Dylan Carlson of Earth

Touching base with the Earth frontman to discuss the band's progressive new album and more.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Dylan Carlson of Earth

 Since Earth came onto the scene in 1989, they have consistently been a force for creative and textured music. From their earliest drone work, to their more subtle recent material, Earth is, like the planet it takes its name from, always moving. Led by the fiercely independent and inspiring guitar work of Dylan Carlson, Earth has released seven full-length albums as well as a number of live records, EPs and splits.

Their newest studio offering, Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light Part I, is another step forward for the band, catching them in a more melodic and expressive mode than pervious years. I got to speak with Dylan Carlson about the new album, jazz drumming, heavy metal, improvisation and the deal behind the song “Old Black”. 


(The day of this interview was the day of the Tsunami in Japan. Word had spread that it might hit Seattle where Dylan lives—IR)


CRAVEONLINE: Was today insane with the Tsunami warning?


DYLAN CARLSON: I didn’t think anything would happen here but Seattle is so desperate to be involved in everything that they issued a Tsunami warning here. They were making people leave their houses on the waterfront even though I knew absolutely nothing would happen here (laughs).


CRAVEONLINE: Did you have to leave your home?


DYLAN CARLSON: No I don’t live on the waterfront. I live on a hill so I was really safe.  I hope the Boris people are doing okay. 


CRAVEONLINE: Well I’m glad you’re okay. Not to switch gears too suddenly but lets get into the new album. There’s a line up and instrumentation change on Angels Of Darkness, how did that come about?


DYLAN CARLSON: Like everything it was kind of a happy accident. Steve (Moore) does a lot of playing with other musicians and he has a solo thing and I think he wanted time to do that. Don (McGreevy) is in like four or five bands so it just ended up that way. He suggested Lori (Goldston–Cello) as a replacement for a few shows he couldn’t do and that’s how I was introduced to her. I really like bowed strings and I thought it worked really well. I’d met Karl (Blau) through our manager and we’d played up at Hexfest and I liked his solo record a lot. We had a two-week tour we did before we did the record and he came and played on that. Karl went back to his solo thing and now we have a new bass player Angelina Baldoz and she’s the new permanent bass player.


CRAVEONLINE: Earth has always appealed to a more intellectual crowd, but with all women in the band outside of you, does the old “boys club” ever rear its ugly head at shows?


DYLAN CARLSON: No, it’s been really good. Adrienne (Davies—Drums)has been in the band the longest, as long as me. It seems like its brought a lot more women to the shows, which is nice. As we move forward we’ve been fortunate at keeping the original fan base and adding new people. It’s working really well. I’m very fortunate to have such a loyal and respectful fan…well, I hate using the word “fan” because it sounds derogatory but


CRAVEONLINE: There’s not really another word for it right now.


DYLAN CARLSON:  (Laughs) True. It’s really very humbling having people who are into what you do and want to stick with you through everything.


CRAVEONLINE: So what do you enjoy so much about Cello and Guitar working together?


DYLAN CARLSON: What I like about the new record is, well, I like Bees very much, it’s a great record, but it’s really dense. The new work is still heavy but it’s more expressive and melodic. In a way it’s a return because it’s all melody and riff oriented again. On Bees there was the guitar chords, the piano chord, the organ chords and then trombone melody and piano melody and it didn’t breathe enough for me. Now it’s like a minimalism of a different kind, instead of the minimalism of repetition it’s a minimalism of form. 

It’s really nice, especially as improvisation becomes more and more a part of what we do. Lori is a great improviser and I really like the way she approaches cello. Most people when they play that instrument approach it from a classic form; they only play it one way. Lori plays it through and amp and uses pedals; she approaches it as a rock instrument, like rock cello. 


CRAVEONLINE: Do you think that you’ve traded off the complexity of The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull for the openness of Demons Of Light, Angels Of Darkness?


DYLAN CARLSON: One was a harmonic complexity and this one is a melodic complexity. The guitar solo on the song “Father Midnight”, I recorded as we were doing basic tracks, not as an overdub and I tried to reduce the materials but increase the expressiveness of the materials. There’s really two schools of guitar playing, there’s the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink method and then there’s fewer notes but making those notes more expressive.


