Review: Scott Kelly at the Hi-Dive, 12/3/11

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SCOTT KELLY at HI-DIVE | 12/3/11

There were plenty of signs around the hi-dive last night indicating that this was an acoustic show. Meaning: Talking was ill-advised. Even so, some people near the stage decided to have a conversation at the beginning of Scott Kelly's set, at which point he kindly asked them take it some place else. For the rest of the set, the crowd was quite respectful and their attentiveness was rewarded with a performance from Kelly that was raw, honest and focused.

After gently admonishing the talkers, Kelly played nine songs that were a marvel of spare composition hefted by a palpable emotional intensity. Playing both a low end line like bass while playing a rhythmic lead with hanging chords, Kelly created a heightened mood that permeated the room with shimmering gloominess. Not that the music was depressing, but it felt like it came out of a great need to expose, or at least explore, aspects of some secret, personal pain in a constructive and honest way.

"Figures" was the perfect example of how Kelly could contain nearly overwhelming emotions and turn it into poetry without the often requisite level of melodrama, while "In the Wake of Everything" recalled "D" by Codeine. There's not many things you hear in music that have that same degree of harrowing emotions spent and then rearing their ugly head to devastate you again with the memory. It was like the awful specter of an experience that changed you forever only to make you relive it again when you think about it.

Toward the end of the set, Kelly played a new Shrinebuilder song and told us that this was as great an audience as he's had for his solo shows. Maybe in general. And the crowd was incredibly giving, appreciative and gracious in a way you don't see often enough. But, how often are you going to get to see something like this, really? Someone who's seen Kelly play solo a number of times said this was one of his best shows. He closed with a weighty yet cathartic version of "We Burn Through the Night," and it sounded like something that had to have been an influence on Kevin Failure of Pink Reason, which is no faint praise.

Munly played a solo set before Kelly took the stage. It's been a while since we've seen Munly play solo, and he's clearly honed his craft to a fine degree on all levels. His guitar playing was crisp, layered and subtly evocative, and he's found a way to focus the raw character of his voice. A lot of people with a bit of a country background will use yodeling as a gimmick or an affectation. Last night, Munly used it to accent his lyrics with a graceful flourish. He evoked a sense of background menace while weaving stories in his words like dimly lit parables, part Cormac McCarthy, part John Steinbeck.

Pleading to the universe for succor with his voice from moments of spiritual crisis, Munly made a song out of the Slim Cessna's Auto Club catalog seem even more poignant, not just because of the intimacy of the show but thanks to his take on that song without the rest of the band around him. Munly has always been an interesting and significant artist, but this show revealed another facet of what it is that makes his songwriting and presence so enduringly worthwhile.

After the show, we had a chance to talk to Kelly in the green room at the hi-dive about various aspects of his career, Savage Republic, the UFC and the nature of how he approaches his louder music and the acoustic sets. Click through to read the entire interview.


Bias: Neurosis is one of my favorite bands, and Scott Kelly's solo music is a very different but important facet of his artistic expression. Random Detail: Ran into Adam Avery formerly of The Bedraggled and Soul Bender at the show. By the Way: Scott Kelly is the same person off stage as he is on stage -- real, gracious and articulate.

Westword: How did you learn about a band like Amebix when you were younger, and why were they so influential on you and what you've tried to do?

Scott Kelly: It was actually from a roommate I had, the guy that I lived with at the same time I started Neurosis. He turned me on to Amebix. I turned him on to Celtic Frost. We were both really tripping on heavy music. Amebix just had such a -- and continue to have -- a deep spiritual resonance with me. Not only in the rhythm and the tone of what they do, but their lyrics are so moving and empowering in so many ways.

They're one of those bands, like Crass, that makes you feel good about being who you are, makes you feel stronger about your path in life. I don't know that I've ever been able to convey that in my music, but I appreciate that in them a lot. Their music, to me, speaks for itself. It's heavy music, and every record they've done from beginning until Sonic Mass is always what I'm listening to. I was just listening to Sonic Mass on the way here.

On a relatively recent solo tour you went out on the road with Scott "Wino" Weinrich. Obviously, you're in Shrinebuilder together, but how did you settle on the cover songs you performed on that tour? What Joy Division song did you perform, and why that song?

It was "Isolation." He was the one who really wanted to play it. You know, that was one of the things when we first met: "Oh really? You're a Joy Division head, too?" Joy Division's one of those bands that some people... You're either obsessed with them, or, no pun intended, it's not your flavor.

I think you have to understand the suffering, to an extent, to identify with a band like Joy Division. And I think you have to be in it. They're not an everyday band. At some points in your life they maybe, at least in my experience. But they're so unique and so special. The other songs we did, we did a passage out of Jesus Christ Superstar, the first tune in the movie, "Judas."

Then we did a Grateful Dead song Wino turned me on to. I didn't realize there were any good Grateful Dead songs, but actually there are. I had an aversion to them just growing up a punk rocker. It's one of those things I'd never tried, and then I realized it's a super heavy tune.

Yeah, a friend of mine turned me on to them after I had reflexively hated them for years, and he and I went to see Phil Lesh live around ten or eleven years ago, and then it made complete sense to me.

I haven't done that. I haven't gone to see Phil Lesh or anything, but Wino definitely enlightened me to the fact that those guys wrote some great songs.

I saw a video of you performing "Lord of Light" by Hawkwind. What is it about Hawkwind that you found interesting enough to cover one of their songs?

I love Hawkwind ever since I first heard them. I caught on to them a little bit late, probably in the early '90s or something, after we're kind of already tripping on our path. Then we realized, "Wow, these guys were out there doing this shit long ago." Then, of course, you connect them with Lemmy and everything, and obviously their history is pivotal in rock and roll. I like to cover songs by people I admire and that song in particular the lyrics really spoke to me.

