The legendary Scott Conner, the mastermind behind Xasthur, is widely regarded as a musical genius. Formed in 1995 in California, Xasthur is revered as a pioneering black metal institution. Scott has collaborated with a variety of other artists over the years both within and outside of Xasthur. For example, he has worked with the esteemed band Sunn O))). However, Xasthur will forever be known for the incredible power that this legendary entity wields as a one-man act. Xasthur’s music has not only influenced generations of creators, but it has also deeply touched countless listeners.

In 2010, Scott announced that Xasthur had ended and assumed the Nocturnal Poisoning banner — the title of Xasthur’s first album. As Nocturnal Poisoning, Scott unleashed the following records: Other Worlds of the Mind (2012), A Misleading Reality (2013), and Doomgrass (2014) — after which a new genre term was coined. These efforts can all be described as extremely dark and inventive acid folk. In 2015, Scott changed his project’s name back to Xasthur in order to reclaim the legacy of his life’s work. Nevertheless, with Victims of the Times (2021), he continued to experiment along the path he had taken with Nocturnal Poisoning.

Xasthur’s most recent release, Inevitably Dark, which was unveiled by Prophecy Productions on June 23, 2023, represents the outfit’s partial return to black metal. On this triumph, Xasthur also demonstrates mastery of a variety of other styles — paths both already well-trodden by the band and less charted. The deluxe edition includes an accompanying artbook that features drawings by Stanislav Krawczyk, or “Stan Dark Art,” and an essay by Scott. In conjunction with Inevitably Dark, Prophecy also issued Rehearsals 1997-1999 for the first time on vinyl. This offering had only been distributed in extremely limited quantity on CD back in 2013.

Naturally, we were terribly excited to have the opportunity to catch up with Scott. We discussed Xasthur, Scott’s visual art, his death metal project Menstrual Vampires, and more. Since our discussion, Xasthur announced Disharmonic Variations, which is scheduled to drop on July 5. Needless, to say we await this album with a severe lack of patience. As you prepare for what is bound to be another beautifully crafted nightmare, please enjoy the result of our chat with the tireless American icon himself. 

Obviously, I really love Inevitably Dark. It’s just a gorgeous and haunting album! I have heard a lot of positive feedback from fans. Have the reactions surprised you at all?

I think Inevitably Dark was a rare occurrence when I was able to do both what I really wanted to do, or came naturally, as well as making something I could hear through the ears of others. Being both what I would want and what people might want. Usually, I do what I’m feeling or what comes to me. But the complaining and even the hate have become predictable, even if I was giving more than they expected. I don’t think anyone’s surprised by anything, no matter what it is that I or anyone else does, so I’m not either.

I think it picked up right where Subliminal Genocide left off or was the next step after Portal of Sorrow. I don’t think I lost a step in giving that a try again after all these years. I also believe it picked up where Victims of the Times left off and was a real improvement. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have let it be released.

As time goes by, I think that it will be more appreciated. I think I had too much material, and I gave too much.

Exactly. This is a brilliant album, and it’s just too much for some people to wrap their heads around. Inevitably Dark is an incredibly generous offering. It’s 23 tracks long, so I remember I felt kind of overwhelmed when I first received the promo. However, for me, the whole thing just flew by — it does every time. Of course, Inevitably Dark features so many style changes. Prophecy has described it as having tracks that fall into the categories of black metal, death metal, dark ambient, dungeon synth, acid folk, doomgrass, discordant blues, and jazz. At the same time, Inevitably Dark is totally cohesive because it’s all distinctly Xasthur through and through. A lot of people were really happy about the black metal parts since you clearly distanced yourself from the genre long ago. Do you plan on incorporating more black metal into your albums in the future?

Mostly no but occasionally yes — just to mix things up a little bit and not to mix things up as much as Inevitably Dark. I’ll have an occasional surprise, but it’s not something I plan on doing. I don’t plan on making 98% black metal or even 50% black albums anymore, but I might throw in one or two black metal songs on an album once in a while as a surprise. I’ve already tried black metal again and again though, and I have often felt that I’ve tried it enough, hasn’t everyone?

