Ahead of the release of his new album A Venerable Wreck, we tracked down Dead Meadow’s Jason Simon to tell us more. We’ve already fell for the single ‘Red Dust’ with its arid psych country stylings and with the albums out tomorrow (May 22nd) on the Chilean label BYM (home to Föllakzoid, Chicos de Nazca, The Ganjas and others, we wanted to find out more about the album, how he’s coping with lockdown, what’s happening in the Dead Meadow camp and more.
Hey thanks for talking to us – firstly, how are you coping with lockdown? Has it affected any plans? Or rather, how much has it affected plans?
Yes it has drastically affected all plans. Live music is non-existent for what looks to be rest of the year. Dead Meadow had extensive plans and numerous festival engagements and I was in the process of setting up shows to support this record stateside and abroad. I’ve been going through alternating states of creative productivity and feeling rather aimless and depressed.
Have you been able to do anything creative in the time?
I’ve been working on a number projects when I can get myself out of this quarantine malaise. I’m finishing up the recording and mixing of a friend’s record. a excellent band called “Flash Hits”. I have a small studio I’ve built at my house so I’ve been working on improving that and also recording a number of cover tunes for fun. I’ve done a Jody Reynolds / Bobbie Gentry tune, a John Prine tune, a Gun Club tune, and was working a Tom Petty one earlier this week. We were working on a new Dead Meadow record before the lockdown so I’m continuing to work towards that with writing new tunes and recording demos
Tell us about ‘A venerable wreck’? How did that come about – how long have you been writing it, is there a theme to the record – either musically or lyrically?
I’m constantly working on songs and ideas. Slowly a record takes shape. There’s a song on this record “Snowflakes are Dancing” that I actually wrote when I was 19. I’m 42 now so technically I’ve been working on it for quite some time… The majority of these songs were recorded over the last couple years. Some songs were recorded entirely here at my house in a studio I’ve built and dubbed “The Blasted Heath.” Others were begun at a studio downtown called Ultrasound. I would do live takes with drums, bass, and basic guitars there and then bring them home to complete. There is no grand theme to the record. It’s similar to my last release “Familiar Haunts” in that it is a collection of tunes I’ve amassed over a few years time that I feel interested in the world hearing. I attempt to put them together in a way that the songs complement one another and create a feel of a completed work. “A Venerable Wreck” definitely does not feel like a record that was recorded in one session or one studio but I can dig that. It some ways it calls to my mind the production on records like Keith Hudson’s “Playing it Cool” where songs seemed to be pulled from various different backing tracks and studios yet they come together in a sort of ramshackle beauty.
You brought in a few guests to help you out with the record – can you tell us about them and what they bring to the record?
Yes, I brought in a number of friends to make this record with. That was part of the joy in making this record, playing with musicians I love. Nate Ryan is the main contributor to this record. He played with the Black Angels on their first three records. He plays bass on over half the songs as well as some organ and harmony vocals. We work together a lot. I play and contribute a great deal to his work as well. He has a solo record nearing completion that was made simultaneously with this record. We would work on one of my songs then one of his. Ryan Rapsys, who is a phenomenal drummer played on a number of songs. He was in The Shine Brothers with Nate. He joined us for a number of tracks and we would do a similar thing where after getting one of mine down we would tackle one of his songs. It was a productive and fun time of sharing and working on music. That would have been early 2019 I think. I’m also joined by Mark Laughlin, the original and current Dead Meadow drummer, for the first track, “The Same Dream”, as well as Jason Anchondo of the Warlocks for a track, “No Entrance No Exit”. Connor “Catfish” Gallaher joins on pedal steel for a number of songs as does Glenn Brigman on the organ. These days when I perform live the band usually consists of some variation of these players. It is fluid and changes from show to show, some shows being full band, others being very stripped down line ups or even just myself on acoustic and banjo. That is part of the fun of these solo endeavors, there is not the set expectation and I can vary things from song to song and show to show.
Do you write differently and work differently when you’re making a solo record (apart from obviously you’re on your own) – is there a different approach / outlook?
Yes there is a very different out look on the solo work I do. At this point the majority of Dead Meadow tunes begin with ideas I have. Basically when I begin to write something or something catches my ear that I’m going to try to work into a song, one of the first things I ask myself is can this work for Dead Meadow. If it seems that it could, I will work it up with that in mind and then play it with Steve and Mark. We are currently at work on a new Dead Meadow LP but at this point these things take time. With 20 years of history behind us there is a certain sound and feeling that is Dead Meadow. We want to create something that is new and fresh yet still pays homage to this history that we’ve created. That can be increasingly hard to do with each record. We don’t want to be redundant. With the solo work, there is not that weighted history and that opens things up to try very different sort of songs. Also, Dead Meadow has always been very insular in that we prefer to have everything if possible played and done on the record done by us. A lot of that comes from our early formative years in Washington DC. The scene there cultivated an extreme DIY attitude and even aside from that, there simply were not other musicians around who understood where we were coming from or what we were going for. I think that kept a very idiosyncratic and unique nature to our sound that I greatly appreciate. The solo work is a good chance to bring in and play with other friends and great musicians. It’s wide open to trying all sorts of new ideas and formats.
Which do you prefer, or is it just two equal parts of your music?
I don’t prefer one over the other at all. It all just starts with simple ideas and how it develops determines whether or not it ends up being Dead Meadow or not. I love coming up with a riff or chords and playing it with Steve and Mark and watching it develop into something that is uniquely Dead Meadow. I’ve been playing with Steve for over 25 years now and he is my brother and Dead Meadow has lasted so long because each of us brings something unique and we enjoy creating together. The solo work has allowed me to branch out and try all sorts of interesting ideas that don’t fit into that context. It’s the act of creating that is most important and essential for me and I feel blessed that I have multiple outlets in which to get ideas out into the world.
Whats your favourite track on the record? Why?
That is tough.. can a father say which is his favorite child?
As a song I’m particularly fond of “No Entrance No Exit” Possibly because its the most recent one but I am quite happy with how it turned out lyrically. I like “Red Dust” a lot as well. It’s my nod the hypnotic boogie of certain JJ Cale tracks. The instrumental title track came together nicely as well I’d say. I feel I was able to achieve what I set out for on that one which was an attempt to create the tape echoed feel of a King Tubby or Lee Perry type track like “Congoman” without playing anything like reggae.
Difficult to say but what are you’re plans for the rest of the year? Anything with Dead Meadow in the pipeline as well? Might we see some live dates for this record if lockdown is lifted?
There were a number of Dead Meadow shows, festival appearances, and tours in the works that have all been cancelled or postponed. I was planning to do a run of solo shows up the West Coast as well as some European dates as well but who knows at this point. So we will continue to work on the new Dead Meadow record and I will continue to write but it does get hard to stay motivated with no end to this lockdown in sight. When it is lifted you will most certainly see Dead Meadow shows as well as solo ones happening. Like I said earlier, I enjoy it immensely but it is also a key source of income. Streaming and the internet has destroyed the chance of making a living off of recorded works and now Covid has destroyed the possibility of doing so with live appearances. This has all created a very tough if not impossible time to be a professional musician.
Whats been soundtracking lockdown for you? Any artists / albums in particular
My most recent find has been an artist named Don Heffington. His two records “Gloryland” and “Contemporary Abstractions in Folk Song and Dance” have been getting a lot of listens. It’s hard to describe… maybe John Prine meets Albert Ayler comes close.
Thanks for the interest in the new record. I’m excited for it to finally be out.!
A venerable wreck is out tomorrow, 22nd May, via BYM Records