Doing some research on the internet I came by this “Wikipedia” description of the new record: “'Given To The Rising' is the ninth studio album from the Oakland, CA band Neurosis. It leaked on the internet March 17 2007. The album shows the band going back to their '90's sound”, that's kind of a controversial statement isn't it?
Oh it's crap. We never look backwards. I think the lazy way to look at our music is to think: “Oh It's aggressive so it must be a return to something. Most people know that that's a bunch of bullshit, they know that while this is a record that is more aggressive than the last couple, it is not surprising that Neurosis makes heavy, dark, aggressive music, that is just what we do naturally. It is always a challenge for us to broaden our horizons and challenge our weaknesses and go after it. But if you listen carefully to the way that sonically this new record is put together it is fucked up, it has a lot of teeth and sharp edges but it is born from the same compositional style as 'Eye Of Every Storm' as opposed to anything previously. I mean, it is not based on traditional rock parts, it is based on texture and on all the instruments together creating one sound, one voice.
Was previous hard stuff like 'Through Silver In Blood' than more based on traditional rock?
Well, we were never totally traditional, but as we get older and wiser we tend to be better able to make more out of less. On 'Through Silver In Blood' we were making more out of more. Everybody was just doing their own part. Then we started pulling it away and kind of distilling things over the years as we learned to get closer and closer to the true thought, the true emotion of the sound, where all of us come together to create the chord, or all of us come together to create the dissonance as opposed to each person doing it on top of each other. So, that's the way this record is, but unlike 'Eye Of Every Storm' where coming together as one voice was kind of rich and vast and open and spacious in general, this one ('Given To The Rising'-J) is more claustrophobic, collapsing in on its self, more oppressive.
I believe the new record sounded warmer and fuller than the previous heavier albums, which I think had a better recognizable “Steve Albini” (producer of the last five Neurosis albums) sound than 'Given To The Rising”, would you agree?
Well, Steve does not have a sound. He records our sound. The reason why we work with Steve Albini is because we don't want anyone to alter our sound at all. I know my amp, I want it to sound like that's my amp coming through that speaker. You know when it is Jason's drumkit in that room, I want it to sound like you're standing in that room with that drumset. Steve is very natural and unobtrusive; we set up and then hit record and we go.
Has that always been the case with him?
Yeah, since 1999, we've done the last five records with him. We just set up, we play. People have ideas about him which are completely false. Like he has a sound! He is ethically opposed to changing anyone's sound. You can bring in any sound that you want, he doesn't care what it is, he does not have an opinion about what the sound is. His job is to record it as naturally and nice-sounding as possible. He's a traditional engineer. We enjoy working together, totally but he treats everybody with the same courtesy and professionalism.
I heard something about Neurosis' “responsibility”, was that towards the fans, our yourselves?
We feel a responsibility to the art. This is totally self-centered music. We appreciate people that like our music but we don't make it for anybody else. When you find that true inner gift and you find something that is original, something that's relevant and of spiritual importance to yourself you have a duty to see it through. That does not mean sharing it with anyone else. We make this music because we have to for our own personal reasons, because these energies well up inside and we need to do something productive and positive with them in stead of turning them to negative like wreak havoc in our lives or what have you. For us, it is like knowing how to tap into an endless source of creativity over time. Neurosis feels like something bigger than us individually, none of us really take ego-credit for creating it, we were just the lucky ones that got to kind of hook on to it. The music tells you what to do. So I think all true artists have the responsibility to dedicate yourself to it and shove all the other bullshit aside, put all the industry crap aside, put all other people's expectations aside. That's why I say that we don't have a responsibility to anyone else, we have a responsibility to the sound, and the spirit of the sound.
What do you think of the newly rising popularity of Neurosis-inspired music, isn't the title 'Given To The Rising' not a little bit influenced by that? Like a statement saying: this is the way to do it?
Hahaha, you know all the different kind of names people are trying to put on it and they say “oh this scene is coming up and you guys are responsible for it”, well in five years everyone is going to forget all of that. We have been together for twenty-one years, we've seen it happen over and over again, different names, different genres, different blahblahblah. It is all bullshit. That's why it's so cool that we're playing here with the Melvins. They have been around the same length of time we have, a little longer perhaps, and they're totally out on their own planet. They don't fit in anywhere and we don't fit in anywhere. Good original bands inspire other bands, and good bands inspired us, but when you truly inspire someone out of that kind of point of originality you don't get anything out of other bands wanting to sound like you. You get something out of people saying: “man you made me want to pick up a guitar and find my own sound”. So we don't see ourselves as a part of any kind of genre or clique. We have relationships with people in bands and music because we've been out there on the road for many many years. There is kind of a brotherhood amongst bands, but that transcends any musical genre. You can tell by the records Neurot recordings put out that we don't feel trapped in some sort of musical expectation of what it should sound like. We like things that are original, heartfelt and that move us. Most of the time that is not going to be a band that sounds anything like any other band!
