Interview Marisa Brickman
Photography Sanna Charles
Earth play spacial, instrumental, orchestral music. The sound is so overpowering and engulfing that your insides will vibrate and your mind will start racing, head pounding. Best listened to as albums (on repeat!) and while performing live, they are a band who are interesting in their entirety, down to a history which began in 1989 in Seattle.
The stories about Dylan Carlson, guitarist, founder, and Seattle native, are endless and not worth going into here. If you want to know about the man and the legend, look him up. Everyone’s already told those tales and frankly, they’re not so important anymore. What’s important is the evolution of this inspirational band and the influence their slowed down take on rock music has had on the tons of bands since their incarnation. Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley’s band Sun O))) was named after a speaker of the same name, but Greg also likens the name as a homage to Earth (because the sun revolves around Earth) and both bands are very much considered to be at the forefront of the experimental drone minimalist scene.
What’s sweet to hear is Earth’s story of triumph after a period of adversity; seeing the true love between Dylan and drummer and partner Adrienne Davies; seeing the group as a whole with the latest line-up, each member contributing their own piece to the whole; seeing the continuing the evolution of the band that is Earth.
I caught up with them in April this year just before a gig at Scala in London. Joining Dylan and Adrienne was long-time friend and cellist Lori Goldston and filling in for live bassist Karl Blau was the lovely Angelina Baldoz.
After helping Tony from Southern Lord unload all the merch into Scala, the band that is Earth rounded the corner and I was immediately filled with a sense of excitement to be greeted by a warm and humble Dylan and company.
I think it’s pretty strange that you guys have a Facebook and a Twitter account. Do you do them yourself?
Dylan: I think our manager Clyde does it.
Adrienne: Dylan and I don’t even really have a cell phone. We haven’t really entered the digital age yet.
I know, I was thinking about how you guys started in ’89 and how things have changed so drastically. It’s a totally different landscape than it was 22 years ago!
Adrienne: That’s Clyde’s magic.
Dylan: Luckily I’m in a position where I can pay people to do that for me.
You guys all live in Seattle and have always lived there forever?
Dylan: Yeah, I’ve been here pretty much since high school. The five missing years were in L.A.
What was going on in those missing years?
You don’t remember?
Dylan: (Laughing) Unfortunately I do. Legal problems. The usual. Wreckage.
With this year’s new album Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light (Southern Lord), I wasn’t sure what to expect but I found it really similar to the last album.
Dylan: The last album to me sounded a little too dense. There was so much going on with the piano, the trombone, and all the overdubs. I like the record, I’m not slaying my own record, but this one I like, and it’s more—
Adrienne: Organic, stripped down.
Dylan: Supple, I guess. The sparseness extends more to the instrumentation than the previous one. To me that’s sort of the difference.
Was it an intentional move to strip it back? To do less in the studio?
Dylan: That’s just sort of how it happened. Steve and Dawn left. Steve had recommended Lori to us and we worked up a lot of the stuff live and then recorded it all basically live. It was a much more natural record, it wasn’t so constructed.
I actually played The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull as the music at my wedding when guests were arriving. We got married in this little park underneath the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo in Brooklyn. It was the absolute perfect setting – the sun was shining and sparkling on the river.
Adrienne: At your wedding? No way!
Yeah, I have a distinct memory of being just about to walk down the aisle holding on to my mom’s arm hearing these big booms coming from the speakers.
Adrienne: You know we played an actual wedding. We did the wedding march. And whatever the other traditional wedding song is.
Dylan: It was for Greg’s wedding.
I think at some point, I did actually look into trying to get you guys to play my wedding, but I shut it down pretty quickly because I realized I probably couldn’t afford it!
Dylan: We actually tried to record it, but the recording thing didn’t work out. We thought about releasing a 7-inch with a song on each side.
Omigod. That would be amazing. So, Greg Anderson was the lucky guy then?
Dylan: Yeah, he and his wife Jen.
I guess you have to start a band then whose name is homage to Earth in order to get you guys to play a wedding?
Dylan: (Laughing) We’ll just start advertising as a wedding band.
Did you guys choose to tour with Sabbath Assembly? They are so rad!
Dylan: We had some choices. Me and Clyde got together and looked over some bands. I liked what they did. I liked that it had this twisted Jesus Christ Superstar vibe to it.
Adrienne: One of the best parts of being on tour with them so far – other than their music being good and they’re fun to watch – is watching the audience’s reaction to them. Especially in countries where there is a lot of religious uncertainty, people react totally dismayed or really into it, but everyone has a very strong opinion. They elicit a strong emotion from the crowd.
Dylan: People are a little confused and don’t know what to think.
What is the ideal place for you guys to play?
