Samtale med Steve Von Till

Jeg har lyttet til Neurosis de seneste 25 år og altid haft en klar fornemmelse af, at Steve Von Till både besad en urkraft og en følelsesmæssig dybde, hvor sidstnævnte i høj grad kommer til udtryk på hans soloalbums, der i en lind strøm er udkommet parallelt med Neurosis. Derfor glædede jeg mig også til at møde manden med skægget i forbindelse med hans solo optræden i Vega til en siddende koncert, der lagde op til fordybelse og eftertanke.

Det er ikke nødvendigvis de sædvanlige spillesteder, Von Till og bandet besøger på denne tour. Faktisk har de spillet på noget så forskelligt som et slot i Prag, et japansk kulturmuseum i Polen, et konservatorie i Birmingham, en kirke i London, en reclaimed kirke i Bristol med en punkrock forhistorie, en DYI pagan dark art-klub i Schweiz, i en professionel hollandsk rockklub og en række andre alternative spillesteder. Alle arrangeret med siddende publikum. Faktisk er det første gang Von Till gæster Danmark som soloartist, og måske skal det ses i lyset af, at hans oprindelige band, Neurosis, er sat på et foreløbigt og måske endegyldigt standby efter voldsomme kontroverser med stifter, guitarist og sanger Scott Kelly for et par år siden. Tidligere har Von Till stort set kun arrangeret korte, eksklusive tours som soloartist for at have mulighed for at tage på en udvidet sommerferie med familien:

”How many people get a chance to, one be a creative person and two, have anybody else care about their creativity and three, to have people care enough to be able to play in different places, where people show up and enjoy it. I don’t take any of that for granted, I feel nothing but gratitude every time I go somewhere and make sounds with and for people.”

Who is the person and the artist Von Till? Can you separate those two entities?

“I think if you are an authentic person and an authentic artist the separation is probably pretty slim. I won’t ever feel like there’s a difference between me being a father or a husband or a teacher or a musician or a poet. All those things are all just part of how I walk in this world. I don’t think you can put one piece out. I don’t create characters, I’m not an actor, I’m not a performer. I just feel driven to do all these different things.”

How do you experience the landscape from Neurosis very frantic and noisy sounds to what you play now, which is very ambient electronic and rather introvert?

“I just think music that moves me emotionally … I grew up with punkrock and I never considered our music metal even though I use the guitars. I’ve always considered we were punks, and we’ve just got heavy guitars, and we did something that nobody else did. We came up punk, and to us punk was Do It Yourself, fuck what other people think, and make the music you wanna make. And at that time, we were making the most emotionally driven music we could. At first, we were too young to figure out how, and then in about ’92 we figured it out adding the samples and finding better guitar tones. But we have never done guitar solos and all the metal trappings. So, I think we carved our own space, like our heroes in Black Flag and Joy Division, Black Sabbath, Throbbing Gristle created their own place. That’s what we always aspired to do, and I think we did it! I think we created our own place, and a lot of things came from it. We simply collected a few freaks along the way who wanted or was looking for some heavy emotional music and build our own following. Started our own label, promoted our own tours, and basically just done it the way we envisioned punkrock was for us. It wasn’t about music, it was a way of living.

The transition from the original punkrock to my solo music was natural because there was a lot of cross over between what we were always listening to. I’ve been listening to Brian Eno since I was a teenager or Tangerine Dream, where we would get inspiration for from the electronic side of things. And we have had moments in Neurosis, ambient moments or maybe neoclassical moments. But with my own music I created that by accident. I’ve always had home studio and around 1999 I realized I had all these tapes of songs that I would record at 2 or 3 in the morning in our house in the city. That was the only time in the house when it was quiet enough for me to get that out. These very soft and somber songs. And after collecting these songs for a while I realized I had a body of work that deserved to be out there. Or at least I had the wild idea to throw it out there, whether anybody else liked it or not!!”

And here we are, twenty years later!

