Throughout Neurosis's career, your music has been defined by a sense of tension and release. On this new record, Honor Found In Decay, it's a great deal less uneasy and dark. It is still dealing with tight coils of energy and the danger of release, but there are brighter patches than before.
Guitarist/singer Stever Von Till: I think we've come up with new ways to integrate the dark and the light, the melody and the beauty with the tension of the negative or the cataclysmic feelings, or any dissonance. I don't necessarily think that the overall feeling is at all brighter, because I know where the inspiration comes from and the original intent. It is equally dark and unpleasant in origin, but we are getting better at integrating the disparate elements of our music. One thing that we've always gotten out of being able to do this music is the sense of overcoming adversity by using this music for catharsis, so it would not really be to our psychological benefit if it was all light. We wouldn't be purging enough. I think it comes from just a deeper understanding of who we are and a better and wiser approach to music.
There's stillness that comes from maturity as well that defines this album. The tension is still there, just coloured differently. Do you mind if I ask what some of the inspirations were or what some of the conceptual framework was?
We're never going to bore people with our personal trials and tribulations. First, it's nobody's business and second, everybody has their own shit and their own way of dealing with the world, and the details that are so important to one individual might be uninteresting to another. I think what we do is we approach our feelings in a way that allows us to purge them, to confront them directly, and rather than dictating a story, forcing a listener into the role of a voyeur or an innocent bystander, if instead we can dance around them in a way that paints a picture of the emotions and the landscapes that represent the original feelings and expression, then at some point I can tell you we don't even know what the songs become about. They have their origins in personal experiences, but they become something bigger, much like the music. It becomes something bigger than us individually or a small group of people; it goes out to encompass our entire struggle through time as a species, as humanity to being cognizant of our place in the universe and all the emotional, spiritual and existential struggles within the whole. As you know, we usually relate using metaphors of nature, which are much more powerful than an individual's life. It's a beautiful way of speaking about it ― an intense way of speaking about it ― and I think it allows the listener a chance to get what we do out of it, which is their own intense emotional response, which would be much more important than ours alone.
I think this is something Neurosis have always done very well, in that you build records that aren't narrative-driven, but contain impressions and emotions that someone else can access, put their experience on and build their story. I think that's a big part of what makes your music so powerful: it doesn't have the restrictiveness of a narrative spine, but there is a core of emotional authenticity that's much more fluid. Does that make sense?
It sure does, to me. In fact, I really liked what you said there, so you can just tack my name on that part too.
Some people have the gift of being able to do the narrative, and I don't want to imply that one is better than the other, but that's just not our gift or our place. The universal allows us the freedom of self-expression without vulnerability, and also give other people a shot at the same thing, the same experience, some sort of relief.
Relief and release are obviously very important on Honor Found In Decay and have always been a big part of Neurosis's music and the sound you have created.
Neurosis have become a bit of a monolith in aggressive music. At this point in your career, you celebrated your 25th anniversary a couple of years ago, you have the opportunity to re-release older albums and treat them very respectfully, you have your own imprint and now whenever a Neurosis album comes out, it is an event. Whenever you perform live, it is an event. And it seems that at this point, your greatest competition is yourselves. Every record you create is you now competing with your back catalogue more than anything else. How do you deal with that and does it make the creative process more challenging?
No, because it becomes more and more natural each time. Our evolution has been such that we were able to focus very early on and refuse to allow any outside influence to shape this, whether expectation, commerce or anyone else's opinion. None of that can come into play, including any sort of cerebral interference on our parts. Any sort of intellectual concept pales in comparison to what happens when we learn to surrender to the flow of this music, which seems to exist in the atmosphere. It is a force of nature and somehow when we get together, we have been given the gift that, when all the conditions are right, we can tap into it, listen to it and obey it. It comes out differently ― sometimes individually or in a group, sometimes through jamming or revelations ― but we are never forcing it. That just never works and is always like a head beating against a wall. While that may generate some great music, it doesn't generate Neurosis music. I think [we've] learned to let it flow through us, flow naturally, be what it is going to be and speak and drive us, instead of the other way around. The only external pressure that we ever have is to make sure that our latest release is our most vital, inspired and furthest evolved, from our perspective.
You are never trying to make the music something that it is not, but you are always striving to make sure that it is the most refined presentation of that genuine composition?
