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Interview: Neurosis

Interview: Neurosis

Fluffy / Wednesday 8th February, 2017 1:00PM

Neurosis have been beating on the door of innovation in guitar heavy music for nigh-on three decades now, since starting life in California in the late 80s as a hardcore punk outfit, to their current realm as masters of the avante-garde metal genre. So it is with great excitement that this month we get to play host to the Californian outfit and their madness-inducing mire of sensory stimulation in New Zealand for the first time ever. The long-overdue tour on antipodean soil comes on the back of their most recent, most excellent release Fires Within Fires, the band's 11th studio album which was unveiled late last year to high critical acclaim. In anticipation of their upcoming visit we spoke with guitarist and vocalist Steve Von Til about mind expansion and abrasion, their most recent musical inferno and the fluid nature of genre etymology...

UTR: Firstly, youíre the guitarist from Neurosis. How did the name for the band come about? Are you guys all a bit crazy in your own way?

Well, the band was made like 30 years ago and we were 15 years old. I think it came about more from a way of looking at how your socialisations affect your state of mind.

Right, right. You guys all seem a bit saner these days.

Well I donít know about that, but weíre still here.

Tell us a little about your latest album Fires Within Fires, how did that come about? Is it a reference to some arcane alchemy?

We actually had the entire album recorded, mixed, mastered and had the record art done, all just waiting for a title. We couldnít find one that we liked. We couldnít find one in the lyrics; we couldnít find one in the song titles. One day our bass player David Edwardson, he mentioned this literary quote that had stuck in his head from The Crucible and actually [itís] taken totally out of context. It just sounds right, Fires Within Fires, it sounds, like youíre saying, perhaps alchemical or even kinda fractal in nature. You know when you look at the macrocosm and the microcosm are the same or perhaps itís the fires of inspiration that are behind everything that we do. It just seemed to represent this body of work really well.

Recently you went quite in depth with Music Radar about your guitar rig. Evidently Neurosis wouldnít be Neurosis without a fair few layers of sonic wizardry.


Are you set in your current pedal set up or are you constantly trying new things that come out?

Iím always open-minded but thereís certain things that I always fall back to, certain things that I feel a resonance with, things that work for me.

Cool, so I understand your guitar doesnít have a pick up selector built into it. Thatís in your loop selector. Is that the case?

Yeah I send both lines out so that I donít have to do crazy hand moves and tap dancing. I bring everything down to a switching system so that all of my decisions can be done with a single button.

Awesome, so what do you think of the theory that lots of the tonality is in your hands and the way that you attack the instrument?

Iíd say almost all of it, for sure. Guitar is such a tactile instrument; the way youíre able to pull sounds out of it when itís not plugged in is going to be the biggest indicator of what it sounds like when itís amplified and run through a bunch of shit.

Very true. Speaking of sonic wizardry, you guys recorded Sun That Never Sets with the one and only Steve Albini at Electric Audio. How is he to work with? Is he as a foreboding a presence as heís made out to be?

Absolutely not. I think thereís a total misconception of that guy. Weíve done every record with him since 1999 and we keep going back because heís a friend, heís totally nice. His only goal in a recording studio is to help you make your dreams come true with your record. Thatís all he wants to do, he provides a service and he really looks at it as providing a service. Heís not judgmental about your music; he actually doesnít give a shit about your music, haha. But he really believes ethically that itís his job to capture, in the highest fidelity that he can, with all of his knowledge and wisdom the sounds that you are bringing to him. He has no opinion about what you should do with your music. He figures thatís your job and what he allows us to do is to set up in a room and play naturally and he pushes play and record and captures it in a very organic and very pleasing way. Every time we go there I know my amp is gonna sound like my amp through the speakers, I know Jasonís drums are gonna sound like Jasonís drums in that room, coming through those speakers. We just set up and record, basically live and thatís the only way weíd be able to do records in six or seven days like we do.

Do you think that for lots of bands of the heavier and slower nature that itís almost intrinsic for them to record live? Itís quite a live experience right, youíre all working toward a single sonic goal...

I think any good rock band would benefit from recording live. Thereís a certain amount of fun in the studio to do additional things but the whole idea of recording separately that I see happen so often; people putting down scratch tracks or the drummerís there one day, the bass playerís there a different day, thatís just fucking ridiculous to me, I canít imagine. Thatís not what rock 'n' roll is about. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath sat in a fuckiní room and recorded y'know?

I was speaking with one of my friends recently and they said they had their first experience with visuals on LSD to ĎThrough Silver and Bloodí. Do you think substances can be helpful with creating music or do you think theyíre best left for when youíre on the other side of the speakers, listening to it?

I would say that music is its own pathway to altered states of consciousness and transcending and that if you truly learn to surrender to music it becomes its own form of meditation, it becomes its own form of astral projection, it becomes its own form of catharsis. Really the music can take you places that nothing else can. Everything is different, Iím not saying there arenít other shamanic means of opening your mind but I think music is its own unique way.

Nice! Do you find it to be a ritual unto itself, playing and watching music?

