NO NECK BLUES BAND: DID WE RAISE THE DEAD TODAY?
New York City’s No Neck Blues Band are a formal ensemble of seven who make uniquely improvised freeform electric music on rooftops and in forests and parks if available. They last visited LA seven years ago with John Fahey, who was then deciding that they were his favorite band, and they return now with a new album called Qvaris and even a new music video charged with mysterious power. One amiable and anonymous band member–No Neck dislikes personality overpowering their music–speaks from his exciting day job somewhere in New York.
So you met the band when they were playing at the Coney Island side show?
Yeah, I went to see Borbetomagus at Coney Island.
Like playing next to Shoot The Freak?
Totally, a little hole off the boardwalk. I was like ‘What in the hell?’ It was so fucked up and damaged. I didn’t even know what that kind of music was! And there were like three people at the show.
In the early years, before we had our own rehearsal space, we’d try to go to public rehearsal spaces and they’d throw us out.
You’d be surprised: ‘You’re not allowed to make that kind of music here!’ We actually have a cassette going from one rehearsal where the guy comes in and is like, ‘You gotta stop this racket!’ That’d be a good seven-inch one day. The first seven-inch on Ecstatic Peace is a document of a fight happening at a show–we started playing and people were coming up and saying, ‘You have to stop this.’ The club owner turns off the PA and we weren’t even–whatever, it was just the way it was. But we weren’t so much frustrated as it was shaping us to go our own direction–to put out our own records, get our own rehearsal space, do gigs in Chinatown because the Chinese people don’t fucking care! That’s how it works.
Does No Neck ever cross over into your lives outside the band?
We try to keep behind the scenes–obviously, when we play, you see us, but we’re not pop stars. It’s not like people see us on the street and are like, ‘Tell me about the song you wrote–it made me cry!’ The conceptual side behind No Neck is something that isn’t fabricated–like the vibe you hear on the records is actually indicative of the way we feel about the world. If you hear bleak passages of music, that’s because it’s representative of the collective mind frame we’re coming from. The sound is the same as our life. There’s nothing premeditated–no one controlling it, like ‘Today we’re going to play my composition.’ I hear in your questions your interest in the personal side, like what keeps us together–there seems to be something about the seven of us in the way we view and experience the world, which keeps us together over and above everything. And the people that respond to our music are the ones that hear something in that, too: ‘Fuck, that reminds me of my experience, too!’ We’re not trying to inflict something on people. If you hear it–like really hear it–that’s great, but we’re not going to inflict it on you. And we don’t inflict it on each other. No one tells anybody what to do.
So instead of using your music as an invitation for some kind of further communication–like for people to come up to you and talk to you about the songs after they hear them so you can somehow get to know each other better–you just put the music out there as something in itself? So people don’t need to know about the musicians behind it because everything they wanted to say is in the music itself?
Yeah, exactly. That’s why we don’t really do the interview thing. We didn’t want any personality to represent what you hear on the record. That’s the thing–you connect with the music, rather than the voices behind it.
What’s tour like for you guys? You don’t seem like a ‘Hey, CDs in the back!’ kind of band.
If anything, we argue about that. We don’t really know how to be on tour. It’s complicated because every night is all improvised–every night, we’re victims and recipients of our surroundings. We’re very vulnerable to our environment, and that can be emotionally quite taxing. We come up with a new repertoire every night–yeah, the chemistry is there, but who plays the first note? Every night, it’s the creative process anew.
That’s kind of mythic.
It feels really unique to me. I read about other bands who use like weird tunings and they say it’s hard to recreate that–for us, who the fuck knows what we were playing at the time when we recorded? That’s not what the band’s about. It’s hard because we don’t have a song as a barrier between us and the audience. It’s more like what happened: ‘Did we raise the dead today? What kind of spirit was in the place?’ It becomes an esoteric undertaking. I always feel like that’s implied in it.
Any particular environment you’d like to play music in?
We love the outdoor spots–around New York City, so many of our concerts in the early years were outdoors. As far as traveling, we get a little more removed, as far as our ability to control the setting–we had to give up a little. But locally, we’re quite specific about getting into greenery.
How do you tell if you’ve found a good spot?
How do you know the spot? I wouldn’t even know how to begin–how do you know when the girl is the one you need to be with?
How DO you know when the girl is the one you need to be with?
Are you looking?
I like to put good advice in the interviews.
Well, it’s a great question–I feel like I understand it now that I’m married. But I don’t know. I can’t put it into words. I wish I was a poet–when I read poetry, I understand what it means. But only poetry can really say it–only poetry can really answer your question.