An Interview With Dylan Carlson Of Drone-Doom Masters Earth
Veteran drone-doom outfit Earth released the first half of its double album, “Angels of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1,” back in February of 2011 to very positive critical acclaim. This shouldn't surprise anyone, as Earth is revered in many circles; take, for example, the reputable-in-their-own-right Sunn O))) - which formed as a tribute to Earth and even have a song named after Earth's founder, Dylan Carlson!
As it happens Dylan generously made some time for Metal Underground to chat via phone about both halves of “Angels of Darkness, Demons Of Light,” Earth's currently relentless touring schedule, major label bands, his own musical philosophies, and some other hidden gems. He was very cheerful and easygoing, and after the initial greetings and pleasantries were exchanged, the interview went something like this...
Bloodofheroes: So “Angels of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1” has been out for a few months now and has been getting some pretty positive reactions – are you as happy with it as everyone else seems to be?
Dylan Carlson: Yeah, I definitely really like the record. I know a lot of musicians say, “This is our best record” about their most recent record, but I definitely think it is one of my most favorite records. Someone just asked in another interview what Earth record is my favorite, and it probably is this and “Phase 3[Thrones and Dominions].”
Bloodofheroes: Talk about the creative process for the album.
Carlson: One song, “Old Black,” we’d had written since the European Tour in 2009, back when Steve [Moore] and John [Schuller] were in the band. We had started working on “Father Midnight” back then too. The rest of the material, with the exception of title track, we worked on during the recent tour with Wolves In The Throne Room, as we wanted a more “live” album feel to those songs. The title track was sort of spontaneous – we just hit play on the tape machine and went for it. Definitely the most improvised of the pieces.
That [improvisation] sort of continues on the second part of the album, definitely in the same vein of the title track, in the improv side of the session.
Bloodofheroes: So were both albums recorded at the same time?
Carlson: It was all recorded at the same time. It would have been prohibitively expensive to manufacture it all on vinyl for just one release – it would have taken something like four 12” records – and since we like vinyl so much we decided to do two separate albums. We weren’t sure if both could go out this year, but the first album is doing so well we can get the second one out in October or November.
Bloodofheroes: Did “Angels of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1” end up where you expected, or when it was finished were you surprised with the result?
Carlson: Well every record is different, and I like happy accidents. I’m not super-perfectionistic, and this album and recording went really well, really smoothly and easily. I think it has a very stark quality to it. We got back from the European Tour, and I got back and heard someone playing “Bees [Made Honey in the Lion's Skull]” and it was so shimmering and lush sounding, and I like the stark sound of [the new record]. It was great working with [producer] Stuart [Hallerman] again, very different than working with him on “Earth 2 [Special Low-Frequency Version].” We commented that if we did “Earth 2” now it would have been totally different than what we did it back then. I always view albums as a snapshot of a certain moment. I would never go back and change anything on an album.
Bloodofheroes: I think that is a pretty common feeling among artists and musicians.
Carlson: Yeah, that’s the same reason I don’t want to do the same record over and over again. I always want to try to do new things, because the snapshot is different each time.
Bloodofheroes: There seems to be a fair amount of personnel turnover recently...
Carlson: Steve and Don [McGreevy] do their other stuff and other projects, and they wanted to do other things. We had three shows booked so Steve suggested [cellist] Lori [Goldston], and weirdly enough I had never met her back in the old days [laughs], but I had always liked the strings and cello. And she’s an amazing musician and incredible improviser; I like how she approaches cello and approaches it differently for all her different projects. For us she treats it like a rock instrument with a waah pedal and effects and those things, and it is a melodic element, not a picked element. And the lack of clutter [on “Angels of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1”] allowed [drummer] Adrienne [Davies] to stand up and show what she could do on the drums. There’s a lot of room for everyone to shine. I like “Bees” but it was sort of restrictive on Adrienne.
Bloodofheroes: You mentioned this briefly before – Is there anything you would change on the album?
Carlson: Everything we recorded seemed to work, and I definitely was surprised - always when you’re doing improv like the title track and second record you’re always nervous listening back to see if it works. I think playing together live and doing that tour made us gel, and Stuart made it such an easy recording process that it was easy to stand out. This album is very free of over-dubbing; a couple songs maybe have two over-dubs each. The next album has few more but still not that many, and I play bass on one song so that is over-dubbed, with me not being Geddy Lee [laughs], but everything came out really strong.
