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Neurosis

Het lijkt haast Spinal Tap. Ongeveer driekwart jaar geleden, na het recenseren van ‘Fires Within Fires, was het de bedoeling dat er een interview met Neurosis zou plaatsvinden, maar dat kwam er niet van. Maanden later was Scott Kelly op tour in Europa met een van zijn andere bands, Mirrors For Psychic Warfare. Helaas bleek het niet mogelijk om naar de Nederlandse show van die tour te gaan, maar we konden wel een interview via Skype regelen. Op de dag dat dit zou plaatsvinden, bleek de band echter te worden opgehouden aan de Zwitserse grens (zowat de enige plek in Europa waar dat nog kan gebeuren), waardoor het niet mogelijk bleek elkaar te spreken. Zoiets is echt een zeldzaamheid, dus we gingen er van uit dat er de volgende dag wel gewoon een gesprek zou kunnen plaatsvinden. Wat bleek echter? Geen WiFi in de zaal waar men speelde. Geen interview dus. De volgende dag, vroeg in de middag, waagden we een nieuwe poging, nu vanuit het hotel. Nu lukte het zowaar om een enkel woord uit te spreken, namelijk ‘Hallo…’, voordat we tot onze spijt moesten concluderen dat de internetverbinding allesbehalve toereikend was. Al die tijd wisselde ik mijn pogingen tot het leggen van contact af met sprintjes naar de wc om daar hevig te braken, aangezien ik geveld was door de griep. Achteraf gezien was het misschien dus maar beter dat het interview die dag niet doorging. ‘s Avonds waagden we nog een poging, nu vanuit een zaal in Polen. Wederom geen WiFi. Meteen na afloop zou de band richting vliegveld gaan. Aangezien Neurosis in de weken daarna in Australië op tournee was, leek het vooralsnog onmogelijk om een interview georganiseerd te krijgen.

Door: Martin | Archiveer onder post rock / post metal

Een paar maanden later diende zich echter de perfecte oplossing aan. Scott Kelly speelde op Roadburn, nu met Razors In The Night, een gelegenheidsproject met John Baizley, Pete Adams en Marek Serba, allen van Baroness, dat een set vol oude punk-covers zou spelen. Aangezien ik ook op Roadburn rondliep, waren we eindelijk in de gelegenheid om elkaar te spreken. Uiteraard maakte ik van de gelegenheid gebruik, en voelde ik Scott Kelly aan de tand over het inmiddels niet meer zo heel nieuwe laatste album van Neurosis, hun speciale livesets ter gelegenheid van het 30-jarig bestaan vorig jaar, en meer. Daarnaast spraken we ook over de vele projecten die Kelly momenteel heeft lopen, waaronder een collaboratie met Colin van Eeckhout en Mathieu Vandekerckhove van Amenra.

Let’s start with the obvious: we’re at Roadburn now. Yesterday you played a show here with Razors In The Night. How did it go?
It was really good. We had a lot of fun actually, going back to the roots, the music we grew up with. We were relearning a lot of old songs, some of them being the songs I was learning back when I was starting to play. Getting to play with those guys was a real honour. It was a one-off thing, so that was it.

The day before, at the same festival, you joined Amenra on stage for one song. Colin was singing with a broken foot, and it was obvious that he was in a lot of pain. How was all of that from your perspective?
Man, I just tried to lock in with him and try to bring as much energy as possible, because I knew he was struggling. You know, he was fighting through it. I knew that he was hurting a lot but I also knew he was not going to stop. He was going to get through it somehow, and he was going to be fine.

This forms kind of a bridge to my next question, which is about a collaboration you did with Colin and Mathieu from Amenra, called Absent In Body. Can you tell me something about how that came to be? It seems a lot of it happened while you were touring in Europe.
We started with some skeletons that Mathieu put together, some beats and stuff. I added some noise and keyboards and sent it back to him. This way we kept building it, making it more. Then, during the Neurosis tour, last summer here, when we were playing at Pukkelpop, that I was able to take a day off and go to the studio with Mathieu to track all my guitars. We added some more layers of keyboards and noise between the two of us. Subsequently, Mathieu cut it all together and made it into the piece it eventually became. We actually plan to do some more stuff together in the future.

How is it to work with Colin and Mathieu. They are definitely perfectionists, with an immense attention to detail. Is working with them different in any ways than working in Neurosis, for example?
I normally don’t really work with that. With Neurosis, we’re not really… well, I guess in some way we are perfectionists, but we don’t dissect things over and over. We work things to a point where we feel they’re kind of right and emotionally strong. Then we leave them alone and let them grow organically. We weren’t really pushing back against each other though, me and Mathieu and Colin. It just worked. It might be different from their side. I’m not sure. Mathieu definitely put a lot more hours to it than I did. He was to one who put on the headphones and spliced everything together and made it flow. Of course he was also the one who came with the origins of all of this.

