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Without a doubt, West Coast based band Neurosis have been true innovators of not only music, but all forms of artistic expression since their formation in 1985. The band has included impressive visuals in their live set, taken on bizzare sound projects and started their own label. This past year they organized their own festival which was a huge success and have plans to continue the event in years to come. Neurosis live for artistic expression and inject overwhelming amounts of quality and conviction into every project they tackle. The Metal Update had a chat with Steve Von Till (guitars / vocals / percussion) about their evolution and current contributions to the world of music and art.

METAL UPDATE: Neurosis has progressed into much different territory since the band's birth. Can you tell me how this came about?

STEVE VON TILL: The way we view our evolution is that is has always been very natural, not preconceived. It happens very organically without being spoken or overly thought of. We're always in our minds and in our vision much further along than we actually are in our delivery. In the beginning, when we formed we were looking more towards what we started doing in 1992. It's just that we didn't know how to get there. We were teenagers and we were living by our abilities and experience. With each given point, we put together what is our truest, most honest and most intense representation of what we are at any given time. Obviously, as we get older and mature and have more experience under our belt, we are able to express that clearer and get closer to that pure thought and that pure inspiration each time -on the different emotional aspects of our life experience and our philosophical development and our emotional response to things in the world changes - how those things are expressed or how that pure thought is filtered with each expression. I think within the last few years the evolution has been really going in a direction which seems like taking a less is more philosophy - not having to always be the full on bulldozer to express what we want to express. We can actually, with our new confidence and our ability, delve into more psychedelic and more middle of the road dynamics rather than just either full on or quiet. We are able to traverse a broader emotional range with actually toning things down a bit. It's hard to describe, but it does allow us a lot more. By stepping a little bit out of the distortion and distance, we are actually able to deliver something more powerful.


MU: More contrasting and such. How has the reaction been to the new album?

SVT: So far from anyone that matters, everybody seems to think it is our best one yet. I'd have to agree. I think one of the very first press people I talked to said, "Congratulations on your best album ever," when we first talked. That's the way I feel about it. It's nice to have it confirmed. Our greatest fear is to stagnate or become a mockery of ourselves like so many bands do - like an animated cartoon version of what they are supposed to be. It just doesn't interest us. It's not what we are in it for. So if we know that we can be confident that we are always delivering our best yet then we are right on target.

MU: How successful was the Beyond the Pale festival?

SVT: Perfect. It was pulled off without a hitch. Everyone cooperated so well to make this thing happen from the venue to all the artists to the people helping us organize. When it actually happened, we knew that we were doing something artistically cool. Our brains were like, "We love these bands. This is gonna be great. Nobody's done this. This is gonna be cool." But we didn't realize until it was happening that it was an emotionally very heavy and very important event. From the audience, to the people working the venue, to all the bands involved, everybody was caught by surprised and totally blown away. It was emotionally very charged. There were no idiots. There were no problems. No assholes. It was just perfect.

MU: Now did Neurosis put that together or was it Neurot Recordings?

SVT: Not much difference there. It was us. It was primarily all out of my house, where all these ideas came from. Me and the band conceptualized it. I went out and contacted people. My wife and a friend of ours Lori Perkovich, and the wonderful folks at the Great AmericanMusic Hall, took care of all the nitty gritty music details and we worked it out.

MU: Will there be another festival of this kind in the future?

SVT: Absolutely. It's too perfect to try to not do again although we set the bar awfully high. But yeah we are going to do it again next year. We are not sure of the dates yet but we are gonna do it.

MU: What brought about the formation of Neurot Recordings?

SVT: We had always wanted to have our own record label but it was always out of reach. It always seemed like it would take too much money to start something. And the organization that we did not have, being on the road all the time. Within the last few years we realized that it was something that we had to do and we had to make happen and we had the people internally to pull it off. So we went for it really. The catalyst was getting our rights back to some of our older catalogue, which was to build the foundation. So, we started really slowly and got onto the radar like that. Then after our first couple releases, we just decided we were going to branch out and we're gonna start working with people that we really admire, keeping it really pure, keeping it strictly for the sake of music and the art, doing things our way and creating a home for us and everything we'll ever do in the future. Whether we decide to work with different labels on different projects is kinda more on the side. We're building this for us so that we'll always have a home for whatever we're doing and for like-minded artists. So, it just made sense. We never ended up having the resources to start it. What we ended up having after a while was a 15 year reputation of respect where people gave us respect and were willing to help us out. We were able to secure distribution just based on the fact that we had a reputation. We were able to beg, borrow and steal favors here and there from people and we knew writers over the years to be able to get the word out. We're still working on a very grass roots model. We don't have any money. We've got will and determination and many years of experience.


