(NCS writer BadWolf interviewed Neill Jameson of Krieg and Twilight, whose third and final album is due for release in a couple of weeks. To say it’s a wide-ranging, no-holds-barred discussion would be an understatement. You don’t want to miss this.)
When it comes to the US Black Metal movement, few individual musicians have made as much of a splash as Neill Jameson. He released his first demo tape as Imperial in 1995—just a year after Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. In the nearly twenty years since, Jameson has produced raw and honest “bedroom” black metal as the sole member of Krieg. Many consider his 2004 LP The Black House to be essential USBM listening. There will be a new Krieg album this year on Candlelight, but first Jameson needs to live through the press cycle for the third Twilight album, III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb.
Jameson had his hands full recording III, dealing with a rotating cast of characters. Twilight has been blighted by negative media attention since the arrest of founding member Blake Judd (also of Nachtmystium). Judd is now out of the band, but Thurston Moore of esteemed noise-punk outfit Sonic Youth is in. Alongside them stands super-producer Sanford Parker, as well as Stavros Giannopoulos of The Atlas Moth and Wrest of Leviathan. These five musicians are giving Twilight the swansong the project deserves.
Jameson took time out of his busy schedule as proprietor of a record store (the man’s Facebook posts, often putting his own customers on blast, are among the funniest you’ll read) to talk with NCS about the tumultuous story of Twilight, from beginning to end.
How are you doing, Neill?
I’m trying to balance everything that I have going on using a healthy combination of sleep paralysis and nicotine. Feel free to ask anything, I mean it, I’ll give straight answers.
What happened with getting this Twilight record together?
It seemed like it was going to be the normal process of all of US getting together with ideas and banging out a record, but as it drew closer and closer it became glaringly obvious that this wasn’t going to be the case. I knew about certain personal issues in everyone’s lives but I figured we’d all be able to hold it together for this, but that just wasn’t the situation at all. I had just been in Chicago to do a “tour” with Krieg to support Nachtmystium for the release of Silencing Machine, but most of that fell apart except for two shows. Right after I left the backbone, instrumentally, of the band went in and recorded the skeletons of a few songs. By the time I got back a few weeks later it seemed like we’d be on track as a full band, but multiple personal problems compounded and Blake just wasn’t able to get his head into the game. Keep in mind this was 2012, the record is now getting released in 2014. Similar theme.
Well you’re in New Jersey, not in Chicago, right? So how much do you really know about whatever began in 2012? I mean, do you think you were really in the loop?
The rest of the band kept me in the know in terms of how shit was going before I got boots on the ground for recording, but in terms of the business end of things, until last autumn that was all Blake and because we were all busy with our own bands and schedules that naturally kept our heads in the sand. I was aware that during the last two albums it was mentioned that I would be removed, mostly because of money. Which is funny since we were supposed to be this trinity that held the thing together. Fortunately, Whitehead has always stood with me and this didn’t come to pass, but it really soured me on the whole thing.
The trinity being you, Judd, and Whitehead?
If Blake’s public persona was to be believed, yes. But he’s always looked on me as the weak link, mostly because the media doesn’t give much of a shit about me.
Well, in a sense I see that as an asset for you. It lets the focus be on the merits of your work. And also, let’s be honest, solo black metal outfits don’t often have a reputation for being open to coverage. Jef’s pretty reclusive, for example.
I’ve never gone into this for anything other than the satisfaction of creating. I have a job to enable me to live, black metal regardless of whether it’s being used to sell cars or iPods or what not just has never been about sustaining my physical life. My emotional life however is another story. And Jef stays reclusive for good reasons, he lets the strength of his music do his talking for him. Me? I’m a loudmouth over-opinionated asshole, so I’m up for any time someone lets me hear myself talk. But the whole idea of money in this? Fuck off, find a way to support your lifestyle yourself.
Years ago the initial lineup all used to trade tapes, do splits, share ideas etc and were fairly tight-knit. I had released the first two Xasthur full-lengths on my label, Blake had released Krieg stuff and been a live member, just a whole busy little grouping of us. Halcyon days right? Anyway, this whole thing was Blake’s doing and one of the only times I can say he did right for everyone — at least early on. The idea for us to all see what we could bring together as a collective considering we all were coming from the whole “one man black metal band” situation was just fucking exciting. Granted that first record was not the sum of its parts, it was a beginning and was one of the most memorable times in my life.
I don’t know of another one-man BM band supergroup, really. At any point in time did you ever see it getting to this point? In terms of notoriety and trouble?
We’ve all had our problems and none of us are necessarily “stable” people anyway, so to say I never saw any kind of trouble on the horizon wouldn’t exactly be truthful. But it never really seemed like something we couldn’t overcome, which sounds cliche. But as the last few years have gone by and it started to have effects in our lives then it became apparent that this was coming to an end. But also that’s fine, because this record stands as a good way to see that whole time in our lives off. At least for those of us left.
