Interview – Depression and Darkness with Scott Kelly of Neurosis

September 2015 Vandala - Scott Kelly of Neurosis Interview

Scott Kelly is an inspiring dude and one who is a pleasure to talk to. He has a lot of deep thoughts and well articulated emotions and getting to pick his brain is truly a dream come true.

Interview By Matt Bacon
From September 2015 Vandala Magazine 
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How are you?

Scott: I’m doing okay. Shows have been good. I’m nursing a couple injuries but it’s fine.

What’s wrong?

Scott: I just have some persistent injuries from gigs. Long term shit in my knees and neck. My shoulders and hands can get funky and I f*cked my back up in Boston. I don’t know what I did. I’ve been spending time on ice and that’s been limiting my range of movement.

I’m 48 though. It’s been thirty years of doing this and I was a hard laborer most of my life up until about seven years ago when I got a desk job. So that’s what happens to your body. I also wasn’t a healthy eater for a long time there too…

Do you think your days on the road are numbered?

Scott: I don’t think so. Not that I can foresee. One of the reasons I put so much energy towards my acoustic music and stuff like that is because I have this need to express myself in this way and I see that if it gets to the point that I can only do a few Neurosis gigs a year I still want to be able to go out and play and sing so I’ll have that to focus on.

Where does that need to express yourself come from?

Scott: I have no idea. I feel like I have this burning desire all the time to let this stuff out. I let it out the same way every night. It’s always a heavy trip for me. I go through periods of time when I don’t pick up the guitar. I don’t pick up the guitar every day. I spend some time at home when I don’t. I’ve got kids and like I said I work a regular job. Sometimes the time doesn’t come to me in the day to play my guitar. I keep them around everywhere and I try to make it easy to play and write. I don’t know man, I’ve had this burning desire since I was… I don’t even know. The first time I recognized it I was thirteen or fourteen years old. But I always needed to get this shit out of me.

Does that stem from depression?

Scott: I’m diagnosed manic depressive. I am manic depressive, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve come to accept that. Typically it’s coming from a pretty dark spot. It doesn’t always. I find myself writing more love songs with my acoustic music. It depends where I’m coming from. Neurosis is one thing, Corrections House is another thing, my acoustic thing is something else and Shrine Builder was yet another. It reflects different aspects of my personality. I’m a little schizophrenic. So there are a lot of sides to it. It’s like a square… there are multiple totally different side.

I suffer from similar mental… fun… So I get it…

Scott: Or not so much! I know what you mean though. I have every reason in the world to live. I have a great wife and kids and a great band. I get to travel the world. I have nothing to complain about! Most people would happily trade their lives for what I’ve been able to do and experience but sometimes it doesn’t matter. It’s just empty.

I’m a professional writer and promoter… and it’s just terrifying how empty you feel when everyone wants your job…

Scott: Yeah… it doesn’t matter.

How do you reconcile living the dream and also being depressed?

Scott: I don’t know that I do. I don’t know that I can. I found myself talking to two of my oldest best friends the other night. We rarely see each other but I’ve known these guys since I was twelve years old. We were sitting around and I found myself complaining about the fact the only thing I do well is like play guitar and write songs. I feel confident saying I can do that well. Everything else I do is a real struggle and takes a lot of focus and energy and I don’t do it right very often and I make a lot of mistakes. They kind of looked at me and thought I was crazy because they were like “I wish there was one thing I could do that well!”

I know right? Like… I can write about music and get paid for it but I can’t follow a GPS…

Scott: GPS’s are hard man. It’s a total baffler to me. I’m getting better at some things. But other things… like anything having to do with math and taking care of my household… I can’t do it. My wife has to do it. I totally freeze up. It’s like if somebody put me in this room and said “Organize it” I wouldn’t be able to. Luckily it’s pretty organized but I just can’t see it. If someone sticks me in a cluttered room and is like “Okay let’s clean this up” I just can’t do it. I almost have to over caffeinate in order to pinpoint my vision and to say “Okay start here”. It’s f*cked up.

What I struggle with too is trying to explain that to people…Do you ever come into that?

Scott: Totally. I hate it. It’s a bummer. I’m thankful, I really am. I know people who are like at least… in my perception, they might not agree, but I think that they have this god given talent as well as the ability to do other shit and be responsible and take care of business.

Do you think that we’re almost…this sounds bleak… but do you think we’re born broken?

Scott: I don’t know man. I’ve had so many kids. I’ve seen them. I think people just get broken. I just think it’s the process of living your life. I think kids come in and they go through their trials and tribulations and that’s what shapes them into what they are and what we are. I don’t know that though. It could be. I do believe that there’s a fatal flaw with people that we’re kind of doomed to make these mistakes over and over. I can’t even get past that shit I know there’s this whole other world of politics and controlling entities and all those things and religions but I can’t even deal with that. That’s a whole other realm. I can’t get past the fatal flaw.

Does that mean you have no sense of spirituality?

Scott: I definitely do. It’s definitely born from music. My experience with music is what showed me that there was something else there. I definitely believe there’s other things involved in this whole experience. I feel them every night and every time I pick up the guitar. I know certain things resonate with me deeply typically old religious iconography of many different types whether it’s pagan or Christian or Buddhist. So much of it touches me in a deep way. I gravitate towards that. I like going to old Catholic churches and absorbing all that stuff. It’s the same with Buddhist stuff. I like to be around it. For me music is meditation so I can connect to it through that. Pagan stuff was the first stuff I really identified with. But I’m not choosing sides. I don’t believe in that.

NeurosisIs there a common thread in the iconography that attracts you?

