Tension Span are an Oakland California based trio that unites Noah Landis (Neurosis, Christ On Parade), Geoff Evans (Asunder), and Matt Parrillo (Dystopia, Kicker). They released their album, The Future Died Yesterday late last year on Neurot Recordings. The sound takes the dark doomy bits from their previous bands and mixes in some post punk with bits of New Model Army at times. I sent the band off some questions and Noah replied with some additional bits from Geoff.
1) A lockdown project, how did it spawn?
It’s interesting to be on the other side of the many months of Covid Quarantine. That certainly lasted longer than anyone originally anticipated. As musicians, we had to find new ways to play and write and create with each other. Mauz, Geoff and I have known each other for decades, the kind of friendships that, even if a lot of time passes without hanging out, the connection is solid. I guess that’s a benefit of being an old-timer, we’ve gotten to see so much and experience the long history of the punk scene we were all so involved in and dedicated to. So when Mauz and Geoff shared with me the basic skeletons of the songs that would become this album “The Future Died Yesterday”, I think they realized they were tapping into a sound or a feeling that was connected to the dark punk of our past, an extension, like a new branch of the old tree. They asked if I would like to be involved and contribute. Keep in mind the original goal was not to form a band, rather just create in our own isolated way and share the best we can, and make music in a world where suddenly that was very difficult to do. They left it open to how and what I felt my role would be. We all play and own many instruments, so it was very open-ended. But after hearing the basic songs, it was clear to me that what they needed was a voice and lyrics. A big part of my younger chapters in life were spent writing dire and distressed songs about the struggles of living in a society that tries to crush the creative human spirit, political brutality and the identity crisis of the individual. (Christ on Parade, Blister and Gag Order were bands I created before I joined Neurosis and this was a thread throughout all of them). So I started unspooling the thoughts and let my creative mind go with it and the faucet opened up and words started to flow. There were certainly revisions and edits along the way to the finished product, but that’s how we got from there to here.
I think Noah’s response answers this question pretty well, but will add that during the height of the pandemic lockdowns, I think we felt a sense of not knowing what was going to happen and if we’d survive in these circumstances (in both a personal sense and in a collective sense), and it seemed quite natural to revisit the punk rock (and punk-adjacent) music of our earlier lives that dealt with these concepts and emotions in a visceral way. Growing up in the 80’s under the constant threat of nuclear war, the utter ignorance, selfishness, stupidity and greed that were on constant display in those days, and watching the events unfold during the pandemic….it was quite familiar to us in so many ways, and I think punk rock helped us to survive our youth, so again, it seemed quite natural to gravitate towards the notion that punk rock might help us to survive and navigate these new, terrible circumstances as well…remembering the natural resources available through that kind of energy and orientation towards navigating crisis in a way that upholds certain principles of individual and collective conduct and does not turn away from the more difficult and troubling things that are happening.
2) Are you still all playing in other bands?
Yes, I of course still play with my brothers in Neurosis. And Mauz shares a band with our bass player Dave Ed and our old roadie Pete. That band is called Kicker. I don’t believe Geoff has another formal band right now but I do know he plays music all the time, only some of it is for Tension Span. All three of us are that way, really. Music is how we cope. Music is like medicine to us. And therapy. We always have multiple projects going, even if it’s just a song idea with a friend or some concept we want to try out. It’s constant for us.
3) Was there any particular bands you were listening to during the writing of the new records?
I’m not sure that there was anything specific that Mauz and Geoff were listening to when writing the riffs. They certainly weren’t deliberately referencing anything. There are hundreds of bands that are in our vocabulary of sound, vibe, feeling, mood, etc… Thousands rather, but hundreds that are our favorites that speak to us in a special way that we have studied and absorbed deeply. With punk music specifically, it’s a language and some of it is bound to come through in our own new creations. But we like what we like and we feel what we feel and we write what feels real for us. And for sure, some of that shared language comes through. We also are always looking at what new, young bands are doing, picking out and sharing odd things we find particularly creative and interesting or special. Music is a bottomless well. You never run out of new things to find or old things to discover.
Geoff: For me personally, it’s not so much that I was listening to any particular music for inspiration while writing this record, but more so, I was revisiting memories of a lifetime of punk that was a shared experience with countless individuals, countless records, live shows, zines etc. So many of these things are deeply woven into my cognitive experiences, so it is more a referencing of a feeling, or an atmosphere, rather than any particular band or record, style, genre etc. I think we all share this kind of relationship with music, so we can make oblique references to each other and know exactly what was meant by that reference, without necessarily having to be too specific about it. As Noah mentioned, this is maybe one of the advantages of being older and having experienced punk (and related scenes) together, in an analog way…the shared language is understood deeply. We all do have a vast vocabulary of musical references, but this is not necessarily invoked in a linear or studied kind of way, if that makes sense.
4) Is there any era or genre you are looking to represent?
There isn’t an era or genre, but rather a few. We all grew up loving and playing and sharing the dark, emotional punk from our own music scene. That music scene is still here, there are still bands that are creating the soundtrack to it. It’s been a life-long commitment and friendship we share with so so many people who speak this punk musical language that I’m talking about. And there is also the music that happened before us, commonly called “post-punk”. The wave of bands that came after the Sex Pistols, Germs, Clash, Cramps, Ramones, etc… bands like PIL or Psychedelic Furs, Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Cure, Wire, Gang of Four, etc… That era of bands is very important and influential to me, perhaps more than I would like to admit. Ha! But hopefully what we created with Tension Span is our own thing. It might share some vocabulary with early dark punk or post-punk bands but I think it is fundamentally our own, with our own sound and feeling and emotion and message.
5) What is the hope that is spoken about in your bio?
There is a recurring theme to many of the lyrics in Tension Span, and that theme is the struggle we all face living in a society that we don’t fit in, that we don’t belong in, a society that encourages brutality and self-absorption. This struggle is real, anyone with open eyes can see the way the individual human spirit is crushed by it, the homelessness, the mental illness we all carry to some extent, the mad division deliberately caused by the socio-political collapse. For those of us who try to see through the noise and believe in our connectedness as humans with spirits and souls, deserving of integrity, there is something beautiful in that dedication and in the resistance to that complacency, normality and soul-lessness that modern society steers us toward. There is something hopeful in the struggle. I hope that makes sense. It’s a difficult thing to explain with words. The music paints a fuller picture, i think.
6) Do you try and emanate a feeling when playing music, do you hope the listener has the same feeling when listening?
I think all music that is real, by that I mean sincere and heartfelt, emanates a feeling, both when playing and listening. It’s what music does. I don’t believe you have to try. Rather, if you are “trying” then you’re missing the point which is to tap into something inside your self that’s real and feel it. Think about this – People who don’t play music at all love music because it make them feel something. It’s built into our humanness. If you play James Brown to a 2-year-old child, chances are they will start to dance. No one showed them how. It’s just in us. Some of us who choose to play music have developed our own methods of channeling that inner feeling and expressing it. A feeling is a feeling is a feeling. Some choose to express it with pencils and paint, some with words, some with dance, some with film. I think we all love to be made to feel someones skillful expression of what they feel. Then again I could be completely living and thinking in my own head and completely wrong about this. But it is my experience non the less.