...AND YOU WILL KNOW Us by the Trail of Dead's Madonna is a specter of Southern gothic. Bittersweet, lovesick ghosts glide icily over the lusty hearts of the living, bleeding characters who populate the songs. The music creates a Faulknerian panorama of drooping, humid foliage creeping around a pristine white trellis. This is Plano, Texas indie rock: melodic sex, death chords, and regeneration

I spoke to Jason Reece, who plays guitar and sings in Trail of Dead. He also plays the ukulele, piano, accordion, and saxophone. "We all switch off [between instruments] -- out of necessity, because otherwise it would get plain old boring. And I think that we're definitely into being a collective instead of the standard band. We're definitely not Marxists. We're sort of caught between anarchism and whatever you call this society that we live in. What is this place called? America? Goddamn it, I thought I was living in Texas."

Already I get the feeling I've stepped into a Tennessee Williams melodrama. Reece is affable but unpredictable -- given to grandiloquence and self-deprecation, often before the end of a thought.

"Trail of Dead have been playing music together since we were children. We're brothers of the same mind, blind to all the injustices of the world. We grew up in this small town -- Plano, Texas -- in a shack. It's kind of like a two-street-style town, with one grocery store, one church, and one movie theater. We didn't have much to do, so our parents encouraged us to take up music at a young age to keep us out of trouble. We moved to Austin out of necessity, because the shows in Plano were really too small.

"We played the church. They didn't understand our music or our views, but they were supportive nonetheless, because we all kind of knew each other. It's a small town, you know. They thought we were a little satanic, but basically we were expressing all the world's views. Every single one -- every viewpoint and philosophy and religion -- all in one song."

Then Reece checks himself and drawls in a somber tone: "If we didn't write these songs, we wouldn't go on living. Probably commit suicide. It's the purest form of a release.... It's necessary."

Madonna is redolent with that ineffable desperation, and the poetry of rejection. And when a bunch of indie rock boys write latticework love songs that reference Mark David Chapman, calling them intense begins to feel like understatement.

"I know that when I talk to people, they're definitely afraid. They think that we're always taking acid and doing cocaine, which is completely not true. We're always sober. Too many crack heads or amphetamine-heads here. You can buy tons of crack in Texas. There's a seedy underbelly. And Trail of Dead is right there with it. Of course, we're all upstanding citizens. We're a paradox; we're the living paradox. We're the oxymoron of your dreams. We're the sweetest evil that you can come across, that you will witness."

And sure enough, Reece turns on a dime.

"No, we're really sweet. We've been known to be dangerous, but those days are over. We're about being civilized. Cultured. We're gonna kick the Supersuckers' ass."

And back again.

"No, we've never had any dangerous shows. The shows have been really... a lot of the children just sit there and they watch, and then we play our music and it's very safe. That was a different time period in our lives. It's true that we're violent forces of nature. It is true, but not in Seattle. [In] Seattle, we're there to play our licks. Even though we do represent some elements of the dirty South, we also represent the beauty of Southern living."

Southern rhetoric is giddily logic-free. I can't tell if Reece is sharp as a tack or crazy as a loon. Perhaps in Texas there's not much of a difference between the two.

Just in case it's not eccentric enough to name your band "...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead," here's what Reece said, verbatim, on what Seattle could expect from their live show: "It's like a bunch of homoerotic behavior, a bunch of kids involved in homoerotic activities with their instruments."

"Well it's not homoerotic if it's with inanimate instruments," I pointed out.

"I'm sort of winging this here. Basically, it's just a bunch of pillaging of our own bodies. We pillage our bodies as we roll about, and then we play these love songs that have no meaning to other people, other than ourselves."

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