The connoisseurs crown Earth the pioneers of drone. The truth is that since they started their path back in 1990, this band has been forging an unique and one-of-a-kind style, impossible to embed in any genre. Dylan Carlson was a bit of a weirdo in the Seattle scene since his band was like chalk and cheese in the height of the grunge breakout. But unlike most of these bands, they still remain standing after twenty five years, established as one of the most acclaimed bands of the not any more underground scene.
Last year they released the full length “Primitive and Deadly” (Southern Lord Records), a much rawer and bare work that reminds us of the primeval Earth. At Staf we had the chance of speaking about the album and other aspects of their career with Adrienne Davies, Dylan Carlson and Don McGreevy at Temples Festival in Bristol, UK.
Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me today. So you played on Friday in Barcelona at Primavera Sound (since I’m Spanish I have to ask…) How was that?
Dylan: It was good, I thought it was great. We had a really great time.
Adrienne: Great show.
Don: The Adidas stage?
Dylan: Yeah, and it was the fourth time I think we played Barcelona? Or fifth time?
Adrienne: The second time at Primavera.
Dylan: I like Barcelona.
Don: Barcelona is a great city. So is Madrid, but we didn’t get to go this time.
Adrienne: Dylan-1, Marshall amp-0.
Yeah, I heard something about that.
Dylan: Yeah the cabinet got set on fire.
Don: The highlight of the show.
Adrienne: It was pretty cool.
You toured last year in support of “Primitive and Deadly” and now you have upcoming dates for the UK, Europe and the States. Was originally the plan to tour so intensively for the new album?
Dylan: We toured a lot more than normal. I think that’s because the album has done so well. The touring cycle would have ended by now.
Don: One in the States, one in Europe.
Dylan: And then that’s it. But the album has done really really well and people want to hear it.
Adrienne: You’ve got to strike when the iron is hot, as they say.
Don: They keep asking us to play, so we keep saying yes.
It’s very good in this case you can’t say no.
On those lines, we are today at Temples, a newborn festival that in just two years time has gained a big reputation. Has the emergence of these festival in the past few years have made bands like Earth available enough so they are not so underground any more?
Dylan: It’s weird. At a festival like this it doesn’t seem that way whereas at Primavera you’ve got Adidas, Ray-Ban, H&M and Red Bull stages…
Don: You’ve got lots of underwriters and sponsors, although it still seems more of a grass roots thing.
Dylan: To be brutally honest rock’n’roll has never really been underground since 1968. The only place where rock’n’roll still seems to be like a dirty business is Italy, kind of Spain a little bit.
Don: Even Russia a little bit.
Dylan: Other than the festivals, or you know, out in the East. Everywhere else there is no underground.
Don: Apart from the DIY-house party scene, but we were never really a part of that.
Dylan: I just play music, and if people want to pay me to come and play it then cool. And if not I will still do it. I’ve been fortunate enough to have done it long enough that that is all I do.
So maybe the question is: is there still an underground scene or music nowadays? Or that doesn’t exist any more?
Dylan: I don’t think so. Because basically, now any band can market themselves. Because it is all about internet presence, social media presence and niche marketing. So any group of any size can suddenly be the in thing and then you have magazine like vice and pitchfork and what not and they pride themselves on finding the next big thing.
Don: Although I would say I can’t wait for a new underground scene to start. I’d be very good if it were to happen.
Dylan: Yeah, but that’s the thing. Because of the society we live in now…it is all about branding and it’s like, you know, for example: I like Odd Future a lot. From the get go they knew what they were doing marketing wise, doing pop-up shops and limited edition merch. So they are underground but they are not in that way, because in the old days an underground band played a shithole club, maybe did a 7” and vanished. And now the underground band can be marketed and there is no underground.
I have this feeling now that Primavera Sound is like Spain’s Coachella.
Dylan: Yeah, exactly!
And I’m pretty happy of this festival (Temples) happening, I have friend’s of mine playing here, bit in like three years you have all of the sudden all these festivals around here that are Roadburn wannabes, I am sorry to say… Nothing can beat them in my opinion.
Don: Oh yeah, Roadburn is great.
Dylan: It’s weird too because there isn’t that festival culture in the States other than big wig ones like Coachella. But there is not a lot of small ones.
