[Spanish translation here]
Here’s the complete transcription of the conversation we held with Scott Kelly, Noah Landis, Greg Dale, David Sabaté (Mondo Sonoro) and ourselves during the latest Ritual Cvlt BCN Party #2.
David Sabaté (Mondo Sonoro): I think that “The Forgiven Ghost in Me” contains the most positive songs that you have written to this very day, why is that?
Scott Kelly: Yeah, I agree. I think that as you survive and move forward in life, you start to learn lessons, and one of the lessons that I’ve learnt in the last few years is to get the shitty people out of my life and keep the good one in, to spend my time an efforts into being surrounded by the people I love, and not to allow poisonous people into my life. That, along with being a little more aware of myself and my own path, be it spiritually or emotionally. It also has a lot to do with my sobriety; I’ve been sober for thirteen years and the first eight of them I spent trying to figure out where I was at, trying to recover from all the damage that I did during the first thirty three years of my life.
But I can’t really explain the songs, they just happen… I don’t sit down and think “I’m going to write a song about this or that“, the songs just happen naturally when I pick up the guitar or the pen. Working with these guys has also brought out a whole new set of possibilities with regard to emotional depths and dynamics of the songs.
David: Your music portrays a certain vision of life and reality, albeit not a happy one. Why have you chosen this vibe to express yourself, and to what extent do you think that it reflects your real personality?
Scott Kelly: It’s not a choice at all, you know… It is completely real and that is the reason it changes. It’s just the way it is.
Edgar Merigó (Ritual Cvlt BCN): In hindsight, do you think that there may be any duality in the way that you pour your brighter feelings into your solo project and the darkest ones into Neurosis?
Scott Kelly: No. Not at all, actually. Noah can also speak about this on both accounts, as he’s in both bands. Neurosis is not a negative band by any stretch of imagination.
Noah Landis: No.
Scott Kelly: It’s just our reality.
Noah Landis: Neurosis is all about the light. It’s about finding the light through the darkness of your life, and it’s a constant goal – to try to express that journey through music, and in the way that we have chosen to do it from the beginning, to try to be as truthful, honest and as pure as we are through these instruments. It is like a channeling.
When we write, we deliberately put blinders on to anything around, and we just try to serve the songs and let them happen, in a way that is not in reference to anything else. We all love music and we all listens to music of all different kinds all day long, but what we do, what we try to do is kind of isolated and it’s not easy, it doesn’t just happen, it can be a trial sometimes. That’s why it takes a long time between Neurosis‘ albums.
Scott Kelly: It’s all relative to your experience. I’m sure there is many people in this room that agree with me in that Neurosis‘ music is not negative.
Edgar: I didn’t actually say that…
Scott Kelly: I know, but a lot of people do perceive it as negative; to our reality, however, it is not at all. Like Noah said, to us it’s like trying to find the light, trying to start a fucking fire with nothing, trying to make the sky crack open, trying to move mountains… Neurosis is and has been for a long, long time a driven force. It’s something that’s far beyond our control and it’s something that works all the time, and we remain present in it all the time. It’s pretty difficult to explain it in any other way than that; there’s really no way to actually just say “one plus one equals two“, because it doesn’t, not in this case. It has always been about “one plus one equals three” in Neurosis. If that makes sense to you, then you understand what I mean, and If it doesn’t, then I don’t know what to tell you (laughs). It’s just different.
Edgar: It’s very funny that you should highlight the bright side of Neurosis‘ Music, since it might be a little hidden to the general audience…
Scott Kelly: Look where we are, look at our lives, look at the world today, look at what we’ve created… Where is the light? What is light? Honestly, I don’t see any. I see it in my children when they’re young, but as they grow older I see it going from their eyes – it changes from light into something else. Just like it happens to all of us.
Noah Landis: Noise. Changes in the noise. We spend our lives in this noisy world, with noisy minds trying to see clearly. That’s always the struggle, right? What we try to do with our music is seeing clearly, and speak it in some way with sound.
