an interview w/ Scott Kelly (Neurosis, Neurot, Shrinebuilder)
by Black Bubblegum
“So I have to be guarded in a way and kinda prepare myself for what’s gonna happen, because when it happens, I don’t even know.”
From their crust punk origins of more than twenty years ago, Scott Kelly and Neurosis have forged their own path with searing imperial riffery and singular artistic vision. Over the course of nine LPs including 2007’s critically acclaimed Given To The Rising, Neurosis‘s firebrand mix of hardcore, metal, psychedelia, and all-of-the-above has inspired fans and musicians alike, giving way to sub-genres and sub-sub-genres based on their compelling, emotive songwriting.
Outside of Neurosis, Scott Kelly has took on additional projects like Blood & Time, Tribes of Neurot, solo recordings, his online radio station Combat Music Radio, and Neurot Recordings. In addition, Kelly announced his involvement in Shrinebuilder, an underground metal supergroup featuring Scott “Wino” Weinrich, Al Cisneros (Om, Sleep), and Dale Crover (Melvins).
With Roadburn 2009 going down this weekend in Tilburg and Neurosis on board to curate Beyond The Pale, we sat down with Scott Kelly in March to discuss Neurosis, the making of Shrinebuilder‘s debut LP, and why children’s mobiles should come installed with music box versions of Lunar Womb!
Where are you exactly in the process as far as Shrinebuilder is concerned? I know you provided recent updates on your blog, but since then, how’s it coming along?
We are basically in the same spot we were… Not finished mixing yet, artwork’s not done yet, but getting closer on both. Wino ended up doing an extra day of guitar in Baltimore about ten days after he did the initial recording and Dale’s done a little bit of percussion overdubs and we’ve been kinda dialing in each song a little at a time. Its actually really close to a final mix. Al is recording the new Om album in Chicago, so when he gets done he’ll be in there with those guys. I’d expect to have it all mixed probably within a couple weeks… it’s really close.
Did you pick out an artist for the cover art?
Josh Graham is actually doing it…That’s funny he’s calling me right now…. His ears must be on FIRE!
I know you guys were talking about putting it out at the end of the year…
I think that once we have it all handed in… maybe six months and it’ll be out. I think we’re still hoping September at some point.
Scott Kelly in the booth during the Shrinebuilder sessions
So obviously you and Wino fulfill similar roles in each of your respective bands… lately anyway. Obviously, Al was/is a vocalist/bassist and Dale is a vocalist in addition to his work behind the kit. How did Shrinebuilder sort of fit together… did you each fall into roles similar to your own or kind of take on different challenges within the confines of this lineup?
Riff-wise, it was very collaborative. One thing that we knew from the onset was that we weren’t going to have any shortage of riffs between me, Al and Wino. I mean there are like endless amounts of shit there that part was easy. We had some riffs that were brought in individually, maybe with a sequence around them, and then there were other things that were brought in as “here’s an idea”. In addition to that, I think that was a few days back in September when we took the next step and the three of us sat in a room together [Scott with Al & Wino]. But it all flowed really well and that part of it… really the whole thing flowed well.
Vocally, it broke into basically me and Wino doing the bulk of the vocals, but Al is doing some pretty significant parts and Dale is doing some shadowing of the vocals. It’s definitely very collaborative… when you listen to it you hear parts where you may be able to pick the origin, but then the other person’s layers are in there as well and it all came together really pretty easily in that way. It was a remarkably painless project. It just flowed… The chemistry between everybody is really good, and the natural roles within a band in order for a band to work… the stuff that’s outside of the music, those all filled in easily as well. Dale’s got a really good ear and he’s pretty adept behind the soundboard so he assumed the assistant producer/engineer role when he was done with his drums.
Deaf Nephews manning the boards during the Shrinebuilder sessions
Well yeah. Toshi was the main thing and remains the main thing. But Dale & Toshi work together on production work for other projects. Artistically, I think we were all on the same page with it, and I think that lyrically it worked that way as well. Business-wise, everybody’s pretty smart with that… how we want to do things. Everybody had the same feelings about holding on to it all and controlling all of our own shit and all of that. I think between the four of us it’s like 90-some years of experience honestly.
Melvins and Neurosis have to be two of the longest standing bands in this scene, with them predating us by a couple years. Of course The Obsessed and Saint Vitus predated everybody by a few years. There are some really good friendships there.
Shrinebuilder (photo by Julie Patterson)
I know in the past you guys have hinted that Shrinebuilder will also make some live appearances as well. Has any of that been fleshed out at all?