Black metal became limiting. You can’t make music as weird, dark, or audible as you want to if you’re trying to play that kind of music. I bet I could prove it mathematically. I could prove it with graphs, colors, and math. Everybody’s trying to out-new each other or out-dark each other. It can’t happen. There comes a point where it all sounds the same. If you take three strings, one tuning, five-six frets, you only have like a couple hundred options. But if you have like twenty different tunings that are not standard, you have endless possibilities to work with. It’s almost like saying, “How much or how little can you do with a power chord?” There are like maybe a hundred options, and there are a million people doing it. It’s all going to sound the same. That’s why I can’t get that much more out of the black metal stuff. It’s a dead end. At this point, it all sounds the same. No matter what these people do, if they’re lucky, they’ll only sound like one hundred thousand people. If they’re not so lucky, they’ll sound like a million people. It’s like a million people are only allowed to use a pencil, and they’re only allowed to draw skulls. After a while, I’m gonna be like, “I’m fuckin’ sick and tired of looking at black and white skulls. I want to at least try to paint some hideous colors that don’t exist yet.”

What may resemble something like black metal on Inevitably Dark is the best I can do with it, considering that kind of music both musically and ideologically is plastic, fake, and has no meaning to me. I don’t even know how or if it ever really did. There are very few exceptions but not enough for me to care about it or play that role. Metal is just a reference, analogy, or metaphor. I use it because it’s the only language anyone speaks. I’d probably have to use Terrance Hobbs as an example to talk about Stevie Ray Vaughan or find the John Lennon in Uncle Acid, etcetera etcetera.

As a former black metal columnist, I have to agree. However, there are some magnificent bands out there like Shining and Dødheimsgard that I value more than anything — of course, they are innovators who can’t be pigeonholed though. Obviously, your black metal content is among the most respected. The last time I interviewed you, you said that you had created a style of your own that’s darker than black metal. You showed me some demos, which were absolutely phenomenal! Is that still where you’re headed with Xasthur?

Yeah, it’s like that. I was kind of finding my way in like 2012/13/14. Then for the past few years, I just found all of these tunings and invented some. I’m just finding more and more and more than I used to. I’m finding things that I haven’t heard before, usually not even from myself. I have a pretty good ear. If somebody rips off a Bob Seger riff, I’ll recognize it.

When something becomes weirder or more unusual, it starts becoming darker. When you find a vibe or a mood that you haven’t heard before, chances are that’s going to be dark in itself. The newer stuff is way less A, A minor, G, D, and stuff like that. It’s more about finding everything that can be found and continuing to find everything in that realm. I don’t mind if it’s dark at all. I don’t mind if it isn’t. I’m just trying to make things that I haven’t heard before because I’m just sick of everything that I’ve heard. That’s my only reason for playing. If everything I did was just like, “Everything I’m doing that kind of sounds like Mayhem,” I wouldn’t settle. I would just be like, “I’m done. I’m not going to bother.” If it sounds like someone else, I don’t want to bother anymore.

I can’t wait until you announce your next tour. You’ll be performing on April 21 in Los Angeles. Are you looking forward to it?

I’m looking forward to it. I just have to bring it, you know what I mean. I feel like I have to prove myself and that what I’m doing today is legit. I have to play as if my life or my future depends on it. I have to make it count. I don’t feel like I have any room for error.  

Recording at home isn’t good enough for me anymore. Anyone can do that. I think any audience expects more than that, and I don’t blame them.

It’s time to prove myself live. I think I have a lot of years to undo, change, prove, improve, or make up for. Playing live is a way of giving back to people who’ve shown interest, been invested, and want to show up in person. It’s a different way of hearing it for them, and it’s not giving back in the same old way with just an album and nothing else or nothing more. That’s why I don’t shut the fuck up about touring and playing live. It’s time to move on to that aspect and challenge. I really like writing new songs and recording them, but I don’t find releasing them to be as fulfilling as doing it live and making it work that way instead.

I do know what you mean and this is part of why I respect you so much, but you’re so iconic that I’m surprised to hear you say that you feel like you have to prove yourself. I literally can’t go a day without bumping into Xasthur references online.

Instead of being seen and, “Hey, look at me, I’m onstage,” you have to deliver. That’s the way I look at it. I care about the people listening to it, of course. You’re delivering for them as well. I care most about giving my best.

Prophecy has been releasing a ton of cool reissues — A Misleading Reality and All Reflections Drained were recently made available on January 26; Suicide in Dark Serenity and Other Worlds of the Mind came out on November 24, 2023; and Subject to Change and The Funeral of Being dropped slightly before on September 29, 2023. Obviously, a couple of those titles were originally published under the Nocturnal Poisoning banner but were rebranded. Do you have any recollections you’d like to share about making any of these offerings?

Looking back, I really enjoyed making them. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now — there are a few that you’re talking about that were made during better times in my life. I enjoyed those times more than I realized. I enjoyed making those albums more than I thought I did. No matter how hard times are, how bad you think you’ve got it, it takes a certain energy and enthusiasm to create. No matter how depressing a record is or whatever, you have to have a spark in order to make it. So, you have more enthusiasm than you think you do. Sometimes, things are looking up more than you think, not all the time though. You’re giving yourself something to look forward to when you’re making an album. I guess I made A Misleading Reality in 2012 and 2013, and those times, you know, no matter what I thought of them then, they’re sure as hell a lot better than 2024… And I’ll be saying the same thing about 2024 in 2030.