MU: So you could say it's successful so far in your eyes?

SVT: Absolutely.

MU: What are some future releases for the label?

SVT: Things coming up are we just released Scott Kelly's solo record. A Thrones CD. Thrones is Joe Preston. He's a one man band. Final which is Justin Broderick from Godflesh. Tribes of Neurot 'Insect Project' is finally going to see the light of day pretty soon which is many years old now.

MU: What is the difference with the 'Insect Project'? Is it something different?

SVT: The 'Insect Project' was something that we started back way before 'Times of Grace' and 'Grace' came out, which was our experiment in multiple directional listening. It was meant to be played on three different turntables. It was all based on insect sounds, synthesized and manipulating insect sounds, and trying to kinda get to the core essence of the insect consciousness through sound. It has now been turned into a CD project and will be followed by the original vinyl project. It is pretty disturbing sounding actually. Being inside the world of bugs is not very nice.

MU: No. It's a pretty crazy concept.

SVT: So that's probably gonna see the light of day and there's other things in the works.

MU: What brought about the birth of Tribes of Neurot?

SVT: We just realized that we had more ideas than could be expressed with a rock band and that some of them were more along the lines of conceptual art and sound art. We didn't really want to water Neurosis down. We wanted Neurosis to stay a rock band. So the way we found that we would be able to keep them both pure was to start two separate projects. While they're both totally related and dependent on each other and they influence each other constantly, they are their own entities. One will always be more experimental and free flowing and unstructured and one will always be basically a rock band. As much as we aren't your typical rock band, its rock instrumentation and that's the way we like it.

MU: Who is involved with the project? Are there any outsiders?

SVT: It depends on when and where and what. We've got a bunch of tight friends all over the world that do different sound projects that come in for different stuff. The whole idea of Tribes is that it is not ego tied. It's related to Neurosis always and it is spun off of that, but the idea is that we can include friends whenever we want to.

MU: What instruments or devices are used in the creation of that sound?

SVT: Whatever is around and whatever idea the project is. A lot of times the concept will drive what the sound source is. But if I take our recordings such as 'Grace'. 'Grace' being part of 'Times of Grace', obviously there was a lot of manipulation of tracks and sounds from 'Times of Grace' mixed with a lot of field recordings which is used in a lot of the Tribes of Neurot recorded material - a lot of lo-fi field recordings and different stuff - a lot of electronic weirdness. Whatever is laying around - pedals, broken electronics, synthesizers, keyboards, spaces, environments. Whatever is around. Whatever works.

MU: What are some of the other Neurosis related projects being non-musical or musical?

SVT: Well, there's Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot, Scott and I both have solo projects. I know he works on some other stuff. I've been working on a collaboration with Chris from Amber Asylum and Mason from Sub Arachnoid Space on some stuff which will be done pretty soon. There are some Tribes of Neurot gallery installation ideas in the works. There are some sound performance ideas which are separate from concerts or performance of sound concepts. Dave plays in a lot of local bands. It's almost infinite.


MU: What keeps the fire of Neurosis' vision burning both lyrically and musically?

SVT: I think it's a self-perpetuating fire. I think it comes from inside and it's infinite. When you've tasted that little bit of infinite inspiration that has driven art and music since the beginning of time, which is that first spark. What made somebody paint a bison on a cave wall? What made someone express themselves with a painting or film? There's just something in there. It's a weird drive. These things just well up inside you and they have to find a place to come out. I don't know where they come from cause it's not the brain. It doesn't come from the brain. These things are not thought of. A concept can be thought of but the inspiration can't. The inspiration comes from some other place, some magical place. I think it is the same place that the evolutionary drive for our species comes from. The need to diversify and express.

MU: Neurosis has always offered fans an astonishing live performance. What can the fans expect of future live shows?

SVT: I think the primary difference now is that we are changing the way our visuals look. We are making everything tighter and more compact. We are tired of the way things have been. We've done things hundreds and thousands of times. So now, whenever we actually make the effort to go someplace, we are going to make sure it's something special. There's going to be no more half-assed promoted shows in some bumfuck town with 20 people. That's just not going to happen. What we are going to have now are just really solid events that are special and worth waiting for.

MU: Now what happened to the guy that used to do the visuals, Pete?

