Quiet side of metal
After 15 years, Neurosis’ Scott Kelly settles in as a solo artist
The first time Neurosis fans caught the band’s vocalist-guitarist Scott Kelly strumming an acoustic guitar was around the time of his first solo release, Spirit Bound Flesh, back in 2001. Needless to say, it took a little getting used to.
“People were super confused at first—they didn’t know what to think about it,” Kelly said recently from a tour stop in Philadelphia. “They’d come expecting one thing, and got something else.”
It was, perhaps, just as much of an adjustment for Kelly. He admits that early solo material was less developed—both musically and thematically—than on subsequent releases, as he laid out more personal tales that became amplified next to spare acoustic guitar. Of course, Neurosis has never taken a backseat to Kelly’s solo work. The Bay Area metal behemoth he formed three decades ago continues to release metallic post-rock blasts of noise and play blisteringly intense sets all over the world.
“The difference is we try to blow someone’s mind apart with Neurosis,” Kelly said. “Playing solo I’m trying to lay something in there kind of gently. I use a sharper blade, if that makes any sense.”
It was Kelly’s admittedly late discovery of Townes Van Zandt, along with his desire to get a few things off his chest through music, that inspired him to go solo (“Just in terms of me relating to someone, Van Zandt just has these lines that cut me so deep”). Over three records, including 2012’s more fleshed-out The Forgiven Ghost in Me—on which he collaborated with Neurosis members under the name Scott Kelly and the Road Home—Kelly has continued to sharpen his own writing and storytelling skills. He digs deep personally over dirge-y country songs, his gravelly voice bringing to mind a more downtrodden Kris Kristofferson.
The subject material comes naturally, as Kelly reflects on life as a working musician, as well as chasing his own demons. He’s been sober for almost 14 years, something he says he had to do in order to survive and carry on in music. “I just have one of those personalities,” he said. “I need to surround myself with positive things, or I’ll self-destruct.”
Kelly has also had to balance his family life and music for the better part of his career. He has five children, some from a previous marriage. And his wife, Sarah, has dealt with serious health issues over the past year. Through the challenges, Kelly insists he has to keep working, partially to provide for his family.
“I need to work more than Neurosis can,” said Kelly, who’s called Medford, Ore., home since moving there from the East Bay in 1999. “It’s probably the least difficult for me—I just pack up my shit and go, and my family is left to keep it all together. But everyone knows it’s what I do. If I don’t do it I get stir crazy.”
And that’s what Kelly continues to live by. Over the years he’s had his hands in numerous projects, including his latest group of industrial noisemakers, Corrections House, which just released its second album, Know How to Carry a Whip, last month. His current solo incarnation has him collaborating with Bruce Lamont, from Chicago avant-metal band Yakuza, who brings an assortment of instruments to Kelly’s songs.
Then there’s Neurosis. The band is set to hit the studio the day after Christmas (Kelly describes the new material as “psychedelic and super heavy”), and will play a handful of shows in early 2016 to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary, playing songs from every Neurosis record.
Thirty years goes by pretty fast. And Kelly is living proof that perseverance can pay off. Of course, don’t ask him to explain it to you.
“I don’t know, man. I’m like a caveman—I adapt and survive,” he said. “I don’t spend too much time thinking about it.”