No Neck Blues Band - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
Well over a decade after their inception, the improvisational psychedelic freak out ensemble No-Neck Blues Band has successfully remained one of the more enigmatic collectives spawned from New York City’s underground scene of the early to mid-90’s. Much like their Canadian counterparts God Speed! You Black Emperor, the “band” has no clear leader with each member of the septet trading off instruments, so no particular member even has a clearly defined role. Largely a live act, NNCK (as they are otherwise known as) have very few traditional studio albums to speak of with the vast majority of their catalogue consisting of live improvisation pieces that are either self released on their Sound@One imprint or on various small indie labels like Estatic Yod and 5RC amongst others.
Formed in 1992 by multi-instrumentalist Keith Connolly and percussionist Dave Nuss the group quickly swelled to an 8 member ensemble featuring Matt Heyner, Jason Meagher, Michiko, Pat Murano, Dave Shuford, and John Fell Ryan on various (and un-credited) instrumentation. Built around weekly practices in a Harlem rehearsal space, the group developed an intense instrumental sound based on prolonged jam sessions that mixed tribal percussion, psychedelic soundscapes, jazz structures, electronic ambience, and freak folk amongst countless other influences that coalesced into a thick and heady musical concoction ranging from eclectic beauty to furious dissonance sometimes within the same song.
NNCK’s debut full length, The Ghost of Magnetism (Estatic Yod) was a live recording released in 1995, followed by another live recording, Hoichoi (Estatic Yod) in 1996. Rather than play live shows in traditional venues, NNCK often chose to play unconventional “venues” like wharves, parks, and rooftops, often converting their Harlem rehearsal space into a venue. Once word of mouth spread about NNCK’s “non-traditional live performances” their impromptu gigs were often shut down by the police when attendance and noise levels went well beyond the limits of the law. Most of their releases from the mid-to-late 90’s like Letters From The Earth (1998 Sound@One) and Birth of Both World (1999 Sound@One) are live recordings from such events. After touring with the legendary John Fahey, the precocious guitarist signed NNCK to his Revenant label and the band issued their first studio full length, Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones But Names Will Never Hurt Me (2001 Revenant). Produced by former Lovin’ Spoonful multi-instrumentalist Jerry Yester and featuring seven tracks (only 3 of which have titles) with some songs clocking in at well over 18 minutes combined with the album’s remarkable handmade wood and Plexiglas packaging only increased the band’s mysterious notoriety. Sticks and Stones… would also be the last album to feature John Fell Ryan, who exited the group soon after to form Exceptor. NNCK returned two years later with their second studio album, Intonomancy (2003 Sound@One), which represented a more upbeat sound ranging from dissonant funk jams to experimental ambient pieces.
NNCK followed the double disc live album, Parallel Easters (2004 Sound@One) with their third studio release, Qvaris (2005 5 Rue Christine), a darker doom laden affair featuring tighter songs with most clocking in at under 8 minutes. NNCK returned the following year with EmbryoNNCK (2006 Staubgold) a collaborative album with avant-garde German krautrockers Embryo. VIZUSA (Sound@One) was released in early 2008. At 6AM We Became the Police (2009 Locust Music) was released as a vinyl only LP title. YTIU (2011, Kelippah) and CINo51 (2012, Kelippah) followed.
Aside from being in No-Neck Blues Band the individual members have various side projects including Izititiz, Egypt Is The Magic #, Decimus, Enos Slaughter, K Salvatore and Under Satan’s Sun amongst others.