Dead Meadow - Biography
Led Zeppelin have got a lot to answer for, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Washington DC’s Dead Meadow draw from the godfathers of transcendent, bluesy hard rock as well as from Black Sabbath, Cream and Jimi Hendrix. But they put an original ever-evolving, spin on it, creating their own world of swirly fuzz guitar drones, spacey jams and poetic, archetypical lyrical vignettes. The founding members, vocalist Jason Simon, bassist Steve Kille and Drummer Mark Laughlin formed the band in 1998, having hailed from previous local DC bands The Impossible Five and Colour. They recorded their debut, Dead Meadow, on the cheap in their own rehearsal space, and Joe Lally of Fugazi released it on his label, Tolotta, in 2000, and Planaria records released LP version. If you’re a fan of psychedelic hard rock, this record delivers it with a sincere authenticity, but on its own terms. Jason Simon’s signature fragile keen and swooning wah-wah/fuzz riffs sail expertly over the sublime, heavy grooves. The follow-up, Howls From the Hills (2001 Tolotta) is replete in bluesy hooks; and it’s also heavy as sin. It ranges from tracks like “Dusty Nothing,” which evokes classic Zeppelin, and the slow, surreal more stoner-inspired “One and Old,” which veers into headier, more spacy territory.
In 2002 Dead Meadow did an opening slot on a Brian Jonestown Massacre tour and subsequently, Anton Newcombe released their live album, Got Live if You Want It! And you do want it. It’s a superb live record, proving that Dead Meadow are the real deal: wildly talented and proficient musicians creating a raw, energetic, engaging swirling wall of sound. Highlights include the intensely atmospheric “Beyond the Fields We Know.” Around this time drummer Mark McLaughlin left Dead Meadow and was replaced by long-time band associate Stephen McCarty and subsequently, the band hooked up with Matador Records and started coming more into their own creative stride with Shivering King and Others (2003 Matador). The hypnotic, head-banging jams in tracks like “I Love You Too” mesh well with the intoxicating beauty of “Raise the Sails,’ and “Shivering King” brings an acoustic folkiness to the proceedings in one the record’s prettier moments.
The band recorded the next album as a four-piece, welcoming a second guitarist, Cory Shane. Feathers (2005 Matador) is an even more marked departure from the hard psychedelia of earlier releases, with more concisely composed, more melodically pop-oriented songs. The heaviness is still there, but the songs are sounding sparser with songs like the melodic “At Her Open Door” enhanced by subtle slide guitar. It’s an evolution, and though this is an accessible record, there’s also a genuine weirdness, and a sense of the psychedelic grunge giving way to a more organic quality that comes across as the band’s true, pure voice. Old Growth (2008 Matador) continues in the same vein. They recorded the record in the same restored farm guest house (owned by McCarty’s parents) where they recorded Howls From the Hills, and did additional recording at the famed Los Angeles Sunset Sound studio. Both locations are allegedly haunted, one by variously reported eerie presences, and the other by the ghost of Jim Morrison. Perhaps it’s fitting, because Feathers is a more conceptual, more existential album. Hypnotic and moody, it’s decidedly lighter but no less engaging than any of their previous work. With repetitive, dreamy echoes of Spacemen 3 in the droney blues of “The Great Deceiver,” the record also has some progressive, trippy moments on tracks like “Keep On Walking.”
In 2010, Dead Meadow released, Three Kings (2010 Xemu), both a concert film and live album with cut with surreal film montage — perhaps a good introduction to the band, as it showcases both the material (which is meticulously performed) and the live show, with the band proving themselves as the expert, creative musicians they are. It’s both heartening and genuinely exciting to witness bands who follow their hearts and obsessions and succeed in making something exceptional happen. Dead Meadow wholeheartedly dived down the psychedelic, stoner, hard rock rabbit hole, and they did it with utter sincerity, evolving along the way. In turn, they emerged as wholly transformed, thoroughly original artists.