CVLT Nation Interviews
SCOTT KELLY of NEUROSIS
Did growing up in the city of Oakland influence they way you compose music? How?
Yeah, I think it did. I didn’t really grow up in Oakland. I grew up in a whole bunch of different places. I was born in Chicago, and I lived in Philly, Dallas, San Diego, a little bit of time in Detroit where my dad’s from, and I ended up in Oakland when I was about 15. It’s really the place where I became a man, and a place where I really kind of settled in for the first time in my life and grew some roots. I think the environment, the way that city was, particularly in the 80s and 90s, definitely had an effect on me – the lack of connection to nature, the general dehumanized concrete experience. I had pretty much grown up in the suburbs for most of my life, and Oakland is far from that. Oakland is a pretty heavy city. Having now traveled around the world and seen a bunch of cities, I can definitely say that Oakland is a heavy place. It’s got a lot of shit going on in the street, it’s not an up-and-coming place and it never really has been; but on the other hand, it’s also been the home of a lot of really creative musicians and artists and writers, as well as a lot of extremists of one form or another. The Black Panthers were formed there, the Hell’s Angels – I mean, these are all big parts of what Oakland is. A place like that has a huge influence on you.
Has living in Oregon made an impact on you?
Yeah, absolutely. When my two oldest kids started to get older and were about to enter the public school system, I realized I owed them something better than that, and that I had the option, unlike a lot of people, to get out of there, so I chose to take my kids up to Oregon. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but it was a family decision for the kids to get them into an environment where they could thrive instead of just trying to survive all the time. Life is all about decisions and sacrifices, and no better way to learn that than through having children. And then it just kind of grew on me with time – nature, and all of the elements that are available to you out here – and I love it here now. I’ve lived here for longer than anywhere in my life, and it’s become my home. It’s a weird little valley in southern Oregon where not much happens, and it’s definitely my home.
What was your favorite place to see shows in the 80’s and why?
Ruthie’s Inn was the spot in the East Bay. There’s always been a lot of cool warehouse gigs and alternative spaces in the Bay Area over the years. But Ruthie’s Inn was the spot – you could count on a show or two a week.
Did you dig the way Ruthie’s Inn’s shows had crossover bands, and they were known to book metal bands with the punk bands…were you into that?
Yeah, I was into that…I mean, I didn’t really think too much about it at the time, it was just what was happening – I didn’t spend a whole lot of thought on it. Me, Dave and Jason were playing in a band – it was kind of a crossover-sounding band – and we fucked around with that for a year before we started Neurosis. It actually was kind of the inspiration for us to do what we did [with Neurosis] – we decided that there was so much of that going on, if there’s something we don’t want to do it’s that. It was being done, and being done well; all the best bands that were doing it were there or at least coming through there. I mean you had Metallica and Exodus, with Slayer stopping by every two months, not to mention DRI, Possessed, they were all right there. So it was pretty obvious that we wanted to go another direction.
OK, different direction…Who was your favorite QB for the Raiders?
I just like the way that he played the game. He was a gambler, so sometimes he ended up paying for it, but he was a born leader, the kind of dude that you would run through a wall for him. And he won their first Superbowl. But I really dig Plunkett, I really dig Lamonica, I really dig Gannon, and I really dig Hostetler, all for different reasons. But Stabler I actually met, in New Orleans. We were on tour with Gwar, in ’94 or something. It was the last show of the tour, and the Raiders were on Monday night football. They were playing the Chargers, and it was a horrible game, it was like 9 to 6, all field goals – Raiders lost I think. Stabler lives down there, and he was on the local pre-game show, so we saw him on TV. And then we went to the Hard Rock Café after the gig, and started a long end-of-tour night in New Orleans. He was at the bar, and we ended up hanging out for like two hours. We went up to him and he was totally cool, told us a bunch of stories about old Raiders, even burned one with us. And all the Gwar guys, and the other band Brutal Juice from Dallas – there were Cowboys fans, Redskins fans and Raiders fans on that tour – they were all just shocked. And I was liked yeah, you’re never going to meet Joe Theismann man, I’ll just tell you that!