Yeah, we’re just trying to figure out when. That’s the most difficult thing about this project… just figuring out when to do shit because we’ve all got projects that are the number one. I have confidence that we’ll figure it out… we’re kind of talking tentatively about some stuff right now, but we will see. There will definitely be some live gigs… I know I have a partial jam laid out, and so does wino… so there is gonna be new material as well.
It feels like it’s got a lot of life in it. It feels like something we all want to do.
So there’s like tentative ideas about more releases down the road too, I assume?
Yeah, totally. I think that when we got done with the recording, we were all really excited about playing live. Personally, I think stepping up on the stage with those three guys would be fantastic. It would be a fucking honor. Definitely a lot of respect between us all.
You guys recently played Scion Rock Fest in Atlanta. Were you able to get any time to watch anyone down there, or was it more like “I’m focused, I’ve got to get down to business” kind of a thought?
I kinda shut down a lot on show days, don’t like crowds very much, and it was pretty difficult to get away from the stage we were playing on. I did get some time get out and check out a little bit of Rwake and A Storm of Light and that was pretty cool. I think the band that impressed me the most was Baroness.
Yeah? Why exactly?
I didn’t quite get it off the record until I saw them live… then it kind of clicked for me. I definitely look forward to their future. I saw something in there that was pretty unique and special. I thought Kylesa was really great too… super impressive and they have really great energy live. They’re pure… really a lot of heart. I haven’t seen High on Fire in a while, and Matt’s [Pike] one of my all time favorite guys, so I really enjoyed seeing them too. That really helped kind of get my mind right for my set. Watching them and kind of reminiscing a little bit about all of our past together.
As far as getting ready for a show, do you have any personal rituals that you adhere to? Maybe like, an hour of silence before the show or something?
Not quite like an hour of silence type of thing. It’s something that kind of starts creeping about three days before the gig then it just slowly comes over me until that moment, and then at that moment, it just goes. There is some rituals involved with it, but they are really personal, so I don’t ever share them because they work for me. Its something I really don’t want to open up.
That’s why it’s personal. Totally understood.
It’s important to guard that stuff and to have those barriers in place, because psychically, it’s a dangerous place to be. It’s so wide open.. it’s a total split honestly. The limitations are non-existant as far as what can happen… where my mind will take me at that time. So I have to be guarded in a way and kinda prepare myself for what’s gonna happen, because when it happens, I don’t even know. It’s a pretty unconscious experience until it’s over. The main thing is to leave it there… because when you start to bring that shit in your regular life, you get fucking problems. It’s taken me a lot of time to harness it… it’s pretty serious shit whatever it is.
Neurosis @ Scion Rock Fest (more by Anthony Childs)
You definitely bring a lot of intensity on stage.
It’s just bringing everything, you know? Just every single thing. All right there. Then just closing it up and moving back on.
I understand completely. Interesting story… a friends of mine came with me to see you guys and he was not familiar with your band at all. He was just blown away by you guys because he felt like your show was the equivalent to an on stage therapy session or something…
I think especially for someone who has never heard us before… I think it’s virtually impossible to get an idea of the last 24 years of our life together. Life or death on stage there, every single time. There’s never a thought of what’s next. It’s all up there in that moment and I think we started hitting that… easily 15 years ago. There’s never been an off night from that… it’s never anything you can turn your back on once you have submitted to it.
You came out at the end of the Mastodon set and performed with them that night. Was there any rehearsal for that or preparation?
We never rehearsed it before the show, It was just those three songs that I recorded with them.
I was feeling pretty overwhelmed once I got to Atlanta because I also scheduled an acoustic thing the night before…
With Royal Thunder and US Christmas right?
Yeah. Both of whom were fantastic by the way. Anyway, Brann [Dailor] asked me if I wanted to do it, but I was kinda on the fence about it. The new song I did with them, Crack The Skye, is kind of a gift for them to ask me to be a part of. It’s a song that he wrote about his sister and her death and it was something that he and I were really aware of… we had talked about it number of times. It turns out that their dad was there and once I found out about that, it was like, we are fucking doing it… just to honor her and him at the same time. It was kind of a special opportunity and once you actually get up there… it’s kinda fun to do. It’s about as scary as the acoustic shit… I mean with no guitar, I don’t know what the fuck I am doing. The first few times I was totally uncomfortable, but now I am starting to get more comfortable with it. I really care about those dudes.. they’re really good people, the kind that I turn to in my hour of need, you know? In the end I was glad because I left everything in Atlanta… five hours after the Mastodon thing, I was done completely. I got out of town just before the snow hit…
Scott Kelly on stage with Mastodon (more by Anthony Childs)
So I know that you currently live in Oregon and Steve is in Idaho. Is it tough to get the guys together? How often does it happen?