There is more to come from this project. That’s good news. Do you already have something planned for that?
We still have some stuff that we didn’t use yet, and we’ll definitely build on that. We’ll pretty much be working the same way, although this time I will probably find a studio in the States to work from there. One of our short term goals is to be playing at Roadburn next year. For that we need a full set, and of course we should be able to pull it off, so that’s what we will be working on.

That would be great.
I hope so. I’m not sure yet if it is really going to happen, but it’s something we have talked about.

It seems like you’re here pretty much every year. You definitely were last year, playing two 30-year anniversary sets with Neurosis. For that, you also had to relearn some very old songs. How do you look back on those shows?
I have a really good feeling about it. I’m glad that we did it, but I don’t think we’ll do it again. It was definitely very done by the time we were done with the second set here. I feel like we’re really over with some of those songs, so we can move on now and get to what we really do. I think it was a good think to go back to all those songs for once, because so much time has passed, and so many people had never seen us play that stuff, particularly in Europe. We didn’t come to Europe until ‘Souls At Zero’, so that made it quite different. In the States, where we also played some anniversary shows, it was more for the people of our age who had been there when we were playing it.
Also, it felt good to do something that was different. It was a lot of work to try to go back to those songs and learn them, but it was totally worth it.

You said that it was good to leave some of these songs behind, but I did notice that when you were playing at Pukkelpop last year you did include a couple of songs in the set that you hadn’t been playing in quite a while.
That’s true. We felt that a few of those songs still had a little bit of life in them, so we brought them back into the set.

One thing that really stood out here was you playing a few songs off the first albums. Some of these songs, especially from the first to records, seem to be really far away from what you are doing now.
Yeah, those were funny. It took a lot to remember what the hell they were and how they went. Some of them were more challenging than others. It was definitely strange to go back to that time.

Were there any differences between the two nights? From my perspective, it seemed that you were a bit more comfortable playing the songs off ‘Pain Of Mind’ in particular on the second night.
I don’t know. I would really have to look at the set list, since I don’t remember it. I forget things quickly as soon as I’m done.

Last year at Roadburn I also got the chance to listen to ‘Fires Within Fires’ for the first time. Even though these two events sort of coincided, I came to understand that recording the new album was a completely separate affair from rehearsing the anniversary sets.
We had the whole album done by the time we started working on the old songs.

Nevertheless, the album seems to go back to your roots, at least partially. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the album has a vibe that reminds me of what you were doing ten, fifteen years ago. For sure, the album is very concise.
Yeah, we really had this idea to make an album that was more concise. We felt that we had been relying too much on these expansive song ideas. It seemed that some of them would have made more impact if they were more concise so we made a conscious decision to go into that direction. We really focused on giving the songs more impact. We try to write and record kind of outside of time, so that we don’t really consider the time. In the end, when we got the songs, we tried to be aware of how much we had, in terms of playing time. We wrote the songs, and at felt like a complete record. It turned out that we had 41 minutes, which is a record. I feel that ‘Fires Within Fires’ carries as much weight as any 60-minute album that we put out. I don’t think that the album suffers because it’s 20 minutes shorter. I don’t know what we’ll do next time though.

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If anything, many artists have a tendency of outstaying their welcome a little bit on their albums.
I agree. Let’s be aware that time in general seems to be getting shorter for everybody. In life, there’s simply not that much time to do anything. It’s a lot to ask anyone to take an hour of their lives to listen to an album you made. I think that this aspect probably crept into making ‘Fires Within Fires’ as well.

Overall, the songs sound very dense. I was listening here, in the basement of V39. There was this great sound system, so the music really came to life. I was almost expecting to hear Dave do some vocals again. Was that ever in the cards?
No, he really doesn’t want to do it. He really removed himself from doing those vocals a long time ago. Maybe he’ll change his mind at some point, I don’t know, but for now that’s not going to happen.

He does his vocal parts during the live shows, though. That kind of seems at odd with each other.
I don’t know, really. He’s not uncomfortable with doing those vocals, but he just doesn’t hear it when we’re in the studio. It doesn’t feel that there’s place for it in the music we’ve been writing for the past ten-fifteen years.

