Scott Kelly interview circa ’08

An Interview that Never Sets.

At our recent visit at Roadburn Festival (2008) I planned to do only one interview. Not that I didn’t want to do more with the other artists, but to speak with a guy like Scott Kelly got me a bit anxious. This was important! I met him backstage and he was as I thought he would be: honest, open, humble and direct. Due to this we managed to hone in on what makes him, and Neurosis, tick. Please have a seat.

• Scott, how are you?

SK: Good, good. Yeah, very nice.

• Did you have the time to rest from yesterday?

SK: Yeah, I slept a lot this morning, usually I sleep 5 to 6 hours, I don’t sleep that much anyway, so 5 hours are good for me. So yeah I am okay now.

• The show was great yesterday.

SK: Thank you.

• The crowd helped a lot. They showed respect. You said please don’t speak loud or leave if you don’t like it and they respected that.

SK: Yeah, good crowd, I appreciate that, cause it’s a hard thing to do, it’s very open. I feel pretty defensive any time I’m playing but in Neurosis it’s much easier because it’s so loud and it’s aggressive so I’m in a different sort of mind… but this stuff, it’s a different sort of concentration, it’s a more quiet concentration [ ] primal nature… it’s more like a meditation as opposed to Neurosis it’s what happens after the meditation, you know. This is actually in the meditation.

• What are your memories are from last year’s Roadburn festival?

SK: From last year’s Roadburn? I remember that the Melvins where amazing…

• Especially the drum duet just killed us.

SK: Yeah. Those guys have probably blown my mind three times in my life that I’ve seen them. Like the first time I ever saw them at a time where we played ten years ago in San Francisco and that night where they just did something that I couldn’t realize that they are the greatest thing ever, they are the greatest thing that ever existed…

• And it seems a lot of people don’t know that.

SK: Well, they don’t understand that you know, I don’t know why, for me the Melvins were…

• They did the whole thing.

SK: The whole thing, yeah. I remember… you know I like this place, I like Walter, the people who run it, Roadburn feels very comfortable to me which is why I wanted to do this from last year.

• Alright, so you have the release of your new album “The Wake” at May. Southern Records sent me the promo so I had the opportunity to give it a listen and I think that this album is more balanced than the first album “Spirit Bound Flesh”. It varies a lot also as the first one was more down-tuned stuff and your voice was different too. What differences do you find between the two?

SK: Well, part of it is definitely the fact that I’ve been doing it for six more years since then and I really focused on it. A large part of it honestly is… my life has changed a lot since then, I’ve been sober for six years, I haven’t been drunk or taken any drugs for six years, “Spirit Bound Flesh” was one of the last things I did before I got clean, it was a very hard time for me and it was kind of the end of a really long road that I’ve been on for twenty some years of addiction and abuse and a lot of shit in my life so…

• This is a road that ended though I suppose…

SK: You know it’s weird, life was always the same for me, I always had a lot of life, I always had a lot of death, it’s always been that way for me since I was a child, my life is never boring, always something happening, always dealing with situations, you know, very high, good things and very low things and that hasn’t changed but the way I handle them has changed. I used to be get loaded and play music and kind of raged and maybe more irresponsible in some ways… You know you‘re still the same person when you get sober as you are before but, when you’re sober you deal with things immediately when they’re happening, you have no choice.

• There’s no place to hide.

SK: Yeah you know, so in that way I think I am a healthier person…

• Alright. Scott, how did you record the songs? Did you just sit down with your guitar and record what’s in you, or is it a more labored process?

SK: No, I just play the songs in the room, just stood up as I did last night. I did overdub a bit the vocals; I did another day when I got back in and redo some of the vocals; you can hear it some times a little bit, some times you can hear a little shadow, but that’s all. I didn’t fix anything and then Frank the engineer, is the guy who plays the lap steel guitar which I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to have it in all or if I wanted to have that thing over the whole record. In the end I just decided to have it in a couple of songs because it’s so good! He plays it for real, he is a 63 year old guy who is playing a lot of country projects over the years and he is a good friend of mine, it’s so…real. But I can’t take him on the road with me. And I didn’t want to get up there and have like an effect or a processor to do it, maybe I’ll do that in the future I haven’t decided yet but the thing with this is that is one person, one voice, one guitar and that’s it, that’s the idea. And I tried to write the songs in a way that would stand up in that way. It’s something that is really deep, semi personal sort of communication.

