Very few bands can claim to have an influence even remotely as large as Earth‘s. If it wasn’t for their earlier career, drone and so much of the amplifier worship that goes with it would most likely have a very different shape. As if that weren’t enough, the reinvention that went on on the second half of the band’s career is a very unique mix of being rather drastic and yet, somehow, make perfect sense. Earth still sounds like Earth, the focus is different but there is still a feeling of continuity.
At the helm of it all stands Dylan Carson, the only remaining founding member and the man responsible for what Earth is today. It was with him we had the privilege to talk to about the band’s most recent full-length “Primitive And Deadly”, the upcoming European tour and some more.
You are just a few days away from returning to Europe for the second time since releasing “Primitive And Deadly”. How was the first one?
The first tour went really, really well. This time we are coming back for a few festivals, then some places we didn’t hit on the first part of the tour and some places that we haven’t been for a couple of years, such as Portugal. The last tour went really well, definitely one of our longest [laughs], we ended up playing a bunch of places we had never played before, like Moscow, Athens and Istanbul, so that was cool.
On the record, the bass was handled by Bill Herzog whereas on the tour it was Don McGreevy returning to the band. Why was it so and will it be the same formation in Europe this time?
Bill has a child and a business, so getting more than a couple of weeks of at a time can be difficult. Yeah, it’s still Don McGreevy,Adrienne, and myself as a touring unit.
Have the songs with vocals on them from “Primitive And Deadly” been played live as instrumentals?
Yeah. We had two shows with Rose Windows on the last tour, soRabia sang with us. But yeah, pretty much always it’s going to be done instrumental. Since Lanegan was on tour at the same time, we were hoping there’d be some chances of that happening, but it didn’t [laughs].
Did you have to adapt those songs to play them live?
“There Is A Serpent Coming” and “From The Zodiacal Light” were both originally recorded as instrumentals and then the vocals were added later, so they work – I think – either way. The one song, “Rook Across The Gate” was written with vocals, so that one maybe not so much [laughs].
How have people reacted to those instrumental versions?
So far there’s only been one comment that was negative, I guess, or not necessarily negative, but they said they liked the song better with vocals. I mean, there’s a lot of people that just like vocals [laughs].
And it’s a pretty rare thing in Earth’s discography.
Yeah, we hadn’t used vocals since like ’96. It’s funny, because our first release had vocals so it’s not like I’ve ever been anti vocals. It’s not like that, it happened before, but it’s been awhile, yes.
What lead you to decide to go in that direction for the two songs which had originally been recorded as instrumentals?
We discussed adding vocals because I had the one song “Rook Across The Gate” which originally had vocals written with it. Then we asked Mark if he wanted to do it and he did. Then he was like «oh, can I do another song?» and we said «yeah, just pick one», so he did that one. Since we had the male vocalist, we thought about a female singer and Rabia was up for it, so.
«We are such a new country and, especially in the western United States, nothing gets preserved. They just knock stuff down and build new buildings.»
Do you think there’s a chance of Earth eventually playing live with both of them?
Hopefully, at some point. The one time we were with Rabia both bands were playing a festival together and the second time it was that we were playing the same show. I doubt they will be available for a whole tour. Most likely it will be a festival situation or a show where we are all at the same place.
In “Primitive And Deadly” you also returned to a trio format and to a sound with a bigger focus on the guitar. What lead you in that direction?
I think the fact that we have been touring so much, we did Japan, Australia and New Zealand. It’s easier and more cost effective to have the trio format for those tours. Because we had been doing that, I tried to write stuff which was more suited towards that line up. I kind of wanted this record to be more focused on the guitar, obviously the guitar has always been an important part of Earth, but on the previous records there’s been other instruments, we had keyboards, cello and trombone. I just wanted the guitars to be the focus on this one and trio format works well for that.
Does the writing and rehearsing become easier with the reduced line up?
The players I’ve worked with have been really easy to work it and know what they’re doing, so that’s never been a problem. It gives me a chance to step out more than I used to and it makes touring a lot easier with the three piece, you know?
How do you see “Primitive And Deadly” in the overall of Earth’s career?
I sort of think it as a return. It’s like a big cycle, I guess you could almost say it. To me, we’ve always been a hard-rock/heavy metal band, albeit a strange one. We brought in a lot of different influences over the years, and this time it kind of came back to the beginning.
Especially during the second half of the band’s career, there seems to be a connection between the music and American landscapes, with the titles often invoking an imagery of folklore. Has this been indeed an influence on your writing?
I definitely think it does. When I started doing the solo stuff, I was heavily influenced by the English folk movement. Rock’n’roll is sort of loud folk music. [laughs] You know, it’s not like high music or art music, it’s not high culture, we don’t really have that kind of thing in the states. Our musical gift to the world, I guess, blues, jazz, rock’n’roll, it’s all been from the underclass or the wrong side of the tracks as they say, rather than this top-down this is culture. We don’t have that [laughs], there have been a few American composers and they are mostly known for using blues and jazz, likeGershwin. They took from the bottom rather than from the top. Rock’n’roll is definitely part of that tradition, it’s not music made by the art world.
