We know ourselves enough to know what we like and don't like, but we didn't have any specific ideas of what it should be like, other than it would be our moody atmospheres mixed with her intense vocals. It was more of a trust in the process, than any sort of preconceived idea. We knew it would be intense.
Neurosis and Jarboe originally released their collaborative album back in 2003 in which the stirring nature of Jarboe’s voice combined with the vastness of the music of Neurosis. The album was never released on vinyl at the time though, so now, the band have reissued the album in a remastered form on vinyl complete with brand new artwork and it still sounds as sublime in 2019. We caught up with Steve Von Till to talk about the album coming out again, the remastering process, his memories of the album and working with Jarboe, her and Swans’ influence on Neurosis as well as the band’s last European tour, appearance at Supersonic Festival and his forthcoming new solo album.
E&D: You have just released your collaboration album with Jarboe. What led to you bringing out the album again?
Steve: It was never originally on vinyl, and we wanted to make it available and the process was a complete rerelease as the nature of manufacturing is that you have to remaster for vinyl anyway. Once we heard the new master, we decided we had to go back and repackage the thing entirely and then we wanted the better sounding version available on compact disc and digitally too.
E&D: How was it revisiting the album and how did the remastering process go?
Steve: I mean, mastering is a pretty subtle thing. It’s basically an equalisation step, so it’s not like we were remixing or having to dive back into the raw sounds or anything but Noah Landis, the keyboard player of Neurosis, he’s kind of our resident ears for fidelity. When it came time to sit down and talk about it, we knew we wanted Bob Weston to do the the lacquer cutting for it. When we were listening to the mixes we had to work with, Noah thought that we’d be better off going back to the original, fixing a few things up and preparing it better, because it was originally mostly recorded on a kind of consumer levels Pro Tools, which especially back then left a lot to be desired in terms of fidelity. By going back as far as we could, we were able to undo some of that damage and get Bob the most pure version to work with we could.
E&D: Was it Noah working with Bob on the remastering?
Steve: Yeah, there were conversations going back and forth about what Noah wanted to achieve. Out of the remaster itself, I think they went they went through several versions and had to spend some particular time on a couple of tracks to correct some phase issues, but I think it turned out great, it sounds phenomenal compared to the first version.
E&D: Have you heard from from Jarboe about the remaster?
Steve: She likes it!
E&D: Aaron Turner has done the artwork for the release. Can you tell you how he came to do it and what he’s done with the artwork?
Steve: Well, Aaron is a trusted friend who we’ve worked with on a lot of projects over the years, and when it was clear that we were not going to be able to use the original artwork, we asked him if he wouldn’t mind kind of taking a stab at it. He warned us ahead of time that he’s in a very non representational phase of his artwork, and that he’s doing some pretty abstract stuff. He thought that he could still do something that looked like it belonged in our catalogue though, and especially this one, which is kinda more of a merging of the masculine and the feminine energies, do something that would honour the music. Though it’s a little abstract for us, I think we we looked at it for a while and decided that it it had the right energy.
E&D: What was the experience like working with Jarboe on the album?
Steve: She’s just a really unique being in that she’s one of those really gifted people who completely loses herself in the sound and really becomes it. We had met several times before the album actually was done, but the actual recording process itself was done long distance. We mostly created the skeleton of the album ourselves. We pulled ourselves out of our normal routine, we didn’t want to simply make a Neurosis record and have somebody else sing on it, that wouldn’t be that interesting, so we really tore apart our process and made it more studio based and intuitive. It all started by kind of grinding out rhythms and going back to old master tapes and stealing Jason’s old drum parts, but starting them in the wrong spot, flipping them backwards, dubbing they out and chopping and screwing them all just to really get a kind of unique rhythmic approach as opposed to before where it was all riff based. It really all started with rhythms and tones and then we built on it from there. When we got a skeleton we liked we sent her the tracks and she responded and sent back a ton of vocal tracks and we kind of were able to edit and choose the tapes we liked and the layers we thought accentuated in music and were able to go in and kind of do a final edit that we thought was really tight and well arranged and throw some last minute ear candy responding to her vocalisations. It was a really interesting process and very different for us. It wasn’t like we were sitting and writing songs, it was like we were building stuff out of clay.
E&D: Have you worked like that since or have you gone back to the riff based process when writing songs?