Right, and that we outdo our past constantly, which also means never feeling pressured to revisit it.
That must be something that you encounter constantly, comments or criticism that would direct you to make an album just like a previous one. Which does seem ridiculous, as you're not alchemically or temporally the same, but I am sure you encounter over and over people who wish you would remake their favourite Neurosis album.
You see that a lot and you have to really just blow it off. I think it is a naïve and frustrating position for people to take. Obviously people have a nostalgic and emotional connection to a particular album, and that's fine. We all have that: albums that got us through particular times in our lives or came to us when we were particularly open to it. At the same time, that's why you just can't pay attention to outside voices: if you bother listening to armchair critics or people who are closed-minded in one way or another, people are always going to find some sort of fault. Especially when you get this far along, when you get to be a kind of monolithic in the underground, as you said, or are in any way larger than life in the way that others perceive you, and your musical contribution, which is also hard for us to be objective about because we're just trying to make sense of ourselves through music and everything else is a by-product, you hear people who want to find something, to be the one to want to bring down the monolith or undercut it. I don't know; it's odd to contemplate how others regard our self-expression. It's what you get when you let it go. All we can control is the expression of the music in its purest form and make sure we are happy, satisfied and proud that we have captured the purest form of our expression and that we can take solace in the making of it. It helps us deal with life and since we have the juxtaposition of making this intensely personal music yet feeling some kind of ego desire to share it with other people, we have to let it go. Once you let it go, you have no control over what happens out there.
Therefore, you can't let those outside voices interfere with the creative process because you're just letting it go. Your catharsis is making it and then you release it?
Neurosis are one of those bands that have had an extremely static line-up, a very strong core of aesthetic and members. What makes the core of Neurosis so strong?
I think part of it is early on when we felt that there was something more to what we were doing, that it was bigger than us as individuals, that we were given self-expression. Once we dedicated ourselves to this music and realized it was something special ― not that we haven't had our moments together, touring all over the world in vans, playing in shitholes and all of that, and all those trials and tribulations and periods of loving and hating each other ― we weren't going to walk away. We're not going to leave this because of bullshit personal differences or anything like that. We are brothers in the true functional and dysfunctional family view of it, and I don't think any of us can imagine our lives without this music. It has been our one constant our entire adult lives and we experience a life that most people don't get to and we're extremely grateful and honoured to have been able to do that and continue to do that. I mean, life is complicated, of course, and we all have jobs and families and kids, but we'll always have this, we'll always be able to come together for this self-expression to help us find balance with everything. At the same time, we realize as well that we can't have the band be everything, that too has to be in balance. That's how we've been able to keep it pure and not pollute the water in our creative well by sucking up to any financial desires, whether that was making a living or anything else.
Do you think ultimately the band have been healthier and more creative because you have maintained careers and lives outside of it? You haven't tried to make it your only source of livelihood. Do you think that has kept your sound authentic?
I think, yes, on some level. I think the creativity would be there either way, but we're just keeping the purity. I know we're well respected and considered to be at a certain level for underground music, but it is definitely underground music. And we saw a lot of the bands that had flirted with trying to make more of a go of it, bands with less of a spiritual commitment, and that's not to slag it ― not every band have to have such a high, spiritual, cathartic drive as we do― but it puts us in our own spot. There is a lot of bullshit out there, especially in the mid-level rock world, and it is just disgusting. And that is so far away from what this music does for us. Finding balance in our lives was so necessary because I think this music is intense enough that if we put poison into the well, then it would have ground us up and spit us up the other side.
Because you have an intense spiritual relationship with your music and you are accessing it on such a deep level, you want to protect it?
With the release of Honor Found In Decay, do you have any plans to tour?
Not in the traditional get-in-the-bus sense, but we are playing at the Fox Theatre in Oakland ― this beautiful old theatre ― on November 17, with Voivod and YOB. Then we are playing the ATP Nightmare Before Christmas [November 30 to December 2], and on December 2nd, we're playing in London with Godflesh ― that's pretty awesome. Then we do have plans to get to at least some of the major cities we like to go to ― I'm talking fly-in situations, Saturday nights, trying to hit Chicago, NYC, Atlanta between now and March. We're hoping to hit each region of the states for a show or two, then we'll be in Europe for two weeks next summer, which for us is a long time.