Despite being a band for nearly 30 years, California’s Neurosis have never toured Australia. Until now. In August the legendary outfit – famed for blending epic, beautiful soundscapes with horrific exhalations of rage and despair, influencing acts such as Mogwai, Isis and Mastodon in the process – will bring their apocalyptic brand of noise to our shores in support of their latest album, 2012’s Honor Found In Decay. Having made a decision in 1999 to restrict their touring schedule to only a few shows a year, of late the band have been playing more gigs than in the past decade. Guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till explains why, while discussing the band’s upcoming tour and the past three decades of their career…
Neurosis are relatively active on the live front at the moment. What’s the impetus for that?
Well we just feel like it, I don’t know. When the stars align and we can all get some time away from our jobs and have a place where people want us to come and have an opportunity to do something cool, we try to jump on it whenever possible. This summer we’re taking it easy on Europe a little bit so we can make it down your way. We’re extremely ecstatic.
What are you expecting of your Australian tour?
We try not to have expectations. I think we’re just really open to having a new experience. We’ve been doing this for the last 30 years, so to have somewhere new to go and new people to meet and new landscapes to see is really exciting.
Will you tailor your set list given so many in the audience will be seeing you for the first time?
No. Not really. We’re pretty dead set against pandering to anyone other than our own inspiration, which I think is what people expect from us anyway. People know us well enough to know that we’re only going to play what’s inspiring to us at the moment. Just because it’s our first time in Australia doesn’t mean we’re gonna dig back and pull some old skeletons out of the closest which feel kind of dead to us. We’ve got to keep it real, keep it honest, keep it pure.
Though Honor Found In Decay is two years old, is that still the material that’s inspiring to you?
Pretty much. We move at a different pace to industry expectations or what have you. For us a two year old album is still brand new. Since that record came out the only time we’ve actually been together has been playing places. We have not been in a rehearsal studio once since that record came out. Because we live pretty far apart, we all have families and jobs, even for us to get together requires time off and plane tickets. We’ve been playing a lot of shows, I guess the last several years we’ve been playing a lot more than we have the last decade, as we find our little pockets.
You made the decision to step back from touring in 1999. What was the impact of that decision?
I think it was absolutely crucial. The things that we were discovering that we didn’t like about trying to be out there full time, were absolutely true. I watch other people who want to make it and be a musician struggle with this stuff. This music is too important for us to make any sort of compromises. This is how we stay sane. This is how we stay grounded. This is how we don’t go completely off the deep end in this world of distraction and absurdity. To try and put a price on any of it, or compromise any piece of that, just to be able to stay out on the road a certain number of days or be able to make sure you can try and bring home a pay cheque, just seems not the right thing to do. Art and commerce are strange bedfellows. I think now that we’ve spent a good while finding that balance, it absolutely preserved what we were doing. It absolutely cemented our commitment to the music and the sound, which we feel if we would have betrayed that it would have stopped giving.
What kind of compromises were you being asked to make?
Just the compromises of the kind of gigs you accept, those kinds of things. You can only play the same city so many times a year by yourself before people don’t really give a shit. So you end up having to jump on these tours with other artists you don’t necessarily feel an artistic kinship with, and that’s crap.
How have your goals changed over the years?
I think that’s the one thing that hasn’t changed. The goal has always been to find an intense, original way of expressing ourselves and constantly pushing the envelope, possibly challenging our weaknesses, developing our strengths, and finding new sonic territory. New ways to express that original intent. At the time we came up with that intent we were teenagers and we didn’t know shit about how to use our instruments or how to really pull this off. As that has become clear we can really see that our path is a spiral path and not a linear path and we are spiralling in towards something, towards the true inspiration of what we’re supposed to be doing. And each time around the ring we get closer and closer. We’ll probably never reach it, but it’s good to know that we’ll die inspired anyway.
How hard has it been keeping this current line-up together for 21 years?
This is something that can only exist with the unique combination of what we bring to the table, and what we all surrender ourselves to, which is the spirit of the sound. And that [fact] allowed us to get through all the difficult times on tour, the ups and downs, and there’s no ego bullshit, there’s no rock star stuff or musical differences, or any of that stuff that seems so absurd about why bands break up. We have no expectations of success, we have only the fact that we have to make this music. And so, that’s developed the brotherhood, [as have] our experiences of being able to travel the world together and have these unique experiences that your average person doesn’t get a chance to experience. It becomes a bond, like an extended family. We’re not living around each other all the time but we’ve been there for each other in so many different ways in life and death and everything else.
Has that unity ever been threatened?
Your fans are typically very passionate about the band. Has there ever been a reaction to your live show that’s caught even you off guard?
Like a guy jumping off a balcony in a chicken suit? [Laughs] I think that was in Tijuana, Mexico, with Mr Bungle, ages ago, lifetimes ago. There are distractions and whatnot, but for the most part we tune out completely. When the conditions are right we’re able to totally disappear and become our own thing. The distractions, like a flash in your face or an arm coming up and messing with your beard or something like that, everything that pulls you out of your trance, you just want to smash it, and eliminate that distraction so you can get back to what’s important: the song. But for the most part I think our audience has come to be pretty respectful. We don’t have those types of situations very often at all.