NEUROSIS’s STEVE VON TILL meet head to head to head with OXBOW’s EUGENE S. ROBINSON in an interview part image, part word, all clear for a straight shot across the bow of their newest release HONOR FOUND IN DECAY, a semantic study in the love of all of what we’ve left behind. First up: Steve Von Till. Followed by the estimable Scott Kelly, backstage at his most recent solo show in Oakland.
Eugene Robinson: How closely to your real lives are you able to match the lyrical work in Neurosis? And if not close at all how is it that what you’re writing about sits outside of your lives?
Steve Von Till: The lyrics are fairly abstract, but all begin with seeds of personal emotion. For myself they always begin with self reflection on life and life circumstances, the details of which would most likely be uninteresting to anyone else. We all struggle to find our way to deal with this world in some meaningful way. With the roots delving into our personal lives, we relate it back to the whole of humanity, and the entire experience of what it is to be human.
The words then begin to take on a life of their own and like the music, often grow to themes and topics of such an epic proportion that they can only be represented by painting abstract emotional landscapes with the use of natural metaphors. The whole becomes so much bigger than us as individuals, but remains rooted in our personal trials. I wish I was enough of a wordsmith to begin to speak to those themes with more clarity, but that is not my gift. Thankfully Neurosis has given us a place where the words and music work together to create something so cathartic and expressive that it doesn’t seem necessary.
Eugene Robinson: Having made the move from the city to what probably could not be more country, have you found any noticeable change in how you’re approaching reality these days?
Steve Von Till: Absolutely. To begin with, my view of reality is a lot more grounded in things that are natural and that seem so much bigger and more real somehow than much of the busy body bullshit humans concern themselves with in the cities. The majesty of the natural world makes a lot of that shit seem ridiculous. The seasons and weather, for example, dictate how one must approach each day in this environment. Convenience and entitlement don’t seem to have such strong footing here.
From another perspective, I find it easier to breathe, and find solace in the natural beauty of this place. Rather than having natural surrounding be a rare retreat only visited in a rare trip out of town, I wake up every morning in my own forested land. Wildlife is a part of my daily experience, I am becoming more in tune with the natural cycles of things and of myself.
Eugene Robinson: The new record, which Scott was nice enough to let me listen to, was a really accomplished piece of work I think… and I have also heard your solo stuff that strips away a lot of the MORE on the new record but to no lesser effect.
How motivated do you find yourself being to try to extrude what it is that you’re expressing through different musical forms? Or collaborations?
Steve Von Till: Thank you. We are very proud of it. It is good to know that after so long we can continue to make our most vital work yet with each new piece. That is pretty much our only premeditated desire: to always outdo our previous work in some way and push the boundaries.
Seeking out other ways to express ourselves outside of the beast that is Neurosis has definitely helped shape our evolution. For me, the simple act of finding my own personal song craft that more closely resembles folk songs, has allowed me to find a more confident and expressive voice, which in turn folded back into Neurosis and opened new possibilities to our collective expression. I would bet Scott feels the same. Our experimentation with abstract soundscapes withTribes of Neurot or my experimentation with strange psychedelic guitar sounds also inform our evolution as a group. The origin and endpoint of all this expression is Neurosis, because it has been the one constant source of expression in our adult lives.
Eugene Robinson: Someone obsessive had pointed out after tracking them all down that I did THREE side projects in a row, single songs with other artists, that were songs about murder and that I might want to widen my preoccupations. Do you find yourself returning to certain lyrical touchstones in your writing?
Steve Von Till: You wrote about murder… shocking!!! (laughs).
Sun, blood, fire, soil. These things always come around. We can’t help it. I mean if you simply take the sun as metaphor. It has been so many things to us. The daystar, the scorching bringer of drought, bringer of light, fertilizing masculine energy, ever watchful eye. Hopefully we find new and deeper ways of using these metaphors. There is no lack of new stimulus to inspire the lyrics, that’s for sure.
Neurosis – Honor Found In Decay is out now on Neurot Records
Words by Eugene S. Robinson
Live photos by Taylor Keahey