Neurosis’ Scott Kelly on Being a Father, Working a Day Job and Baseball
Neurosis has cast a very long shadow in the five years since their last proper album, 2007’s Given to the Rising. While the world has borne witness to a mere smattering of their ritualistic live performances, the individuals that comprise the collective have remained busy. Co-frontmen Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly have released solo works that pare down their trademark apocalyptic, metalgazing din to simple songsmanship. Kelly has also joined with the assemblage of personalities (Wino of Saint Vitus/The Obsessed fame, The Melvins‘ Dale Crover just to name two) in a band known as Shrinebuilder. Neurosis have also maintained and grown their own Crass-like label, Neurot Recordings; who not merely issue Neurosis-related recordings, but have also released albums from the likes of Ides of Gemini, UFOmammut and Amenra. It’s a heavy job but somebody’s got to do it.
This week, Neurosis (whose lineup is rounded out by bassist Dave Edwardson, drummer Jason Roeder, pianist and sampler Noah Landis and visual artist Josh Graham) has returned to record stores with, Honor Found In Decay, their tenth album. It’s a staggering hour of Neurosis’ stormy sonic intents that encompasses the fury of their earlier works and the sublime nature of the beast the band has become.
Noisecreep joined up with Scott Kelly on the dawn of the album’s release to discuss his band, his life…and baseball.
Honor Found In Decay sounds sonically pretty immense. Ironically, most people don’t realize that your records are made very simply and very quickly.
We recorded and mixed this one in seven days. Given to the Rising we did in six – we wanted to take our time with this one! [laughs] With the exception of vocals it’s recorded totally live. It’s the way we’ve always done things. In 1986, when we went to record Pain of Mind, there was no budget. Basically, Victor Hayden who ran Alchemy (Records) would say, ‘OK, we’ve got this day booked for you and the next day booked for the Melvins.’ We recorded in a day and mixed the next morning. There go – you have your album!
You’ve been recording with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago since you made Times of Grace in 1999. Why do you keep working with him?
In our opinion, he’s the best at what he does. Secondly, we’ve established this relationship with him that’s efficient and comfortable. The way he set up his place works for us. The way he’s built his studio and the apartments for the bands all into this one warehouse is really convenient. You go there, you get your groceries and you hole up and do the work. Everything that happens from there takes place within that building. We get along really well (with Steve) as people. We like the process that he uses – the 2″ tape. We go in there completely ready, we do everything live and we don’t want to spend any extra time fucking around. Time is our most precious commodity as a band. You go into his studio; you’re tracking within four hours. It’s no joke. He sets up the mics and it’s go time.
Listen to Honor Found in Decay
What is it about Albini that works so well with you guys?
At one point, I had been asked that question and I said that it was the perfect mixture between science and religion. He’s very much a scientist in the way that he does stuff. He doesn’t get too emotionally attached to anything that’s going on. He does what’s in front of him and he does what’s mean to be done. He doesn’t care who you are. He treats everyone the same. It just works well with us. We come in; we have our shit ready to go. We don’t want any guidance. We don’t want to worry about a mistake or spend hours getting a drum sound. We want to be able to go in there and be able to realize our vision. He just creates this environment that totally works for us in that way.
Neurosis has taken five years between records yet the band is bigger than ever. You also don’t tour that much. The usual cycle of a band recording and then heading out on tour clearly doesn’t seem to apply with you guys.
First of all, whose idea was that? Certainly, not ours. We don’t really adhere to any sort of time constraints in anyway. Traditional time references are just out of the window with us. Putting a time limit on something artistic is naturally going to limit what you can do. It’s going to squash some part of it. But there’s even in the more practical, day to day reason we chose to not take that path. For the majority of the ’90s we were on the road and we got a taste of what that was. We strangely got ourselves on some of these bigger tours: Ozzfest, Pantera. We got a taste of that world. There’s nothing bad to say about that experience but we quickly realized that it wasn’t where we fit in nor could we do our best music in that sort of environment. We realized at a certain point that we were way out of balance. Touring the U.S. three times a year and Europe twice was no way to live. It kills your music.
Neurosis and the Neurot label almost seem like a punk collective in the spirit of Fugazi, Discord as well as Crass. Do you agree?
That’s great. Those are two pillars of influence for us in the way that those guys did their business and handled their music. We’re markedly less political than both of those in a way but its also pretty obvious where we stand and what we will and will not tolerate.
In the inception of this band, which was the winter of 1985, we knew what we wanted to do. We knew that we wanted to take the music. We knew we wanted to bring in extra instrumentation and keyboards. We knew that we wanted to do a visual show. We knew that we wanted to do it as independent as possible. We just had no idea how to do it. I was 18 at the time and I was the oldest member of the band. We weren’t very proficient at our instruments. We realized that we had to truly dedicate ourselves to this project and we had to do it until nature stops us. So here we are. That’s the long and the short of it.
