Metal Skull: Harvestman: By Wind And Sun — An Interview With Steve Von Till

Furthering a seemingly unbreakable will geared toward sonic exploration, Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till has released In A Dark Tongue, his second album under the Harvestman banner. It is an album rife with lonely ambient soundscapes and raucous psychedelic jamming, blending Western European folk influences and an open sense of structure to create something wholly unique within the Neurot milieu. Von Till recently took some time out for the following phoner.

How is In A Dark Tongue different from Lashing The Rye in your mind?

Well, the first one was sort of like my first solo album. I didn’t have a project in mind, I just had a collection of recordings from over the years of strange stuff that wasn’t Neurosis, wasn’t Tribes Of Neurot, wasn’t Steve Von Till songwriting stuff. After a while it took shape and I realized there was a body of work there that was leaning more towards a guitar-based home-recorded psychedelic tribute to European folk songs and folklore and Celtic and Germanic mythology, taking all the things I was interested in and filtering it through traditional filters but coming up with something (laughs) very unorthodox as far as a tribute to traditional music might go. While it looks towards European folklore and folk songs and folk music, it also looks towards what I like about what I think is modern Celtic and Germanic folk music: the krautrock, the space rock, the psychedelic music of the free festivals in England and the folk rock revival of the ‘70s. How those things inspire me, putting it through my own filter of using my home studio as an instrument to create these strange pieces of music.

I wanted to ask you about the home studio. How has that process evolved for you, taking this record into consideration and the last solo album, in terms of writing and composing there and using that space, like you said?

Well, I definitely have built a more proper studio in the sense that I have more space and more proper gear to do things better. I think I’ve become a better engineer, so in some ways my tonality is getting better, but I’m still a total amateur, so it still has a home-recorded feel. My gear collection has grown (laughs), which for me, anytime there’s a new piece that has new sonic possibilities, it’s time to dive in and try it. I get inspired by the sounds things make. I’m a total hack of a guitar player, so if I get a new guitar pedal or amp or a new microphone to mic it up, it’s different things to try.

Oftentimes I’ll play with it and it’ll inspire me to play a certain way. You sit down, play with a different guitar, it’s gonna inspire you to do different things. It’s been much more reacting to that as well, and on this recent piece too, there were some collaborations I did at friends’ houses. ‘Hey, we got a bunch of guys just jamming psychedelic music out in the hills, do you want to come jam?’ and I said, ‘Cool, but can I record it?’ That became kind of a collaborative process. There wasn’t really much collaboration on the first one. A small bit. Mostly accidental from people who had no idea they were collaborating with me, it was just sitting around on tape that I ended up using. This time there were some definite jam sessions which turned into pieces. I took them back and manipulated them. I like the dub perspective of it— doesn’t matter what originally went to tape, you’re free to change it into anything you want in the mixing stage and use that as your base.

Me and Alex Hall [Grails] had collaborated; we had my friend Al Cisneros from Om come in and play bass one day. That was still back before I had a proper studio. This new record kind of crosses both studios, the one I had when I lived in the city and the one I have out here in the country. I don’t know. It’s very liberating to have my own place with quality stuff that I can go to and turn stuff on and see if something happens, which for Harvestman, it’s very improvised. There’s not a whole lot of writing or planning that goes into any of it.