During the 80s, did the Bay Area peace punk scene have an effect on the way you see the world?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I was around it a lot. I lived in a place where that was happening and had been happening for a while. Neurosis started in a warehouse full of bands that were doing that, and we were putting on all these shows in the warehouse.
What was the name of the warehouse?
New Method Warehouse in Emeryville. But even before that, as soon as I discovered CRASS and everything they were putting out on their label, it made a huge difference in me and I learned a lot.
Where were you before you moved to the Bay Area?
I was in San Diego.
So you were listening to the SD and LA peace punk scene?
There wasn’t a lot of that in San Diego that I knew about. This is all early 80s, so everything was kind of free-forming. I mean, I was listening to CRASS and the Foreskins at the same time, it wasn’t all divided yet. But that was where you got your knowledge from, bands like CRASS and MDC, bands that really give you a history lesson and put it to intense, dark hardcore punk – that was the stuff that I was really drawn to.
Yeah, being a kid in 80, 81, that’s where I got a lot of my politics from. Did you see Battalions of Saints in San Diego?
Yeah man. So many times. They were a big influence on me.
I don’t know if they’ve ever gotten their just due.
I don’t think so.
Do you feel that certain older country artists have a connection to the spirit of punk?
I guess so. That’s one way to put it for sure. You can definitely hear it in Hank Williams, or Townes Van Zandt, or Johnny Cash, or Waylon & Willie, or Merle Haggard; they all have it. They’re tough-minded, they’re independent, they’ve got balls, they’re not afraid to do what they want to do – that’s the feeling you get from their music. They write songs that you understand, with a kind of immediacy to them. Granted, a lot of it was in more of a mainstream context, not so much of an underground movement as punk.
It’s interesting, if you look at a lot of punk bands from the 80s, they kind of evolved into more of an Americana-sound, like Tex and the Horseheads, even Los Lobos, because they used to perform with punks, Rank and File, because he used to be in the Dills…
Yeah man, you’re totally right. Even more of the bigger bands, like X or Social Distortion, they were carrying around huge amounts of country music in their sound.
Could you explain the title of the new album, Honor Found in Decay?
It’s pretty literal. It’s a reflection of the times we’re in right now. Acknowledging the fact that all things are in a perpetual state of decay, and the world in particular right now just seems to fall more each day. You’re just trying to find that place to stand, to do the right thing, to be a good person.
Do you feel Neurosis has gone through some temporary of states of decay through the years? And if so, how have you emerged from it?
Oh yeah, for sure it has. We’ve been through so much – it’s almost been 27 years now. But Neurosis has always been a ride, it’s always been vibrant and it’s always been happening. There’ve been plenty of times where it was in peril, but it wasn’t because the sound wasn’t alive within us.
It’s been five years since Given to the Rising and it’s the longest time there’s been since a Neurosis album. How do you feel Neurosis as an entity, and its components individually, have changed in that time?
Well, it’s hard to say as an entity. When we get out there and start playing these songs, and get back in the groove a little bit, maybe then I could say how. Personally, we’ve had a lot of change going on, and that led to us not being able to get it done as fast as it would have otherwise. Then again, it’s hard to say, because we don’t really concern ourselves too much with time frames and deadlines and shit like that – when it’s happening it’s happening, and when it’s not it’s not. That’s just kind of the way it is. If we’d done it another way, it could have been done in 3 ½ years instead of 5 ½ or however long it’s been. But we spend a lot of time on this shit. It’s really rare that we just throw something together and it works. You kind of get it to a certain level, and then you sit with it and meditate for a while, and then you take it to another level and sit with it. I do think that we share this unspoken understanding between us that really shows itself when we‘re being creative, and I think that we’ve all become better at what we do.
