Scott Kelly of Neurosis on how he and the band treat every show like it's the last one they'll play
Your two most recent albums have a very organic, almost totemic, aesthetic to the album art that hearkens back to Souls at Zero. Why do you feel that aesthetic suits the music you've put out on Given to the Rising and Honor Found in Decay?
I don't know, man. We just kind of let it flow. We don't really trip on it too much. We let the songs take shape on their own. We're definitely not trying to mold them as much as just kind of being the conduit for the music to flow. They are just kind of are what they are. We've been recording with the same guy for a number of years: Steve Albini. The last five albums have been with him. He has a very organic approach to things. It's old school recording on to two-inch tapes and an analog approach that we think sounds better. Beyond that, there's just a comfort level that we have working with him that goes a long way.
You first worked with him on Times of Grace. How did you come to work with him?
We just asked him. We called him, and he asked, "When do you want to record?" He's booked, but all you've got to do is call him, and if he's got time that fits into your schedule, he'll record you. He doesn't give a shit. He'll record anybody. He treats everybody the same. If you go into his studio prepared, you'll come out with a recording of exactly what your band sounds like. If you're not, then you'll come out with a recording of your band exactly what it sounds like.
He's supposed to be pretty hands off in terms of production.
Oh, completely. He just does his job and stays out of the way. That's perfectly great with us because we don't need any other input than the five of us, and that's plenty of input. Believe me, between the five of us, there are enough ideas and strong opinions to go around on damn near anything you can think of, creative or otherwise.
The music you've made with Neurosis, both sonically and thematically, is so rich and often dense. Do you feel that sort of thing emerged at some point in the band's history? Was that a quality that was there at the beginning?
It was there; we just didn't know how to pull it out. We felt it, and we knew it was there, and we knew where we were going, but we didn't know how to do it. We were too rudimentary in our skills, but our experience lead us to our sound, and we were able to find it relatively quickly. I think it took us about six years to get to a foundation of where we started to build on the sound that we've come to now. Even the original stuff that we wrote in '85 and '86 -- I can still draw lines between those songs and songs on Honor Found in Decay. I can see the lineage of the sounds. It's all there. But it did take us some time to figure out how to do what we do.
Was there a particular album where you felt that your thinking had emerged the way that you wanted it to?
No. I still don't feel like we have, actually.
You, Dave Edwardson and Jason Roeder were in a hardcore band called Violent Coercion at some point?
Yeah. That was the band we were in before Neurosis.
How did you get involved in that world growing up?
I met a kid in junior high who started playing me Black Flag and the Plasmatics and Stiff Little Fingers and the Ramones. I instantly knew that that was what I had been waiting for my whole life. I was always really into music, and even when I was little, I was really into hard rock: Kiss, Nugent, Queen and Deep Purple and all that. I always wished for something that was a little harder and faster, and I was never really a fan of guitar [solos].
All of a sudden I found this music that was exactly what I heard in my mind. It was kind of one of those moments in your life when you become obsessed with it from that moment forward. I never looked back. I'm definitely still there. Thirty-two years later, I'm still grinding to the same stuff and still listening to a lot of the same stuff that I listened to on that day.
Did you grow up in the Bay Area?
No, that was in San Diego. I grew up all over the state and moved a lot when I was a kid. I moved to the Bay Area in '84, and that's when I met Dave and Jason and joined that band. I was in that band for about a year -- it had existed before I got there. After a year, Dave and Jason and I decided to break off from that band and do something totally different because we were pretty bored with what we were doing.