Interview: Dylan Carlson (of Earth)

on August 02, 2011, 2:00pm
For Earth‘s latest LP, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light Pt. I, guitarist Dylan Carlson brought a cellist on board, adding a rich, new bottom layer to the pioneering drone metal band’s ever-transforming sound. Recently, Carlson took the time to talk to Consequence of Sound‘s Austin Trunick about working with new band members Lori Goldston and Karl Blau, the gear he uses to craft his signature guitar sound, and the influence of the British folk-rock bands Fairport Convention and Pentangle on Earth’s new album.

The title for your last album, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, came from a Biblical passage. Where did the title for the new album come from?

I actually have to give credit to Karl Blau. He came up with it when we went on a two-week west coast tour with Wolves [In The Throne Room], before we went into the studio. I don’t remember the context he came up with it in, but I told him I was just going to steal it, and he said it was okay [laughs]. I liked it because it was sort of the opposite of Bees. Again, it’s like that whole thing with a lot of the titles on the records, that it’s sort of like an annihilation of opposites kind of thing. I don’t know. It looked on good on paper, so… [laughs].

The sound on each of your albums transforms a bit, especially as you add new elements, and take some away. On the new album, the biggest change was that you added a cello, with Lori Goldston, who has recorded with Nirvana and David Byrne, among others. What led you to bring on a cello, and how did you meet her?

Weirdly enough, we never met back in the day. Steve [Moore, former Earth multi-instrumentalist] was going to miss, like, three shows, because he has his solo thing, and he plays with tons of people. He suggested her to fill in for those three shows, and then that worked out really well because she’s a badass player. And then Steve decided he didn’t want to do the next record, because he wanted to do his solo thing, and then he’s touring with Sufjan Stevens now. Then Don [McGreevy, former Earth bassist] is in a bunch of other bands, like Master Musicians [of Bukkake] and other stuff, so he decided he was going to go and do that. So, I was just like, “Hey, do you wanna?” It already worked out, and I’ve always really liked the strings anyway. So, this sorta happened.

dylancarlson1 Interview: Dylan Carlson (of Earth)

What was the songwriting process like on the new album?

“Old Black” we’d had since 2009, the European tour that we’d done as our 20th anniversary tour, or I guess that’s sort of what we thought of it as. So, that song was the oldest song, and the most written. I had some of “Father Midnight”, and the rest had some riffs that we’d worked out on the tour with Wolves on the west coast. The title track was just, like, roll tape and play. We wanted a “liver” record. Bees was very lush. There was a lot going on. I kinda wanted a simpler, like, starker kinda sound. Especially [because] Karl’s amazingly talented, I wanted a more “live” kind of record.

Sunn amps have always been linked to the ‘Earth sound.’ What other gear do you use to create that signature guitar sound?

Well, actually… I haven’t used a Sunn amp since like ‘93 or ‘94 [laughs]. It’s funny, because I never had a tube one, I had a solid state one. At home, I have my Fender Vibroverb, or I have a little Mesa 1×12. Sometimes I have a 1×10 Music Man, and I just bought an Ampeg BT22, a 2×12  that I use, but it’s so heavy I haven’t taken it out yet. I’m going to put wheels on mine [laughs]. And then, on tour, I mostly get a Twin, or a Deluxe Reverb, just to have.

For this album, you went back and worked with Stuart Hallerman, who you’d worked with before [on Earth 2] and had done so many of those famous northwestern rock albums. What was it like to work with him again, almost two decades later?

It was really nice, because I’d known him for a very long time. I guess it was 1992. He lived in Olympia when I first moved there, and I’d known him maybe six years before we recorded with him. I’d run into him, but I hadn’t recorded with him. Then we did Bees at his studio, with Randall [Dunn]. It was funny because [Hallerman] was always there at the studio, because he ran the studio, but he was doing more of whatever it is studio owners do, rather than that kind of stuff. So, finally I was like, “Why don’t we just ask Stuart, and see if he wants to do it?” So, it was cool. He was always good at getting the sound with a minimum. We all set up in the same room. It went really, really well. That’s why we got two album’s worth out of that session. And it was fun, because we were talking about the things we would have done differently, had we recorded Earth 2 now [laughs]. Back then, we did some totally, like, not technically correct things, but it wouldn’t have been that record had we not done that.

Taking that subject further, last year you released a compilation [A Bureaucratic Desire for Extra-Capsular Extraction] of a lot of your earlier materials…

Yeah, the first album, yeah.

What was it like revisiting that after all this time?

Well, it kind of served a dual purpose. The Sub Pop release was only two songs, and the rest kind of just dribbled out. Those were mastered from bootleg releases, except for the Sub Pop one, because we didn’t have the tapes. The licensing agreement with Sub Pop ended, and we got the title back with those two songs, and then we had to master it for vinyl, because it was just a CD master. It was kind of like a thank-you for people, because there was a long time between Bees and the next one coming out. I noticed there were a lot of people at shows who only knew us from Hex on, and then it was an opportunity to work with Simon Fowler, our [cover] artist.

dylancarlson2 Interview: Dylan Carlson (of Earth)

You’ve said that you’ve picked up a lot of the sound on the new album from folk music, bands like Fairport Convention and Pentangle. Can you talk a little bit about how you brought their sound into this new one?

Well, mostly I like just the simplicity and the melodic orientation. Bees is very dense-sounding to me: There are piano chords, guitar chords, all these different overdubs. I like this record because it’s just the cello, the guitar and the bass, all kind of weaving together. So, it’s heavy, but not dense. That’s what I like about Fairport and Pentagle, there’s that interplay going on that’s not  overdone. I guess it’s just that, as I go forward, my influences just start going further back [laughs].

There’s a second part of this album coming, an Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light Pt. II. What can we expect from that release?

The first album, it’s sort of like it goes from the most composed song, “Old Black”, to just roll tape and play. The second record is more like that last song, where we just sort of hit the tape and play. Except for one song…there’s one song in there that’s a little more composed. We’ve been doing it in the live set, just as a sort of preview, I guess. But it’s not totally representative of the rest of the record.

Photography by Robert Kidd.

Currently, Earth is touring the States, sharing the stage with the likes of Angelo Spencer and eventually Mount Eerie come September. For a complete itinerary and touring information, check out their official site!

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