Bloodofheroes: So it’s just playing together in a room.
Carlson: Exactly – we didn’t worry about [instrument] isolation, just a couple good room mics. Kind of like the old sessions at Blue Note [Records] or something. Or at least what I’ve read about them. The old way to make records.
Bloodofheroes: Listening to the album, I wouldn’t call it “metal” – but I’m from a metal website, and I am sure you are doing interviews for other metal publications – what do you make of this?
Carlson: I think we’re fortunate in this way. I think metal fans are extremely loyal and love music, and they don’t base what they like on what’s “in,” and they’re a great audience in that way. I grew up listening to metal and love metal as well as other types of music, and I consider myself very fortunate that the metal audience was the first to embrace us. I have to thank Morbid Angel and the sweatshirt with us on the back of it too! [laughs]
We’re very fortunate to have maintained and expanded that audience. I think metal audiences get crap for being pigeonholed into a group that only listens to metal. In the early days bands like Zeppelin and Sabbath were metal, but once they were accepted they became rock. Same with the Stones – when they first came out the reviews were horrid, but then people liked them so they couldn’t be metal or hard rock anymore. I still feel a connection with metal, and I think we’re metal in the same way Deep Purple or Zeppelin are metal. I think metal audiences have a broader interest in music than they are given credit for.
Bloodofheroes: Well if metal fans like “Angels of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1”, but it isn’t metal, what genre would you call it?
Carlson: I’ve always sees ourselves as an instrumental rock band. I love rock, and I think rock has the broadest number of elements mixed in, and that’s what I think we do. Unless we are at a border crossing, then we are a jazz band! [laughs]
Bloodofheroes: When are you getting on the road next?
Carlson: We leave June 8 to do a Northern Midwest and Northeast leg. In July and August we head to the West Coast, and then the South in September with a Asbury Park (New Jersey] show in October. We just finished a U.K. tour through all of April and May. So we’re touring a lot. [laughs]
Bloodofheroes: Has there been a good reception when you play the new stuff?
Carlson: Yeah, Europe was amazing! Obviously there is old and new stuff in our shows and the old hardcore fans like the old stuff so we were wondering how it was going to go with the new stuff, but they liked it! Especially in Scandinavia, Newcastle and Ireland, but they were all really good shows in Europe. In Scandinavia we got an encore and had to pull out a piece nobody knew so that evolved as it went along. “Black Water Side” came out toward the end of the tour also, which was a great opportunity for Lori to shine. I think we did our best show at Roadburn...
Bloodofheroes: Well that’s the place to do it…
Carlson: Yeah! We sold out of t-shirts and vinyl and CDs and all that there, so hopefully The States will be the same. [laughs]
Bloodofheroes: Carlson: Do you see a difference between European and U.S. fans when it comes to your style of music, or is the reception pretty uniform?
Carlson: It is getting pretty close. I’ve noticed a lot more women at our shows, especially in Europe. There have been fans from the beginning of course, but there are new people too. In Northern England there were lots of older people coming to shows. I think live music is becoming more important to people as major labels die, and fans want to see bands that can play their stuff and not just play to a backing track.
Bloodofheroes: Carlson: You mean instead of having dancers and lip syncing?
Carlson: Exactly! It seems like major label bands don’t tour. They go on TV and do promotions, but I’ve never seen a Good Charlotte tour, for example. Not that I would go, but bands like that just don’t tour. They seem like faux bands.
Bloodofheroes: What is the one thing for the band or new albums that you want people to know?
Carlson: I think music is important, especially instrumental music. I view it as the original technology of man, and that the magic continues. It is very rewarding to myself personally, and it helps me survive too I guess [laughs]. Sometimes I see music as how I interact with the world and destroy monotheism and capitalism and all that [counterculture] crap, and then sometimes it is just my rock n’ roll band! [laughs]
Bloodofheroes: Carlson: Well some bands – like some black metal bands in particular - see themselves with one distinct purpose for their existence and are very serious about it, but you go back and forth.
Carlson: Exactly. Black metal, it’s funny. I think black metal is Norway’s biggest export, they are so serious about it. Some bands are getting grants from oil companies to just play black metal, it’s like “it’s their national export!”
Bloodofheroes: Fantastic. Well thanks for taking the time to chat today, I really appreciate it.
Carlson: No problem, you got it!
You can find out everything Earth has going on, including the band's upcoming tour schedule, at the Earth official website.
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