Edgar: …which also happens in Scott’s solo project, so I take it that it’s just different perspectives on the same subject?
Scott Kelly: Yeah. I’m just kind of obsessively creative, at this point of my life I just can’t never stop – I’ve got three bands and I’m real serious about the three of them, and they all express something that is really vital to me. This band is a really special one, we’ve really put our heart and souls into it, we share a common understanding and we’re able to pour that into these tunes. I wrote the basic guitar parts and the words – I basically wrote the songs -, but these guys wrote their own parts; there might have been a couple times when I made a suggestion here and there, but they just knew what to do. They were ready to interpret the songs themselves, and I thought it was perfect, it speaks for itself.
Edgar: So you feel more comfortable with “The Road Home” than on your very own?
Scott Kelly: I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t more comfortable to be on the stage with more than just myself, because that kind of sucks.
Greg Dale: (Sneers, seemingly surprised)
Scott Kelly: That being said, I like to play solo but this is great, I really like it; I feel like these songs were written to be played this way and I’m really appreciative that we get the chance to do it.
Edgar: How’s the tour going so far?
Scott Kelly: Where only a week in, so…
Noah Landis: We got another month to go. It’s great, everyday is a new mystery, you don’t know what the day is gonna be, who you gonna meet, what you gonna eat… It’s been really nice, I actually feel really grateful to be doing it, really lucky to have people like you come and hear what we’re doing. I feel lucky to be playing these songs for Scott; the core of these songs comes from a really generous place in him and it feels really special to get to play them every night.
David: As you already know, we had Jarboe with us in the previous party and when asked about the collaboration with Neurosis, she literally said “It was a lovefest, it was like we were brothers, we instantly understood each other. Neurosis is the only band where I feel like I’m me, I gave my heart to it“.
Edgar: She also said that you had made her regain her faith in Rock’n’roll.
Scott Kelly: Wow, that’s great… That’s my favorite Neurosis‘ record by far, because I don’t have to hear myself singing on it (everybody laughs). So it is easier for me, I’d actually listen to that record, I don’t listen to the other ones unless I have to remember how to play a song. And the way that we made it was so unique… She is such an incredibly talented person. The shows that we did with her… She is beyond intense. Her energy, her performance, her focus, her passion… It’s all immense. We had some great shows together. We’re not collaborating with somebody if everybody isn’t equal; so I’m glad that she felt a part of it, because we felt like she was a part of it too, absolutely.
When she got up there, if anything, it was about her. The first night that we played with her, when she stepped up onstage I could barely breathe, literally, there was no air for like a minute, she just fucking snapped it up, she just walked there and it was like “fuck!”; all locked in. (To Noah) I don’t know if you remember that, I think it was in LA or something.
Noah Landis: Yeah. We did this concerts with her where Neurosis would play for about an hour, then she would come out and then we would play with her for about forty-five minutes, and she would leave and then we would play for another forty-five minutes. So these were just epic nights of music, and we would spend the whole night onstage.
I remember the first time I met her: she came to a concert with Michael and she found her way backstage and they brought us green chili peppers that they had grown from their garden, as a gift. And then we just sat down and talked with her for a while.
Scott Kelly: I remember that too; “The Masquerade” in Atlanta.
Noah Landis: Yeah. That’s where she is form, I think that is where she grew up. Her and Michael’s music had been so special to us since we were really young; we really looked up to what they were doing creatively. Swans are a singular band, there’s no other band like them. Those are the bands that we listened to when we started to study music.
Edgar: Do you still listen to Swans to this day? To their latest recordings?
Noah Landis: Yeah.
Scott Kelly: Mm -hm. Definitely.
Edgar: Last year you played Primavera Sound with them, you both were on the line-up.
Scott Kelly: We played the next night with them, a co-headlining show in Paris. It was pretty incredible. They’re an amazing band. What they do is very unique and very alive, very vibrant.