• Is Damon Kelly your son? Did you suggest to him to participate in the album?

SK: Yes he is my son! He is 20 years old, he’s got his own band, they have a kind of death metal band, he is been playing bass since he got twelve. That song…

• It’s “Remember Me” right?

SK: Yeah, that song in particular is a song that I wrote one morning when the kids were going to school and I just grabbed my guitar and wrote that song really fast. It always meant a lot to us as a family, it’s kind of remember through this song about their mother who passed away some years ago so… It meant a lot to him to come and play on this song and it was really good because in the band he plays fast and all kind of shit and so he had to play really simple (smiling). It was hard for him but he was good. That’s my oldest child, Damon.

• How many do you have?

SK: I’ll soon have four. I have three but we have a baby coming.

• Congratulations!

SK: Thank you.

• As a solo artist, what is your goal with this release? Do you want to express something different from the things you expressed with Blood & Time for example? Should we separate these things?

SK: Yeah, it’s important for me to make the separations between all the projects and now it’s a little more clear especially when there’s all the time a band that I’m playing in. Right now I don’t see anybody else really doing this like very simple, very direct, sort of sound and communication. That was why I wanted to do it. I feel like with all these computers and electronics and all the things we can do and I enjoy doing that, obviously in Neurosis we use it a lot… You said balance before? To me this is the balance. To me it keeps me balanced as an artist to break things down, it’s a challenge to me. It’s fucking really scary to get up and do that by yourself. I’m used to be in a band and I am used to travel with like ten more people, all the guys that I know since I was fifteen years old, so this is a whole different thing and it feels good. It’s like you take away the drugs and the alcohol, I still have the same personality; I really want to do things that spot my interest and this does that, because it’s scary, man. You got to get up there and when you make a mistake you do it and everybody listens to it and you got to immediately move on. If I make a mistake in Neurosis most likely no one is gonna notice ‘cause everything is so loud and there’s so much shit going. This is no destruction, it’s just this. And then the challenge becomes, “can I write songs and deliver songs in a way that people will actually stand there and listen to and feel them, submit themselves, open themselves up in hearing and feeling what I was going to do?”, you know. And that’s why I asked people to leave if they don’t wanna hear it because they’re really personal songs, they are songs about people that I really really care about and I don’t anyone… if it wasn’t a festival but my own show for instance, tomorrow when I play in Dortmund or Monday when I play in Greece I’ll say, “if you wanna leave and get your money back please do, you can take back your money I don’t care”, that’s all I feel. I don’t want people in there who don’t want to be there.

• Yeah, you should do that in Greece.

SK: I will, I will. Yeah, but I don’t want to scare the promoters (laughter). And it’s gonna be hard in Greece, I understand that because Neurosis has never been to Greece and so a lot of people will show up and…

• They’re gonna be like “what is that?”

SK: Exactly. And I don’t know when Neurosis is gonna be to Greece, it will be hard for us to get there, we don’t play too many shows, you know. I cast no stones, I judge no one in what they do however…

• It will be hard, I understand.

SK: Yeah, sometimes it gets hard! New York City was really hard. We almost had a big fight during my show in New York City because there were people drinking in the back and yelling and blah blah blah you know, and I said “fucking leave, leave or I’ll put my guitar down and I’ll fucking come there with my friends and we’re gonna throw you out”. I’ll do that, I don’t care. I am always in for a fight, I don’t care if I’ll lose; it means that much to me you know…

• And you are proud for it and you show that.

SK: I am, I am, yes.

• Blood & Time’s “Latitudes” I think, is the best recording I have ever heard you singing for, outside of Neurosis stuff. What’s happening with them lately?

SK: Well I don’t know, we’re gonna release a song with a band called Rwake, do you know them? Okay. Their singer is gonna release a benefit compilation about, you know, about 3 American kids who were convicted of murdering some people although they didn’t do it? It’s kind of a big case in America like, you know, kids in a very small town, in the middle of the country, a lot of Christian people… We have a new song that we’re gonna put on a compilation for that. We got a lot of material sitting there; I’m just not sure when we’re gonna get to it to this point. Neurosis has begun writing again and I don’t know if you know about that, it’s gonna be a big thing; it’s Al, bass player from OM, Wino, me and Dale Crover…

• That’s the Shrinebuilder project.

