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Died Pretty : Without A Trace

Interview by Simon McKenzie
"Time Off" magazine - Nov 1, 1995

Died Pretty's whirling dervish of a frontman, Ron S. Peno, is visibly excited about the band's latest album. The as-yet-untitled recordings won't be released for a few months yet, but Peno has an air of gleeful anticipation about him - a "wait till they get a load of THIS" sort of aura. And he's honestly excited. This, after all, is a man who refused to give any interviews at the time of their last album, Trace, because of misgivings about the finished product.

"There were some nice moments on Trace, and there were some moments that fell short of the mark. Some songs that just didn't quite get there,"
Peno explains.
"It was a valiant attempt, but it didn't make it. Out of all the songs that came from Trace, we only perform one with any regularity, and that's `Harness Up'. Occasionally we have been doing `State of Graceful Mourning' - to me, they're the two highlights of the album."
"Trace" was also a very crafted and sonically polished record by Died Pretty's standards - in fact, many thought it was too polished.
"I think we're were getting a bit soft in the sound department," Peno says, "we were losing that hard edge. For this album, we wanted something a bit raw sounding. This album's got a real raw edge to it, without being ROCK. It's got a real raggedy-raw sound, a big sound, and a very confident sound."
Died Pretty are engaging in the time honoured tradition of waiting until the silly season is well and truly over before they release the album - for reasons it's hard to fault.

"It's just that time of year where it's the Christmas deluge, the Christmas flood," Peno explains, "where you get all this crap AOR stuff happening - the Best Ofs and the compilations, Best of fucking Michael Bolton and all that yucky stuff. So we don't want to be in the same company as that, let alone getting swamped by it. Because it's such a wonderful album, I'd hate to see it just fall by the wayside. So I think January's an ideal time. It's a nice way to start the year."
With most of 1994 and 1995 spent writing, rehearsing and recording the new material, it's no wonder that Died Pretty found themselves with more songs that space. Peno has, he admits, mentioned the number "100" in previous interviews, but laughingly concedes that that may have been an exaggeration.

"I don't think that we're quite that prolific! There was quite a few songs, and it was sort of like a beauty contest, whittling them down - 'And the Final Thirteen ARE....'. It was slightly difficult, because there were so many good songs. A lot of them hark back to the early days, songs like `Winterland' That whippy, very percussive stuff."
Another aspect of the elemental sound of early Died Pretty that has returned to the fore is producer Rob Younger, vocalist with the legendary (and soon-to-be-reformed) Radio Birdman and studio-sound svengali of renown. Younger produced Died Pretty's first recordings in 1984, as well as their first album, and has always kept abreast of their music.

"The album's like Doughboy Hollow crossed with Free Dirt," Peno says, "like the songs on Free Dirt with the production of Doughboy Hollow. It's pretty good - I mean, that's a nice cross I guess."
"It's sort of epic in smaller doses," he laughs. "We've refined it a bit. It's not rambling. Some of the songs sound quite long, because they're quite repetitous and they're very chorusy So you get these choruses stuck in your head - we're big on choruses for this album."
The momentum behind Died Pretty has always been primarily due to the songwriting partnership of Peno and guitarist Brett Myers.
"It's like the most natural thing in the world when we come together to write," Peno says. "He can do something, and I'll put down a melody to it, and we'll just be like 'Cool. That's great'. And it's just gotten bigger and better ever since. It's obviously something special that we have there as a songwriting partnership, and it's really nice. It's probably what keeps us going still. We've got that same enthusiasm, and we still have this ability - which is a wonderful ability - to create songs and music. It's a very wonderful thing, and if you've got the gift, don't ever abuse it, because it's a nice gift to have. Don't ever take it for granted."
As Died Pretty take to the road again this month, they'll be prepping audiences on the finer points of the new material - as well as playing them some much older ones.
"The audiences at the moment are just coming along, we're playing these new songs, and what are they suposed to do? - they applaud politely. They're not familiar with it yet - but... they will be. Then we've had to think 'If we're doing that, we shouldn't be totally unfair. Let's go back to doing some really early stuff.' Because sometimes we get a bit tired of .. we've been playing the songs of Doughboy Hollow for quite some time now. You know, `Godbless' is really starting to wear a bit with me. It's a great song, but .... we thought, let's do `Ambergris', let's do `Desparate Hours'."
It seems all bands and musicians love their own latest recordings, and they can only see flaws in it long after it's been released. Peno is quick to point out that that won't be the case this time.

"I think I found that out with Trace," he says. "I think I started out just trying to get into Trace, wanting to dig the album, but it wasn't kicking in at all. It was a weird sort of period that I was going through, I think. I didn't do any interviews for Trace, I sort of distanced myself totally from it. I don't dismiss the album, it's a fine album, but it could have been a little bit better. But I think I'll be liking this new album for a long, long, long time."
Simon McKenzie.
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