This band seems cursed; people involved keep running into trouble with law, even if they’re innocent. In a time when, you know, metal bands don’t get ‘arrested’ anymore , why is it that this scene seems to have these issues?
It’s probably because we seem to collect negative energy which orbits us and because we’re basically all anti-social fuckups, these things sort of follow us. This scene isn’t full of normal, well-adjusted people, though it’s starting to filter in some of that, which means its core ethos is being poisoned from the roots. As a band we’re not cursed, we’re just not exactly winning at the game of “normal living”.
What is that core ethos?
Negativity in all aspects of life. Satanism to some, the reality that we as people try to ignore or push away for others. But negativity at its core.
Weird question: did you ever read John Keats? Any of his work?
Always meant to, I have a long list of writers I need to read, there’s never enough time. I’m almost 36 and I’m just diving into Henry Miller, I’m so fucking far behind it’s depressing.
Keats has this concept of “Negative Capability”. It was his way of describing, like, the ability to observe the world without needing it to make logical sense to the human mind. Not needing life to be comfortable. And he saw it as part of creativity, of good poetry, good art—it seems like a similar conception. (I still haven’t read Miller. I need to. Tropic of Cancer is on the list.)
I don’t think good or even interesting art is done by well-adjusted people. It’s a bias because I am solely interested in that sort of thing so I could be wrong.
Are you so ill-adjusted? I find your frustrated Facebook posts wry and kind of humorous. You haven’t been arrested for metal-related crime, unlike some members of Twilight. You’re cogent right now. One could argue that you’re A-OK.
I don’t think I’m the right person to answer it. But I’m waking up every day, working, breathing, shitting. So it could be worse. But something that probably fucks things up for me is I’m observant, and that’s what causes me to be angry and negative. I do wish I was ignorant to all of this and just living a simple life.
There is something a little… I don’t know, Seinfeld, in its humorous nihilism, about your record store posts. Clearly you love music, and other people who at least want to buy music, drive you up the wall.
Fucked up right? It’s not because I’m judging them on their tastes, I don’t care at all what they’re buying. It’s their mannerisms, their lack of being polite, their hygiene, their greed. I could go on and on.
I get the sense that you’re a guy who feels that art ought to be… maybe ought is not the right word, but in a sense, ought to be sacred or revered?
I’d settle for appreciated these days. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but with how creations are treated these days, as a given right to those who enjoy it or as a passing interest until the commercial break is over or whatever, it’s just not seen as something that should be done with integrity and passion. We’ve been called a plastic nation for so long that it doesn’t even have impact now, but we’re so fucking plastic that we’re recycling that plastic into shittier products. It’s fucking sad.
Well, at least, and this is small fucking praise, but at least it seems like bands like Twilight, Krieg, and even Nachtmystium appeal to a ‘discerning’ audience.
I will say that regardless of how badly Blake has treated people that his music doesn’t deserve to be shoved to the back of the class because of it. He’s been a part of some great music and I will never say anything bad about what he’s released because of him as a person.
Currently I have no idea what he’s up to or what’s going on in his life outside of some pretty amusing second-hand accounts. I cut him off when he ripped my store off right before he went to jail last year. Once he got out I told him I just couldn’t deal with it. I was getting emails and calls at my job from people he ripped off, like I was supposed to be able to do anything about it. He took all of our publishing advance before I even got on the fucking plane to do the record and every last cent he could as soon as he got out of jail.
It could be looked at as our fault because he handled the finances of the band and we all knew this, but no one expected him to do this to us. And he’ll deny it and tell the world none of us had any idea how publishing works or how this band wouldn’t exist without him, but I think this album is proof that it can.
So it’s just greed?
At it’s core. It’s also heroin, which accentuates personality flaws. It’s also just not accepting that you can hurt others. When Hell’s Headbangers did those shirts last year when he went to jail, his reaction was to decide to publicly say he would never make good with them because he was offended with the shirt. It’s the mentality of “I’m not paying back what I stole because you called me a thief”, and I just don’t understand it. He doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong, he feels we’re all playing the victim. And I just don’t want to deal with that in my life, I fuck things up for myself and the people close to me without adding in another element like that.
Is it beyond the pale to ask how you fuck things up?
Not at all. I’m disorganized. I’m currently fucking up a tour opportunity on the West Coast because I’m stretched thin, especially with dealing with Twilight in a role I never expected or asked to be responsible for, I’m overwhelmingly negative, I’m a natural complainer and this is just the tip of it. I’ve been open about being bipolar for years now, but also I haven’t been medicated since 2011. It’s mostly manageable but I’m prone to excessive anxiety attacks which just fucking cripples me. So it’s not all glass houses and whatever on my side either.
I’m having trouble following that up, speaking as a fellow anxiety-attacker. Do you ever wonder if, like, metal heads are more prone to these sorts of things? Or maybe the whole population is fucked up and metal heads are more prone to admission.