With American folklore certainly playing an influence in your music, how does one from Europe get to know more about it?
It’s funny, because the American folklore has not been really been preserved so much. With English folklore, there’s the English folklore society and stuff like that. I’m trying to remember the name of this author, but it’s a five volume set of books… this guy did interviews… In the American south they have something they call the conjurer man and root doctors, and they actually have a lot of influence from the English cunning folk people, because there were so many English people that came over as indentured servants. Them and the slaves were set to work at the same shops and chained in the same fields, so the English folk magic had a big influence on that, this weird cross-pollination. Of course, the name of the book escapes me now. There’s another book called “The Cunning Man’s Handbook [The Practice Of English Folk Magic]” that just came out, I think through Avalonia Press, that has a bunch of extracts from that. It has got a bunch of interviews with conjurer man as well.
How come American folk hasn’t been that well preserved?
A lot of American folklore was preserved by English folklorists looking for survival [laughs] of English folklore over here. A lot of folk songs, like the child ballads – they came over to the United States and discovered these old English songs up in the Appalachians and the American south. In America there hasn’t been that much of that activity, we got a short memory I guess, we tend to forget easily. I mean, we are such a new country and, specially in the western United States, nothing gets preserved. They just knock stuff down and build new buildings. Obviously a lot of the native American tradition perished with the destruction of native American tribes and their dispersal. You have to really hunt for it.
Given the instrumental nature of most of your music, how do you decide the titles they end up with?
Originally, I used to have my ear out for what I thought were interesting phrases or interesting words. I used to keep a list of song titles and as I’d write songs I’d go well, this one works for that. Lately, I ended up writing more songs with the music first and then the titles come later. Obviously in this album I really liked a lot of the lyrics that Mark had come up with. For “There Is A Serpent Coming”, the line “Primitive And Deadly” is in that song, so I took that for the title. I thought it was an evocative title, sort of a statement of purpose. Then the other song titles came as a result of that.
So it’s not the case that you previously have an image in mind and then try to reproduce it with the music?
I did it previously, on the records that were done more conceptually. “Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method” is a prime example of that, where there was a big idea behind it, a theme, before I even started doing it. The same happened with “The Bees Made Honey On The Lion’s Skull”. With “Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light” the theme revealed itself during the process of doing it and with this one the music was done, there was more of an unconscious concept that came about after it was done.
A few months after the record, you released a collaboration with The Bug. How did that come about?
That came about through a mutual friend, Simon Fowler, who’s done artwork for Earth in the past and obviously did The Bugcovers. He and some friends, through a label called Small But Hard, they had been working with one of Kevin‘s other projects,King Midas Sounds. That’s where the idea came from and thenKevin asked if I wanted to do some guitar tracks for the record. They ended up not using them on the record but Kevin still wanted to use them, so we did the 12”.
Last year you also released “Gold”, a soundtrack for a movie, as Drcarlsonalbion.
Yeah, I recorded that in 2012. The movie was premiered in 2013 but didn’t reach general release until last year and then the soundtrack only came out last year.
Was it very different to have to write something to support for a movie?
I really liked it. I’ve always wanted to do soundtracks, I mean “Hex …” was written as a soundtrack for a movie that didn’t exist, so it was nice to finally get to do an actual one. It’s a very different thing from doing an album. Basically, as they were shooting it, they were sending rough cuts of stuff. They gave me pretty much free reign to do what I wanted and then after I finished it, the director came in with the final cut and they would be like “oh, we like this part but” or “can you come with a different theme for this part?”. So even though I got to do what I wanted, at the end of the day it’s still unlike on a record, where I only have to please myself, you are serving the director’s vision of the film, you have to be prepared for stuff to change.
Even though you had to adapt to his vision you are still happy with the result?
Yeah. I originally had asked them if it was cool to do a record of the soundtrack and they said “fine”. Initially we were gonna try and do it so they could be released at the same time but it didn’t quite work out that way.
Have you played the soundtrack live as a whole?
No, I’ve never played the soundtrack live. There was a charity event in LA with Earth where we played to Werner Herzog‘s “Fata Morgana”, but I’ve never done the “Gold” soundtrack live.
Would it be something you’d like to do, to have the movie in the back while you play its soundtrack live?
Yeah, I mean, I played live soundtracks before. I did a project withLori Goldston for this film on wolves repopulation [“Charismatic Megafauna”, more information here] where we would do a live improvised soundtrack. The “Gold” one, I think it could be done but it would be slightly different in a live situation, because quite a bit of that was improvised as well.
You are playing in Portugal for the first time since 2009. How do you recall the previous times to have been?
I liked playing there and I really like Porto. I thought the shows were good, so I’m excited to come back. We never got to play Lisbon before and it’s always exciting to play in new cities.
Besides touring, what other plans are there for Earth’s immediate future?
The touring is pretty much wrapping up for this year. We’ve got a few US dates in the fall and then I’ve been writing new material. Whether we will record at the end of this year or at the start of next year I’m not sure yet.