SK: Yeah and that’s happening now too so…

• So you are writing material for that too?

SK: Yeah.

• So you keep writing all the time!

SK: Always writing, yeah. Probably I’m gonna write something today when I’ll grab my guitar… so I don’t know, we’ll see (meaning about Blood & Time).

• We spoke earlier about your son and I always wanted to ask the following: In 1999 you dedicated “Times of Grace” to your kids. I certainly felt – and I am asking to see if you feel the same way – that in order to dedicate a piece of art to one’s children, one has to outgo their musical limitations, go above and beyond, create an as enduring piece of art as possible. In my opinion you achieved that with “Times of Grace”. It has an aura all of its own within your catalog. Do you feel the same way?

SK: You know we dedicated “Pain of Mind” to Damon because he was just a baby when we did “Pain of Mind”; it was the first kid in Neurosis, the first Neurosis kid. To dedicate a record to your kids in some ways it is honor to them for what they go through when we are not around, you know. It can be really hard and “Times of Grace” was in a time where we were touring a lot in the five years previously the “Times of Grace”. I think when we finished that record that we felt that we had kind of broken through some of the shit we had gotten before, that was why we called that “Times of Grace”. It was kind of a new time for us, a new era. You know you always try to do your best as a parent but in the end you can do what you do and it’s hard when you are kind of a damaged person to…people learn lessons a hard, it’s a hard lesson to learn. You make a lot of mistakes, everybody makes a lot of mistakes, so you make mistakes with your kids too and it’s a very hard thing to accept. Anybody who has kids knows that anything that happens to your kid you feel three times worst than you anything felt for yourself. When your kid is happy you’re so happy you can’t believe, when it’s sad you’re so fucking sad. Our kids have always been like kind the fire inside of us through all these years and I don’t know, it means so much to us in so many ways, but my kids probably I think that saved my life in the end, you know…probably just having them and be there and love me no matter what I did and…no matter how many times they had to…

• Yeah I understand the problems in general.

SK: Yeah, so just a way to show the respect to them.

• It’s also good to hear you sing a lot more in the new Neurosis album. Much more than in “The Eye of Every Storm” certainly. Did you feel more confident with vocal duties this time around?

SK: Yeah, I think “The Eye of Every Storm” was… I am feeling good now, I feel I got through… getting sober takes some time, I mean, I did it in one day but the three years after that was really fucking hard and I was dealing with a lot of emotional shit and barely sleeping at all and my creativity dropped a lot and it was hard for me to, you know, get up and do what I had to, so I didn’t contribute that much to “The Eye of Every Storm” as I would like to. Usually things are pretty even within the band and I think “The Eye of Every Storm” was probably the least that I contributed to a record, you know.

• And I think it showed somehow.

SK: Yeah I agree.

• I have noticed that for the 3 last Neurosis albums, there is always the last song which is more epic than the others and that is written by you. I am talking about “Stones from the sky”, “I Can See You” and “Origin”. These also have very foreboding lyrics.

SK: Yeah I think in every album, let me think of it. “Grey”, “Blisters”, “Takeahnase”…

• “The Road to Sovereignty”?

SK: No, no it isn’t. So it’s all except that.

• So what about these songs?

SK: I just write those songs. That’s the songs I write. A lot of the first ones and a lot of the last ones. Everything that we do is still… it may start from my guitar or Steve’s guitar or a drum beat or a sample. By the time it gets done… it’s a real band within the collaboration but then it’s the words. It’s the words and the vocals I think in the end. Usually I have that song and I don’t know why but it’s there. It’s there.

• You know Scott, I have been listening to your music for about 10 years now and besides music, one thing that is more than just a characteristic, almost a defining trait of yours, is the sincerity, the honesty. I have read a lot of interviews of yours, or by the other guys from Neurosis and the words they choose, are the same words for many years now. And I think this is a reason why the people that listen to you are dedicated so much, because they know that they have to do with artists that are honest in what they do, in what they believe and in the way they deliver it. You tell no jokes, you tell no lies and you deal with the real thing. And I think this is the way to survive the music industry and to have a deep relationship with fans. Neurosis is an exemplification of this sort of attitude. Any comments?