CRAVEONLINE: How much of what the band does in the studio is improvisation and how much is worked out before hand?


DYLAN CARLSON: This album runs from “Old Black”, which was a song I wrote in 2009 and is one of our most constructed songs, down to the title track which is completely improvised in the studio with no overdubs. I’ve been trying from Bees on to make part of the song where there’s room for improvisation. We sort of plan and then just signal when it’s time to go to something else, even on the stuff where we repeat a riff or a theme. 


CRAVEONLINE: One of my favorite things about the new record is the drums. Usually drums serve as a backbone to the song but here Adrienne really melds what she does into the music.


DYLAN CARLSON: This is really the first album where she’s been free to play to the best of her ability. On the previous album I felt she was constrained because we were doing all this over dubbing. Before Hex we would just play and she would follow what I was doing in a more melodic way instead of just a time keeping thing. On this album it uses both because there’s a good, steady beat but she’s allowed to express herself. I love the way she plays cymbals because it’s not cluttered; it really let’s her drum work shine.


CRAVEONLINE: I compared it to the Minutemen; in the way George Hurley’s drums were an active part of the song. 


DYLAN CARLSON: The closest thing I can compare it to, especially the cymbal work, is Jazz. Its funny because Adrienne isn’t a big Jazz head at all but her style really reminds me of Jack DeJohnette, I love his cymbal work.


CRAVEONLINE: I think as a drummer it’s only a matter of time before you get into Jazz.


DYLAN CARLSON: Yeah, it’s the only form of music outside of maybe African where the drums are a full instrument as opposed to a structural thing.


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CRAVEONLINE: This record demands to be played front to back. Was that on purpose?


DYLAN CARLSON: I always try to be conscious of the arrangements of the songs on a record. It’s one thing I think CDs have damaged about music. The records before were great because the songs were in that order, but with CDs and downloading a lot of people don’t think about the order of songs because the figure they’ll just listen to the song they like.


CRAVEONLINE: I always liked that with albums, and even tapes, you were almost forced to listen to the whole record in a specific order. 


DYLAN CARLSON: A lot of the great records are like twenty-five minutes or thirty-eight minutes long. With the carving of the grooves you only had a certain amount of time for each side before it became counterproductive. With CDs, well, some bands can fill and eighty minute CD and keep you interested but with a lot of them there’s a lot of filler (Laughs)


CRAVEONLINE: It’s especially hard trying to review metal records. It’s amazing how many times a band can come out repeating the same thing over and over.


DYLAN CARLSON: It makes me sad because I grew up on hard rock and heavy metal. The first music I bought myself was that stuff and I loved it and I still do but the genre seems to have become so limited now. 


CRAVEONLINE: So why decide to make it two records?


DYLAN CARLSON: We had a very, very productive session and we recorded both records at the same time. The second record is more in the vein of the last song, more improvised pieces. What happened was we always do vinyl and we couldn’t do it. It would’ve been like four or five discs on vinyl. I had wanted both to come out this year but labels have their production schedules so it’ll be out next year. We are doing some of those tracks at the live show. 


CRAVEONLINE: So is the song “Old Black” about Neil Young’s guitar? A friend of mine wanted me to ask you.


DYLAN CARLSON: Yeah, it’s named after his guitar. When Adrienne and I first started jamming on that song she said to play something Neil Young-y so I did. Of course now it doesn’t sound super Neil Young-y but at the time it did. Though it’s interesting, his new record is like a Sun Record with the label and the title. It’s like a singer/songwriter record with a sludgy guitar.


CRAVEONLINE: So why did you decide to repackage the older Earth music? 


DYLAN CARLSON: Well, originally when we did that stuff it was supposed to be a full album but it never came out that way. Sub Pop released two songs on that EP and the rest dribbled out on bootlegs and then we tried to do it with No Quarter, but I didn’t have the tapes, they’d been purloined by somebody. Here was a chance to put it out and have a full CD and vinyl master and here’s how it was meant to be heard. It’s also been three years since Bees so this was like a gift to the fans for being patient. I had also noticed at shows that there were more and more people coming to shows that didn’t know about anything before Hex and wanted to know about the old stuff. 


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