The seven shadowy sound mystics who make up the Harlem-based No-Neck Blues Band value anonymity. All quotes below come from an enigmatic entity herewith known as NNCK.
If you, Arthur/Pitchfork-reading hipster, were to audaciously lump NNCK into the freak-folk/New Weird America bag, the septet would scornfully reject you. Still, one wonders: Is the resurgent interest in psychedelic folk and outsider improvisation (i.e., jam-band music that doesn't blow) just an ephemeral blip on the cultural radar, or does it portend a significant shift in aesthetics and attitudes? As a group that predates the intensified media focus on this style by a decade, NNCK could be viewed as partially responsible for helping to nurture these developments into greater awareness.
"[We] are not connected to that movement in any way," NNCK observe. "Our music is not psych or folk, but rather a problem, and thus will forever exist as the faintest of blips until it is ultimately snuffed out."
"It hasn't made a discernible difference, except perhaps on the internet," NNCK continue. "Shimmy Disc, Shagrat, and Hannibal were all there at one point. And so have pot, whiskey, incense, guitars, old records, books of poetry, and whatever else you might need for a folky kinda get-together. It's nothing new." Indeed, you can hear the seeds of NNCK's approach in Yoko Ono's "Airmale" from 1971's Fly, NYC jazz-folk original Moondog, Sun Ra's freer excursions, and trippy-hippie ramblers like Hapshash & the Coloured Coat and Amon Düül I. Nevertheless, the way NNCK distill and rearrange these elements is as riveting as watching an empire collapse.
Unlike most groups, NNCK arose for the best reasons: "We hope to present aspects of the shadow world, the unseen, the unheard, the unimagined, in order to provide the listener with avenues toward a realignment of vision and perception.
"NNCK was formed to be a band like any other in its origin. The nuclear members (under a different name) even had explicit song structures. Then with the addition of new members, the project became more expansive, literally and figuratively."
Influenced by NYC's early-'90s cauldron of loft jazz, noise rock, butoh dancing, and myriad alternative performance spaces, NNCK forged their freeform gestalt with cult-like rigor, mostly away from media glare.
NNCK's discography is strewn with limited-edition LPs and CDs, most recorded in the band's cavernous Hint House headquarters and issued on their Sound @ One imprint. Their 1999 CD, Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones but Names Will Never Hurt Me, reaped more attention than usual under the aegis of folk-guitar legend John Fahey's Revenant label. Recorded in Arkansas by former Lovin' Spoonful member Jerry Yester, the disc abounds with stoned folk-blues ragas and cosmic-hillbilly mantras seemingly beamed in from some Appalachian mountaintop. While NNCK claim to make "city music," they admit to having "trappings of rustic, pagan bliss. [But the music's] undercurrent of psychic turmoil in an industrial society is apparent."
Between the appearance of the new Qvaris on 5 Rue Christine and launching their most extensive national tour yet, NNCK are poised to infect many more minds with their cryptic epics redolent of the infernal menace of H. P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood's prose, which graces NNCK's site (www.theserth.com).
Qvaris is NNCK's most galvanic record, and an ideal intro for novices. Qvaris privileges the spontaneous ramble, the clang and the clatter, the bang and the chatter. It's jazz that's never been freer, rock that's never been looser. Transcendence? NNCK are beyond that. The underground? They're over it. There is no direction here, only the need to feel righteous right now, always. This music has always existed. NNCK are simply conveying it to you as it passes through their neurons.
Under the right circumstances, NNCK's music can be perceived as a rejection of modernity, a valorization of the primeval. Right? "No, we are part of an ancient movement, but the sentiment of each gathering is connected inextricably to the time in which it manifests. I think we are a rejection of postmodern coyness. I don't think we value primitivism as a pinnacle goal; we are an amalgam of musical, artistic, literary, performative influences... much like anyone who is not stuck crunching numbers, trying to get the bottom line to glow an unearthly black."
When asked if their music is a healing force, NNCK replied, "No. On the contrary, it is viral and infective."