Steve: For Neurosis, we definitely like to do it where we write songs in the rehearsal space and put them down to tape as opposed to screwing around digitally.
E&D: Would there ever be a chance for Neurosis and Jarboe to work together again?
Steve: I mean, never say never, it’s not something that’s come up since. It’s hard enough for the members of Neurosis now living so far apart for us to even get our own stuff done., so it would definitely be a lot harder to do something like that at this point, but you never know.
E&D: What was your initial vision with the album when it was being conceived and do you think that you achieved that?
Steve: Well, we don’t really have cerebral conversations. Any preconceived music, at least from Neurosis perspective is concerned, we really try to let it be gut level. If it’s preconceived in the mind, our theory is that at least with our own music and our experience, it says that it’s going to be inherently weaker than if you just kind of surrender to the process, so there wasn’t really a vision. We kind of know what our moods and and what vibe our music takes. We know the types of places that it goes. We know ourselves enough to know what we like and don’t like, but we didn’t have any specific ideas of what it should be like, other than it would be our moody atmospheres mixed with her intense vocals. It was more of a trust in the process, than any sort of preconceived idea. We knew it would be intense.
E&D: You did a few live performance with a Jarboe as well. How were they and would you would you ever do that again?
Steve: That was great, because we had to recreate the tracks. When she came out to rehearse with us, we had to learn how to play the songs live. They were like studio creations, they weren’t really written as a band, they were kind of sculpted out of sound, so we had to adapt them and turn them into something else. We had always loved this Patti Smith’s song ‘Easter’, and we convinced her that we should do that as well, so we learned how to play that from from kind of a Neurosis perspective. That was really awesome. As far as doing it again, since there’s not a new record out probably not, but life is long so you never know.
E&D: Were Jarboe and Swans a big influence on yourself and the rest of Neurosis?
Steve: Swans were absolutely a huge influence, and they continue to be influential. The music and in all areas of Swans in all different versions has been some of the most emotionally intense music most people have ever heard, definitely the early stuff up through Children Of God was a huge influence on early Neurosis.
E&D: Did you discuss that with Jarboe when you were doing the collaborative album, talking about Swans?
Steve: Not really, I mean, she knew we were fans, she came out in the early 90s and met her then because she had heard one of our songs off Enemy Of The Sun on a local college radio station down there in Georgia, where she lived, and her and Michael came out to see us at the Masquerade in Atlanta. We’re playing there, and she brought us peppers from her garden. So we definitely were able to wax many, many heaps of praise on them both for how important their music was to us. We played with Swans a couple of times since and hung out, I had many opportunities to hang out with both of them and yeah, they know how important their music sits for us. But, you know, again, when when we say some things are an influence on us, we hope it’s not actually a direct musical influence, something you can hear but just more of the idea, the same way that Black Sabbath or Pink Floyd or Joy Division or Crass would have been an influence on us, you know, just something that sounds so original, it feels like it came out of nowhere, like it was something that was just uniquely created in a specific environment with a specific group of people who surrendered to the muse. That’s clearly what Swans is, as well as a great act of will so, yeah they have been a huge influence on us to this day.
E&D: You recently headlined the opening night of the Supersonic Festival in Birmingham, how was that experience?
Steve: Incredible. We’ve been wanting to be part of Supersonic for a while, but it’s never really worked out. I think they used to have the festival in a different time of year, where we couldn’t get over there because of our jobs and whatnot. So to be able to make it there this past summer, and the fact that it was their 15th year and they were able to secure the the Birmingham Town Hall was incredible. Not to mention the fact that it was literally across the street from the 50 years of Black Sabbath exhibition and the Art Museum there.
E&D: Did you go to the Sabbath exhibition?
Steve: Yeah, we had to do a quick run through because we were in the middle of soundcheck so we literally had to run through it and look real quick, and go back to soundcheck. What was more frustrating for me, being a history nerd, was the fact that I saw on the sign that the Staffordshire Hoard was in that same museum and I couldn’t get back there before closing time at five o’clock and I was so fucking pissed! It’s such a great festival. I mean, Lisa and all the Capsule people involved and the women involved in putting that together. It’s just really inspiring. I mean, they’re clearly doing it for the love of it. They’re clearly very involved in their community and it’s also very local to that part of Birmingham, as far as having kids concerts and the art exhibitions and really utilising the spaces in that area to the best of their ability despite not having a lot of support from the city bureaucracies and having to fight for every bit of it is truly inspiring. It was great to be able to be a part of their 15th year, really awesome.