I think people with these kinds of issues, disorders, however you want to name it, just gravitate toward subcultures, be it metal, punk, noise etc. Part of it is probably feeling welcomed and belonging and part of it is finding a place to nurture who you are and grow. But face it, everyone is on something nowadays. I mean that every walk of life these days has medicine being poured at them for every kind of issue no matter if the medicine can actually help or not.
Going back for a minute. What is the connection between subculture and this push-back against more wide exposure to the music? Because Twilight is getting some of that.
It’s the dirty secret that everyone knows but won’t admit. It’s because more exposure means they feel less of a sense of ownership, like it’s less obscure, shrouded in mystery, less…theirs. You can look at this two ways, the first being the bourbon metaphor. You take a shot of bourbon, it’s strong, rich, pure, oaky finish — look, you get the idea. You take that and put it in a small glass with water. Take that and put it in a pint glass with more water. Take the pint glass and put it in a bucket, a bathtub, a pool etc. It still has that original shot which made it “pure” so to speak, but you can’t really notice it anymore. You could throw a baby in it and it’s safe. Depending on how you throw the baby I suppose.
The second way to look at it, the more optimistic way, is to imagine a recipe handed down from generations. Every generation takes away and adds ingredients. This happens for years and years until you get something different, but it still has its foundation in whatever shit great-grandma made during the Depression.
OK, that’s fair, but you must admit, there is, I think, a sense of, I think the word might be curatorship, that a lot of underground metal heads enjoy, and I think when you get a gentleman like Thurston Moore involved, they reject it because it feels like they aren’t curating the product anymore? (Which is in itself ironic because Sonic Youth fans do the exact same thing.)
Yeah I can agree with that, but Thurston is more of a curator for black metal than a lot of the internet metal brotherhood would know. He’s been deeper into this stuff than most people I met in the 90’s. But for someone who doesn’t know this about him I can understand why they would think this was some kind of invasive procedure to their precious life.
Right, but it’s not like Thurston has come out to make himself known to the metal community.
He did have a piece on him in Decibel a few years back and has been pretty vocal when asked about it, but you’re right, in that unless you were paying attention you might miss it. But he was integral to making the record cohesive and brought a lot of really harsh ideas in terms of sound to the table. So personally I don’t give a fat baby’s dick about how others perceive it, because I know how it is and that’s what matters to me.
How’d he get involved, anyhow?
When Sanford worked out of Semaphore/Volume he also worked with a man named Jeremy who was Sonic Youth’s sound guy. We even used some of their gear for recordings before, without their knowledge, and when we heard that Thurston was really into Leviathan and Xasthur we sort of passed around the idea but no one took it seriously, because it seemed so absurd that he would be involved. But eventually it was mentioned to him and it just sort of came together.
So what did he contribute to the record?
Thurston added layers upon layers of guitar noise and power electronics to each track, giving the whole record a theme sonically, otherwise it would just be a collection of songs since they’re all pretty different from each other. He also did some backing vocals. He was there every morning, most of the time before anyone else, and he was the last one out at the end of the night.
But he wasn’t really there in a riff-writing capacity?
He worked on riffs on a few of the songs, but he and I got there after the skeletons of most of the album were put down. This time around the riffs were mostly Whitehead and Stavros. Blake made sure he has songs that only he wrote on there and I was told that because he needed to have his songs on there I wasn’t able to contribute to the record in that sense.
But the Blake songs are not on this record?
No, he doesn’t play a note on this record. He was present for his songs and when the photographer was there.
The whole USBM scene has gotten very interesting—in a way, it’s like the closest thing to the Norwegian attack the US has produced, in Chicago at least.
Chicago has always been my favorite place for black metal in this country. From Judas Iscariot/Sarcophagus to Wolvhammer, with dozens in between.
What is it about that city that breeds this sound?
Chicago is just one of those places that has that kind of energy to it, it’s own self-contained world. I don’t know what makes it such a fertile place for metal, it just seems to have always been like that.
So, to wrap up, what’s after this for you?
In terms of this project, that’s a wrap. I hope to finally get this record me and Jef have been talking about doing for a few years up and going and I hope to collaborate with everyone on various projects and ideas in the future. For me personally, I just finished recording the new Krieg album, Transient at Machines with Magnets in Rhode Island, which should be coming out on Candlelight in the summer and we’re getting ready to do an obnoxious amount of releases on various formats.
Jef is finishing the new Leviathan record with Billy Anderson sometime this coming month. Stavros is very busy with The Atlas Moth, who just embarked on a tour and finished their new full-length for Profound Lore. Sanford keeps busy with Corrections House and recording. Thurston is in the UK right now working on various things, he also contributed some spoken word to the new Krieg full-length. So there is a lot of activity on all fronts from all of us.
Twilight’s final album III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb will be released on March 17, 2014, by Century Media and can be pre-ordered in various formats and bundles at this location. Twilight’s Facebook page is here. Listen to two songs from the album below.