No Neck Blues Band"The poetry that is involved in NNCK is not a poetry that I would expect anyone else to understand or read as poetry, but it is poetry to me. Therefore I will address it as such."
For almost 20 years now, NNCK have remained a truly singular entity within the field of experimental music. Dubbed “the greatest band in the Universe” by Thurston Moore, NNCK’s countless records and live performances have consistently eschewed classification. As mysterious as they are enigmatic, NNK serve as a reminder of what makes music (or sound) so sacred: something that cannot and should not be explained.
How did NNCK start?
It started in ’93 with myself and Jason Meaher after dropping out of college at the University of Buffalo, where we hated it. We dropped out of Buffalo, came back to New York, started playing together and going to a lot of shows.
What were you going for at the beginning?
We were making the effort to become the band that we wanted to see. This was being drawn from bands that we were seeing, research and life experiences happening at this time. We were going out all the time to see what was out there and this was influencing us. I don’t feel like that story is all that different from a lot of other people’s experiences at that age. We were in our early twenties. We existed behind closed doors for about a year.
This was the late 80’s?
This is the early 90’s. We spent about a year figuring out how to get on a schedule where we were meeting regularly.
This was initially two of you?
Also Pat Murano. This was the core. We fooled around with having a drummer. Being green about what free music would yield, I think we thought we needed a drummer, a proper drummer…
What do you mean free music?
A sort of explorational form that was met with impulse. Without knowing what was to come or what would reveal itself to us. The kind of sound exploration we ended up doing helped us to eschew the form of a traditional band.
If I heard a recording would I kind of recognize it as NNCK?
It is hard for me to say. I don’t think that there was much going on with these early sound fragments that we were creating. There were some points of reference to get us through. It was like we made an outline and then we would try to follow the outline. Pretty soon it became clear that was unnecessary.
The early 90’s was a big time for Indy rock, Alternative rock...
We were taking that stuff in, and probably anything else that you could mention that was in the air at that time. We were going out four to five nights a week to see concerts, to see shows. Bands like Unsane, Cop Shoot Cop, the earliest Incarnation of John Spencer’s Blues Explosion. We were friends with these people. The band that was very important and took us under their wing was Circle X from Louisville, Kentucky. They were older guys who played this no-wave kind of art-rock. Philosophically informed music. They were a conceptual band that would do things that were not rock and roll in a way that was much more compelling to us than what was common at the time. They were these guys who had read continental European philosophy and were staging these odd performance art gestures, with sculptural objects on stage.
So you abandoned the structured outlines?
Once we didn’t need this outline of a set or a structure for what we perceived to be our songs it became intuitive. We started to learn how to find it almost as much as makeit and started to recognize the thing that NNCK would be. That is when more people started coming in. It was always people who were exposed to the music who came to us and said “I want to do this also.” We knew that they heard the same thing we were hearing or they were experiencing the same impulse to do this thing.
Were you surprised?
It was always and remains surprising to me that anyone cares. It was really surprising at the time. We were cutting more and more of our ties with what a normal presentation would be. The shows were getting longer, involving treatments of the space in order to disorientate the audience.
Were you finding inspiration outside your peers?
AMM really had an impact on us. They were a famous free music group, one of the forefather’s of this kind of thing. We saw them at Contact Studios in ‘94. We saw video footage of a band from Japan called Hijokaidan, which means Emergency Stairs, one of the famous noise groups, if not the most famous noise group in the world. Becoming aware of this band and seeing glimpses of some footage from Japan in the 80’s was really radical exposure and we felt privileged and informed by seeing just glimpses. This liberated us. We didn’t need to be apologetic for these ideas that we had about our performances.
What is your relationship to Japanese music?
