Just one day before Steve Von Till performed with the glorious Neurosis at the Roadburn Festival 2007, I was lucky enough to meet the man backstage for an interview for my Radio show called Nightseminar. What you are about to read is a transcript of this interview.
R.: 21 years have passed since you started Neurosis. What is the most rewarding thing you remember?
Steve Von Till: I don’t think it’s a specific thing. I think what’s most rewarding about it is that we’ve had the good fortune to meet each other and to share our entire adult lives with each other. We’ve been together since we were all teenagers and we were lucky enough to tap into this spirit and this music that drives what Neurosis is and it’s meant everything in our lives and completely dominated our lives. To be able to find something that original and that emotionally intense that keeps our brotherhood together, to find people that really put music first and soul first – that’s the reward. And that’s infinite that we’ll keep giving and giving as long as we surrender to it.
R.: In the beginning your sound was more Punk influenced and now it’s calmer, more introspective. How did the sound of Neurosis change over the years in your opinion?
S.V.T.: You’ve heard the new record, right? [Given To The Rising]
S.V.T.: It never feels calm. [laughs] Even like the last record, The Eye Of Every Storm which people think it’s calm – it doesn’t feel calm when it’s coming up to your body. Like you said if it’s not aggressive it’s introspective and it’s… but it’s also very glorious. I don’t know why… You know the only reason why it would have changed from the time until now is one that we’re committed, completely evolving. We never want to stagnate. We never want to do the same thing twice. Never. When we started our vision was way ahead of our abilities. We didn’t even know how to play our instruments really. We did what we could with what we had. You can hear seeds even in the early records. You hear seeds of what’s to come, you know. At one point we kinda stumbled across like whoa… I don’t know how it happened, it’s all kinda unexplainable but our sound kinda crystallized and then from there we’ve really been expanding it. Every time we push our own boundaries, push our own limits, attack our own weaknesses. We never want to the easy thing. It just keeps changing, pushing and evolving. It’s important for us that it stays vital and inspiring. The only reason we do this is for ourselves. This is our love and our passion. It’s not our job. It’s not what we make our money from. It’s what we do because we have to. We feel driven to do this. So it has to remain vital. It has to remain… a fire. Otherwise there’s no reason to do it.
R.: Do you think the search for new boundaries in the music of Neurosis is possible because you all have other bands where you explore a different, calmer sound?
S.V.T.: I think Neurosis would do what it does whether we did these other projects or not. The other projects are necessary because when you truly find that creative spirit, that thing that drives original music and art it makes you restless. There’s not enough time to get it all out and to get it all done. Our time with Neurosis is limited and special and Neurosis is a very focused project. As much as we’re willing to push boundaries – it’s a Rock band. Its loud guitars, drums, bass and the core will always be a Rock band. Tribes Of Neurot has allowed us to kind of throw away the whole idea of structure. That’s more improvising but not even necessarily with music – with just sound. Scott and I have been exploring songwriting with solo projects and other things. The spirit that ties them all together is the idea of emotion and sound. I am sure they all reflect on each other. I know Scott and I doing solo projects allowed us to confront our fears about singing and become more comfortable with our voices and doing different things. That’s reflected in Neurosis at times.
R.: With Neurosis you touched lyrical themes such as personal purification and self-transformation but never any political themes. Are you affected in any way by the political climate in the world?
S.V.T.: I don’t think it really affects Neurosis because we look at the world and history in cycles. Of course politics affect our lives. I mean, we live in the world, right? The games politicians play with people runs down the line. We’re working people and so it affects us. We’re raising families and that affects us but we don’t get involved with politics. We try to get involved in the emotions behind all that. What is the core human emotion? A common question lately has been “You make this music because of the political climate in America?” How is it any different than it has ever been? Cause there’s a war? When’s there not been a war? We grew up in the seventies and we were all born in the Vietnam era. Our grandparents were in World War II and Korea. It’s always been crazy. Humanity is a crazy thing. So, when you look at the cycles of Humanity… For us it is about looking at the way it all spirals out from the center and the emotional core behind it and what it’s like to be a thinking, feeling person amidst the human experience and all the dark and all the light throughout time. And relating that to our own personal journeys through life without ever giving it away. We try to transcend all that stuff. When you get to the realm of spirit politics has no place in it.