Can you describe the feeling you get when you are performing live with Neurosis and look across the stage and see your homies standing next to you?
It’s hard to describe. The whole thing is sort of a half-blackout kind of deal. It’s a very, very comfortable place; seeing those guys, I know right where they’re going to be. There’s no hesitation, just total confidence.
The visual presentation of Neurosis has always been a focus of the band. With this new album, what were you trying to convey with the artwork?
We had this idea to create this scene of the last known survivor, somebody isolated. What their space would look like, what they would have there, the central theme of the actual album cover being the altar, or the representation of their spirit. And then the other things just being things that a guy would have in his room if he holed up and prepared for whatever the final approach would be.
The Forgiven Ghost in Me is a little more layered than your previous solo albums, with some other musicians. Why did you decide to let others in to collaborate on your solo work?
You know, I just wanted to see what it would be like. I happened to really enjoy working with Noah (Landis) and Greg (Dale) a lot, they’re good dudes, and we all work together really well. We’ve obviously worked together on lots of Neurosis stuff in the past, and it just kind of worked out organically. They were going to engineer it for me, and then I was like let’s see what it sounds like if you guys were to throw a little extra on there. I’m trying to do it live as much as possible, it’s hard to do it financially, but I just did a series of dates on the west coast with those guys, and I hope in the future to bring them out with me on my solo stuff more often, because it was actually really cool.
Thematically, what does The Forgiven Ghost in Me look at and what’s different from the previous two albums?
There’s a little more variety to it; I’m definitely growing as a person, I don’t feel as stagnant as I was for a long time. I think a lot of it has to do with my wife. Honestly, I think she’s brought me to a new place, and I showed that on this record. I don’t really sit down and decide I’m going to write a song about something and then write it, I just kind of write songs that write themselves. I’m not a “pick the subject matter and write the song” kind of writer, I’m a “pick up the guitar and start playing and figure out some words” kind of writer. These songs just came out of me, and there’s a lot more breadth of emotion on this record, it’s not so one-dimensional. It’s got a lot more to it – that’s my feeling on it any way.
When I look at the bands that are signed to Neurot, the thing that seems to link all of them is their high levels of creativity. What draws you guys to signing a band?
It’s just that – we’re looking for bands that are highly creative and self-motivated, bands that are getting out on their own and doing their own shit. We don’t have a big budget to put behind them to promote them, we’re not going to have their faces all over the place, we don’t have any of that. All we’ve really got is what we have done, that’s all we can share. We have our legacy, and some promotion, we can get some ads in magazines and shit, but not much. It’s a place to be creative, be free, and know that we’ll back them up 100%, but we’ve got to get bands that will get on the road, bands that are artistically excited to do what they do. Sometimes they come to us, and other times we find them, but either way, you just know it when you see it or hear it.
As this year ends and 2013 approaches, what can we expect in regards to Neurosis live dates in the future?
There’s definitely some coming up. November 17th in Oakland at The Fox Theater with Yob and Voivod, that’s the record release show and the one we’re focused on. We’re going to go over to the UK, and we’re going to do ATP curated by Shellac, and then we’re going to do a show with Godflesh on the 2nd of December at the Forum.
The Forum in London, right?
Yeah, in London. Not the Forum LA, I don’t think we’ll ever perform there. Or Rome. Then after that, we’ll see – we’re trying to work out some Europe dates, there’ll be some more dates.
Do you ever think about how you’ve created a worldwide tribe with your music and your label, and had such a huge impact on so many people’s lives?
We visualized a lot of this early, as far as the sound and visual aspects of the band, we had all that stuff in our heads from the beginning – we didn’t know how we were going to get there, but we knew that we were going to. But as far as the audience goes, no, we didn’t know that was going to happen. We had no idea.
You have created a huge legacy, and your creativity is ongoing! Thanks for the interview!