Edgar: I have to ask you about Jondix. When he gave us the artwork for the exhibition, he personally told me that he wanted you to feel like you where at home, so he gave me a ton of prints and told me to put them all over the place; he didn’t want you to see the walls at all. And he told me “Last year, when we were hanging out in my apartment, there was this cool atmosphere. And I want for them to be in the same place that we were at that time“. So, do you feel at home?
Scott Kelly: Yeah, as soon as I have walked in and seen his stuff! I could look at his stuff for hours, literally. It’s just like meditation art to me, I could stare at it for hours… I don’t need anything more than that. He’s exceptional, it totally speaks right to the center of my brain and my heart. I found him through another tattooer named Thomas Hooper, he told me to contact him when I came to Barcelona, so I did…
He’s one of those people who instantly made a difference in my life. He has pushed himself spiritually in a way to where he’s found a center for himself, which is something that I’ve always craved and searched for; because I can tend to be pretty unsettled and kind of all over the place at times, but he’s much more…
Scott Kelly: Mm -hm. And he has a light but very strong energy about him, he’s very intelligent. He’s very funny, he likes to laugh, but at the same time he’s very disciplined, he very much knows what’s right and what’s wrong; it doesn’t waver at all. He made a profound impact on me as a person. Him and Thomas, actually. My only regret about this show is that he’s not here.
Edgar: So is ours.
Scott Kelly: He’s amazing, man. And he’s right here in your town…
Edgar: Not anymore, he’s not…
Scott Kelly: (Laughs) Yeah, I know. But he was… So it’s time for somebody else to step in.
Member of the audience #1: I would like to know your perception of the cultural circumstances in Europe, as foreigners, and from the perspective of your daily routine.
Scott Kelly: The first time that we came here, it took me a lot of time to get over just how old everything was, because in America we’re particularly cut off from not only our roots, but also anything that’s much older than one hundred and fifty years old, particularly where we live which is on the West Coast. Coming to villages and meeting families who have lived in villages for generation upon generation – that alone hit me very strongly, and made me realize, and it made me crave to understand more the roots of my family and the culture.
I think that, unfortunately for you guys, American culture is very pervasive and it’s going everywhere now. Europe has become more and more Americanized, which is bullshit, because that is what American culture is, for the most part. The mainstream commercial culture is the worst poisonous shit you’re ever going to get and it’s all over the place now; it was not as much so twenty-two years ago, when I first came here. That being said, I think that you guys are certainly smarter about it in general, as a lot of countries that have fought to keep their food clean and fought against some of the corporate interests that control our country.
I’m always struck with how nice and polite people are here; how much people understand art and culture on a deeper level in general – which is to say that I don’t mean that Americans don’t, because a lot of Americans do, it’s just that it is not taught in schools, it’s not supported whatsoever by the government on any level; and I don’t know the specific situation is here, but I know that there are many European countries in which the governments completely support and encourage the arts and music. And that’s a joke back in America, there’s not even a state-supported venue in the country, not one; there’s nothing for musicians and artist. As a result, it causes for some pretty scrappy artist to come out of there; people get pretty aggressive because it creates a sort of dog-eat-dog atmosphere there, I think it bleeds through and I don’t miss that at all, it’s nice to be here because people aren’t as much competitive. It is obviously not as vicious, violent and crazy as it is back home.
Noah Landis: The aspect of America which does not encourage art and music and self expression is, ironically, the same aspect that causes people to create their own formats to express themselves. We were children in the world of Punk Rock, and we started our bands in a warehouse space where we knocked holes on doors to put on concerts. We were doing the best we could at fighting that, against the discouragement.
I came to Europe in 1988, with Christ on Parade, a political Hardcore Punk Rock band from California and we did a tour for three months playing mostly squats back then… It was incredible to me, it completely blew my mind. We were doing our best to try to create a real alternative to the music that was being spoon-fed to American youth at that time, and when I came here, it was like that but without a ceiling – the squat scene and the anarchist scene, every place we went to had a history and a story of fighting the cops and winning…
Scott Kelly: You NEVER beat the cops in America. EVER. They just kill you. It’s not even a question. I mean, people try to all the time, but they always get killed. Every time (laughs). EVERY time.