Dylan: I sort of prefer the smaller venues. Like last night in Cardiff, there was a big barricade up front and the audience was really polite. It was weird. I definitely prefer where the audience is more involved.
Have you guys heard of Pioneer Town? It’s this old town in the Joshua Tree desert, where they used to film Roy Rogers movies. I was there a couple of years ago at this bar called Pappy & Harriet’s and kept thinking how rad it would be to do a show with you guys in the desert. Seems obvious, I guess, but really also the perfect setting.
Dylan: It sounds like this place where we played above Santa Cruz, this haunted lodge. The Birkdale was kind of like that. It used to be this weird sort of lodge, and now it’s all run down and this guy books shows in the bar there.
There are just so many cool places out in the wilderness where you could do shows – especially on the West Coast. Like the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. What do you think it is about the West Coast that draws you there?
Dylan: I was born there, so I guess that’s my connection.
Lori: I’m the one transplant. The West Coast has a nice lack of infrastructure there. I think things are wide open and easy for people to invent, which I’m sure you can do on the East Coast, but there’s something in the air on the West Coast.
And its not just the medicinal marijuana.
Lori: (Laughing) That and the coffee maybe. A combination.
Dylan: There’s a little more of that whole funky thing on the West Coast.
Angelina: And the connection to nature. It’s much more direct there. Especially the beaches in California and the forests in the North.
Yeah, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t want to live there. I mean, even L.A. is great. People hate on it, but I love L.A.
Angelina: L.A.’s a great city.
Dylan: I like L.A. because the rich people can’t take over; they sort of have to hide in their walled, gated houses.
Lori: (Laughing) Its true, they’re really overrun. It’s nice. They kind of took over Seattle. Not completely, but there’s a lot of them.
Dylan: And I love that you can go to parts of L.A. and not hear English all day or see a sign in English.
Angelina: Yeah, and Venice Beach is amazing.
Don’t get me started on Venice Beach! We do a house swap with a girl on Westminster in August.
Angelina: I stay on Rose! 15 Rose. That’s right by Westminster.
What’s been good so far on this tour?
Dylan: Cork was great.
Adrienne: It was kind of a surprise. We’d never played there, but it was phenomenal. It was just so pretty and the sound was great. There was a great energy there.
I guess you like being on the road?
Dylan: It’s my favorite part of the job, playing live and touring.
Adrienne: I think the only thing we miss is our cats. We have like six different cat sitters set up!
How long has this line-up been together?
Dylan: Angelina joined after the album, but we’ve been playing with Lori for about two years.
Did you play the ATP show?
Lori: I think that was right around when I started.
Adrienne: I think I just hit the 10 year mark.
Dylan: And Karl has a solo career but he was there for the album. Angelina’s the new permanent member.
How do you feel often being credited as the inventors of doom?
Dylan: (Laughing) It’s all my fault. I don’t know. The whole idea of invention or inventing stuff in music is a little weird to me because it’s sort of just a continuum and people just rediscover stuff and put their own twist on it. I mean, the Melvins were slow first and Sabbath was slow before them and Miles Davis was slow before them. You know what I mean, there’s no—
It’s just a genre name?
Dylan: I don’t really think we are really part of that anymore. If people want to say it, that’s fine, but we’re—
Not going to claim it or anything? You’re not going to start a Mr. Doom Facebook profile.
Dylan: (Laughing) No.
Adrienne: People have taken to calling him Grandpa Doom though.
Wow, that’s a tall order!
Adrienne: It’s when he starts issuing proclamations and what not. ‘Back in my day…’
Dylan: The whole ownership thing of music is just a convenient fixture that we engage in so we can make a living doing this, but the whole idea of owning gets a little absurd to me. It’s a tradition or a continuum and everyone is constantly reinterpreting it.
You guys have been around forever so obviously your fanbase has increased over the years, but it seems like just within the past three to five years, there are a lot more Earth fans, and people knowing who you guys are.
Dylan: When we first started we were not well received at all by most people. We’ve been sort of lucky that the original fanbase has maintained interest and we’ve been able to keep expanding. I’m very fortunate in that way. Most people don’t get to keep a fanbase over a long period of time, especially when they vanish in between for a long period of time. Most people would come back and people just go, ‘Eh, who cares?’ That was the nice thing with Greg and Steve, that they are always sort of mentioning their influence. That was definitely nice and helps and makes people keep us in their consciousness or whatever.
Adrienne: When we first started playing, Earth was just a duo. There were several labels that were interested in reissuing past Earth products or investing in the past of what was Earth. The cool thing about Southern Lord and Greg was that he was completely willing and excited about investing in our future and seeing the potential that was there. Without that I very much doubt we could have had a comeback of any kind. His support from the beginning is very integral to where we’re at now. We’ve stuck with it.