SK: Well man, honestly there is nothing that will make me feel that I’m any different than anybody else… I work everyday, I’ve always worked, we’ve all always worked, we don’t live from the band, we have always been humbled by this gift. This music is a gift. And I don’t know why we get this gift, I have no idea. I know that we worked hard for it; I know that we wanted it really bad; I know that we sacrificed a lot but I don’t know why it decides to come through us! Because I feel that that’s what it is, all this music and this sound come through us. I think you don’t respect that as being [it’s] something that is unexplainable, a force of nature…I don’t know where it goes. It goes somewhere else. To me as far as being honest and everything man that’s how I am. I spent a lot time as a liar when I was a kid though, I was telling a lot of lies, but I think that I probably learned from that. I don’t tell lies anymore. I don’t do anything that I have to lie about. If I have to hide something then I won’t say anything about that at all. Everybody else has their own personal things but…

• You know Scott I mean it more in the aspect of the fan base you have, like they don’t have to do with a band talking about dragons and things beyond life, they just have to do with the real thing.

SK: Yeah, it’s emotion, it’s human emotion. To me that’s the most powerful thing and that’s why music’s to be respected ultimately as god. I believe music is god. I see so many guys in this room, music is the only thing because music communicates with everybody, everybody, everywhere… if you hear music and you like it, then you do. If you don’t like it, then you don’t. But there maybe another form of music that you do connect to and it’s all music, its all sounds. Everything you hear is sound; it’s all music, infinite.

• In Neurosis I get the feeling that the band spends a lot of time getting arrangements to be very tight, everything in its right place. In contrast in your personal projects it seems you’re going for a more loose and improvised mode. Is this the case? If so, do you feel as an artist that expressing both rigid, labored upon ideas, and more loose and context-sensitive ones is important? It’s different than with the projects.

SK: Yeah, except from the fact that honestly we never practice. Neurosis = no practice. We practice maybe once before we play. Maybe. Sometimes not at all. We recorded “Given to the Rising” only two songs have we actually played as a band. We don’t practice, we live far away from each other, we spend a lot of time recording things and sending them back to each other, a lot of time processing the music in our heads visualizing it but it’s actually very loose. (tape stopped here for a while, sorry!)… We’ve never been like that, if we were writing and we all lived in the same town and we all lived in the same place we would have regularly practiced but most of the time honestly we would spent half of the time just talking about what we wanted to do and figure things out because… to me it’s not an army, it’s not a fucking… it’s a mental discipline. If you have the mental discipline to do it then you’re good but if you don’t have it you have to do that on your own. You have to be ready at all times but it’s not like “do it again, do it again!”; never ever ever. Because that kills it. It’s got to be raw emotion. You can’t play these songs over and over and over. You can’t fake, do these songs like half-way. You can joke around and play the song but as soon as you start singing then it’s not a joke. As soon as you sing the part there’s only one way to play it. So if we practiced them like really hard it would kill them. Honestly it’s very loose. A lot of times when we get up to play I’m like, “okay I got this” but I don’t really know…

• Yeah but what about the set list for the live shows? What about them?

SK: We will write the set list early, like two or three months before we do it. And that’s part of the process. I said we don’t practice; we don’t practice in the traditional way.

• You practice in your head!

SK: Yes, all the time. And that’s a large part of it. Because I can go the whole set through my head and if I realize “okay, there’s a spot there that I’m not clear about” I’ll grab my guitar, work it out. I like that because it is a large part of the energy that is created by us, the fact that we know you got to be focused, you have to be on to do this. If you’re not really really focused on it you get lost.

• So that means that every show is a challenge?

SK: Every show we play and every song and every note is as it will be the last one ever. Always. And we’ve done that for a long time. We learned that lesson really early that you have to commit 100% on every note, every song, every show with full attention and understanding that you may never have the chance to do it again. And so at this state of our time, every time we do a show is really like…

• The last one.

SK: But it feels good, it feels good! It’s like, wow 22 years, still doing it, the same guys. I look back and I see Jason on the drums and I like, I know Jason since he was thirteen years old! That means a lot.