R.: In terms of the relation between the music and the musician – this may sound a bit strange – are you just a vessel for the music?
S.V.T.: It feels that way sometimes. We don’t take a lot of ownership personally for creating it. Ideas might originate from individuals at times – and I’m sure all artists or writers or painters or musicians – probably all feel this way. When you really find it, it feels like it comes from someplace else, it just comes. It is the magic of us being together that makes that happen and sometimes it’s unexplainable, you don’t know where it comes from. It comes from… the great well. It takes all of us to create that well. At many times it does seem that we’re just kind of a… and each time it seems like we get closer and closer. In the beginning it felt like it was definitely coming from… we were trying to get it to come from the heart and the gut. We knew that was what had to happen but there was a pollution of the mind interfering. Every time we get closer and closer to having it just come pure. I don’t know if we’ll ever get it 100% but that’s the search, the journey. What’s the pure emotion? With no interference.
R.: I was asking this question because some musicians claim that the sound comes from them and that they are in no way a vessel.
S.V.T.: That’s too bad. [laughs] Because that’s when it’s best. When you’re completely lost in it. That’s when it’s best. It doesn’t always happen but that’s when it’s glorious. That’s when… you are just sound.
R.: A lot of bands were influenced by Neurosis or even tried to copy your sound. Which of these bands attracted your attention?
S.V.T.: As far as inspiring other bands I always just hope that the fact that anybody thinks that our music is important enough to reference or if our music was important enough in anybody’s life to make them want to pick up a guitar or start up a band then that’s awesome. Because we had those bands for us that inspired us to make us wanna do what we do. So if anyone feels that our music is important enough to reference us as an influence that’s a great honor. We definitely hope that the way in which we inspire people is to find their own road, to find their own sound and create their own true… to follow their true passion. To get out of their head and get into their heart. And get into the gut and soul of the music. To not have it pretty conceived because that’s not where our music comes from. Some people like that – the cerebral music and that’s fine. That has its own place too. But that’s not what our legacy should be. Our legacy should be that it was honest and full of spirit. And that’s what I think we took from our influences. We didn’t copy anybody’s sound. We struggled to find our own.
R.: Can you live of your music right now?
S.V.T.: We never have. We all work fulltime jobs.
R.: What jobs do you have?
S.V.T.: Well, everybody has their own. I teach elementary school.
R.: You don’t have such a huge commercial success but you are very well critically acclaimed and you lead a label. But it doesn’t pay that much, does it?
S.V.T.: Music ‘s an expensive hobby. [laughs] The only times we were able to survive off it – and not that that was ever a goal – is when we were touring full time and you had to be gone every single day of your life. And that’s not a worthwhile life. We like to be productive people and you can only be productive for one and a half hours a day and the rest of the day you are in a room worse than this just sitting, not being able to raise your children, write music or anything. It’s all not worth it. We’re well over the thousand show threshold and that’s when enough is enough. Let’s go home and just play the shows we wanna play, when we wanna play, when it makes sense with our life so we have balance to do this because this has to have balance, this has to be important. It can’t be something that can be compromised by ever chasing a Dollar. Anybody thinking they can make a living off of independent music I think is fooling themselves anyway. Some people can if they keep it small and stripped down and they really struggle and they’re willing to go out there and do it but very few people can – it should never be expected. It’s ridiculous to think.
R.: Is Neurot like an extension of your family?
S.V.T.: We are a family.
R.: What are you listening to at the moment?
S.V.T.: I just got a box in the mail before I left home. The new record from a band called Ghost from Japan. It’s kinda psychedelic music. Alasdair Roberts is a Scottish songwriter that writes music that seems like it comes from another time. This band that we are going to be releasing on Neurot called US Christmas – very unknown underground band from the east coast, U.S. that just play really dark, dirgy, very spaced out Rock music. Really cool stuff. I’m listening to that a lot. I recently revisited my Motörhead box set which I have to do every once in a while just to check in with it and I’ve been listening to a lot of Skullflower.