But do you see any boost in your record sales?
Ehm, I don't know...We've got our own freaks in the corner and some people stay with us for the ride and some people leave. It is not music for everybody. This is not music you can put on at a party, it is not music you put on with your friends over. This is music that you have to be by yourself with, you got to think “ok, I'm going to spend the next seventy-five minutes just with this record”.
So what do you think about the “it leaked on the internet” part of the Wikipedia statement?
(Yawns) You know, people are assholes, bottom-line. You know it's gonna happen, it is the age when you cannot control it. The disappointing thing this time was that it leaked within twenty-four hours after sending out three copies. Three! And these where to trusted people, to think that people are so insensitive. That is fucked up, you trust people with it in advance to start talking about and they should be respectful of it. We are a homerun business, we don't make our living of of music, we all work full-time jobs and raise our families. Music is just something we have to do because we feel driven to do it. It's a fucking expensive hobby. We own our own record label, we had to go earn our own recording budget, nobody gives us money to make a record, it is not cheap. We are an underground band, six adult men cannot live of selling around 40.000 records. All the bands we grew up liking, none of them ever made a living out of their music: Black Flag, Minutemen, Hüsker Dü...the only bands making money were “arena-rock” bands. They have to compromise more than we are ever willing to do.
Do you think that people who live from their music compromise on their artistry?
I don't think it is a given, but I think it is more than likely true. There's always an exception. Mastodon perhaps, time will tell. We love those guys and wish them the best, but they are in the belly of the beast and we'll see how it goes. For us independence is important, even as people we are not willing to have people telling us what to do.
Can you tell something about how Josh Graham entered the band?
He came into a last-minute situation, we needed somebody within a week because Pete “was not cutting the mustard”, he was not evolving with us so we had to let him go one week before a concert and I had a demo-reel of this kid Josh who was doing some video-stuff and I said “man, can you get together a Neurosis video show in one week?” and he did it. We were really impressed and he earned the job. We slowly brought him in further and further, further than we had anyone ever let in before on the visual aspect. And he designed the last couple of record covers, when you see the full package of the new album artwork you are going to be pretty impressed.
I feel a have seem the image on the cover before, is that possible? What is the connection between the cover image and the title 'Given To The Rising'?
It is in Budapest, on hero-square. The artwork probably more represents the tone of the sound. The job of all of our words whether it be the title or the songs it is not to tell the story that we are thinking of because that would make the listener a voyeur watching our experience. We try to paint the emotional backdrop, give the keywords and the images like good poetry, which puts you in the same place without giving you the details so that you have to invest yourself into it in order to get any meaning out of it. And that is not a cop-out, not like “it's open to artistic interpretation”, it is still very personal. We just give you the emotion so that is more universal and more powerful. So in that sense the title to us represents the philosophy of our band. In retrospect to last twenty-one years when you give yourself to the sound, when you give yourself to your friends, when you give everything you have to that energy that drives you, you cut the ego and all the bullshit out and just get down to the core of what you are doing and why you are doing it then you will transcend and rise above the endless sea of mediocrity and bullshit it in the world.
Comparing to 'Through Silver In Blood' which was more negative, could you say 'Given To The Rising' was made through a more positive vibe?
'Through Silver And Blood' for us was a very dark time and the music really shows it. After playing those songs over and over again the following years after that we just realized that that energy was ripping our bodies apart from the inside out. We were not willing to continue doing that so we got on a new path from 'Times Of Grace' on in which we learned how to burn it clean. So we found a way to transcend that but we still dig deep, we still confront the demons and negativity definitely. It is not as if the new record is not about negativity (chuckles), but the concept of making it, of putting that energy into art and music, so that other people can relate to it and that we can get it out of our bodies is good. Again, we are a self-centered band but it is nice that we meet people sometimes who tell us “man that record really came through to me when I needed it”. We have those records for ourselves too, the ones that get you through hard times and Neurosis gets us through hard times.
When did you stop touring and what was the strongest motive behind it?
After touring in 1999 we decided that it was just compromising the music and our families too much. Like I said, we never made a living out of this band. So when you are gone two-hundred days as year and have to come back and get some kind of shitty job so you can pay the rent, it started to get old. We were in our thirties and we just felt it was enough. It slowly unfolded for us; this music is too important, we should only do it when we want to with who we want to and when we have balance in our lives. We can't be fucking around back-stages and truck stops anymore, we have to be responsible fathers so we decided to go home and get a job that we could maintain which would give us the freedom to still make music. And you know what? We made more music in the last seven years than we did in the seven before. The Neurosis records have come more often, there are lots of projects on the side, plus we are running our own label so it is more creative than ever. Not that we have any regrets, but we did it and now we play fewer shows and it feels more special.
