Concept albums can be a difficult beast to master. For every Tommy , there's a turgid failure like Kiss's Music From The Elder . So the stakes were high when the members of psychedelic band Dead Meadow decided to put together a record based on challenges the band has faced during its time in the music industry. The Three Kings concept goes beyond a simple recording concept, comprising a feature-length film with a soundtrack recorded live at a Hollywood cemetery. Dead Meadow's bass player Steve Kille isn't fazed by the potential allegations of pretension. "Of course people could say it's too self-indulgent," he admits. "But who really cares? People can spend far too much time worrying about stuff like that."
Dead Meadow formed originally in Washington DC before moving to Los Angeles a few years ago. The weather in California shits all over the sweltering hot summers and freezing cold winters of the American capital; however, it was for the vibrant LA music scene that Dead Meadow headed west. "We're still in California, living the Californian dream," Kille laughs. "It's been interesting since we came here - I think I romanticised LA a lot, but when we moved here and we got to know the musicians here, we really learnt a lot. I think we've been influenced a lot by the LA music scene - the band has really changed a lot."
Living and working in LA has added another level to Dead Meadow's psychedelic aesthetic. For Dead Meadow, the open spaces of the live psychedelic jam are the band's preferred space. "That's totally what we want to do," Kille explains. "We really hit it when we play live. There's something about jamming, and within it there's a spiritual aspect. You can just close your eyes and enjoy it."
Not surprisingly, there's no basic formula that Dead Meadow follow in getting into that kaleidoscopic zone. "We start out with different ideas, and then we come to a point of focus," considers Kille. "Some of our music is actually more like a pop song."
It was during a typically elastic jam at a show in Los Angeles that Dead Meadow came up with the genesis of the Three Kings concept. "We did a show in LA and we recorded it," Kille recalls. "We sat on the recording for a while we spoke to some film makers. We hung out drinking with these guys and came up with this idea like a '70s live record concept. It was a bit of fun - that's all it is," he grins.
The film element of the Three Kings concept centres around the challenges the band have faced in the music industry, with each member of the band being confronted by a different moral challenge. Like a Dead Meadow live jam, Kille says the band weren't entirely sure where the concept would go. "We really weren't sure which direction it was going to take," he concedes. "But as the idea developed, we realised it could deal with lots of different parts of the music business - including corruption, drugs, jealousy."
Kille sees Three Kings as part of a move back toward having fun in music. "People are beginning to have more fun with music," he figures. As for the risk of accusations of self-indulgence, Kille isn't worried in the slightest. "There's a risk, but not enough to stop it from happening," he replies. "The guys who made the film did a really good job of it. Even if you're going to make fun of it, then you can still enjoy it."
Dead Meadow premiered Three Kings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It was an appropriate, and auspicious, location. "It's a historic cemetery where a lot of celebrities are buried, like Cecille B DeMille," Kille explains. "There's an old hall - a Masonic Hall - where they sometimes have performances, but you have to get permission to be allowed to play." The venue is managed by a board of governors; fortunately for Dead Meadow, the board was happy to provide the venue for the Three Kings premiere. "The guys on the board were really into it. Cat Power has played there in the past, and some other bands. We were really lucky to be able to play there."
After years of bands taking advantage of semi-unregulated performance spaces, Kille says the local authorities are now cracking down on ad hoc venues, such as warehouses. "There was a period in time when a lot of art in LA was unregulated - it was completely bootleg," Kille says. "Where we did the live show for the Three Kings album was there for about five or six years, and a lot of bands have played there. It's a shame that they're now cracking down on these places." The reason for the authorities' change of heart lies with real estate prices. "A lot of warehouses are being sold, and all of a sudden there's been a rush by police to crack down on music at these places," Kille says.
October sees Dead Meadow returning to Australia for the first time since the All Tomorrow's Parties festival at Mt Buller in January 2009. Kille is gushing in his praise of the Mt Buller event. "That was awesome up on top of the mountain," Kille remembers. "That was my favourite ATP festival - it was an incredible place, and there were loads of cool people in the chalets." In addition for the band's upcoming tour, original drummer Mark Laughlin will assume drum duties in lieu of current drummer Stephen McCarthy. Laughlin originally left the band to pursue a career as a lawyer, a decision that Kille says was difficult for Laughlin to make. "There was a lot of family pressure on him to become a lawyer," he explains. "So he reluctantly quit the band. It just became too pressure on him to be in a band."
"Our current drummer wasn't interested in playing, and the timing worked out well with Mark so that he could play with us on this tour. We're really looking forward to having him back - it should be a lot of fun."
DEAD MEADOW are joined by Dead Meadow, Stigmata and Blarke Bayer/Black Widow as part of the Melbourne Festival when they play the Becks Bar at The Forum this Thursday October 14. Tickets and info from ticketmaster.com.au, 136 100 or melbournefestival.com.au.