INTERVIEWS: NEUROSIS

Credit: Daniel Ahrendt

Credit: Daniel Ahrendt

“We have learned over these 30 years that our brains are extremely inferior to our gut. When we learn to let go and get out of our heads and get into the soul of the matter, that’s when the magic happens.” — Steve Von Till, Neurosis

Disgust, love, hate, lust, pain, joy—Neurosis is a band that actually make you feel. Tearing these raw emotions from their very core, their ability to ‘connect’ with the diverse psychosomatic traits that every human carries is intrinsic. It’s tuning into the type of energy you feel directly in your gut, not your brain, guitarist and vocalist Steve Von Till muses. It’s recognising that natural instinct that guides us all in a world full of chaos. 

These U.S-based ‘post’ pioneers are no strangers to chaos. Over the past 30 years, they’ve experienced it all—from drug addiction, music industry distrust and youthful turbulence to marriage, kids and equally fulfilling non-musical careers. What has stayed true through it all is the intense creative chemistry the men of Neurosis share. It is this ‘connection’ that saw the five-piece transform from a rudimentary skate-punk band with post-hardcore leanings in the mid-80s to the revered primal creature they are today.

And the exciting news? Von Till believes their best work is still to come, based off the experience the band had when writing their latest effort, Fires Within Fires. “This record felt like it was a gift,” he explains. “A little background here, we get together to play about 25 shows a year, but we don’t really have a lot of time to hang out and make new music. We live really far apart from each other. So we took a rare weekend to see if we could write some new music, really seeing if we could just start the process. What ended up happening was, by the end of that weekend, we had the entire skeleton of this album.

“We had nothing prepared in advance. It really felt like a gift. Like the universe just opened up and said ‘Happy 30th anniversary and here’s your best record yet’. I think it just came from a place of experience. There’s enough chaos in the universe to keep everything unstable. Experience and trust – trusting the process and that we didn’t have to overthink it. That we could just trust that it would work and have faith in that thing that is bigger than us and just let it happen. Getting out of our own way is how I put it sometimes.

“So we just ran with it; we didn’t work on it again until November—but we knew right away that it was basically it until we booked the studio time in December. It was the most naturally created record we’ve ever made. I hope we can repeat the process, because it was really magical.”

 
 

Recording with longstanding producer—and old friend—Steve Albini, Von Till notes the band enjoy laying down albums with little fuss, keeping the whole process as close to their live sound as possible. “I think he’s (Albini) a great engineer because there’s absolutely zero bullshit,” he says. “With time being our most precious resource, when we were younger we thought mistakenly that – and I see a lot of other bands suffering still with this kind of concept – somehow recording an album has to be this long, beleaguered and difficult experience. 

“What we discovered with Steve is, actually, we can just go set up our equipment—just like we do in the rehearsal space—play all the songs live and, if the engineer knows what he’s doing and knows not to fuck it up, then it’s going to be a really good sounding record. That’s the way Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and all those bands in the 70s recorded. The rock band sets up and they play their shit, in front of some engineers that know how to record. 

“We’re able to get our exact natural sound coming right out of our speakers right away. There’s no fixing stuff later or using tricks and no ‘one-at-at-time’ performances. It’s ‘…hey, was that a good take? Is everyone happy with that? Then cool, let’s move on’. We let the music speak for itself. It’s the same guys with most of the same instruments, just evolving and learning to get better tones out of our gear. We like warm, natural sounding recordings. It’s all analogue, but it’s been that way all along for us.”

Von Till's thoughts on the song, Broken Ground: "The guitar figure in that one is very different for us, right from the way it starts—it’s very clean with the soft vocal. Really steps up the juxtaposition for when it gets heavy. Bringing some of what I’ve learnt in my solo work and having confidence in my voice to sing it out a bit in the intro of the song. It’s also interesting in the way it weaves together; the way Scott (Kelly) and I’s guitars work – I really enjoy that. You travel through a lot of really interesting shit before, at the end, almost going back to where it started—in a more broken sense. It’s a heartbreaking ending, in a way. A lot of emotional movement for me."
 
 

This ‘”zero bullshit” approach is also followed through with how Neurosis approach the recording process. Everything is tightly pinned down, writing-wise, before they hit the studio. But Von Till says the band is always open to change in this crucial time, if they see a need. “For us it’s pretty rare to try something different to what we’ve planned,” he says. “For the most part, we have our homework done and we go in with the songs ready.

“There might be small ideas. Like when we put down the vocals on this record, we heard some vocal harmonies we wanted to try and we didn’t have that planned. In the last song, Reach, there was some vocal harmonies I just heard when we were sitting there and I said ‘...let me try this, I think it might work’. And it did.”

This predominantly uncompromising stance has served them well for the past three decades. And they'll take that to their graves, according to Von Till. “I think [being uncompromising] has been the only way we really know how to do things,” he says. “I think our whole reasons for doing this music in the first place is so self-centered and personal. Being able to make this music is really our way of staying sane and doing something positive and trying to evolve into something better—both as human beings and as musicians. 

“Just being able to do what we do and survive it is a big thing. There were definitely some times, when we were younger, we flirted more with the industry a bit to check it out and see what was out there. It really just seemed like a whole lot of bullshit. Art and commerce are strange bedfellows at the best of times. But when the music has the emotional importance to us and when you think that, in the end, all you have is your legacy and your reputation and your art you leave behind – it’s best not to ever taint it with poor business decisions or doing something you don’t want to do. Life’s too short.”

“I’m pretty sure we’ll die trying to find the perfect, most evolved versions of ourselves. To know 30 years in that we still have our most vital music coming out now, and still yet to come, is a very fortunate place for us to be.”

Hear Fires Within Fires for the first time on Australian, and New Zealand, soil when they tour this February.

Catch them at any of these dates:

Wellington – San Fran – February 14
Auckland - Kings Arms - February 15
Brisbane – The Triffid – February 16
Sydney – Manning Bar – February 17
Melbourne – The Croxton – February 18

Tickets from lifeisnoise.com, the venues and undertheradar.co.nz for NZ shows.