The way the frontmen of psychedelic metal heavyweights Neurosis tell it, making records is a mercurial process. There may have been a five-year gap between their last album, Given to the Rising, and the aurally nuanced monsterpiece that is their tenth LP, Honor Found in Decay, but some of the new songs had their genesis in the mid-2000s.
It’s a similar situation when Neurosis vocalist-guitarists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till reveal their influences, many dating back to the group’s early days as hardcore shit-kickers in the late ’80s, and still informing them today. “We were teenagers when we started,” Kelly says. “We weren’t thinking about it then, but the bands who influenced us were leaders and not followers. They didn’t give a fuck about what people thought. They seemed, to us, to be the embodiment of what we thought punk rock or hardcore was.” When we caught up with the duo, they opted to share not just some of the stimuli for Honor Found in Decay but the catalysts for their whole three-decade operation.
Crass and Black Flag
“We basically have followed their models in many ways,” Kelly explains. “Artistically and business-wise, we put out our own records and we put on our own tours. Bands like that were hugely influential on us and how we want to do things.”
“The book I’ve been reading lately is [Stevie Chick’s] Spray Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag,” says Von Till, who also operates Neurosis’s own Neurot Recordings label. “It’s pretty great, as far as music-documentary books go. They were so driven, so determined. If what is written down is close to the truth, about how hard they would practice and work on this music, they were completely insane. And for me, as a label owner, reading about Greg Ginn turning his ham radio parts company into a punk-rock record label, it’s mind-blowing a how original that catalog was: Black Flag is the flagship of the label, Minutemen and Hüsker Dü, I mean come on! Saint Vitus? Wow.”
“When we did Ozzfest [in 1996 and 1997], we did it just to be there and to immerse ourselves in what they did,” Kelly says. “It was fucking great. It was like college for us. We were front and center for every song of Sabbath the whole tour. We were not disappointed at all. They’re really good dudes, wholehearted good guys, that just played their asses off. And just those riffs, man. The riffs are amazing. The stuff that [guitarist Tony] Iommi has done for music, it’s so underrated.”
“They were a band that was dirty and psychedelic, kind of in the vein of Spacemen 3 but heavier,” Von Till says. “They’ve been gone awhile and just reissued all their stuff, so I rebought all of it because I pretty much wore out those discs. My favorite is [1987’s] Heaven’s End.”
Townes Van Zandt
“He has been an influence for a long time,” Von Till says of the singer-songwriter, whose music he and Kelly covered on a recent split solo release. “I don’t think he’s an influence on Neurosis’s music, but I think it’s super inspired writing. Being a lover of intense outsider music, Townes Van Zandt is classic example. Some of his songs found mainstream success, but he as a singer of his own songs never seemed to make it work. There is one track of his that I always wanted to cover but didn’t because it has to be approached more as a band concept: ‘Silver Ships of Andilar.’ He this guy that is an outlaw, country writer, who must have been dabbling and reading J.R.R. Tolkien at the same time while in a pretty depressed state. It is completely out of left field compared to all his other songs.”
Melvins and Voivod
“Those bands were almost happening simultaneously with us in different parts of the world,” Kelly says of the Washington-based sludgesters and Canadian thrash experimenters, respectively. “They may have predated us, but we’re all within a year of each other. When we came across those bands, we felt we were within this realm, this kind of experimental… I still don’t know what you call it. For us, the metal scene has been extremely supportive, and Voivod obviously gets put in the metal category, but I don’t know what it is. It’s much more experimental music.”
Georg Trakl and Rainer Maria Rilke
“I recently got remarried to a wonderful woman from Germany,” Von Till says. “She introduced me to a lot of Austrian poets that I was unfamiliar with. One guy, Georg Trakl, wrote pretty intense gloomy poetry, pretty gnarly stuff. The other is Rilke. That was pretty great stuff to discover for the first time.”
Baroness and other of Scott Kelly’s Close Friends
“I think one of the main influences for me has been getting bad people out of my life and getting good people into my life,” Kelly says, naming his wife Sarah, tattooist Thomas Hooper, and Baroness vocalist-guitarist John Baizley as three people who’ve changed his life in the past eight-or-so years. Of the Baroness frontman, Kelly says, “He’s influenced me in every way. First of all, I can’t say I’ve met anybody who’s more talented than him.” He pauses and brings up Baroness’s latest, SPIN Essential album, Yellow & Green, where they made a move from stoner metal into mainstream hard rock. “I don’t know what your opinion of what their last record was, but I think it’s amazing. The freedom on that record, you can just taste it. They’ve shed so much skin to get to that record. I think it’s just amazing. The man is just true blue all the way through. He’s a solid friend. Totally dependable. I couldn’t speak higher of an individual, and that goes for the other people I mentioned, as well as my bandmates, too.”