Whenever we can… it’s not as often as you would think we would need, but it always works. Playing together for as long as we have. I originally lived in Oregon around Souls at Zero, then I moved back, and Steve’s been in Idaho for five years. Either way it’s important to all of us to do what we can to pull it off, because for both of us it’s really important to have our families where we have them, and not in Oakland. I think that’s the motivation and with the internet and everything you can send ideas all the time and shit. So we’ll get together… I’ll head out there, he’ll head over here, or we’ll meet in Oakland and flesh things out…demo it out. Noah’s a recording engineer so we’ve got everything set up in our practice space to do that. We can speak in tongues to each other… we can figure out a lot of stuff before we actually play a note.
So I guess you guys do quite a bit of file trading…
Yeah. Totally. I guess the first time Shrinebuilder played together was for like an hour on the night before we went into the studio. We had done various configurations of the four of us… actually the first time I had played with Dale was that night. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about it. After playing with Jason [Roeder] for however many years, needless to say I am perpetually disappointed in drummers in my other projects because they all fuckin’ suck…
They’re weak. They don’t hit hard enough. I hear him in my head… I have been playing with him since… well, we were in a band before we were in Neurosis together. So when I write a song, I hear Jason playing in my head… Dale is about the only guy who can actually hit as hard as Jason… and I am totally excited because I’ve watched Dale forever. Very cool.
So I know that you guys are working on new Neurosis material… That said where are we in the process of that? Any kind of idea when that will surface?
Nah. We’ve got skeletons, but they’ve yet to take shape. We’ve got a lot of riffs layed out… sequences of riffs… but writing a Neurosis record takes a long time. We get these rough ideas and then kind of meditate on it for a while, see how it feels and take it to the next step and the next step. We’re getting to a point where we are ready to give it our full attention, but there’s a bunch of material laying there. Hopefully by the end of the year… I would say nine months is a short version of how long it could take. Sometimes the shit just goes. You can’t call it.
I assume you guys feel comfortable with Steve Albini on the boards and would try and use him again…
I do. I suppose there is always a chance that would make it so that we had to do something else, but Albini is definitely our guy. It’s a place we are really comfortable with entirely. His home… where he records, we’ve spent a lot of hours in that place and that’s really important for Neurosis is that feeling. In order to really really do it, we need to control the environment which has a lot to do with our performance as well. Just a second… my baby just woke up from her nap.
Sorry, she just woke up from her nap… grooving along to Saint Vitus here.
Yeah.. she’s eight months old and she loves the sound of Wino’s voice…. You put it on and it’s kinda like “ahhhh. OK.”
You’re raising those babies right! Let me tell you… hahaha.
Yeah, the apples don’t fall far from the tree.
We’ll see. Neurosis stuff is coming… we’ve still got a bunch of gigs to do before we get there though… some European stuff coming up.
Neurosis has done quite a lot of European gigs lately. What are the chances of you guys doing any additional US dates, and furthermore, what about heading back on the road in the US for a larger scale tour?
It’s always possible, as far as a larger scale tour is concerned. I mean, we all work and have got a gang of kids so it’s difficult. The kids are the priority as far as touring goes so it’s totally possible that things in the future will happen that way, you know. Europe was the first place ever gave a shit about us, outside of Seattle and San Francisco. So we go back there and it’s a comfortable place for us. It’s also easier to get around there. In the US, you are fucking driving forever and that’s difficult when you have limited timeframes like we have to deal with. We tend to hit and run in the states right now. I don’t know, well see. We have definitely talked about it. When we initially stopped, we came off the road for about two years and we hadn’t gone to Europe for almost seven years. It’s only been recently that we’ve started going back over there… the only dates we were doing were in the states for quite a while. We’re going to Finland and stuff… we’ve never been there. We just try and find interesting gigs to do… doing something different is what interests us now.
Scott Kelly Live at The Atlanta Ice House, 2/27/09 (photo by Anthony Childs)
Your solo album The Wake dropped last year, and I know you said on your blog in January that you would be working on completing your new album in the next couple months. Is that still on track?
Slightly derailed but it’s close. Amazingly, the artwork is done but the songs and the recording are not done. I went back to the drawing board slightly with a little bit of it. I kinda came up with this new idea with a couple of the tunes. I basically have it, I just decided I wanted to do a little bit different stuff with it. I’m still revisiting it. I probably wont be hitting the studio until May.
Will it be similar in scope to the stuff on The Wake? Very simple, with the core of it being you and a guitar.
I’m considering adding some of the other elements, but I have to figure out how to do them live. The lap steel that was on The Wake was, although totally amazing, I still haven’t figure out how I can pull it off live. I might have to get some sort of loop pedal or something that I can use. Honestly, when Frank [Sullivan] started playing that, it was everything I could do not to put it on the whole fucking record because it was so great and so beautiful. The foundation of it, the idea behind the whole thing is simplicity, and that I can get up and do the whole thing by myself. The majority of it is going to be just me with a guitar though… that’s the most challenging to me now. I can make a bunch of noise, and layer a bunch of shit together but what’s really difficult for me is to craft songs that are that barren and have them be compelling. That’s my ultimate goal with that stuff.