SVT: He just had to go take care of some life business. He wasn't in the space to be able to contribute. So, we parted ways on good terms and have actually taken many, many leaps since then. That was actually one of the areas that we were frustrated with. Our new fellow Josh Graham has taken the reigns of the visual thing and really grabbed it by the horns. He's been spearheading a full length DVD project for our new album and it is a major, major feat.

MU: You've had the opportunity to tour on some pretty big festivals such as Ozzfest, touring with Pantera and whatnot. What were the pros and cons of such tours?

SVT: The pros were having the opportunity to expose our existence to people that would otherwise have no means of seeing it. When you talk about the mainstream, like Ozzfest or Pantera, you are talking about people who don't go to underground music stores. You are talking about people that don't know necessarily that a club scene exists. You are talking about people who don't go to bars to see shows, who don't know about smaller bands, who are maybe in parts of the city that don't have a thriving underground. A lot of those people are looking for something extreme and something different. They just haven't been exposed to something like us yet. Our mission of that time was to just enjoy the surreal ride and find the freaks in the corner, which we did. The cons were that it's not friendly territory. There's no sympathetic audience, which I guess could have been a pro too. There was no ego boost. It's all getting back to basics and fighting for every minute of it.

MU: Most of those people are just there to see the headlining act and most of the time are closed-minded towards anything else. Then you have a selected few that are willing to see through that.

SVT: We enjoyed it. We always felt pretty subversive, which we hadn't really felt in a while because it's hard to feel subversive in this world where nothing is shocking anymore. But in that territory we definitely felt that we had earned a lot of respect, especially from other musicians and artists who recognized us as symbolizing a lot of the real deal.

MU: Who would you like to tour with in the future?

SVT: I think we'd pretty much just like to do our own thing and take with us bands that we enjoy and respect a lot. Obviously, there's a lot of bands we would always be willing to play with like Shellac and Zeni Geva and any of the bands at our festival that we really enjoy. There's a lot more too.

MU: How important is the use of technology in Neurosis' sound?

SVT: I don't think it's dependent on it, but we believe in using whatever tools are available. Electricity is pretty modern technology and we're all about it because we play electric guitars. In that respect, we aren't afraid to use samplers and things like that. None of that is really mind-blowing technology. It's pretty basic. It's all just making sounds and playing them as instruments. Never does the technology come before the musicianship. We're the ones controlling it. I think in the early 70's Pink Floyd said the same thing. In the 'Live in Pompeii' video they were asking them all about these modern synthesizers they were using, which are now of course very vintage synthesizers. They were asking them if there was a risk of becoming slaves to the technology and they were saying give a bunch of people a Les Paul and a synthesizer and they don't become Pink Floyd. So, it still comes down to what the user does with it. There is no magic box, but if all we were given were a bunch of sticks and bones, we'd figure out what to do with that too.

MU: Do you think technology has gone too far?

SVT: I don't know. That is a philosophical question that I'm not sure of. Medical technology or technology that's meant to help people live a better life? Crawl out of the Stone Age? Survive things like diseases? Some people could make an argument against that like our life span is too long and our population is too big. I'm all for it. I want to live a long, productive, inspired life and want those things available for my family. The catch 22 is that most technology is developed in a military sense first. Whether war is a part of human nature or not I guess I'm not really sure. Sometimes I guess it is just inevitable, and I don't know that there was ever a glorious past where it doesn't exist. But it seems like our modern techniques have definitely taken away a lot of the honor of what it means to be a warrior and go to war. So, this whole manipulating the genetic structure of things is frightening, but I don't obsess about any those arguments because how much they apply to what I can do with my every day life is really slim. I am not at the forefront of any of those arguments. I can just tell you how I interpret them as they pass through my life.

MU: Do you have an optimistic outlook for mankind's future?

SVT: Some days I see the very best of humanity and some days I see the very worst. I tend to get pretty overwhelmed by the damage we do to our planet and our environment - how obvious it is and how stupid it is that people don't act differently when they see the air turning brown. But sometimes you see people relating to each other in a way that is very inspiring.

MU: Now what can we expect from Neurosis in the near future?

SVT: The near future? Probably some regional dates in various places. With recent events, we are reconsidering our travel plans. We are going to be finishing this DVD. We are currently working on a collaboration with Jarboe from Swans and a new Tribes project is in the works soon and organizing next year's schedule.


review of Neurosis 'A Sun That Never Sets'

review of Neurosis 'Sovereign'






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