Interview: Tension Span

Honestly, this project came from such an old school DIY punk perspective for us, that we weren't even gonna do any kind of PR for it at all. We were just going to put it out there into the wind and see if it resonates at all in the punk community

With their own take on the dark punk sound that shaped their music and their outlook, Tension Span capture the anxiety of the modern world in a perfect fashion. The band consists of Noah Landis (Neurosis, Christ On Parade), Geoff Evans (Asunder) and Matt Parrillo (Dystopia, Kicker) and they have just released their brilliant debut album The Future Died Yesterday on Neurot Recordings and it is full of songs that deal with the harsh realities we face today in a head on way. Gavin Brown caught up with Noah to hear all about The Future Died Yesterday and what went into creating the album as well as how the band started and delving into the influence of the music that shaped him as a person and a musician.

E&D: Your new album The Future Died Yesterday is out now. Are you happy to have the album out now?

Noah: Absolutely, it’s been a weird process to put it out a couple songs at a time. Honestly, this project came from such an old school DIY punk perspective for us, that we weren’t even gonna do any kind of PR for it at all. We were just going to put it out there into the wind and see if it resonates at all in the punk community. I was talking to Steve Von Till about it, because I shared it with him, and he’s the one who was like, we should absolutely put this out on Neurot Recordings, and he’s the one who actually talked me into doing some PR for it. Part of that process is to set a release date and then you give little pieces of it along the way to keep people interested in it and to get people excited for the actual full album coming out. That was a little different from what we had in mind when we made the record. Sometimes I just want to get my ideas out here. One of the reasons why we didn’t think of doing that at all, is because every single band, no matter how big or small has this self promotion machine that they’re doing through social media. It’s all around us, all the time, everybody is just like, check out this picture of our new T-shirt design, check out this picture of us in our practice base, check out this new thing that my friend made for our band. It’s just all this self patting themselves on the back, self congratulatory and self hype machine. I just wanted nothing to do with it. I wanted nothing to do with it at all. I mean, most of the time, I feel about those bands like, Wow, you’re really good at promotion and graphic design for your social media. I wish you spent a little more time on the music man. I’m not naming any names here, but we just wanted to be the opposite of that, and go back to when it was just purely about the art and people who want to find it, will find it. Steve convinced me that there’s a way to doing this, that can actually be an honest vibe. The sincerity of the music doesn’t have to be diminished, just because you’re out there talking about it with people in the press, and he knows that because he’s done that himself with his solo albums, and we’ve done that a lot with Neurosis so so that’s why I’m here talking to you, my friend.

E&D: How has the music of Tension Span been received so far?

Noah: I’ve gotten a lot of really positive response. I mean most of the people I talk to, are people who actually know me, who’ve known me for many years. I think there’s something both refreshing about it and also something a little nostalgic about it at the same time, because all of the years that I’ve been playing music, all of that started in the 1980s when I was in Christ On Parade, and there was a certain vibe and style of music that we were all immersed in. We were all like very much into this particular genre of dark punk music that was happening around that time. A lot of it had to do with the UK anarcho-punk bands, like Conflict, Subhumans and Antisect. The biggest one for us was Rudimentary Peni, so that has always been in a special place for me, in my journey through music as a human being. I think that the people that I know who I talked to you about this and who I’ve shared it with, think you hear that right away that there’s an element of that dark punk of our past, that is being channelled, but at the same time, it’s being done in a way that feels unique to us, and also very relevant today. We could go down a list of bands that I can hear influences in the music that we wrote, but there’s no point in that because I think it stands pretty well on its own as a unique thing to listen to. It’s not mimicking any one thing it has its own voice.

E&D: With the lyrics, and the songs on the album, were they inspired by what’s going on at the moment, the recent global catastrophes and that uncertain vibe?

