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hArVeStmAn tRiPtych
pARts 1&2

Steve Von Till interviewed by Jon Buckland

“Poetry as a way of reconnecting us with the wild, in a true, deep, spiritual sense, and remembering that we are a part of it. Disconnecting from the post-Greek, post-Christian idea of spirit and ourselves being separate from the everything, the all.” – Steve Von Till


For the uninitiated, Steve Von Till’s musical endeavours have seen him operating at the forefront of multiple sonic frontiers. There’s the outsider folk released under his own name, the experimental investigations of Tribes of Neurot, and, of course, Neurosis’ legendary blending of trance-inducing rhythms with avant-garde metal and kosmische grooves. The latter were lumped, lazily, in with the likes of Isis and Cult of Luna but their lineage traces a line from the dirt-crusted undulations of Hawkwind through to the clattering cadences of Gnod. It’s the latest release of his Harvestman project (Von Till’s psych-drone 

alter ego with one foot firmly upon dub’s mixing desk), however, that led to Steve agreeing to speak with me from his home in North Idaho.

Over the course of 80 minutes, we touched on a broad array of topics including field recordings, poetry, animism, snow ploughs, travel, Motorhead, broken tape players, glaciers, distortion pedals, and, of course, his interest in megalithic sites. Not all are covered here but, if you scan the QR code at the end you can watch further video excerpts from the interview. 


The new Harvestman record is split into three parts. It’s a vast Triptych with the first record released on April’s Pink Moon, the second due out on July’s Buck Moon, and the final part scheduled to coincide with the Hunter Moon in October. And through it, he’s not just looking back into his archives (some drone loops were recorded a quarter of a century ago), he’s channelling ideas that date as far back as the megalithic stone circles that have intrigued him ever since he was a young boy. 


This started for Steve “ever since about age 19, maybe even earlier than that, I had an inherent love for megaliths and ancient cultures for some reason. Mythology books, I was always drawn to them. And then having experiences with indigenous cultures here and my parents taking me to England when I was young - we did the obligatory Stone Henge trip - it’s all been circling around each other, all these seemingly unrelated things – independent music, DIY music, home recording, psychedelia, mind expansion, poetry, indigenous cultures, mythology, folklore, heritage, ancestry – all these things had been spiralling. They seemed like different interests, and they keep getting closer and closer and closer. And then the unifying forces, that it’s clear that it’s all one life and it’s clear it’s beyond just my interests and that other people feel the same. It’s really the story of all of us and our place on the planet and with nature and with the cosmos. It’s all coming in on each other.”


It’s in Harvestman’s exploratory drones, reaching their tendrils out and feeling through the darkness like the slow-motion subterranean churning of the earth, where the spiral reaches a head. Both Part One & Part Two close out with what sounds like mangled bagpipes being pushed through an aquatic field. They warble into focus, unfurling like the limbs, leaves, and hibernating eyelids of spring. Elsewhere, phased bleeps peel off like comet tails, haunting tones are interrupted with bursts of fuzz, and doctored horns cry out a pained song that is part revelry, part despondence. 


Part Two opens with ‘The Hag of Beara Vs The Poet’. Its guitar chords chop and chug over a patient but persistent drum pattern before WB Yeats intones his poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree in a manner described by Seamus Heaney as an ‘elevated chant’, calling to mind Julian Cope’s Sunn O))) collaboration, ‘My Wall’.


The shared interests of Cope and Von Till scarcely need recounting but the Neurosis man’s fascination even pre-dates the Arch drude’s influential tome - Modern Antiquarian. During the mid-90s, Von Till spent 3 weeks circumnavigating various stone sites - dolmens, cairns, Ogham stones, and stone circles - in Ireland. As it was pre-internet he “had all these obscure references in hardback books – why I wasn’t smart enough to photocopy them and stick them in a backpack, I don’t know, but I brought a duffel bag of books with me to find the locations.”  


In speaking with Von Till, you certainly get the impression that this isn’t a passing fad1. He has a deep, intense connection to this subject matter. The Welsh notion of ‘Hiraeth’ comes up and he mentions how, when first reading a definition his wife found2, he was moved almost to tears. He explains:


“That’s everything. That’s the search. That’s what this feeling has been that I’ve been trying to fill by researching folklore, by being brought to tears in museums, by seeing things that I’ve looked at pictures of my whole life, by standing in ancient stone places where I don’t know what those people were like or what they believed. Or why last summer on my European tour we took an entire day to just be in Avebury and feel it. […] These places have a draw. To me and a million other people. It has a whisper. It’s whispering something to us about connection. Connection to time. Connection to land. Connection to place. And what it must be like to be an Indigenous American and maybe not have erected huge monuments because they manipulated the landscape in less gigantic and permanent ways. But seeing the shapes of the mountains, seeing the shapes of the stones, to have carved the bear paws in the stones by the lake not far from here. All of that has had this intense pull on me. On so many different levels.”


And it’s this curiosity that fuels his creativity in Harvestman. A willingness for improvisation and the joy of fortune’s stumble. Some of Triptych’s percussion is the result of a quite literal accident. “I had this giant metal trough for the deer that I had accidentally hit with my snow plough, but I didn’t know it until the snow melted and I saw a giant hole carved in the side of the metal. So, I was rolling it to take it to the dump, to get it in the back of my truck and, as I was rolling it, I realised this thing sounds amazing and I started hitting it with sticks in different spots. This thing is percussion magic - I’m not throwing it away!”


That metal trough led to a trio of percussive pieces that Von Till recorded with Dave French during the pandemic. The number three sits at the heart of Triptych. Steve explains: “I was looking at all these pieces sitting around me, and they were mostly in threes. I had 3 pieces which I had started and sent off to my friend Al (Cisneros) to put some bass on, with the intention of doing dub versions as well. So that’s three straight tracks, three dub versions. There were three pieces from old reel to reel recordings from 25 years ago. Which seemed to just be waiting to have a context that made sense. And there were 3 pieces of lovingly destroyed and manipulated bagpipes by my friend John Goff.” 


For the dub edits it’s like his compositions have boarded Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark, three by three. The studio is as vital an instrument as his guitar. Everything is toyed with, pushed, broken, and re-worked with Von Till approaching it like an archaeologist: “Here’s this dusty old thing, what happens when I start peeling off the layers? What’s in here? Turn on the studio and see what happens.” 


And these dub variations hit hard. The booming reverb and slow yet seismic beats, astride Cisneros’ meandering bass spine, throb along like a rock-carved waterway. ‘The Hag of Beara…’ redo adds speed-ticking, syncopated hi-hat hits akin to the spoke click of spun wheels. It’s like taking Trap’s trademark and adding flecks of mud. The pounding drums are coated in a little subtle distortion too - just enough to make them fizz without overwhelming. 

Parts One & Two feel like emerging from spring to see in summer’s replenishing rays. And there’s something reassuring about knowing that Part Three of this Harvestman Triptych lays in wait, preparing to steel us for the turn of the winter months. We shall see you again, beneath the Hunter’s Moon.


Watch the full interview here.

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Jon Buckland is a freelance writer and record slinger based on the South coast of England. If he's not going up the Downs, he's probably frantically scribbling in a notebook. You can find his writing at The Quietus, Bandcamp Daily, Greedmag, and other publications. 


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