E&D: How did the rest of the European tour go and what were some of the highlights?
Steve: Oh, man, it was great. It started with our first show which was in some ancient Roman ruins. outside the city in a place called Antica. It was clearly some sort of old market town so it’s kind of our own kind of micro version of Live In Pompeii! We had record turnouts in Berlin, we had to move it to a bigger venue, same with Budapest, Hungary we were able to move that to a bigger venue. We played a straight ahead heavy metal festival in Slovenia and the fact that we were actually in Slovenia was incredible. Not only that, but something that for us Americans is quite unique in the continent, you can be in some sleepy little village in the frickin’ Alps of Slovenia coming down and all of a sudden, the sleepy little village has a metal festival in the middle of it. You know, you start you start seeing people in Motörhead shirts and black walking through this tiny little mountain town! Experiences like that are wonderful you know! It was a great tour, really incredible.
E&D: You toured and played shows and with Godflesh, Yob and Kowloon Walled City. Are you big fans of all those bands and how were they as tour mates?
Steve: Yeah, Godflesh were only on the England days, and of course we’ve always loved Godflesh, back from their their first couple of records, I think they changed the sound of heavy music forever, and yeah, Yob and Kowloon Walled City, the fact that we’ve released records both of those bands on our own label testifies to our love for them and our love for them as people as well. We love Yob and I think they’ve got some of the more unique kind of slow heavy music out there, lots of great use of melody and Mike’s vocals. I think it takes a lot of balls to sing like that and really kind of let it all hang out, kinda like the singers of old you know. Kowloon Walled City are from our hometown and I love their style of noise rock and they’re all great people, so it was great to be able to hang out all day with those guys.
E&D: You’re headed off shortly on a US tour with Bell Witch and Deaf Kids. Are you looking forward to not to?
Steve: Absolutely, I have actually yet to see Bell Witch although I’ve heard quite a bit. They’re one of the few bands that I think actually deserves the moniker doom because it’s so fucking agonising sounding and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that works live, they’re going to really bum some people out and I think that they’ll probably make us seem downright uplifting! Of course it’s well documented that I am a huge fan and advocate for Deaf Kids. I think that one of the most unique bands in underground music right now and coming all the way from Brazil is not easy. We worked really hard to get them their visas to get over here to the States and after they do the East Coast with us, they’ve got a nice run out to the West Coast with Big Brave so I’m just happy to get them to the United States.
E&D: Have you got any more plans for more touring after the US run?
Steve: Thats it for now. We’re just getting through the summer.
E&D: Do you come up with new song ideas while you’re on the road?
Steve: Not really, there’s not a lot of time to sit and have your instrument in your hand. We load in, in the morning, we set up all our shit, get the soundcheck in and the shit stays up there on the stage until it’s gig time so yeah, not too much. I mean, occasionally a riff, but not much.
E&D: Are there any plans at the moment for the new Neurosis album?
Steve: No, since the last album came out, we were only together for two days that we’re not actually touring. We live so far apart. that every day that we’ve seen each other over the last couple years has been on the road, so we’ll just have to see where it takes us, when we find some time when we’re not on the road and we can meet up somewhere and generate some ideas.
E&D: How about yourself musically. Have you got any other things in the pipeline at the moment?
Steve: Before the tour started, I finished a new solo album. I finished recording it and mixing it up. I don’t have an exact plan for it yet because I literally ended the school year, went and finished it and then went on the road so I don’t have a title or artwork or a timeline or anything but it’s a pretty unique one for me. There’s no guitars on it. It’s all piano and strings and French horn and electronics. It definitely pulled something unique out of me vocally, so I look forward to being able to say more about that in the future.
E&D: That’s been absolutely brilliant. Steve, thank you very much for your time. I saw you at Supersonic and it was it was absolutely phenomenal.
Steve: Awesome. What a great place to play.
E&D: The setting in Birmingham Town Hall was immense with the organ at the top and the performance was brilliant!
Steve: Here’s a funny fact, when we got there, the lighting company had put a giant black backdrop that went all the way to the ceiling so that it covered the organ and when we got there, we’re like what the fuck are you guys doing? I mean, that’s the best part of the building, that’s the whole reason to play in here and it took hours to find somebody who had the permission to lower the backdrop! It was fucking great, I’m glad you were there, man.