Don: There is new ones like the Psych Fest (Austin) , but even those are getting much bigger.
The Psycho Fest, that was mental.
Don: Which one?
The one in California.
Adrienne: Oh yeah, Psycho Fest in California.
I don’t think they can beat that line-up ever again. They screwed it up in a way because I don’t know what they expect to do next!
Adrienne: Yeah, they got Bang! to reform, come on!
Dylan: Judging by the way it was run I don’t know if they’ll be doing it again.
Don: It was pretty ramshackle. I think they learned a lot of lessons.
Speaking of scenes, there is this general feeling that many bands form the Seattle Scene had a massive impact in a relatively short period of time and all of the sudden they ceased. But other bands, such as Earth, Melvins, Alice in Chains… have perpetuated throughout time in a more progressive way, building up their reputation and their audience through the years. Do you think this has to do with the music you do or does it have more to do with the audience/scene Earth is in?
Dylan: The fact is from the get go Earth was doing stuff that was not the same as what was going on in Seattle at the time. Basically people used to make fun of me because I was a metalhead. I knew everybody and they weren’t mean about it but it was just like I was the weird metalhead. And even though the stuff I was doing wasn’t necessarily “normal” metal, that was the first audience that liked us. Because we weren’t doing the same, grunge or…
Don: Shoegaze. It was very specific geared towards an audience. Whereas I feel like when Dylan started writing he didn’t really give a shit.
Adrienne: Too arty for metal, too metal for art.
Dylan: Kind of like the ginger step child. (laughs)
Adrienne, How was it for you? Because you weren’t a metalhead per se.
Adrienne: I like metal and I’ve listened to it since I was a kid. I had an older brother that was a metalhead. It wasn’t my strongest influence but I do definitely love metal, still do. I remember when I first started playing I felt like I had to do very caveman-esque drumming and be really tough and brutal and I’ve learned I don’t. And if you have the quieter parts and softer spots, it lets the stronger, more brutal stuff become more powerful. It’s great to have the dynamic between the two. As a drummer.
Dylan: I think that is one of the differences with Earth. To me it still needs to be musical, it still needs to be a riff that you want to hear over and over again. A lot of band seem to be “we are all about this, we are all about that”. “We are loud” or “We are heavy”.
Adrienne: “This is our shtick”.
Dylan: They don’t bother to write songs any more.
Adrienne: Where is the hook of the song? Where is the melody? They’ve got everything else down but, where is the most important part?
Don: It has to be catchy.
Earth is a band that has a lot of different influences, which can be pinpointed from album to album. Although the characteristic Earth sound is always there, that way of intertwining repetitive sequences while holding a perfect tempo. “Primitive and Deadly” has a more dense and heavier sound among other things. What have been the influences for this album?
Dylan: I think one of the biggest influences is the fact that we did our first tours in Japan, Australia and New Zealand and it was more cost – effective to bring a three piece.
Don: As a trio you get a little bit louder.
Dylan: So the song I was writing are more suited towards the trio line up.
Don: And Dylan remembered he can palm mute (laughs).
Dylan: I was listening to a lot of stuff on tour that I have grown up with: Scorpions, DIO, Diamond Head. It’s been a while since. The guitar’s always there but the other records have been like “Oh! trombone and keys!” or cello. Other instrumentation has been featured.
Adrienne: The guitar in the forefront.
Dylan: So in the trio there was none of that, so I had to step up a little bit more like in the early days, I guess.
Don: I think it was a bit of a return in a way, a sort of full circle. It started heavy, it went to this phase that it was a bit meandary and then more about exploring. And it came back to the song writing aspect once it was stripped back down to the typical-atypical rock power trio.
Adrienne: I was very aware before going into the studio I wanted the drums parts I was writing to be more aggressive, assertive, and to really claim the space. And to aggressively form the song, let the guitars wrap around it, instead the drums to try to wrap around the guitars. Let the drums really form a brace. That was more aggressive and in your face than before and not quite as subtle. Because it was all about subtle before.
That totally makes sense. But even the late albums, when you listen to them you still get bits of early drone stuff, there is still that essence in those records. When I listen to “Primitive and Deadly” or “Hex” I still get the feeling like I got from “Earth 2”. And it’s always been there. And I take you must have been aware of that when you took the nine years hiatus and didn’t want to change the name of the band.