Noah: Some of them yeah. There’s a bit of a recurring theme in the lyrics and if I was to summarise it, I think it has to do with expressing what it feels like to be stuck in a life with all of these negative conditions. In a society where we feel like we don’t belong. It’s not compassionate and kind and nurturing. It’s actually the opposite. It actually encourages brutality and self absorption in a way that is really hard for us and out collective brains to process, and so all of the things that come with that, the stress that we feel, the anxiety, the depression. Those are all natural things to feel when we’re forced into a life that doesn’t fit into our brain and into our heart and into us as people. That’s kind of what all of the songs are about. It’s channelling that kind of angst and dread that we wake up with every day, and then what do we do with it? How do we move through the world? Knowing that that’s true? That’s the recurring theme that all of the lyrics keep going back to, but there are certainly songs on this album that are very specific to certain things. There’s an enormous homelessness problem in America right now. That has just increased exponentially over the last five years. Normal people like you and I, maybe have made one slip up in our lives, and then we lost our homes and our families, and we’re living in tents in the parks with communities of other people. There’s a song about that. There’s a song about COVID and how divisive that that phenomenon was in our country, where it drew a line, and all the assholes are on one side, who don’t care about other people and all the people who do care on the other side, it was a crazy thing to witness. In general, I think most of the songs are a little bit more thoughtful and perhaps complex in their meaning and it has more of a personal expression of being misplaced in modern society. That’s a very age old conundrum. it’s the same thing that I felt when I was 16 but I feel it today.

E&D: Despite the bleak feeling, that pervades, did you always want the music to have a hopeful feel about it as well? There are these problems, but if we work together, we can work through it?

Noah: Yeah, that’s a really important point and I appreciate that you heard that in the music, and that you asked me about that. I’ve often made the mistake of trying to find meaning in any of this stuff. Why am I at work right now? Why are you at work? What is it all for? Is it all just made up in this search for some kind of inner happiness that very few people seem to find. The problem is, I go down this rabbit hole and when I get to the bottom, there’s nothing there and so once you do that, you find that you’re kind of fucked, in terms of how you’re gonna just pretend to go along with life in the world and your day to day business. The only positive thing I can kind of wrap my brain around is that it’s true for all of us, and that’s the thing, that’s the great unifier. We’re all together in this kind of maze, and in this kind of illusion of this existence. In that, I think there is hope. I think that what we can do in there, and this is really what the punk community did for themselves and for me as a young person, is that we can gather together in solidarity, in our own outside harness. Then in that community that we build, we can have true friendships and can make our own memories and make our own art and our own music and our own activism and all the things that we can pour our energy into. To me, that’s where the hope is. That’s the positive thing I can find, from having gone down there and found nothing.

E&D: Did you find making this album a therapeutic experience at all?

Noah: I did in the way that I wasn’t expecting this to and being approached by the other members, Matt and Geoff, after they had been sharing music and song ideas back and forth, they shared it with me and they invited me in because they they heard that what they were creating had this dark punk vibe that we used to all write music, kind of in this world in the 80s, with our all of our previous bands and they invited me to contribute to it in any way I wanted. If I wanted to play guitar, rather than operate or play keyboards, like I do in Neurosis but when I heard it, I realised the one thing I really needed was vocals and  it needed some words that were thoughtful and thought provoking. That’s when I started to my brain started to click into a different gear, and all of this stuff that I’m describing to you where these lyrics came from, it was very therapeutic. It’s almost like even just saying it out loud makes it easier to deal with.

E&D: How did the band start in the first place? Obviously, you’ve known the members for years but how did the idea that they get in contact with you come about was it during the lockdown period?

Noah: Yeah, it was definitely during the lockdown period, and it was a long time of sharing music before we got together in the same room with masks to actually record vocals and to to experiment with the riffs, and the parts of the songs, so the idea of it being an actual band didn’t happen until later on when the album was actually almost complete. We heard that we had something that we felt really proud of, and that we thought was really special. That’s when we decided, oh well, this is good enough for us to commit to it and put both feet in and take move it forward from here. Now we’re sort of stuck at the place where we need to relearn the songs and figure out how to perform them live, because the album wasn’t written that way.

