Dylan Carlson of Earth talks about the importance of the slow pace in his music
Earth was one of the first bands to explore the inner spaces of drone and doom metal. In its earlier phase, Earth made creative use of distortion to create dense and crushing atmospheres. Since the band regrouped close to a decade ago, the focus has been more on a textured yet musical ambient sound created using conventional rock instruments to stir the heart and imagination without resorting to blunt sonic manipulations.
Earth's latest record, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I and II feels like meditative psychedelic rock music that would be a fine companion to fantasy literature like Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun series or the weird tales of Clark Ashton Smith. It's the sort of thing to suggest otherworldly with evolving, purely sonic narratives. We recently spoke with band's long time leader, the thoughtful and affable Dylan Carlson about the origin of the band, his collaborators, older and newer, how British fairy tales made an impact on his most recent music and why he prefers a slow pace to his songs.
Westword: You started the band in 1989 in Olympia. What made it attractive or easier to start the band there? Was it more a function of where you happened to be living at the time.
Dylan Carlson: I had lived in Olympia before then. I moved there right out of high school, mainly because I was good friends with Slim Moon at the time. He said, "You should come to Olympia." It was obviously less expensive than Seattle, and I moved there and moved back. I had moved down to date somebody, and that happened again, so it was those kinds of decisions.
At that time what kind of cultural and musical climate existed in Olympia during the early days of the band?
Obviously the K [Records] thing was going. It was kind of like Olympia had certain little scenes that were like the young pioneers and the older group of people and then the K people. There was a band that did the metal shows at the college, the hippie band, and then there were the punk rock kids. It was all small little groups, but there was only one place to play, this place called GESCO. Even though everyone was in their own little groups, everyone went to the same shows and all of that. I think it was a much more open town. It seems like a much darker place now when you go there with all the drugs and street kids. That really wasn't there then.
Obviously, in a small town there isn't a lot to do, so you start doing stuff for yourself kind of thing. Although we did get bands playing there quite a bit because of the GESCO place, especially the Melvins would play there a lot. The bands from Seattle would come down. Back then, I don't know what they called it, the American independent scene, American hardcore scene, whatever history has dubbed it, those bands would come through on their way from Portland or on the way between Portland and Seattle.
Early on, Joe Preston was part of the band. How did you meet Joe, and what do you appreciate about his particular sensibility?
I met him through Mike Johnson. They were in a band together called Snakepit. Snakepit came through town and stayed at our place; that's when I first met him. That was right about the time that Snakepit broke up and they left Eugene, [Oregon]. We had the Melvins in common, and he got a job at the same record store we all worked at. He wasn't really doing anything after Snakepit, so I asked him, "Do you want to play with Earth." Obviously his dream was to join the Melvins, and he was sort of biding his time, and when that didn't quite work out, initially, he became bitter and moved on. That's the last I've heard from him. He was a good bass player, though.
You took a bit of a break from Earth for several years for what one could call unfortunate personal reasons. What brought you back to playing that kind of music?
I went to L.A. in '97 and came back to Seattle in 2000. I hadn't played guitar or had a guitar in a while. I mostly just wanted to get a guitar to play again because I liked playing. It was more for personal reasons. Adrienne [Davies] had a drum set, so we just started playing just to play. I didn't have any plans of doing Earth or doing it professionally again.
I was working at a picture framer [shop], and I did an interview with Stonerrock.com or Doomrock.com -- I can't remember which -- and I talked about where I worked. The guy knew where the shop was, and him and Randall Dunn showed up and these two guys walked in and went, "Oh, are you Dylan?" I asked, "Who wants to know?" Then they asked if I wanted to do an Earth show. I said I had been playing again but didn't know if it's Earth. But "I guess we can run it up the flagpole and see what happens."
We decided there were enough similarities to the original thing. Obviously the repetition and the length of the songs. That first stuff was definitely more a product of the therapy rock era because it was skronky and improv-y as well as repetitive. It just started rolling from there. There were reissues and that guy did Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword.
In 2003 I met Greg [Anderson] in L.A., and when I was living down there, he invited me to a Goatsnake show. He invited us to play a showcase he was doing in SXSW. After we played that he approached me to do the new Earth thing. Everyone else that approached us wanted to do some new stuff but mostly they wanted to reissue stuff.
Then we did Hex; [Or Printing in the Infernal Method], and it's been rolling ever since. I guess it wasn't intentional to restart it. Like many things it just sort of happened. I don't have a master plan, contrary to what some people may think.