The Neuro Farm have been in existence since 2011 with founders Rebekah Feng (vocals, violin) and Brian S Wolff (vocals, guitar), later joined by DreamrD (drums, percussion) and Tim Phillips (keyboards, textures). This gothic quartet released the concept album Vampyre in 2021, with the tale starting in a grand ancient acclaim with the father of vampires, “Cain“. It follows a woman who is tricked into becoming a creature of the night eternal but struggles with the loss of her humanity and leaving behind the husband she loves. The bloodsucker that sired her, acts as a despot, so she gathers the others like herself to over throw this King of Vampires and then ascends to become Queen. Throughout, there is drama and dark beauty. Feng’s vocals are gorgeous and really give each track such profound grace. You can hear her classical training and “Vampyre” is a perfect track to showcase not only her violin playing but the vocals. Wolff is no slouch with his singing either while Phillips abilities on the synths has enriched their sound and DreamrD is the beating heart that holds it all together. A goth rock odyssey that could only happen when you have a group of talented musicians.
I think the moral of the story is in the end there is a little bit of Cain in each and every vampire that stalks the world from the shadows. So, we decided to have a chat with these ephemeral creatures that make up The Neuro Farm before the break of dawn and find out about this latest offering and what makes their synapses spark…..
Welcome to the psych ward where we conduct aptitude tests looking for Onyx’s new Renfield!
Brian: Thanks for inviting us in. 😉
The name of the band comes from Rebekah being a neuroscientist and Brian’s interest in neuropharmacology. How did the band come together?
Brian: Rebekah and I met in grad school at Georgetown University working on PhDs in neuroscience. We both had solo music projects going, and somehow didn’t know this about each other until a couple years after we first met. But we did eventually find out, and it turned out our projects were fairly similar, so we started a band. It wasn’t very serious at first, just kind of a fun spare time thing, but we got much more serious about it in 2017 when Colin joined and we started working on our Descent album.
Rebekah: I agree, the band was more like a fun side hobby at first, and was nothing like what it is now. In a way, The Neuro Farm only became a real band when we met Colin in 2017. Colin brought our rhythm section to a whole new level. The 3 of us played shows for a few years with quite a few bassists, but we had wanted a synth player for a very long time. Tim is one of the best synth players around. We had wanted to ask him to join our band for the longest time. To our surprise, he said yes! With Tim joining the band last year, we were able to create all these new sounds for Vampyre. We are now the Neuro Farm 2.0! 😀
Neuro Farm is based in Washington DC, so can you tell us what the goth/industrial scene is like in the nation’s capital?
Rebekah: Under the polished suit-wearing facade of Washington, DC, there’s an unexpectedly active underground goth/industrial scene! I bet everyone thinks they have the best goth scene, but I really do believe ours is special. Everyone is genuinely kind and supportive of each other. We have Vanguard and Dark & Stormy, which are both amazing dance parties. If you ever visit DC, you’ll have to come to one of these! Another super cool thing that happened in DC is the emergence of Procession Magazine. It was founded by our pal, Chris Canter, and has grown into a super popular print magazine in the US. So definitely check them out!
Your music is heavily based and influenced by vampire lore. What is it about this genre that inspires your music and creativity?
Rebekah: Vampires are misunderstood. They are often portrayed as monsters to be slayed. But they have memories of humanity and are tortured by eternity. They have loved and lost, and can be a bit jaded as a result. We wanted to tell the vampire’s story from their perspective, and that became the story of the album.
Brian: Vampires are also about power. Power is something they crave, something they covet, something that sustains them, but at the same time it’s quite literally a curse, and something that estranges them from those they care about. It’s great symbolism, and fun to explore from a songwriting perspective.
Congratulations on your latest album release, Vampyre, which comes with a story-line. Can you elucidate and give us a bite of what this epic tale is about?
Brian: The album begins with “Cain”, a song about the biblical figure who was cursed by God to wander the earth for eternity as a vampire. The main story is set in modern times, and the heroine of the story is made a vampire by an evil man, an egomaniacal cult leader who is the subject of the song, “Purity”. But as she grows to hate her maker, she lures vampires away from him and makes them loyal to her. Eventually, she slays her former master in the “Midnight Massacre” and declares herself queen. Mastermind ends the album saying the kings and queens aren’t really in charge, asking, who is the real mastermind? Then in a subtle touch I’m probably a little too proud of, you hear the theme from “Cain” start to play, answering the question.