You’ve been working with Steve Albini for almost twenty years now. Obviously, he became a key part of your sound. He is it to work with someone like that for so many years?
It’s great. He’s a great guy and he is incredibly talented at what he does. His studio feels like kind of a home to us. We’re so used to it. We always look forward to working with him for a full week. It’s really special. He’s just exceptional in every way: very high-character and smart. He basically records you as you sound. If you sound like shit, he is going to make a record for you that sounds like shit, because he will record exactly what you do. He doesn’t do anything to produce what we do, but he just records it like it is, and helps us mix it. His knowledge about recording and about what microphones to use is very extensive. He knows the rooms and how to use them well, because he built them himself. It’s just a great experience. You feel really safe going in there, because you know you will get out with the record you want.

That sounds like you can pretty much go there, plug in and start recording.
When you go there, you will pretty much start recording in 4 hours. We set up, get some levels, and then we’re recording. It’s very easy, because he does what he’s doing.

How do you decide who sings what parts in the studio?
In the past, Steve (Von Till) and I typically sang whatever we wrote. On the latest record we actually switched that up, so we sang each other’s parts. We also tried to be very conscious of splitting vocals on every song. I really like what that did to the album, how that made the album feel. We haven’t really talked yet about how to do that in the future, but this might be a good way to move forward.

You’ve been touring solo, Neurosis has been on the road a lot, Mirrors For Psychic Warfare has been on tour. All in all, that seems to be quite grueling schedule.
It’s not too bad. I’m still home most of the time. I’ve been in this really prolific time the last 10 years, and I just feel like I have all this stuff to get out. I don’t really know why, but I’m just involved in all kinds of shit and projects and bands. Of course Neurosis is a big part of my life. I cannot really tell you why, but this is simply what’s happening right now. I don’t know if it’s going to last forever, probably not, but that’s how it is now.

At first glance it seems to be at odds with the fact that Neurosis chose not to tour extensively anymore.
That’s true, but that was a group decision. This is an individual decision. I need to do this, right now. It’s not enough for me to do only 30 shows a year, and an album every 2 years with Neurosis. I need to do more, so I am.

That makes sense. Well, speaking of making an album every two years… I am not entirely sure, but I seem to remember that even last year there was already some mention of working on new Neurosis material.
Yeah, we spent some time at the end of last year, working on new stuff, just seeing what we could come up with. It’s still very early on, but we did spend some time doing that, so let’s see. We’ll try to do it again later this year.

Does this mean that there could be a new Neurosis album on a shorter notice than usual, considering your usual album cycle of about 4-5 years?
It could be. It’s hard to say. Right now I couldn’t say at all. I hope so. That’s the idea. We’re trying to get going and put our work into it as much as we can.

Last year you did a bunch of festival shows, including the aforementioned show at Pukkelpop. How does it work to play at a festival with Neurosis? It seems kind of hard to get exactly the kind of sound and conditions that you would want.
We’ve got a really good sound guy, for one thing. He is pretty great at getting a good sound wherever we go. But yeah, festivals are different. You don’t really get a sound check and it’s just a different mindset. You basically play them in order to grow your audience by playing to more people, who haven’t heard you before. At this stage of our career it’s so important, because we’ve been around for so long and a lot of the people who were listening to us originally have stopped for any number of reasons.

And what about this festival? There’s definitely a variety in age groups. On the other hand, you hear a lot about change, especially from people who have been coming here for years. Since you’ve been here for many years, how do you see this?
At Roadburn there’s certainly a great mix of people. About the change… I don’t really pick up on that. It’s still the best festival that I’ve ever been to. It’s that simple.

I would also like to ask you something about the recent European tour you did with Mirrors For Psychic Warfare. What can you tell me about that?
We did 22 shows or something throughout Europe. Some shows were really good, others weren’t. It’s a really new band, so not a lot of people know it. Me and Sanford, we have this really good connection both personally and creatively. We work together really easily, whether it’s Mirrors For Psychic Warfare or Corrections House. We really complement each other. Of course we started this thing partly because Corrections House was down for a while, when Mike (IX Williams; Corrections House and Eyehategod vocalist, who recently underwent a liver transplant) was sick. We just wanted to keep working on different stuff and we had different ideas for how to do this band. We wanted to explore those ideas. I’m really happy we did and I’m looking forward to working on another record, which will happen soon.

Will you also be continuing with Corrections House at some point?
Yeah, hopefully next February we’ll be here.

I hope that Mike is back on his feet by then.
Yes, he’s doing great.

Final question: I’ve been quite curious for a while about Shrinebuilder. Is something ever going to happen again with that band?
No, it’s done.

That’s about as clear as it gets. Thank you!

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