Tribes of Neurot is the alter ego of the Bay Area-based rock band Neurosis. In either identity, the punk collective is physically and musically imposing, able to fill a truckload of sonic space when it wants to. The band has loads of guitars, singers, and drums: Steve Von Till (guitar, vocals, and percussion), Scott Kelly (guitar, vocals, and percussion), Noah Landis (keyboards, samples, and tapes), Pete Inc. (visuals), Jason Roeder (drums and percussion), and Dave Edwardson (bass and vocals). But the mix of sustained primal screams, sludge guitar, and tribal percussion was just one of the aural possibilities the members of Neurosis desired.
Therefore, in order to further their vision, Neurosis formed the freeform, instrumental Tribes of Neurot. Tribes had been a separate entity from the rock band, but when Neurosis released its eighth album, Times of Grace, the band decided to bring the two identities closer together. To this end, they designed Tribes' fifth full-length album, Grace, to be played at the same time as the Neurosis record, on a second stereo system. The two records share the same sequence and track times, and are designed to complement one another. The rock record was recorded with great clarity by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago; Grace was tracked on an ADAT passed around by the band and mixed at Seismic Sound in San Francisco.
With such a heavy album on one side, the band had to tread carefully to make the two releases work together. Says Von Till: "With tracking, we wanted a lot of different elements. The first rule was that Grace had to have the same flow, but without rock. And once we decided we wanted the two CDs to play at the same time, Grace also had to happen without rhythm. There's no way two CDs are going to be perfectly in sync, so it had to be arrhythmic."
The band made an effort to tie the two albums together in both overt and subconscious ways. While working on a Tribes song, Landis would pull samples from the corresponding Neurosis song, drop them an octave, and move them around in the stereo environment. "Those samples are still in the right pitch, and they make reference to the Neurosis album," he says. "Even though it's a different sound and texture, your mind hears the connection."
The sampler was used for composition as well. "We would take some sound, like a bowed electric guitar note," Landis recalls, "and sample that, screwing with the pitch and making a melody out of it. As you slow it down, you hear more of the grit, more of the friction of the bow on the string. The sound gets pulled apart. Sometimes it's easier to come up with different melodies on a sampler than to compose something with a bow and a guitar."
Mixing Grace from a single ADAT tape and making its track times and index marks identical to the Neurosis album's was a daunting prospect, so Tribes worked with their friends at Seismic Sound. "We ran our ideas by them, because they're pretty good brains as far as this stuff goes, and they talked us into mixing it in their Pro Tools system," says Von Till. "That way, we could nudge things and add a few layers to what we already had."
Working within Pro Tools made it easy for the band to visualize the total audio content of the two records, and to draw in volume levels on the Tribes mix until there was enough aural space for the two records to coexist. "We have a tendency to overorchestrate anyway," Von Till observed. "We needed to be careful not to just replace the clarity we'd gone for on the Neurosis record with Tribes of Neurot material. We wanted the albums to retain their own character, their own space."
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