• Nowadays there are so many bands out there releasing albums and themselves or their companies are trying to promote their stuff by referring to your name. The fact is that all these bands are using just some chords you also use, but they don’t focus on the aspect of the craft that is based on “effects” and ambiance and not so much guitar chords as you do.

SK: Here is the thing man; you can copy sound, you can copy chords, you can copy lyrics, you can copy imagery… you know, we are not like some completely original creation, I mean…if you listen to Amebix or Joy Division, Pink Floyd or Black Flag you can see where Neurosis comes from. The difference is in the experience, that’s the difference. The difference is the commitment, the sound…like this commitment that I told you is very real. This is like a life and death thing for us. All the time, everyday, forever. So that’s the difference. Most people are passing through, most people go on to do other things, you know, and that’s fine. They play music for a while, they see if they can make a career of it and if they can’t, they go to study or take another job and stop playing their guitar or whatever. That’s good, I’m happy for them. But it’s not this way for us…

• How do you feel when people consider you the Pink Floyd of our generation, with the entire presentation of your aesthetics and your music, with the addition of visuals and the unique atmosphere?

SK: Yeah I think it’s a great compliment, I assume though they’re talking about “Saucerful of Secrets” and not “The Division Bell”. I appreciate that but I don’t see the need to say things like that really. I mean “Pink Floyd of our new generation?”, what’s that? I think people said the same thing for Radiohead, I don’t know. The early Pink Floyd stuff was a big influence on us, the way they did things, the way that they broke down barriers in time and space but they did not have the same dedication that we do, not at all. They came from a very different place.

• Alright, do you want to tell me some things about Combat Music Radio? How is this going?

SK: You know I have this good friend and he doesn’t play music but we’ve been friends forever and we just decided that we wanna do something, some sort of project together. Usually we work on projects together and stuff. So we decided that we’re gonna do something really focused on things that we really enjoy, mainly music and fighting. So we started putting this thing together, started the website, we had to learn how to use all the shit, computers and stuff. Eugene Robinson is a good friend of mine from Oxbow, writer and fighter. We started one show per week and now we’ve got 5 hosts doing show Monday to Friday. It’s getting better, it’s getting bigger. It’s actually really cool, like it kind of broke me back in a little bit to what’s happening. There are a few bands that are playing here today that I don’t think I would have known about if it wasn’t Combat Music Radio, like Nadja, Year of No Light and stuff like this and stuff that I have CDs because people sent them to me. And there’s some good stuff out there. I have for a long time lived outside of the city and don’t spend a lot of time at the record store or looking for what’s new. I was always looking for what’s old. It’s a very cool experience and it’s something that I look to do for a long time, I feel strong about it, it’s good. I believe that next year at Roadburn we will be here broadcasting for four days!

• How much do you consider yourself a guitarist, and how much a composer that happens to utilize the guitar because that’s what’s most familiar to them? Do you spend a lot of time building up your chops for live shows or recording? Or you do treat the instrument more as means to an end?

SK: Yeah, I’m not a good guitarist so I guess I am a music writer and composer and I use the guitar as a vehicle to write the skeletons for songs but… I do work with my hands like heavy lifting work so my hands are like… you know I can’t do that shit (making the sound of a fast solo). So the guitar is the shit that I use to go where I wanna go and write. But I can write on piano and other stuff, whatever there’s around I can write on it.

• You’ve been an artist for a long time. Would you say that on the whole, looking back on all these years, your music has been understood by your fans as it was intended? Or has it been misunderstood?

SK: Completely understood by the fans ‘cause one of the reasons why that is is because it’s only been there for people to find on their own. We’ve never promoted or pushed in a way that people would listen to us or find us in any other way. It has to come to you. You’ll find it through a friend; you happen to walk in a club and… That’s the way you’ll find Neurosis. And most people hear it and they don’t get it. But the people who listen and it touches them they understand it. There are no words to understand it, to say “that’s all about”. Either you get it or you don’t. If you know then you’re in it, if you don’t then you’re out. (Laughs) You know some times people get weird, crazy people think crazy things and they do interpretations of what it is, they think about it too much some times basically. But no, I think people understand, people who listen to it they understand, they know.

• So you are satisfied.

SK: Absolutely.

• Thank you for your time man.

SK: Thank you too.

~ by Θ. on 2009/07/04.

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