Scott Conner of Xasthur has been strongly respected by a niche audience as a one-man black metal act since 1995. He ended the black metal project in 2010, and then raised eyebrows when he returned in 2015 as a neofolk artist and began touring that same year. The leap from lo-fi to folk is a long one, but the musical aptitude remains. I had the chance to ask Scott about his new project, the name Xasthur, and going on tour.
Indy Metal Vault: Do you think reclaiming the name “Xasthur” will make new listeners associate your new material with the old too much? What did the Nocturnal Poisoning name mean to you as the title of your very first (2002) Xasthur album?
Scott Conner: I don’t think I should’ve ever changed the name along with changing the music. Changing the name back to Xasthur seemed logical.
IMV: What draws you to “Doomgrass” as a genre?
SC: Someone described the music as doomgrass to me and it stuck; bluegrass picking with some dark and weird doom chords.
iMV: What filled your days in the five or so years between initially retiring the Xasthur project and returning as Nocturnal Poisoning? What (if anything) brought you back to releasing music after that hiatus?
SC: I never took a hiatus, I never stopped working at music, not even through the temporary name changes. Whatever I was doing, whoever I was and became, was left for dead because the business side of black metal wouldn’t touch it.
IMV: While Xasthur’s new direction is a dramatic shift from the old, no one can say that the music doesn’t capture a certain darkness. I certainly found myself plenty drawn in by Subject to Change. Many of the songs are sung in first person – who are you speaking to?
SC: I’m speaking to anyone who’ll listen, anyone who needs to be spoken to, maybe it’s you, maybe it’s not, maybe it’s someone you need to speak to or speaking to what you’ve seen or the voices in your head. Speaking to anyone or everyone.
IMV: Discordant, stretched notes stand out throughout Subject to Change. Tell me about crafting your neo-folk/doomgrass sound.
SC: I want to break all acoustic stereotypes, so I’m going to do it my way, play it wrong, throw in disharmony that needs or doesn’t need to be there. It’s to get something new. For a while I’ve been focusing on the timing as an effect in itself, 4/4 and 3/4 at the same time which people always told me wasn’t possible. Subject to Change had some of that, tons of newer stuff has even more of what you’re talking about, I think.
IMV: Tell me about the transition from being a one-man project to working with a group.
SC: It’s more work with three people total, it means more organization, more rehearsing and working around people’s lives or schedules rather than just pressing record when an idea comes to you, but it results in a full sound live, thought-out vocal structures, etc.
IMV: I know you’re currently on tour – what’s next for Xasthur after this tour?
SC: The tour just ended a few days ago, but touring is what I care about the most, I want to do more of it. It seems like the only way or only setting where the music is able to get through to people or affect them in some way or another. If they show up, I’ll show up definitely
I feel like I hold back less and less from one album to the next and one year to the next to the point where I just don’t hold back at all anymore. I don’t have anything to lose, I’m not playing music to sing about nothing but rather to describe where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and give some kind of reality to relate to. Am I supposed to lie and say nothing? No. But I suppose it’s that time where an ‘album’ needs to be recorded and it will be soon – for Prophecy Productions, We’ll be recording it with Michael Zech as the engineer/producer this October, and then maybe I’ll have earned the right to tour again.
IMV: A certain number of listeners certainly discovered you and your work via Vice’s One Man Metal documentary from 2012. In that documentary you expressed an intense misanthropic worldview seemingly more genuine than many black metal artists. Has that worldview shifted or grown deeper in the last few years?
SC: That was filmed in early 2010, I bet not many people knew that. I’d say it’s a bit of both, it has shifted because I’ve changed some and changed a lot musically but to other people, who ever I was in that interview is always who I’m going to be or who they need me to be.
IMV: Thank you for speaking with me.
Xasthur will be performing on Fri 11/2 in Brooklyn, NY at the Knitting Factory for PROPHECY FEST USA. More info.