Earlier this year on your blog you wrote about Jon "Bones" Jones. What do you find interesting about the UFC, and what specifically about "Bones" struck you so powerfully?

I like the UFC. I grew up a boxing fan. My dad was a boxer, not full time. But he boxed and taught me how to box when I was young. So I always grew up a boxing fan and always appreciated hand fighting. Then I discovered Bruce Lee when I was probably in my teenage years. Then had a realization about him, at some point along the line, that he was basically Jimi Hendrix, in terms of his mastery and dedication and overall superiority to anyone else who had ever attempted to do what he's doing.

So when the UFC started, I was immediately drawn to it, because it was real fighting. I appreciate sports, but I especially appreciate the cerebral sports like baseball or the sports that are violent like football or hockey, or the sports where the guys are really putting themselves on the line. Where their health and well-being is actually at stake when they're going at it, like car racing or MMA.

Now MMA is a cross between the cerebral and the people who are really putting themselves on the line. The sacrifice ritual that the fighters go through to prepare is so intense and so out of this world, I don't have the understanding... I've never gone through it, and I certainly couldn't at this age -- I suppose I could if I had to be I'd probably have to start somewhere else before I got to that point.

Jon "Bones" Jones is, to me, this is Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Bruce Lee, Jimi Hendrix. This is the guy. Fedor [Emelianenko] was the guy for a while, but Jon Jones would have fucked him up in his prime, in my opinion. Jon Jones does things other people can't dream of doing and he improvises in the moment. In a sport like that, anyone can lose. But nobody's even got close to him, and he's like, what, 23, 24? He's very young and very mature. He seems very level-headed.

I love the story about the day of the night that he took the title for the first time. Him chasing down a mugger and subduing him in the street with his coach. I just watch that guy, and I am absolutely transfixed by his abilities, and I don't see anybody who's going to come close to him for a long time. Who's he fighting next? [Lyoto] Machida? I don't see anybody coming close to him. He is absolutely devastating in all ways.

Is there a particular acoustic you prefer to play and why? Electric?

I don't really have a particular acoustic right now. I do have an endorsement from Schecter, and I'm working on finding the guitar; right now that would definitely be the one that I play. it's a recent endorsement, so I haven't really gotten there yet. But I think they make nice guitars. I've had a Les Paul Studio; for nineteen years or so that's been my baby.

I've recently hooked up with a guy from Monson Guitars. Mike from Yob is playing them, Nate from US Christmas is playing them. Wolves in the Throne Room are playing them. Will from Indian is playing them. Brent Monson handcrafts every guitar himself. He's a genius; he absolutely dials them into what you're looking for, your sound. He uses a lot of wood. They're beastly guitars and the new Neurosis will be recorded with them in three weeks.

Neurot Recordings released the latest Savage Republic album, 1938. How did you become familiar with Savage Republic and what was it like working with them in getting that record put out?

I've known about them for the entirety of my adult life. I used to see them around the Bay Area. They've been the music that Neurosis plays before we play for the last sixteen or seventeen years. We play Tragic Figures. That's our tone setter. That's our ritual music. So getting a chance to put out their record was an honor. They're an exceptional band. They're just so unique. How can you describe Savage Republic to someone?

I know, when people I ask, I say, "It's post-punk.."

Surf dirge.

Yeah. Almost ambient sometimes, Middle Eastern-flavored, but scary and sharp and all of that.

Yeah, and then it's something else too. It's simultaneously intellectual and brutish. It's really special music. They were great, man. Ethan Port's basically who we work with. He's a great guy. They were just happy to have someone interested. They've been around so long. They do other things and it's not their full focus but they're such a special band and we were really honored to be able to do something for them.

Your solo material seems as intense and as haunted as anything else you've done. It resonates in my mind with the best neo-folk stuff without really being that. What do you try to do with your solo efforts that you aren't necessarily trying to do with your other projects? Or, what does it allow you to do that you can't in those other projects as much?

I just perceive it differently. I perceive it as pure song. Stripping it down to just acoustic guitar makes it necessary for me to have to be able to write a song. Even if there's a really ambiguous story, there has to be some sort of line through the song that makes some sort of sense.

I've actually written a couple of songs that are pretty straightforward lyrically, so I've found it really freeing in that way and ultimately really challenging because the heavy stuff is what I do naturally. This is something I took up because I really wanted to do it even though I couldn't.

I think Spirit Bound Flesh really shows that. I mean that record isn't really good. It sounds like acoustic Neurosis. There's very little separation in that record, it's an acoustic Neurosis record. And I didn't feel like I hit it a couple of times emotionally. It was there. I can't play music that's not emotionally there.

But I didn't feel like executed it the way I wanted to. I feel really good about The Wake. I felt it was a really big step in terms of here's some songs you can listen to that evoke emotion and tell a story. And my new batch of songs I feel even better about.

It's a challenge and it's somewhat terrifying. Doing these performances is way more razor's edge than a Neurosis show. A Neurosis show is sort of a whirling dervish thing. I don't even know what's going on--I'm completely out of my mind. In my head it's just chaos. I'm just spiraling and it's all muscle memory and pure raw emotion and completely unbridled.

With this, you have to be focused, calm, under control. Every time you make a mistake--ten mistakes per set that are obvious. Where I miss a chord, hit a note bad, or my voice cracks, you just have to immediately continue on. There's no mask, you know? With Neurosis I'm behind a mask and I have a huge wall behind me and I have all my brothers up there and it's something that I'm completely comfortable with, probably more so than with anything in my life.

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