E&D: What are your plans for live dates?

Noah: We have gotten a lot of offers from friends who want to book us. I have to put it on hold right now just while we figure out the logistics and pragmatically how we’re going to do it.

E&D: Going back even further, how did you discover the whole dark punk and anarcho punk scenes and did that happen at the same time?

Noah: I think I’m a little older than the other guys. The punk scene in the Bay Area, I found it in the early 80s and I was a young guy. I started young and there was a lot of creativity and activity going on in those early days. We had the Dead Kennedys but we had bands like Flipper, bands like Fang. The Avengers were a little bit before us, but we sort of revered them. The list is long, but once I found punk, and you definitely find it and choose it for yourself, it doesn’t find you, back then at least it required a lot of work and it was actually a very dangerous world to step your feet into, very violent at times, but me and my best friend, David Edwardson who’s my bass player in Neurosis, we met on the first day of high school, and we just spent all of our time bonding and exploring, listening to every single band, we could in this underground movement, We were thirsty for the knowledge, and we’re just pouring it in wherever we can find it, right, and that’s how we found the scene that was happening in in the UK at the time, of course starting with Crass, but all of the different expressive creative offshoots that were happening in that scene. They really resonated with us. When I was 15 years old, I started Christ On Parade and that was a big influence on us to tap into the energy, attitude and the intelligence of those bands that we were hearing. That’s definitely how I found it and it’s always been special music for me in my long life since then.

E&D: You mentioned Christ On Parade there, what are some of your favourite memories of that time with your band?

Noah: That’s a nice question. Nobody’s asked me that. I can name some shows that were really special. One of the things about being in the Bay Area is that all of our heroes would come through and we would actually get to play with Subumans and Conflict and those were special, to actually get to meet those people and have these friendships over many years. Honestly, the thing that is my best memory, and the thing that I miss the most is the the friendships that I shared with the band members, you know, because you’re spending thousands of hours in a room together, creating something together, that you think is a unique voice and that expresses something that is important, honest and hopefully powerful. There’s a certain bond that happens when you do that, and that’s what I think of the most fondly, the connections that we had as young people, sharing our creative and influencing what we’re doing with our own individual spirit, but putting it all together into a creative force. There’s something really beyond satisfying about that. It’s not only healing, but it’s thinking back on it, it seems like there was a little bit of magic, like capturing magic in a bottle and put it on a record.

E&D: Do you still feel that way today?

Noah: Yeah, I do. I’ve always felt that way and I’ve always dedicated a certain amount of my time to being able to be in a room with people, and to make music. A lot of it sometimes, it’s just my friends and it’s nothing more than a four song demo that I share on Bandcamp or something, but not every band is is meant to last for 30 years, you know. Sometimes it’s just meant to be a way to channel a certain chapter of your life, this little period of time, these little things that I’m going to put in this little pool of inspired ideas that I want to. I want to just share and put out there and then that’s enough, but I’ve done that my whole life, and I’m 53 years old now.

E&D: When you think back to when you first discovered punk rock when you were a young kid, did you ever think that you’d still be making music and getting excited about music after all this time?

Noah: Yeah, I always knew it was gonna be a lifelong journey. I did and a lot of people didn’t choose that, a lot of people who were in bands when they were young outgrew it or their their interests changed or they focused on their family or other things that people choose to focus on but music was always the thing that I chose to focus on, not just with my own music, but also the art of recording music. I’ve recorded a lot of albums for other bands, capturing stuff out of the air with microphones and putting it all together and that’s also something that I’ve have a real passion for.

E&D: What else is next for you musically aside from the Tension Span album?

Noah: I don’t know yet exactly how to answer that. I’m in a bit of a transition and it’s a little early for me to answer that question for obvious reasons, but I definitely have some ideas, I’ll say that. I definitely have some ideas of how to move forward with the people that I’ve been playing music with for so long, and do something really cool and creative with it, that’s different from anything we’ve done before.

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