Even though you don't play live very often anymore, I have the feeling the new album is much more suitable to play live, did you record it with that in mind too?
A little bit yeah. Basically all our records are recorded live, 'Eye Of Every Storm' might be the furthest away from this as any of the others though. We don't have a lot of time in the studio. We go in, we set up, and we play the songs together, add the vocals, mix it, and go. There is not a lot of sitting around and experiment in the studio, everybody knows exactly what is going to happen. On “Eye Of Every Storm” we might have done that a little bit, we might have spend a couple of extra days experimenting, and it was more studio-oriented as we went into it. We recorded and mix the new record in six days, so we basically played it live and recorded it live.
So where does the writing take place?
We have a rehearsal studio in Oakland, California but we live in three different states. Sometimes it starts there from a jam-session sometimes it starts by somebody sending around some tapes and then we go further on that and meet at somebody's house and fly there. It does not become complete until we all sit together with all the ideas and tear it all apart and put it together again in a group process. There is a million ways our songs start, sometimes they happen improvised, like “wow where did that come from?” and other times we need to keep destroying it and recreate it over and over again.
'Enemy Of The Sun' starts out by quoting the American writer Paul Bowles's book 'The Sheltering Sky', are you inspired by literature more often? And Beat generation writers especially?
Most of us read and all of us enjoy literature. Scott and I write most of the lyrics nowadays, we read a lot. We're not very much into beat generation writing in general. We took the Paul Bowles quote out of context because unlike much of his other writing that line really has emotional power. We are not into “counter-cultural rooming”. For us it is all about the power and the emotion of the statement, the emotion of the word. The new record has a Jack London quote on the outside of the package, a very popular writer, every American kid has to read Jack “fucking” London in highschool. So it is a very mainstream reference, but he hit emotion on the head many times. He shows us you have to live life to the fullest, in stead of just slipping into some form of existence. We are not meant to exist, we are meant to live. We read a lot of Cormack McCarthy, he has a way of writing in which he breaks all the rules of grammar, the way in which he describes something for example like a sunset, he can describe it ten or twelve different ways in a book and each time you're completely blown away by it. He reaches into that same place and soul that our music tries to, it really confronts the darkness and balances between dark and light because each one of us is in that struggle. We are not really into the beat generation, you know growing up punkrockers we kind of told the hippies to fuck off hahaha.
How about the experimental stuff like 'Naked Lunch' (highly experimental novel by William Burroughs including tons of drugs and pornography) though?
Yeah, we like that, but that is because you mentioned the beat generation as a genre. It's like anything, 99.9% of all books, 99.9% of all records, and 99.9% of all art is shit! It is about that 0.01%, whether it is rock music, classical music, writing, you're looking for that small percentage that is truly inspired by something different. Which obviously something like 'Naked Lunch' is, everyone has that moment in which they reach that point.
Tonight (the Roadburn Saturday), a lot of people are probably going to expect one of the best live performances they will ever see, do you feel pressure?
(chuckles) Well, this is very personal music like I said and we are not comfortable performers, but we always put a lot of pressure on ourselves…to really have it flow. With us up their together we really want to reach that place in which we're not in our heads anymore, not thinking about where we are or what we're doing, we just are the embodiment of the sound. Right before the show we get nervous, tense, aggressive, pumped-up, all of that, all of it all at once. After the show we feel we left it all there and need a few minutes to come back to earth.
So why did you pick a couple of festival performances (Roadburn, Hellfest) among your four European shows, weren't you more able to control the show if you would only have done headliner clubshows?
We are doing the two festivals because, I think Hellfest stands apart from many other festivals and we go where we feel invited. I agree with you in the sense that on a festival it is very hard to control the whole atmosphere, and that is what Neurosis is all about. So we try to find the situation in which within the festival we can control the atmosphere, so we can have our visuals and our lights. It also depends if the offer is respectful and if we are available; we are not available very often. We get offers all the time, but we have to get off from work and it all has to work all at the same time. Roadburn is different, with The Hidden Hand and OM and than the Melvins on the first night it is awesome, this does not feel like a festival it feels more like a series of gigs.
Well, that's about it, I just wanted to ask you how you see the future, what are the plans?
(yawns) We are always very busy with so many things. At the moment we are busy with getting this record out, it gets out in a couple of weeks so that takes up all of our energy. At the same time we have been gearing up for these shows, we've been rehearsing. And we have some new song ideas we are kind of itching to get to work on already. Scott and I are always working on solo-stuff. I have a solo record done just waiting to finnish the artwork. My Harvestman project is always doing something, Tribes Of Neurot does not have any plans right now but something will probably start boiling up…it's always happening!