I am finally getting to a place where I am more comfortable with my playing and all that, and I put a lot of time into that in the last 7-8 years. Finally gotten to a point where there is a separation between the Scott Kelly stuff and the Neurosis stuff. In a lot of ways, the first Scott Kelly record, when I look back on it, sounds a lot like an acoustic Neurosis record… as far as the chords and what I was playing. That record was pretty much the last thing I did before I got sober… it makes my liver hurt just listening to it.
Blood & Time
As far as the Blood & Time, do you have anything coming under that moniker?
Blood & Time is me, Noah [Landis], and Josh [Graham]. As far as drums, we’re not 100% on that right now. We did have a commitment from Vinny Signorelli, but since then he has made some changes in his life so I don’t know if he’s still really wanting to do that. There are about eight songs that are in various stages of development. There is one song that is completed and is going to come out on a benefit record for The West Memphis Three that was compiled by CT from Rwake. We’ll see.. I’m kinda hoping we can get all this stuff by the end of the year… sew it up and record it. It was on the front burner previous to The Wake and then it ended up moving back… life stuff. We need to revisit it. Obviously, I have been focused on not only Neurosis, but my solo material, and then when Shrinebuilder became a reality, it was pretty significant. Put all that together with the radio station, the blog, four kids and a job and… you know.
As far as the Blood & Time lineup, is it definitely you, Noah Landis and Josh Graham on both coasts? I know in my previous interview with Josh Graham, he indicated two different versions of the band… and “East” and a “West” coast.
Yeah definitely the three of us is set. Jason [Roeder] actually played drums on the track that will be on CT’s comp. We did the album and then we did the Latitudes sessions which was just the three of us with no drums. As far as what the next move will be, I’m not sure. But I think drums work really well with Blood & Time although the latitudes sessions came out real great too. We’ll see. For me all of it has been about developing all these separate spots in my mind for all this music so that there can actually be a separation and it’s not all grey. That’s gotten way better just because of the focus on the solo stuff and so I’m definitely seeing these separate spots in my head for the development of all these different projects. I have different visions for all of them now as opposed to different interpretations of this one thing that’s coming out of me. That’s what I have been trying to do is free it all up and segment it. Different tunings and stuff… Neurosis and solo stuff are both kind of obvious to me, but Blood & Time has become kind of clearer through playing with Josh and Noah as well.
As far as Tribes of Neurot, do you think you’ll ever do another companion piece like the one you did for Times Of Grace? Will there be any new Tribes of Neurot material?
No, I don’t know that we’ll do that again. I mean, we did that stuff for Times of Grace and we’re working on the stuff that we’re going to be performing at Roadburn in April in Holland.
Will that be the Times of Grace stuff?
No, its original stuff… that stuff tends to be less like “here’s a song that we’ve recorded” and it’s way more interpretation that we create to fit each performance. We’ve never really set out to fit the pieces that we’ve actually recorded. It’s different every time. We’re working to put that out right now.
A normal day at the Combat Music Radio office
With respect to your online radio station, Combat Music Radio, what are the goals for the station? I know it has grown quite a bit since it’s inception.
It’s a little bit up in the air at this very moment. Ideally, we’ll get more ideas from more hosts and more shows all the time, and we’ve got things that will be coming down the pipe pretty soon… new shows, new hosts and stuff. I think the archives alone… eventually, it’s going to have to be some sort of pay site. $5/month to access everything because we are amassing this enormous amount of shows there.
I didn’t really expect it to get to the point that it’s at really. It started out as an idea between me and my friend Christopher and he doesn’t really play music… so let’s focus on these things that we enjoy. Approaching it from a different kind of mindset… exposing people to bands that maybe they haven’t heard or revisit music that they may have forgotten. It all kind of flowed together… it made sense to us and it turns out that people had similar interests. Bringing Eugene [Robinson of Oxbow] in was the first thing… he’s a pretty incredible individual. Very unique, dynamic guy. It kinda all came together… bringing in Bane, Joe Preston, my friend Ben [Sizemore] who used to play in this band Econochrist and Dave Clark, who is Neurosis‘s sound guy. It’s just kind of grown… I’m not really sure where we would take it next, but at this point it’s just fun.
Any new artists that you have signed to Neurot?
It’s Casual. We’re gonna do something with them in the beginning of next year. I think they are gonna do one more record on their own. That is the only one that is concrete right now.