Scott: I’m just attracted to symbols man. It doesn’t matter. Like… my grandmother had this really detailed gory crucifixion statue that she kept by her bed. You could see the wound and the blood coming out of it and the blood coming from the nails at the hands and the feet. I used to stare at that endlessly to the point that my parents got mad at me. All I wanted to do at her house was stare at it. It made my parents so mad. My dad was a staunch atheist he rejected the religion at 12 after being raised Irish Catholic. If you even brought religion up he would thrash you for it, but I was just tripping out on it. I didn’t knowingly see any Buddhist stuff until I got much older. I wouldn’t have recognized it when I was little because I didn’t grow up around Buddhists. It’s the same with the pagan stuff that came later. It’s just powerful stuff. It carries so much weight because of how much it means to the people who believe it.

Are you to some degree a universalist?

Scott: Probably. I have no problem with anybody of faith at all. In fact I get pretty bummed out when people pick on people because they’re Christian or Muslim or whatever. I’m not into that. I don’t know if you ever saw that Religionless movie that Bill Maher did. I f*cking hate that guy because of that movie. I thought he came off as a piece of shit. That was bullshit when he went into that Jesus park and made fun of the Jesus guy and that guy just stood there and took it. He was so insistent on saying “No man, this is who I am and what I believe in” He came off as a smarmy f*cking dickhead insulting people of faith. It’s like… go fuck yourself… that’s what I would say if I saw him. I thought he was a smart dude until I saw that but he’s just attacking people for the thing that gives them solace in this very hard life.

Previously you mentioned music as meditation. Is music your main connection to the divine?

Scott: Definitely.

Building on that…can you astrally project through the music? Or is it just like finding a void within?

Scott: It’s kind of both but I’m not exactly sure because I’ve never been trained in that stuff. I can’t say if it’s one or the other. I feel myself go somewhere else completely during the time that I’m playing music. It doesn’t have to be performance mode it can be at home or wherever I pick up a guitar. I know it when I find the right moment in a riff. It will just kind of hit me. I also feel like it just kind of comes through us. I feel like Neurosis when we’re writing and creating it’s coming through us. That’s how I know it’s right. We just stand there and let it happen. We give it lots of room and let it breathe and write itself. You have to give it lots of space and it will either expand or contract and find its way.

You’re one of the fathers of this heavy scene that’s dominating right now. How does it feel to see hundreds of bands that have a heavy Neurosis influence to the point that influence can dominate festivals?

Scott: It feels good man. I hope that it just inspires and pushes people to keep pushing things well after we’re gone and I’m sure it will. There’s a lot of bands that came before us and pushed us to do what we do. We committed ourselves to pushing ourselves to the limit and pushing our boundaries and skills. It’s a total honor honestly. At first it was a little weird like twenty years ago when I first started noticing it happening. Now I don’t even notice it as much.

It kind of defines the sound…

Scott: It kind of does and I’m not even aware of it as much. I found myself digging this riff from this band, they had given me a CD and I remember riding in the car with a German friend and I was like “I really dig this” and my friend pointed out that it was a direct rip of one of our riffs! And I was like “Well there you go, I wrote it so I like it!”

The thing is if you listen to Joy Division and if you listen to Amebix and Rudimentary Penii and Black Flag and Black Sabbath and with some Pink Floyd thrown in and you’ve got it. It’s not a complicated formula. There’s a shitload of all of those bands in our sound, that’s us! It’s not a huge mystery. We were lucky enough to be together for thirty years and survive this long. It’s given us time to get the osmosis process to the point that we’ve absorbed the influences so much that what’s coming out is… I guess it’s less defined. The root influences are totally there. Voivod too… It’s clear as day really.

A band of similar longevity that comes to mind is Napalm Death…

Scott: Totally. I actually saw them not long ago and they were so f*cking good. I was really impressed. I’ll be honest with you, I’d seen them a couple times before and I wasn’t that impressed. Maybe it was just my mood because as we talked about before sometimes you get moody and miss things. But they just crushed the f*cking room. There vibe was so good and their energy was just so positive. It’s really… I love their politics. Their politics are right on. If I was in a political band I would want it to be Napalm Death. They are right on the money. They’re not f*cking around. They don’t pussyfoot. If you don’t like it f*ck you. I was super impressed and became a fan again.

Well for me it’s the same with Neurosis… like I didn’t understand neither of those bands until I saw them live…. How do you channel that vibe when you play?

Scott: It’s not a positive feeling. It’s pretty murky. I think it’s the combination of the five of us that’s what you get. I’m struggling with some murky stuff and I can’t speak for everyone else but I know from my perception that it’s really that stew and that combination of the five of us. It’s just our lifes’ work. You hear that term and this is what that is for me. It’s 30 years of hard work and loyalty and perseverance. We’ve been through a ton of shit together in our real lives and we’ve always stood by each other. We made this a commitment when we started this band to never quit and just do it and it really comes through.

To head towards the end… In my head you’ve always been like William Blake in terms of how you speak… truth. I’ve always really admired you. What contexts shaped you?

Scott: I went through a lot of shit when I was pretty young. I was on my own really young. I had a lot of addiction problems and made a lot of really bad decisions. I’ve hurt a lot of people. I’ve tried really hard to become a better person. I carry a lot of weight with me wherever I go for the shit that I’ve experienced and the shit I’ve unfortunately shared when I wish I hadn’t. I don’t really like to talk about specifics because I just feel like they’re personal and I like to hide behind the music. But I can tell you it’s no different than what you or what anybody else has gone through on some level. Everyone has hard times be it young, old, or just all the time. I’ve had a lot of great things and good times but a lot of those things have been balanced with the hard times and times I’ve had to learn.

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