Hopefully not. I’m sure you’ll have a great 2030, and I hope you’ll have a fantastic 2024 with lots of new adventures.

You too. And that’s the thing too — you’ve got to keep it new and do something new. I remember when this or that record was something new to me. Something being new to me kind of keeps me going, or it kept me going. I remember that.

Is there anything that you would like to say about the Prophecy compilations that are coming out on March 29 — Vol. 1 Splits 2002-2004 and Vol. 2 Splits & Bonus 2007-2009?

If it’s not too much to ask, I wish people could, when they get a copy of it, discover it the way I rediscovered it — throwing it on the turntable and not really knowing what to expect. I heard test-pressings. I was at Rayshele’s house. [Note: Rayshele Teige works for Prophecy Productions and has been a huge asset to Xasthur.] She has a nice record player and everything. And I was like, “What is that?!” The order of everything was really strange. I think it’s very bizarre and dark — those compilations. I heard some songs that I don’t even remember making. It went on for a while and sometimes I asked, “What are we listening to? I don’t even know what this is.” So, there are a lot of forgotten songs that are really weird but somehow go together, or they don’t go together — that’s why they go together so well. That’s the thing I like about it. I didn’t care if it was the A-side or B-side, I just put it on and started listening. Prophecy just happened to put the compilations together in an order that leaves you wondering what the hell you’re listening to, you know. Sometimes, the track order really matters.

Have you been working on any poems lately?  

Poems sound lovely. Lyrics sound kind of nice. I write fucked up shit.

Yeah, I’ve done a hell of a lot of lyric writing with no singer. It’s just like, “Hey, I have no singer. Let’s write like a hundred pages of lyrics. Well, come to think of it, maybe I should write two hundred.” No, it’s not like that. I don’t need to do it all the time. I’ve done enough. I don’t want to start repeating myself. I’ll take care of that and won’t let that happen musically. There are ways. Though I don’t always mind repeating myself lyrically because sometimes a subject resumes or needs to be opened up again and elaborated on in another song. I don’t care if I’m on the same subject again if I’ve done it five or ten times. I’ll just make it more graphic, explicit, or disgusting the next time around. I’m not done yet. Inside the mind of multiple personalities, the damaged and the mentally ill, one page doesn’t cover it. There’s hundreds of pages of insanity, baggage, and oxymorons.

Fortunately, songs are usually done when they’re done. It seems like lyrics never are or are to be continued.

The thing is that I write because I don’t have to. It’s just kind of like when Iggy Pop offered Tom Waits a cigarette and he was like, “I can have one because I quit.” I understand that because I don’t smoke — I don’t have to do it, so it makes it easier to do it, and I won’t buy a pack when I’m done.

When I don’t have to do something, I can do a lot of it. But, again, on the other hand, I’ve done more than enough. I can’t even keep track of everything I’ve written and everything that needs to be rewritten, you know — cocktail napkins with writing on them. I have a lot saved. It’s a mess. The end of last year, I didn’t write anything for a few months. I enjoyed that. But it always happens and comes back sooner than later, whether I expect it to or not.

Would you like to speak a bit about your photography and painting?

If I ever do photography again one of these years, then great. You have to care about what you’re photographing. If I see something completely unexpected, something that’s just really bizarre that people don’t notice, I’ll take a picture of it spontaneously. I’m a spontaneous photographer, and I don’t know when the next photo is coming. Sometimes, you see something, and you have to take a picture of it to be believed.

And painting — I’m kind of satisfied with the quantity being very little. I usually hate most of them, and they don’t come out often the way I envision them. If I try painting again, it’ll be like five years from now. If I can get one painting I like out of myself, I’ll consider myself lucky and quit for years while I’m ahead. I’m going to have one of my paintings on a cover someday.

Next year will be the thirtieth anniversary of the formation of Xasthur! So, it’s time to start planning ahead and thinking about special reissues, maybe an anniversary gig, and so forth. How does it feel to be approaching such an important milestone?

The funny thing about it is that there was a time, I guess in the ’90s, when CDs kind of meant something… like, “I want to make a compact disc!” It was the ultimate back then. You know how people say, “If I climb Mount Everest, I could just die or get on with my life”?! In my case, I just thought, “If I could just make one album, be a one-album wonder, that’s good enough for me. I wouldn’t need to do anything more. I have to get past that to move on with the rest of my life. I’ll make this first compact disc. I don’t know who will put it out but someone will. I have to get that out of the way.” It was a realistic goal and a big enough one at the time.