What was your mindset when you came back from L.A.?
Dylan: It was mostly just that I wanted to play guitar again. I didn’t set out to be like ‘Oh, let’s do Earth again.’ It just sort of happened. I don’t have a big master plan or anything.
Adrienne: I think we were both in a place where playing music was like a form of therapy. It was much busier, much less sparse, much more sporadic. It hadn’t really become Earth yet, it was much more kinetic because that was the state of mind we were in. It was helpful. Music can serve much more of a purpose. It can be therapeutic and that’s how it was for us.
I think in terms of people being more receptive to your sound, audiences have gotten more used to seeing bands live who are more orchestral and sparse. They don’t expect this massive rock band sound when they see the typical guitar, bass, drums set up.
Dylan: Yeah. I mean, I think too, as the major label thing is dying, live music and musicians playing live is coming back. Before, that was the important thing and the record wasn’t as important. Then all of a sudden there was this switch to where there’s musicians and there’s recording artists and they were privileged and having an object to sell was privileged. Before, the live performance was how people heard music. I think people want to see bands that play again instead of this disposable auto-tuned thing with bands that don’t tour, and people only see them at some awards show with some huge production. People want to see live music again and they want to see a band that can play what they record.
Adrienne: One thing that we try to do and pull off live – a lot of studio acts do these amazing studio albums and then they go out on the road and try to replicate exactly note for note, every single second of the album on every song they are playing. We look at each night differently and we’re never going to do the same thing twice with the same song. We really try to explore and improvise and get creative live. I can’t imagine – it just really wouldn’t be that much fun if we just played the album.
What is your approach when you embark on tour as far as your repertoire of songs to play?
Dylan: We try and work up a good set, but we always have some extras, or if the feeling hits, we’ll just play something new.
Do you have any special stage signs, signals or winks or anything to signal to each other on stage?
Dylan: (Laughing) Um, yeah, sort of.
Adrienne: (Laughing) A little subtle non verbal communication amongst friends.
You know each other’s looks then. Dylan, do you lead the jam, do you give the signal?
Dylan: I do some signalling. Lori’s the best player in the band so she steps up the most. She’s amazing at improvising. That’s one thing I’ve been trying to do with Earth too – is to de-emphasize the guitar. It was so guitar-heavy before and I want the other instruments to stand out, too. I don’t want it to be all about the guitar. That’s been done over and over and I’m not some ripping lead player guy.
Were you at one time?
Dylan: No, I had to hire someone to do the ripping leads on Pentastar (Pentastar: In the Style of Demons, Sub Pop, 1996).
No big solos?
Dylan: No not really.
Adrienne: You tend to get a bit more lead guitar heavy in the studio. But live you tend to play a little more off a bit.
Dylan: I always try to be a bit more restrained, in a way.
Adrienne: It seems like in our band, especially live, its more about what we don’t play than what we do play.
Dylan: Lori does the ripping solos.
Lori: I feel a little uncomfortable. I never mean for it to come off that way. I feel really uncomfortable because I’m kind of like you. I’m more of an ensemble player and I like arranging on the fly. There’s no arrangement interest if one person is soloing over everybody. Its nice when things weave around.
Well, I’m looking forward to seeing you guys tonight. And hopefully we might meet again in Pioneer Town.
We also asked Earth what they were up to this summer, and they said they’d been getting into reading a whole lot, so we got them to give us a top 10 reading list…
1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
The restoration of English magic and much ado about faerie, and the prophecy of the Raven King. Some of the finest footnotes I’ve ever read.
2. Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
Short stories about the otherlands and its inhabitants and our own. Also much fine foornoting.
3. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
The movie sucked! but this book is amazing. more about faerie.
4. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Bad tv show, great book. London below is amazing.
5. The Commonveath of Faeries by the Rev. Robert Kirke
Book about the otherlands, its inhabitants, and the second sight, from someone who visited the otherlands and vanished on a faery knowe (hill) in 1691 or 1692.
6. The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by C.A. Evans-Wentz
The best history of research on faerie the beliefs of the seers.
7. British Goblins – not sure of author
More history of encounters with the otherlanders.
8. Gloriana, or the Unfulfill’d Queen by Michael Moorcock
A brilliant improvisation on spenser’s faerie queene, but much quicker to read, and much sexier, and bringing in the gods of chaos and moorcocks other obsessions/concerns/tropes or whatever.
9. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion by Jane Austen
Two for the price of one. My secret vice, regency era comedies of English manners. It doesn’t make me gay.
10. Blood Meridian, or The Evening’s Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
The only novel that describes the real western expansion of the United States of America. Unrelentingly violent, accursed, tragi-comic, and wierdly poetic. Along with shocking blues “hello darkness” the inspiration for hex. Dead-who?