There was always something that resonated with us about extreme Japanese noise music and film. We would eventually become involved with this woman at Beecher Cove called Mico, the last person to join our group, who had a background in Butoh dance. She brought this whole dimension of this dance of darkness that is connected to Japanese post World War II psychology. I don’t know if it was the emergence or the struggle that happened based on the Americanization of Japan but there is a kind of fearless philosophical certainty to a lot of Japanese music and art that resonates with us.
I remember reading in an interview that you don’t like the terms mystical or spiritual.
Well, we certainly are not a commercial enterprise. When the red phone rings in our house you know it is not because we are getting paid. It is coming from a different authority. It is something else, something that I am not going to define. We are not thinking along the terms of the characterization of what it is. We are too busy finding it.
It sounds like scientific exploration.
The people who assemble Blues Band are all dyed in the wool bookworms and aesthetes. These are people who spent all of their time absorbing information, looking for understanding, the essence of things. People who have dedicated their lives in its entirety to this acquisition of understanding of knowledge.
What is your relationship to New York?
Being in New York, we are hiding in plain sight. We’re not in some compound working on our secret project, our secret truth, our secret precious thing. This has gone on in plain sight the entire time. We prefer to not even go inside a venue in order to do it. We would prefer to do it in public always. We want to make our music in an integrated way with what happens in the city and what happens in the city is not a removed thing. It is a frenetic, connected thing.
NNCK has always struck me as being very urban.
I have had no other experience than an urban experience. I don’t know what to compare it to. We decided without even discussing early on that everything and anything would be fair game to introduce to the equation. It would serve the whole and be integrated. There was never a line that was drawn that said “No, we can’t.”
I read that you toured with Trad Gras och Stenar, which surprised me, but also made a lot of sense.
We could really relate to what those guys had done with their band. They became a straight forward, rock-orientated group as far as their methods, but those guys started out very much along the lines of what it is that we do.
How was it touring with them?
It was great. As soon as we started to play shows with them their music started to emerge inside of our music and vice versa. You would hear traces of us in them. In the bigger picture I would say it was neither of our music.
What was the space you had in Harlem?
The Hint House. We had it for about 12 years. It was a joint venture of I think 17 people. We were renting it from a private landlord, who eventually sold it to Columbia University who then decided to build their art campus there. You don’t beat Columbia, or the Catholic Church. They tore down the building, which I was happy about.
Was it actually a house?
It was a three story loft space.
Did all the members of the band live there?
Various people lived there from the group at different times and also other people who were marginally associated with the group - friends. It was really important to our development to have a place to go. It was 2,500 square feet. It was not divided with walls but demarcated into two artist studios. At least 1,000 square feet of that space was our permanent playing field. No one lived in that room. The living space was above. It was three stories. We did shows. We recorded the album Qvaris in that space. We had a lot of great people play up there including John Fahey.
How did the space change your work?
We had been nomadic prior to that for about a year. We had our first studio down on 195 Christie Street, and were thrown out of it for insubordination. Then we were nomadic. We played Columbus Park weekly, which is right below Canal Street. That was interesting, and as necessary in our learning experience as having a permanent studio. When we got the building in Harlem we had the entire building.There were no neighbors. We weren’t beholden to anything but our own intentions. That transformed the band into something that was fully functioning as opposed to something that we were making an effort to create. Those sessions in the Hint House felt like much more. We would come to the sessions because NNCK would be happening.
Black Pope, 2009. By Adam Mortimer
Do you always meet once a week?
That was the standard. There were points where we met everyday.
Are they always different?
No, it got to the point where they were pretty much exactly the same every time.
Is it a conversation?
It is not that interesting really.
I read a quote where somebody in the band said “I wish I was a poet. When I read poetry I understand what it means.”
The poetry that is involved in NNCK is not a poetry that I would expect anyone else to understand or read as poetry, but it is poetry to me .Therefore I will address it as such. I will give it that respect. A lot of imagery, ideas and strategies of the band are poetic gestures that are done deliberately and consciously. It becomes a poetic gesture to make records, to do performances, to exist, to vouch for the name, to know that we are that thing.