history of the band is strong.
I’m really happy to be a part of it. The first record I appeared on was Century Of Self. Conrad and I were working on some music around that time. I met those guys around the Source Tags era but it’s nice that we’ve had this run starting with me as a full time member with Tao Of The Dead. It just seems like yesterday when I remember Conrad asking me to join the band and now Jamie (Miller – drums) has been in the band almost 4 years. I had the good advantage of being a fan and friend first and then joining the band. I remember writing a song for my old band and ripped Trail off and then ten years later it became a Trail song!
That’s fuckin’ amazing.
I went from being a huge fan to in the band, but I have the luxury of the outsider’s perspective. And now, it’s like with Lost Songs I got some of the punkier stuff out of my system. Jamie and I have another punk project called Vanishing Life with Walter from Quicksand. but IX is a return to proggier, more epic stuff. We kind of approached it as writing in the studio and collaborating. Jamie brought in a couple of awesome songs. There were a lot of collaborative things in the studio that came out of jams. Just where we were at as a band. I don’t think we really ever repeat ourselves. It’s cool because every record is different.
If I could chime in on that, I remember hearing the S/T record years ago and thinking it was cool and there was a little Sonic Youth influence on some tracks. But then I hear other songs years later and the sound expanded but the talent and passion comes through.
Yeah, I don’t think we’re gonna be so ambitious as to say ,”Oh, this next one’s gonna be a hip hop record.” Y’know, Appalachian soul with electronica (laughing). Whatever we are listening to at the time comes through. With this record we were listening to a lot of proggy stuff. War On Drugs blew me away when we did a show with them in Tokyo. they opened for us. At this point we could probably open for them. Maybe first of three, who knows? (laughing) Hearing stuff outside of the punk or Sonic Youth realm for this record. The last record we were listening to Karp, Unwound, Fugazi.
I love Karp. “Forget The Minions,” man.
This record we were listening to desert rock and prog.
Even when you are proggy it isn’t just escapism, if that makes sense. There’s urgency.
Personally, events change but the most current and topical events are what are hitting close to home. With Lost Songs we wanted to highlight the plight of Pussy Riot and people everywhere when it comes to freedom of expression, the punk spirit or the spirit of being free to speak and be who you are…especially as a woman. People need to recognize and not be detached from issues because they think they are a woman’s issue. No, it’s everyone’s issue.It’s easier to cull from personal experience sometimes. With this record it is a lot more personal than political, though politics should be personal. It’s the body politics maybe not the partisinal. Events and extensions of what are going on with everyone in life, but there’s still something that everyone can relate to. That’s something Trail has done in the time I’ve been in the band and also beforehand. You can relate to things in the lyrics, whether it is a situation you know about or that needs to be heard about or matters of the heart and head that people relate to as well.If you’re not going to be passionate about anything, it’s not worth a shit. Not just writing about things of no consequence. That’s never been Trail’s style to write about things we don’t believe in. We aren’t just looking for blurbs and sound bytes.
Did switching off instruments make ideas flow faster this time?
We kind of always do that when we are makind a record. We kind of just have a bunch of stuff set up. I think things just flow depending on where we’re at once we get in a room together. Having people able to work on different things and having camraderie. We’ve gotten used to playing together live and the line-up has really solidified. There hasn’t been a line-up change in awhile now and every time we get together there’s quite a bit of things that coalesce. Which is rare nowadays, cuz we all live in different places.
Can you talk about “The Dragonfly Queen?” It’s the shortest song but really a strong poppier little number.
That’s one of the songs we were originally thinking might be instrumental. We even considered doing an all instrumental album and doing one song with vocals only. Y’know, a lot of these songs came together having these ideas of one really concise poppier tune and then thirty or forty minutes of weird, speace instrumental music (laughing). Eventually with the help of a producer and us wanting to do the right thing for ourselves (laughing) and the people that wanna hear the record, I think we had a pretty happy medium with that.
Did you find that sort of sensibility went hand-in-hand with the sort of jigsaw cover art?
Well, y’know the artwork is very busy. It almost helps to see the jigsaw as something that can be broken down. It can be overwhelming sometimes when you look at it as a whole. I think sometimes our records are admittiedly like that, an epic thing that might be a huge undertaking to take on. But when you take it little by little and see each letter of the jigsaw and the nuances, it comes together and is that much more epic and cool. Instead of looking at it right away and thinking “Oh my God? What is this? There’s too much going on!” there is a lot going on and you’ll be happy when you discover more and more things about it. Each letter, there’s more than meets the eye. That’s also true of our songs. even the instrumentation that we’re doing. I think sometimes people are suprised that something may seem cut and dry and out there for you, but it may not be that way if you can try and break it down. That’s the same with the jigsaw puzzle.
Yeah, you hope people won’t be “Lost In The Grand Scheme,” so to speak.
It’s funny, now that you mention that puzzle and the Grand Scheme, you gave me an idea for something! But I can’t tell you, obviously. It’s something that’ll have to happen for the next record. But you mentioned something and it’s inspired me to talk to Conrad about an idea! So that’s never happened.
Awesome, man. Make it happen.
Most interviews are not like that but I’m gonna try this out. We’ll have to have this interview again next album around and I can say, “Remember our conversation.” So you’re from Kingston, NY? Further Upstate from me.
Yeah, man. We just had War On Drugs play here in my town at a venue called BSP. We also have a huge festival called O+ Festival for health care for artists that is happening this weekend. Kevin Devine. Matt Pond PA. So my town is pretty cool right now.
I was there last year! I went and saw Spiritualized.
In the Old Dutch Church in Kingston? That was a big deal! It was a block from my old apartment and I couldn’t go. Damn you! (laughing) That’s funny you went and I didn’t.
Yeah, I totally remember that was a good show. I can’t believe a year has gone by since that. They were amazing.
What has been some of the most high pressure aspects of being in the band?
The first time I played together with this lineup was on Jimmy Fallon! So that was kind of intense.
It’s all easy after that, right?
No, it’s definitely a challenge bacause we don’t live in the same areas. Jamie lives outside of L.A., Conrad lives in Cambodia, and Jason has two kids and a business, He lives less than ten minutes from me but meanwhile I never see him. Like once a week or every couple weeks. He’s so busy. So a band that’s been around awhile, other things happen in your life. But it helps that we are the right quartet to deal with it and are focused when we are together, whether composing or performing.