“Yeah, and each thing leads to the next thing. You confront a fear: “Oh, I don’t want to put some music out under my own name, that’s some ego bullshit”, or “I’m not worthy of doing folk music or soft music or ambient music”, and each time I confront that negative voice talking, it opens up a new path.”

Is that why you chose Harvestman as a pseudonym?

“I just felt that that material was separate and that I needed a different name. I leave the stuff under my own name for the compositions, the songs. Harvestman is more abstract with no rules. It’s the catch-off from all the other stuff. Home recorded psychedelia however that comes out, whenever I turn the studio on.”

Which expression is the most powerful to you?

“It depends on who is listening. I create and I let it go. And what happens after I have no control over. It is depending on the person hearing it and what they need, whatever music they are listening to. Music hits you a certain way in a certain time of your life. You have a record you didn’t really understand so you didn’t pay much attention to it and then one day it hits you at the right time, and you are like, “Oh my God, now I understand, this is amazing”. You have to be in the right space for it to move you. I am more often in a space where beautiful music moves me in a lot of ways. But that might be because growing up with so much heavy music. It will never leave me, it’s in my blood. I think it depends on who is receiving the art and where they are in their life and what they need.”

How do you listen to music?

“I have three turntables in my house. I have one upstairs, one downstairs and one in the office. So, I prefer vinyl. Of course, streaming is convenient if you are in your car. I haven’t yet found a way to have records work in a car. I know in the fifties they had something, but they probably fucked up a lot of good records! I have a huge cd collection, but I haven’t seen it in years. But I definitely prefer vinyl, and a lot of my teacher pay check unfortunately still goes to buying vinyl all the time.”

What does Townes Van Zandt represent to you in an American culture context?

“Growing up it took me a long time to come around to country music and folk music. My parents played folk music around the house, but I wanted the more extreme. What would be the most extreme rock music in the seventies and then heavy metal, punk and hardcore in the eighties. Then at some point I realized that there has been people pushing the boundaries in all genres forever. I started getting into world music from different parts of the world, chanting, percussion and drumming, which led me eventually to Celtic and Scottish music, which brought me right back to America. Because there were Irish and Scottish folk songs that came to the Appalachian Mountains with the immigrants and turned into bluegrass that was again mixed with blues that turned into country. So, we were right back at the beginning. And of course, I don’t like almost in any genre the super produced bubblegum shit. I like the stuff that speaks to me, the soulful stuff. The right Johnny Cash record and the right Willie Nelson and pretty much Townes Van Zandt’s complete catalogue. I love all the songs, even though the production sometimes can be a little weard. And this whole idea of these people sitting there and crafting a song. It’s not really the way I write, so I’ve always been intrigued by that, and in my early solo records I toyed a lot with cover songs, and Townes Van Zandt was one of the early ones I did. Now I’ve done four of his songs, and they really speak to me. I feel he is – it is an overused word in English right now – but authenticity, I think he had it. He was what he was, and he sang like he meant it, and I believe every word when he sings it. It is unique, it’s a unique voice, darker and a little psychedelic.”

Will you be playing “If I needed you” tonight?

“No, it’s just my own music tonight. But I used to sing that to my wife on the phone, when she lived in Germany, and I lived in the States.

I have one last question, and I only ask you because I think you will have an answer to it. What is the meaning of life to you?

“To find connection with my inner most self, through art and music and meditation. But also, I don’t feel I can do that, I don’t think any of us can be connected to ourselves without being connected to the Earth and reestablishing our connection with the Mother Earth and this planet that we come from, because we are made of the same stuff. You and I are made of the same materials, we are made of the same … even of the manmade objects. And the more we can learn to see that it is one … we’ve only got one shot that we know of, one lifetime that we know of, to try to get back in tune with … connection to all things. And I have no idea if I will ever get even close, I feel we are all far away as human beings in the modern world, but my hope is that I just to be on that journey … the meaning of life for me is to keep walking forward on that journey and discovery and hoping that I can establish those connections with myself, the Earth and my loved ones.”

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