It just didn’t work out like that. After the first album, I was asked, “Well, are you making a second one?” A label was assuming I was.

I was like, “What?!” I had started on a couple of tracks, but I didn’t plan on making a second album until then. I was like, “I’m supposed to be doing something else with my life but alright. I’ll make a second one… and so on and so on and so on.” The rest is ancient history. I planned on getting it out of my system. And now, shame on me, here I am about 25 years later.

It’s become a preoccupation. I see it and hear it in my head often simultaneously. Sometimes, I’ll see it first and then hear it or vice versa. I have to make something out of it. I just act on it. If I see a puzzle of sound in my head, I need to solve it. I can’t ignore ideas, sounds, patterns, graphs, and waves. If something comes to you, who are you to let it go — to let all the ideas escape you? Like, “Oh I’ll think about it tomorrow.” You have to capture what’s coming to you, and that kind of gets in the way of a lot of things for me. Like, “I’d really love to stay for dinner, but I’ve got something coming to me right now.” It’s all arranged, and I can’t let it get lost. It’s not the best excuse for the years I’ve wasted, but it ain’t the worst either.

When bands are proud of being around for twenty-five, thirty, or even forty years, I’m embarrassed for them and for myself. I get the feeling they’re just sticking around for how many years they can add to that, and I think, “Well, 1981 is over for them and everyone else.” I understand that after ten years, you should’ve gotten your shit together, but after twenty years, you kind of reach a point of no return. Long story short, no, I’m not celebrating thirty years. Even though that point of no return is real, I’ll still be ashamed. Maybe I’ll just lie and say it’s only been twenty-five or twenty-six. I also don’t understand someone throwing themselves a birthday party or a record release show. Shouldn’t someone who gives a fuck about you be doing that? I don’t speak that lingo. I have no idea what “tour support” means either.

I’m a big fan of your death metal project Menstrual Vampires, which also features Randy Rhot. Your self-titled debut came out on Valentine’s Day last year!

That was kind of on purpose. Being a “menstrual vampire” on Valentine’s Day might be more romantic than a dozen roses or a box of chocolates.

What was the spark that prompted you and Randy to found Menstrual Vampires?

After knowing each other for a long time, we just started, I hate to use the word… jamming at his house one day. But it wasn’t jamming because, you know, my drumming was better than I expected, and his guitar playing was also better than I expected. I was like, “Hey, we’re just fucking around or whatever to see what happens, and we’re making progress without even trying to. We’re not expecting anything, but we’re getting a hell of a lot out of ourselves. It seems like we have songs already.” So, that’s kind of what started it — a lot of progress right off the bat. Some of it was easier than I thought it would be. It should have been a lot harder than my own stuff, but it wasn’t. The timing was good too. I don’t get all into old-school death metal for like six months very often. I never had phases like that, but I was having one at the time.

You’ve made some great guest appearances. Obviously, I really love the two-part Manes composition “Solve et Coagula,” which was released in 2009 and features both you and Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth on vocals. For the sake of readers, I’ll mention that the music itself was from an older ’90s demo. Don’t you think it’s a shame that you couldn’t collaborate in the same space? It seems like all of you could come up with some amazing ideas together.

Yeah, it’s always a shame. It was a long time ago when it was less common than today for people in other countries to work together. Collabs were more sincere, less cheap, less worn out, and less common. Either that or I was naive and didn’t know what coattail riding was yet. Manes was one of my favorites many years ago, so it meant something to me at the time. It was at a time where it wasn’t about using names, stepping stones. An “honor” was less fake. 

I was like, “Okay, well, mail me what you have, and I’ll mail you the CD-R back.” It was kind of like that instead of file-sharing. There are such technicalities with those collabs. It’s a shame, but I live in America, the other guy lives in Sweden, and Manes is from Norway. It wouldn’t have been very realistic to all meet up. There was no budget, and there wouldn’t have been a budget big enough for that either. There was no other way to do that.

I can’t say it was too memorable, and it’s understandable if it didn’t change their lives either. I guess it was more memorable than collaborations via email though, thanks in part to the good old fashion CD-R that I mentioned and the post office.

Jillian, thank you for doing this, for letting me say what I got to say and some shit I probably shouldn’t have said.

Thank you, Scott, for a wonderful interview. I hope that everyone will check out all of your material that Prophecy has been releasing. I can’t wait to hear your next move!

(Order Xasthur’s records from Prophecy Productions here.)