Rebekah: Right before “Midnight Massacre” there’s a pair of songs, “Vampyre” and “Mortal”. Part of the tragedy of becoming a vampire is the inevitable farewell to their mortal loved ones. “Vampyre” portrays the difficult choice of breaking the bond. And of course, “Mortal” is the story told from the mortal lover’s perspective. You sense more of a trace of humanity in “Vampyre” before she abandons her humanity in “Midnight Massacre”.
How important was it for there to be a story-line for this album and who was the one to come up with the idea?
Brian: Rebekah came up with the vampire theme by writing the song, “Vampyre”. We had a few songs already written at that time, but we realized we could easily form a story about that vampire character, so we decided to turn the whole thing into a concept/story album. The song “Cain” was actually originally written about the Norse god Loki, but we adapted it into a song about the world’s first vampire.
Rebekah: It’s more fun when an album reads like a book rather than a collection of loosely-connected songs! We first came up with the song “Vampyre” and built a whole storyline around the vampire. There’s a cult, a love story, a rebellion, and the takeover in the story. We added the origin story of the biblical Cain, the first vampire, because we do everything from start to finish. That’s how we roll! 😀
DreamrD: Fortunately, during the pandemic, we had the time available to devote to the project. Making and releasing albums is a tremendous amount of work under any circumstances, much less a concept-based undertaking that communicates a compelling story. We’re familiar with what effort is involved though, because our 2019 release “The Descent” is also a concept/story based album.
I believe Vampyre is your fourth studio album. How do you feel your sound has changed since that first release in 2011?
Brian: In 2011 it was really just a side project with Rebekah and me, and pretty amateurish. You can definitely hear us develop with each album, with the songwriting and production improving considerably over time. And we added Colin for “The Descent” (2018), which improved our sound pretty dramatically, and then added Tim for “Vampyre” (2021) which once again gave our sound a huge boost. I feel like we’ve found a really great lineup for the band now where we all contribute a lot to the sound, and we really like working together to make music we’re all proud of.
Rob Early of 11 Grams/Retrogram did a great job mastering Vampyre, so how do you know the fabulous Rob?
Rebekah: Haha! You know Rob too? Isn’t Rob a great guy? A few years back, we played a show at Black Cat in DC with Red This Ever (another great band from our area) and Rob was the synth player at that show. We started chatting then and have been good friends ever since.
Brian: Rob was absolutely fantastic to work with, and just a great guy as well.
DreamrD: Rob also happens to live right down the street from me so we’re neighbors as well, though we only recently discovered this fact. Knowing this, I’ll be dropping by his place often for a spare cup of baking powder or sea salt. 🙂
Rebekah, you are a trained classical violin player. Does this make it easier or harder to integrate into a rock style for you?
Rebekah: Like everyone else, I grew up playing an acoustic violin and didn’t even know about electric violins until later in life. As you know, classical violin training focuses more on techniques rather than artistic expression. I get bored easily, so perfecting my technique or playing sheet music was not as fun. I’ve always been more interested in creating new sounds and coming up with my own music. Fast forward to 2010, I bought my first electric violin and the world of effect pedals opened up to me. The rest is history. 🙂 Now I have so many effects pedals and somehow keep acquiring more. So, to answer your question, integrating violin playing into a rock style actually felt quite natural. It was meant to be! 🙂
The whole band comes from a lot of different musical backgrounds. What are the bands that influenced you all in your youth?
Brian: My biggest influence growing up was Pink Floyd, who gave me a deep love for the concept album. And Dave Gilmour was probably the main reason I decided to learn guitar. Otherwise, the way Radiohead writes and arranges their songs has definitely been a big inspiration for my own songwriting over the years. And I love how Portishead had a really cinematic vibe to their music, which is something I’ve always pursued in my own music.