Noah Landis: That was really special for me and it’s a lasting impression, and I know that the world is changing – we were then eighteen and now I’m forty-four, and nowadays we have all kinds of different ways of seeing the reality that we live in; and it’s not so much a fight all the time, not so much a standing against everything that I can point at. But I think that I came home from Europe and having crossed that frontier really changed me as a person; I went home with a new idea – that people can choose a different way to live with each other, and you don’t get that anywhere else, I got that from coming here.
Member of the audience #2: I’ve found some transcendental silver thread in your music, and I wonder where is the turning point for you to go from being a Hardcore Punk Rock band to becoming Neurosis and founding a genre. I really want to know.
Scott Kelly: I’m not going to answer the question directly because I don’t feel like I can, but basically we made a decision that we would do whatever it took to get our minds to the point where we could create what we were thinking. It took a lot of time, sacrifice, isolation and meditation… Some our methods might not have been the healthiest ones at the time, but then again, growing up in the culture that we did, it seemed pretty natural. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the world these days and us not really knowing who is here right now, I can’t really answer that question, honestly. But I hope you understand.
Member of the audience #2: Well, if you’re not able to tell me, then nobody will.
Scott Kelly: Have you ever seen the movie “Altered States“?
Member of the audience #2: No.
Scott Kelly: There’s your answer!
Noah Landis: The doors of perception, right?
Scott Kelly: Yeah. It’s just opening doors and going in and hopefully remembering to close them when you’re fucking done because if you don’t, then you end up crazy.
Noah Landis: Keep in mind that, when we started playing music, our biggest limit was our ability to play the instruments. When the band first started, the idea about what the band will be able to achieve was beyond the capability of the players.
Scott Kelly: Very much.
Noah Landis: And so it was a progression of learning and that’s where the dedication and the total commitment and the working and working came in. You know, there’s good things about not knowing how to play your instrument, because when you figure it out, you figure it out for yourself, nobody is teaching it to you.
Anyhow, it was not a moment that marked the band getting its personality, it was an arch of time. And we’re still on that arch, after twenty-five or more years of doing this together. There’s something that changes with your life, and the way the music comes through you because you’ve changed, as a group, as five people making a circle, but there are things that don’t change; and I think that you will be able to find both of those in that thread. The music obviously has changed, and continues to, but there is a silver thread.
Scott Kelly: There’s a few examples of this same sort of movement in music over time: one of them is Los Angeles’ Punk band called The Germs. If you ever listened to their first record, seven inch, and their LP; in two years they went from not being able to play their instruments nearly at all to being a full-fledged nitro-fuelled fucking kick-ass Punk Rock band with these amazing lyrics of immortal-fucking-genius.
There’s another one that a friend of ours pointed out to us once, that I thought was the most interesting one. Do you know the song “Rock around the Clock“? Bill Hailey? 1956?
Member of the audience #2: Mm-hm.
Scott Kelly: 1967, eleven years later, there’s Woodstock. So what happened in those eleven years?
Member of the audience #2: Too much (everybody laughs).
Scott Kelly: A lot of stuff, a lot of stuff! But there was one thing in particular, and Jimmy Hendrix was all over it. That’s how progressions happen fast, but it’s not an endorsement, it’s not a recommendation, that’s how you go from here to there; and you have to pay the toll.
Member of the audience #2: I understand; there’s no easy explanation. Once I met Moebius – Jean Giraud, the illustrator -, and I asked him about why he had chosen the desert. And he told me “Why not? I live in Mexico and I was looking for a place where I didn’t have to be near people; I just wanted to be with my horse and listen to a lot of Bebop and Jazz music, and experiment with altered states to draw, and to see“.
Scott Kelly: The desert is a good place! (laughs) I spend a lot of time in the desert.
Edgar: Thank you so much, Scott, Noah and Greg, we should be getting on with the show; it’s been a huge pleasure to have you here at our round table, and we hope it’s not the last time (applause).
Pictures by Ana Beltrán
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