I think so; itís not a formalised one. When weíre performing, the way the energy builds throughout the day and gets really intense right before hand and transports you outside of yourself if everything is right, you donít have to think and be inside your head with any type of distractions or problems, you can lose yourself in it.

So are you quite a spiritual person if you donít mind me asking? Do you have a relationship with the powers that be?

I would consider myself a spiritual person, or seeking to be spiritual in the unknown. I wouldnít choose to define it by any sort of formalised religion. Iím not into religion.

Of course, of course.

The ancient earth-based spiritualities have always been interesting to me.

Mmmhmm, what are some of those?

I mean any indigenous people, whatever their connection to the land and spirit and the force of their own evolution and the force of their own reflections upon what it means to be human and what it means to have consciousness and what it means to have a relationship with the earth and with the people around you.

Well put man, well put. Back to the music side of things, like the Beastie Boys once upon a time you guys were a hardcore band. Do you think that hardcore lends itself to going down different musical paths or do you think that it just provides a good platform for people to get into the swing of playing music and allows them to dive off into other realms of creativity?

Well that depends on certain things. I mean the term itself hardcore is so different then it was when we were using it. Its come to reflect a lot of different styles of music which it didnít back then, it was more like punk rock which had more of the aggressive guitars and [was] faster. Thatís all, it wasnít codified, and it was also such a different time so I donít know if I can say that thatís still true. For us, the whole idea of being a part of the DIY punk movement, which had a million different styles, it wasnít just hardcore, it was anybody who wanted to express themselves and wanted to start a band and find their own voice in the underground. It was never supported by the mainstream, there werenít record labels, there werenít magazines, there werenít clubs, it was all underground and people had to do it and make it themselves. That, I believe was fundamental to who we are; we found this original form of self-expression and met a lot of interesting people along the way and learned how to do it ourselves and take charge of ourselves and never rely on anybody else for anything and having no expectations and that type of thing. Now its very different.

How so? Do you think itís just commodified and commercialised?

Well, in a lot of ways the paths have now been paved. Itís a positive thing coz now there are magazines and entire scenes that support this extreme music, there are lots of record labels, thereís an entire circuit of clubs around the world that are booking bands within our extended musical family of the genres and the sub-genres which seems to be quite prolific now. Which is a great thing, Iím not saying itís not positive, itís just different.

So, speaking of hardcore, you co-wrote a track on Convergeís classic album Axe To Fall. Could you tell me a bit about that experience?

They just asked if I was interested and sent a couple of ideas and that was the one that resonated with me. They sent me some words and I reworked them and found a way that my voice would lend itself to what they had already created in the music and went back and forth and suggested a couple of arrangement changes and it was a blast. It was really great to be able to contribute something to such a great bunch of dudes in a great band.

So you guys are pretty mutual fans then by the sounds of that?

I would say so. I love being in their presence, I love hanging out with those guys, theyíre really fucking great at what they do.

I agree. Tell us about your most recent solo album, A Life Unto Itself. The name suggests that it was some time in the making?

Well, I donít know about that. I donít really operate on any sort of schedule. Itís just kinda as things happen and things take shape slowly. Time is one of my biggest, rarest resources. I have a full time job, I run a record label, I do the managerial stuff for my band, Iíve got my other music projects, Iím a husband, Iím a father. Finding time is difficult, so if it took a while itís just because life is full. What the record really means to me is it was a really good opportunity for me to take stock and look back at my entire life and look at the things Iím grateful for and look at the patterns in my life, both positive and negative and really just seeing it for what it is and exploring all the different pathways and twists and turns and uplifting moments as well as little dark corners and it was a very cathartic experience for me. It was very emotionally moving experience for me because I didnít really know what it was about until it was done and it revealed itself to me but it was kinda my whole life looking back at me.

Thatís really nice man. How are things going with Neurot Recordings?

Awesome, weíve just been busy these last few months with this new Neurosis release. Itís pretty much been dominating our office time and getting ready to set up things for next year.


Nice, whatís on the cards for next year?

Weíll be having a new one from Ufomammut and Amenra, my Harvestman project will see a new release next year. Yeah, always moving forward.

Thatís the way. I understand you also work as a teacher. Do you ever get students being like Ďman, that latest album was awesome!í?

Nah, my students are young.

Right, like primary school?

Yeah, like nine, ten years old. They have no clue.

I imagine you have a bunch of tattoos and such. Do your students ever comment on that and have any inkling to the other side of your life?

No, I mean they know I travel for music and that I make music and that I love music but they have no context.

So lastly, Iíve heard people refer to Neurosis as ďTool for cool guysĒ. What do you think of Maynard and co? Do you think theyíre a bit pretentious or that theyíre taking the mind-expanding to the masses?

Iím not really that familiar with their stuff to be honest. I mean I know a lot of people that like them but Iíve never really dove in and figured it out so I really canít comment.

Fair enough, thanks so much for your time!

Catch Neurosis 
on 14th February at San Fran in Wellington, and 15th February at the Kings Arms in Auckland. Head over here to snag tickets.


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