Rebekah: I was actually really into classical music when I was a kid. My first cassette was a piece by Schumann. I got it when I was 6 and I remember being moved by the music. String harmonies still give me goosebumps. Then there’s Bach who made me fall in love with Baroque arpeggiation patterns. Nowadays, I notice that I incorporate these influences when I write music without realizing it. If you listen to the song, Vampyre, you’ll see what I’m talking about. 🙂
DreamrD: Having come up in the 80’s (think “Freaks and Geeks”) a lot of pop music and MTV in particular were inescapable. So all of that rubbed off on my musical interests at the time, and much of which I still enjoy. The Police, Devo, Missing Persons, Duran Duran, Ministry, The Cult, Prince, and The The were all bands that really captivated my youthful ears. I recall much later seeing Cirque du Soleil for the first time and being impacted by the music, but also just the overall performance and theatrics, the creation of distinct show characters, the acrobatic and physical prowess, and the fantasy of it all. It was impressive and stuck with me as an elevated piece of artistry. The Blue Man Group show also made a similar impact from a unique live performance perspective, as did U2’s Zoo TV tour in the 90’s. Amazing productions! Unrelated to musical influences, but with additional personal insight, DreamrD is a nickname that’s been with me in some form (DreamR, Dreamer, Dreamer-D, etc.) since my teens and just never went away. It works in a musical/band/performance setting, however my dearest Mum still calls me Colin. I also answer to “schlagzeuger” for our German followers since we seem to be making inroads there. But maybe Australia is next for The Neuro Farm to really infiltrate? 😉
Tim: I became a fan of Duran Duran in the early 80’s and when I saw a live performance on MTV, I saw Nick Rhodes behind a glorious stack of synths and computers and I knew instantly that I wanted to be him. My tastes expanded when I got into Pink Floyd and early Peter Gabriel solo albums, but hearing The Cure’s ‘The Head on the Door’ was the moment I wanted to compose songs. This also led me down the college and alternative radio path and fell in love with Depeche Mode, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, etc. Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead then enforced the fact that writing and performing music was the path I wanted to follow.
What do you find yourselves listening to now?
Brian: Honestly, a lot of the same stuff I was listening to in my youth. But I’ve definitely had a recent focus on post-punk and industrial stuff like Joy Division and NIN. I like listening to all kinds of different music, though I think pretty much every genre has good stuff in it.
Rebekah: I go through phases with music. There will be weeks when I listen to Chelsea Wolfe nonstop. Then there are other weeks when I listen to a lot of German bands, Rammstein, Eisbrecher, etc. Currently, I’m in a Sigur Rós phase. They are going on tour this year and we all bought tickets to see them, so I’m quite excited about it! The ONE band I always come back to is Radiohead. They are incredibly creative and the music is both beautiful and so interesting!
DreamrD: In the “smaller band” realm, I have been enjoying Ritual Howls who are based in Detroit. They have a dark, mechanical, and minimalist quality to their sound but that is also infused with a Western twang to it. “Turkish Leather” is a good full-album starting point for their music. In the “bigger artist” category, I typically stop whatever I am doing if I hear Johnny Marr’s solo work come on or also Interpol (Antics!). Those sounds just never get old to my ears.
Tim: Other than revisiting all of the music I grew up with, I find myself listening more and more to bands like Deftones, Mew, Sigur Ros, and 65daysofstatic. Even side projects of some of those bands are in my heavy rotation such as Crosses (Deftones) and Apparatjik (Mew).
Due to the pandemic hitting us from 2020 to 2021, how has it affected the band? Did it make some things harder/impossible or other things easier?
DreamrD: The pandemic initially impacted The Neuro Farm by shutting down a planned 2020 tour and obviously separating us physically from gigging and hanging out together, etc. But we made a point of staying active and productive. The time away from performing really cleared the way for the Vampyre album to be our sole focus and brought it to completion without any particular pressure of time or imposed deadlines. It felt good to embrace flexibility and to be able to adapt to the unexpected.
What are the future plans for Neuro Farm?
Rebekah: Venues are opening back up in DC, and we recently began to play local shows somewhat regularly. When we wrote our “Vampyre” album, we had envisioned an almost movie-like storyline which warrants music videos. We are in the process of making them and hope to finish those this year. In April 2020, we were about to go on our first east coast tour, which didn’t happen for obvious reasons. So touring domestically is definitely on our agenda. Also, we’ve been gaining popularity internationally, so touring in Europe and maybe Australia is something we’ve been talking about as well.
If you were a character out of the role playing game Vampire The Masquerade, what clan would you be from and why?
Brian: My real life might most resemble Nosferatu because I’m reclusive and I spend a lot of time in front of a computer. But screw that, I want to be a Toreador because they’re much more attractive, and I want to be attractive, dammit!
Rebekah: I think I am a Tremere because of my day job. I wish I knew magic. But hey, science is like magic, but based on empirical evidence! 😀 Supposedly, Tremeres are hated by many. I hope that’s not the case. 😦
DreamrD: I would probably be part of the Ravnos. I’m often a little restless but also prefer not to fight about things when a smoother, more charmed approach can achieve the same or better result in life. 😉
Tim: I was going to say I’d lean heavily towards Ravnos, but we can’t have TWO charmers in the same band, right? I’d go with Malkavian as I can be a bit of a joker and may be prone to hallucinations when I’m hungry 😛
Thank you for being my willing thralls and giving your time to this experiment.
Brian: We have been enthralled. Get it? Because “Enthralled” is a song on our album. 😀
Mwahaha congratulations Brian, you are the new Renfield.