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FLAGPOLE.COM ∙ SEPTEMBER 7, 2011
Earth: Saturation and Space Drone Metal Innovators Break New Ground
leader of long-running rock group/ sonic godhead Earth— formed in 1989—Dylan Carlson has done what great artists are supposed to do: innovate and move on. Operating alongside myriad luminaries of the Pacific Northwest scene in the early ‘90s, Carlson essentially created an entire genre out of sheer sound, and then, 10 years later, almost completely abandoned it. “I’ve always tried to do something different with each record. I don’t know why the idea of doing the same record over and over has never appealed to me,” says Carlson from his home in Seattle. “It’s weird, because my writing style has never really changed all that much. It’s just that I was trying to do something more; I wanted to see if we could get the same effect without all the extra overdrive and dirt and whatnot.” The “effect” Carlson is speaking of is encapsulated on Earth’s first full-length album, Earth 2: Special Low-Frequency Version, released on Sub Pop Records in 1993. Three cuts, an hour plus in duration, that defined a sound—drone metal or doom metal, depending on what kind of semantic trip you’re on—and inspired legions of imitators. Incorporating the principles of minimalist composer La Monte Young (who claimed as a Midwestern youth to be inspired by the high, lonesome sound of power lines) with the thick depth of Black Sabbath (from whom Earth cribbed its name), Carlson and his collaborators found a combination without any true precedent. With nearly no percussion, and even less vocals, Earth’s original goal seemed to be to bully the air through brute wattage. “We didn’t have a lot of stuff going on onstage,” says Carlson. “I sat down to play; there was one or two members, sometimes three, so the volume and the speakers were sort of part of the show. Now that we’re an actual band, we don’t need to [be so loud].” Which brings us to the contemporary state of Earth. After three albums’ worth of fullon drone punishment, Carlson went through a period of personal reconciliation, putting down the guitar and committing himself to rehabilitation from drugs. (“I had some downtime,” he laughs). He returned to the instrument with an infinitely nuanced approach to the same goal of existing in a realm of both saturation and space. “I think you can be full-sounding without having to, like, hurt people,” he says. “When I came back to playing guitar again, I got really obsessed with Tele[caster] players like Roy Buchanan, Danny Gatton, Roy Nichols and those guys. I had improved as a player once I started practicing again, too; that’s what I like about the Tele, it sort of forces you to be
more on your game. It’s not a super forgiving guitar.” Eschewing his band’s seemingly signature element—oppressive overdrive—Carlson was able to wipe away tonal distractions and find a Zen-like peace in his newfound country influences. The resulting album, 2005’s Hex; or, Printing in the Infernal Method, staked a new claim for Earth, one that the band has occupied with increasing comfort ever since. Taking a page from Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, the landscape Earth inhabits now is a barren but beautiful one, with all the tasteful negation suggested by its drone work but with an added cinematic component. Carlson has been joined since Hex by drummer Adrienne Davies, who sustains an impossibly glacial pace that always seems to hang in mid-air while underscoring a sort of implicit heaviness—without the excessive volume. On their latest album, Angels of Lightness, Demons of Darkness, Pt. 1, Carlson and Davies are joined by bassist (and Microphones/ Mt. Eerie member) Karl Blau and cellist Lori Goldston. The addition of the acoustic stringed instrument further necessitated continued notches towards sound moderation. “My attitude is: one, I don’t like carrying about that much equipment anymore. And two: let the P.A. do the work. Especially now, since we’re playing with a cello—she does play it through an amp, but there’s a certain level of volume that she begins having problems with. I still think we’re loud and a loud rock band, but sometimes I have to convince soundmen: ‘Okay, we’re not SunnO))), we’re not doing “Earth 2” anymore.’ “And plus, it’s just like—it’s done, you know what I mean?” Carlson continues. “I did it, and I liked it then, and I like SunnO))), more power to ‘em, but I don’t feel the need to compete in that arena. When I started Earth, all the bands were trying to be as fast as possible. And now it seems bands are trying to be as slow as possible. When you put that ahead of anything, it sort of, to me, turns music into a sporting event instead of a musical event.” Jeff Tobias For more on Earth, visit Homedrone at Flagpole.com, where Carlson breaks down a list of his favorite guitarists.
WHO: Earth, Mouth Eerie/The Microphones, Dead in the Dirt WHERE: Caledonia Lounge WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 10, 9 p.m. HOW MUCH: $8 (21+), $10 (18+)
Published on Sep 6, 2011