Dylan: Yeah, when I first started playing again, I just started playing. I wasn’t like “oh, I’m gonna do Earth again”.
Adrienne: We didn’t even plan to do Earth again. We weren’t even trying to play publicly, it was just therapy music. Just playing to play.
Dylan: We were just jamming and then we got asked to do a show. I still write the same, it’s not that my writing style has changed all of that much from when I was a kid. I’m more aware of “Oh, let’s do this song in this structure or that structure”. I am a better player now than I was then. There are certain elements that are always gonna be there: the repetition, the riff being important and using an open string somewhere, just because that’s just the riffs I like. I like them that way, I guess.
Another really characteristic feature of the album (“Primitive and Deadly”) is the vocals. From what I what I can remember last time I heard vocals on an Earth album was in Pentastar.
Dylan: That was our most rock record at that point.
You have the echo-y vocals of Mark Lanegan and Rabia Shaheen of Rose Windows…
Dylan: Who are now sadly no more.
Don: Yeah, they broke up already.
Adrienne: Like you were saying, bands make a really strong impact and then they disappear! Short like a comet.
Was it intentionally the vocals there because you wanted vocals on this record. Or was the consequence of them contributing ?
Dylan: That ended up happening because there was one song that I wrote, “The Roots Across the Gate” I had actually written lyrics for
Adrienne: And it was gonna be for your solo, but I was like “No, it is an Earth song!”. I made Dylan use it as an Earth song.
Dylan: I’d known Mark for a long time.
Adrienne: You’ve just missed many opportunities. Finally it came together.
Dylan: Me and him wanted to do stuff for a long time and it never quite happened for various reasons. So he did that song and it was like “Hey, can I do another?” and he picked the one that became “There is a Serpent Coming”, wrote lyrics for it and then, since we had dude lyrics, I thought it would be nice to have female lyrics.
Adrienne: We didn’t want a super macho album, we wanted that little feminine touch in there.
Dylan: Well, not necessarily, I jut like female singers. She was available and we had a producer in common, Randall Dunn. And we knew the drummer from Rose Windows.
Don: I didn’t know you guys knew Patrick.
Dylan: We met him…
Adrienne: We met him at the burger joint he was working at. And then he sold me my cat food, because he worked at a pet store.
Don: Oh yeah, I forgot about that.
Adrienne: He is a nice guy.
Dylan: It was funny because he didn’t say he played drums straight away. And then later on he was like “Oh yeah, I play drums in this band”.
Don: I didn’t realised that.
Dylan: We’ve known him for a couple of years now.
It is a small world.
Don: And it keeps getting smaller.
I read somewhere that you allowed yourself to be more of a rock band for “Primitive and Deadly”. I guess that is also why you went for a more conventional formula as it is the power trio, like you said before.
Adrienne: On the album we had Dylan doing main guitar and Brett Netson on second guitar and Jodie (Cox) doing third so it’s just “guitars!!!”, you know. And unfortunately, live, we couldn’t quite do that same line up all the time. But we did stripped it down to it most essential.
Dylan: And it makes it interesting too to have different line ups.
Adrienne: It’s fun, it keeps it exciting.
Because Earth has changed its line up from album to album. Does this happen naturally because you come across and meet these people or is there an intention of enriching your catalogue?
Dylan: It’s more accidental. Obviously you meet other musicians, you like playing with them but then they have their life and they go and do their thing.
Don: I didn’t play on “Primitive and Deadly” but I’ve been with the band on and off for the last ten years. It doesn’t really matter. Earth, for the most part just seems to be these two (Adrienne and Dylan). And everybody else is sort of ancillary.
Dylan: Yeah, Bill (Herzog) has a wife, a business and a kid and I know Don likes to play and is a great player. He played on “Bees […]” and toured with us, he’s been with us for ten years, he was the best man in my wedding, or at least he signed the paper.
How did it come to be that Brett and Jodie played in this records (“Primitive and Deadly”)?
Dylan: I did part of my solo project Drcarlsonalbion with Jodie. I’ve known Jodie for a long time, he booked the first Earth shows in the UK and I’ve known him for years before he admitted he was a guitar player. And with Brett, the second Earth show ever was with Caustic Resin which was his first band.