Do you consider Neurosis “entertainment”?
I’m sure it is on some level. Everyone has his or her own tastes. For me it’s not. I’m not entertained by it at all. It’s much more of a life and death struggle for me. It’s much more serious for me than to call it entertainment. This is a much more of a soul-taxing, cathartic experience.
Do you agree that Neurosis is not a “fun” band.
Do you ever laugh onstage?
I don’t think I ever have. I’m out of my mind onstage. I’ve really got to think back about this one. Maybe in the early days. I’m sure that it did say before 1990. I can think of one time, which was this goofy dormitory show in show in South Dakota. There was definitely a transition that happened. As we started developing and the sound developed and got deeper. The performances got deeper; it became way less of a rock band and more of a tranced out ritual onstage for me. I’m just totally out of it when I’m up there and I’ve been sober for years now. For the past 20 years, the shows have been super intense. Like you said – not fun. It’s pretty internally and externally violent. Yet, it’s not without light – and definitely some life and light shines through.
What non-musical influences contributed to Honor Found in Decay?
I’ve had a lot of family stuff that’s come into play. I got re-married. I had my fourth child. It’s been a really positive experience for me. I’ve come to new understanding of love and family. I also lost my father not long before we recorded. That was a very transformative experience. He and I had a very strained relationship and were able to figure thins out over the past couple years. I lost my sister as well. Life and death, man. I’m in it. I’m way in it. Four children. Countless good friends and family members that have passed. I understand that cycle. I’m in a constant flux with that cycle. There’s always someone coming and someone going. It becomes more and more a part of my artistic expression. Birth and death are as true as it gets. All the stuff in between really counts for a lot but those beginnings and ends are complete.
In the past, Neurosis has made references to writers like Jack London, Phillip K. Dick and Cormac McCarthy. Were there any literary influences that went into the lyrics or vibe of this record?
Not for me. Steve (Von Til) may have a different answer. That said, Cormac McCarthy is still the greatest modern writer in my world. It feels like the rest of the world has found him now so it doesn’t feel quite as exciting. The Road came out 3 or 4 years ago around Christmas. I read it in a day or so. I decided I didn’t want to see the movie. I don’t think I could handle it as a father; I didn’t need to walk down that road visually. On the other hand, just to quiet my mind, I spend a lot of time reading a lot of baseball books. I have to quiet my brain. It causes me trouble all the time and I’ve had to find things to pacify that. Baseball is one of those things that really seems to work with me. I really love that game.
Watch Cormac McCarthy Discuss The Road
What brought that on this love for sports – particularly baseball?
The way you’re talking about baseball sounds like you’re talking about music.
I see correlations. I think that fighting lends itself to that a lot. There’s a lot of the physicality, there’s a lot of the sacrifice. I can also easily draw comparisons to the improvisational nature of boxing or Mixed Martial Arts to music.
Most People don’t realize you guys all have day jobs. Who does what?
I’m the sound guy at a repertory theater that focuses mainly on Shakespearian plays. Steve’s a 3rd Grade teacher. Noah works at a museum dealing mostly with sound-design. He also does some work with a guy named Mike Moraski who you may know from Steel Pole Bath Tub. Mike does a lot of video game soundtracks. Noah’s his right hand man in the recording process. Jason’s in between jobs. Dave supervises the shipping-receiving department of a warehouse.
We’ve always worked day jobs. I feel way more creative when I’m working a day job. It’s more natural for me. I get to be home more. I’m more balanced. I’m definitely the kind of person that when I’m out of balance I self-destruct fast. I need to have the balance of my children and my wife. My oldest kid was born in 1987, which was the year the first album came out. This has been my reality.
What is the meaning of the title: Honor Found in Decay?
It’s a reflection of the times. Everything is in this constant state of decay on one level or another. Things have gone further. They’ve just gotten worse. Everything has been pushed to the point that to stand up in the face of enormous deception, distraction and lies and make an honorable decision isn’t easy – especially when everything around you is giving you the easier, weaker way out.
Finally, December 21 is coming up fast. Do you have predictions for the Christmas Apocalypse?
Eh, I don’t know. I just realized that I’m going to be in Europe then on a solo tour. I’m a little pissed off so I’m voting against it happening! I won’t be home. That kind of negates all the preparations I’ve been doing for the past 15 years. Luckily, I’m pretty sure my wife can hold the house down until I get back. She’s pretty talented in the ways of survival. [laughs]