As we prepare for the ‘Audible Cloisters’ marathon in May we hope to give all the artists involved an opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions about their lives in music and provide a greater insight for our audience. We are kicking off this series of interviews with the brilliant guitarist, Dylan Carlson. For the better part of 30 years Carlson has been the frontman of the drone metal band, Earth. He has subsequently gone on to cultivate a unique style blending a visceral, raw aesthetic with an almost penitent improvisational simplicity. We conducted this interview through email and, like his music, his words seem to pour fourth - devoid of capitalization, salient in their content, and showing intensity in a variety of different subjects. We are very excited to present this lens into a man that can appear a little elusive and the music behind him.
You are regarded as one of the seminal figures in drone music. Drones figure prominently in a variety religious and spiritual practices around the world. How does your relationship with this style of music figure into your life spiritually/philosophically/religiously?
everything in the universe is vibrating. the universe is composed of waves of vibrational energy. 'solid' matter is condensed vibrational energy or standing waves. the universe is a giant chord of an infinite number of 'notes'. for some reason, nothing evokes that better to me than the technique of drones and oblique motion in music. there are other beings that operate at different levels of vibrational energy than we do (to borrow edward kelley and dr. john dee's term 'spiritual creatures', the angels, fayres, devils, ghosts of the past). music is our original technology and was synonymous with magic. music is what we are and what the world is. hopefully times of discordant music (the times of greed, war, pestilence, cruelty, etc.) can be transformed into times of concordance and we can return to the time when we embraced all of our senses and lived in harmony with the universal chord and the other beings that inhabit it.
Are there any uses of drones in non-Western or Western music that you are particularly interested in?
i listened to a lot of indian music, probably the most well known of musics employing drones. the gnawa musicians from north africa, tibetan music. it is present in a lot of blues especially early stuff. the jazz musicians that explored it (pat martino, miles davis, pharoah sanders). of course la monte young and terry riley. i learned about them via the velvet underground. spacemen 3 and related groups after they split up. in folk/folk-rock like the pentangle and fairport convention. recently i got turned on to some early scottish music, it was the 'high' music that lamented dead cheiftans and commemorated battles and such. it is very slow and unadorned, unlike the faster reels and military pipe music.
Can you talk a little about the instrument and set-up you are using for the NYGF marathon?
well most likely ill have my gibson les paul gary moore model or my tokai love rock (les paul style) the gary moore model is mahogany with a maple top and a rosewood fretboard, it has no finish on it, just stained wood. it has a p-90 neck pickup and a dimarzio fast track 1 (single coil sizes humbucker) in the bridge. i use strings size .10-.46 and i tune the guitar down a half step to E flat. the love rock is of similar construction but with a polyurethane finish. it has hambone pickups, a new company with a new design that i’m endorsing. they are humbucker sized, but work a bit differently. the bridge unit has 1full coil and then a half coil with 4 pole pieces under the higher strings , the neck 1 full coil and half a coil with 3 pole pieces under the 3 lower strings. when the bridge pickup is engaged so is the 3 pole pieces of the neck pickup, when the neck pickup is engaged so are the 4 pole pieces of the bridge pick up. In the middle positon all coils are engaged. this gives added heft to the low notes on the bridge pickup and added clarity to the neck pickup. ill be using a mxr custom comp and mxr fet driver effects pedals (compression and overdrive). i’m not sure what the backline is yet. i like to use as little effects as possible in live performance. and thats about it.
Do you have a piece or song that you most enjoy playing these days?
solo performances i quite like playing 'rose in the heather' (its a traditional scottish tune) i love nazareth's version, and its the song i walked down the aisle to at my wedding. i recently did a version of 'bridge of sighs' by robin trower, which is such a great song and was a big influence. with earth i like 'torn by the fox of the crescent moon' and 'the bees made honey’ is always great to play.
How does your approach to your solo work differ, if at all from your work with Earth?
its strange but both earth and my solo output are free in different ways and restricted in different ways. with drcarlsonalbion/coleman grey it is british oriented, coleman grey is exclusively folkloric, drcarlsonalbion british, but not exclusively folkloric. when its just myself it is completely free and earth allows me to explore and utilize a broad range of influences, but it has to be done a certain way.
Do you think your music embodies something quintessential about the scene in Seattle or the Pacific Northwest?
i don’t view myself as exclusively pacific northwest, or a seattlelite. my goal is to create music of a timeless nature. and many of my songs are rooted in mythic landscapes not exclusively the pnw. some of my music can not help but have elements from both real and imagined northwest landscape, as music is shaped by the musicians being as it flows through them.
What projects are you currently working on?
i’m finally seeing the end of the coleman grey project that was funded via kickstarter. the vinyl lp and the dvd/cd have been produced and delivered, with a limited number of extra copies available for purchase (where available tba). the last part is the book and i’m working on the draft and figuring out how to produce it. i’m writing new earth material and hopefully will start working on the next earth album soon.
What are some of your hobbies outside of music?
i’m not a very well rounded person, and i don’t really have any hobbies. i pretty much do music, and my other interests in folklore and history and such all inform my pursuit of music.
What are you listening to these days?
i’ve been listening to a lot of pat martino, miles davis, and herbie mann lately.
What are you looking forward to doing in NYC other than playing at NYGF?
i'd like to try and make it to the dream house (and have it be open) hopefully ill actually get to see it as my previous attempts have all failed. i’m sure theres things my wife knows about and wants to see (Holly is more aware of things to do and has more interests than i do).
What concerts are you most looking forward to playing this year?
i’m not doing a whole lot this year, this one at the nygf and a couple other solo shows and earth is playing maryland death fest in baltimore and hellfest in france, so they'll be quite different from one another. i look forward to this one because its at a unique location, the location of the cloisters has some personal significance to my uncle, so i’m quite looking forward to it.
To learn more about Dylan Carlson and Earth, please check out: www.thronesanddominions.com
Photo credit: Holly Carlson