Adrienne: Huge Caustic Resin fan!
Dylan: I’ve basically known him since 1990.
Adrienne: He is another person like Mark where we wanted to work with him for a long time, then finally, on the same project, we got both of those guys.
I have two more questions for you (although if it were up to me I could be interviewing you for hours). There are a couple of things I am very curious about. One of them is, how did you get Bill Frisell to play the “Bees[…]” album
Dylan: That was through Steve Moore, the trombone and key player. Because he was a jazz guy and plays with Bill Frisell.
Don: Bill heard some of the demos and I think he really liked what he heard. And he agreed to come and play.
Adrienne: He doesn’t agree just to play with anyone, so we really lucked out.
Don: He can be quite picky.
Dylan: Yeah, he is just a super nice guy.
Adrienne: He came into the studio first take and he just made everyone look like… Oh, he is just so good. He was ridiculous to watch.
Don: He is very humble.
Adrienne: Yeah, he is the sweetest guy.
Because he used to live in New York and then moved to Seattle, right?
Don: He moved to Seattle I think in 1993, he was in Naked City with John Zorn and Wayne Horvitz, who both moved to Seattle.
Dylan: to get away from Don (laughs).
Don: It was more because it was cheaper to live in Seattle
Dylan: Yeah… (laughs).
Adrienne: Almost not any more
Why do you have a Plymouth Barracuda on the cover of “Pentastar”?
Dylan: I was really into Mopars. Yeah, we are car nerds.
Adrienne: yeah, we really like our cars.
Dylan: Yeah, I love Mopars.
Adrienne: Now you like fancy clothes (laughs).
Don: You asked why? Oh god, it is the sexiest car ever built.
Dylan: Yeah that is why the video is all about the car.
Adrienne: It is kind of hard to justify or quantify that one. “We put a car on the cover just because we like it , it’s sexy” (laughs).
I mean, the rest of the covers kind of make sense. This one I particularly like and I always wandered if there was a special reason for it.
Don: Accidentally, that’s the Earth album I’ve ever paid for (Adrienne and Dylan laugh). When I moved to Portland before I met Dylan and Adrienne, that record was out and I said “Um, I’ll buy this one”. I didn’t know how it sounded like cause I heard the early Earth stuff on mix tapes. Because I grew up in Buffalo and there Earth stuff was very difficult to obtain. Mix tapes only. When I listened to it was like “what is this music!?”. Earth, from Seattle. I never knew that when I moved to Seattle I was gonna join them.
Adrienne: Being in and out for ten years.
The cover arts in the Earth albums are amazing. One of my fave ones is the one for “Hex”. The one for “Bees[…]” is also very beautiful. Graphically you had pretty interesting visual artist working with you, like Seldon Hunt, Josh Graham…
Dylan: Yeah, it is funny, because in the Sup Pop era I was more of a control freak, “Oh, I’m doing the covers, blah blah blah”. Now I meet artist and I like what they do and I trust that what they’ll do a great job and leave them alone. And they always do.
Don: Yeah we had Seldon Hunt, Simon Fowler, Steve O’Malley, Arik Roper, Stacey Rozich…
And the artwork for Primitive and Deadly by Samantha Muljat is brilliant as well.
Dylan: To me, because I grew up with albums and their cover art… the great albums aren’t great albums just because of the songs. They are great albums because of the songs but also the order of the songs, the cover…you know what I mean, it is a complete package.
Adrienne: It all becomes in one in your memory. Living like crazy by the visual of it.
Dylan: I’ve always kept the idea that it shouldn’t be like “Oh, five great songs in a shitty cover”.
Adrienne: Well, and I’ve always thought that if you are in a instrumental band a) your titles better be amazing, b) your artwork better be even more, because you are not saying very much you have to be very evocative and powerful.
Everything has to make you proud of being into the band.
Adrienne: Yeah, bring them into the secret world.
Thank you very much for spending this time with me. I think there is no need to ask if you are feeling good, I can see you are in good shape… (while looking Dylan in the eye)
Dylan: Yes. Yes, totally.
So I hope there are many albums and many shows to come.
Dylan: There will be.
(via Staf Magazine)