Dylan Carlson of Earth talks about the importance of the slow pace in his music
You have talked about Fairport Convention in that interview on your website with your cellist, Lori Goldston. Specifically how they write tragedy in a major key. How has their music impacted what you've done?
I've always liked darker stuff done that way because it's not maudlin. "Oh, it's a sad song in a minor key" -- that sounds kind of obvious and schmaltzy. They're coming out of the folk thing, the modal playing, I like that sort of suspended feel that they have as well. My goal, whether I achieve it or not is up to other people, is to create music that's timeless.
Even though its new music, there's that thing that makes it sounds familiar like a pastiche, but "I don't know this song but it seems like it's always existed." It doesn't fade with time. That's why I like the English folk rock bands where they'll do a really old song or a newer song and it doesn't date. Unlike, say, a protest song about this or that. To me, that stuff becomes dated as soon as it's done.
That sort of topical folk song thing or any kind of topical, political song becomes so dated quickly. Then you can think of songs that don't like "Fortunate Son" by Credence Clearwater Revival -- that's just a great song all the way around, and it applies all the time rather than being specific. They managed to transcend that trap of being dated immediately.
It's like the idea of a lullaby; the idea's been around forever. Trying to do a melody that's numinous and seems so familiar but makes you realize that maybe you have never heard it. Rather than making something that's the latest style or about this or that right now, I think music can communicate so much information without having to make it that specific. I think when you make it that specific you're limiting your, I don't know what to call it, shelf life.
How did you meet Karl Blau, and what do you think he brings to what you're doing?
I met Karl through our manager, Clyde Petersen. He was playing drums with Clyde's project Your Heart Breaks. I had a couple of his albums and I just think he's an amazing and talented person. Originally we had talked about recording the album with him as an engineer. That didn't happen, and we had already a two week tour with that line-up.
We just really liked what he did as a bassist. He really gelled with the line-up. We ended up not using him in his producer and engineer capacity. Unfortunately, we're not touring with him or Lori because both of them have children. After the European tour, Lori decided she didn't want to tour anymore or not the rock band kind of tour anymore. Karl also has so much going on with his solo stuff. Who knows?
In the future, either might play with us again. The door is always open for either of them. When I tour, I tend to hit it hard with long tours where we try to play every night. That can wear on people. We're touring again with Don McGreevy and Steve Moore from the Bees line-up. The eastern tour of New Zealand, Australia and Japan we did as a trio with me, Adrienne and Steve.
You recorded both parts of Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light at the same time. Have you had the time to work on anything new since then?
We've got about five new songs. We've been doing two or three depending on if there's on encore on this tour. Although two of them we sort of segue with stuff off Angels. Probably next year sometime we'll be recording a new Earth record. This year it's been a lot of touring and I've been doing solo stuff as well. I did a solo tour of the UK in October and as soon as I got home we went on the Earth tour.
For Angels, perhaps this was mentioned in The Skinny out of the U.K., you had been into reading Welsh, English and Irish fairy tale stories. What is it about that stuff that kind of inspired you?
I come from mostly Scotch English descent. My grandmother came over after the war, and she married my grandpa. She used to tell us stories. My grandfather when he was over there during the war, had had sort of an encounter with one of those "white ladies," a death omen, so that's probably where my interest originated.
I've always been into history, like I said, and too much heavy metal and fantasy literature. Obviously I'm more interested in the historical side of it, the serious side of it, but I've always been attracted to that kind of stuff for whatever reason. It's sort of a genetic predisposition. A friend of mine introduced me to this Scottish music that they call "the high music," and rather than being the dance tunes and stuff like that, it's all songs about battles and chieftains and that sort of thing.
But it's interesting because it's all much longer pieces than the, for lack of a better term, party music. It's slower and it's interesting because there's the drone of the bagpipes and they repeat the same figure melodically for a long time before introducing subtle variations. It's very Earth-like in that way. Or Earth is very like that in that way.
I realize that I've written this more theme and variation thing rather than verse-chorus-verse-chorus. I do a riff and a variation of the riff and stuff like that. So it was interesting to hear stuff like that. I've always, for some reason, liked drones and music played against this static background. So I guess there is a genetic link.
There's a song called "Sigil of Brass" on Angels II that resonates with pre-Islamic folk stories and legends from the Middle East. Was that something you'd been reading as well?
Yeah, I've always admired Sir Richard Burton's translation of Arabian Nights and all of that. Then being interested in mysticism and religion. Also in English occult practice they had what they called lamin, which was the piece of metal that they wore with the sigil on it for summoning what they called "treasure spirits."
I generally try to assign titles that have a certain resonance and multiple interpretations, I guess, all along a certain path. That's what I find interesting about music. With words you have to really be careful to find stuff like that that resonates like that whereas music seems to automatically communicate on a number of different levels. Whereas with language it seems more difficult to hit that resonance.
What about the slow pace of your music allows you to express better?
I don't know why I've always gravitate to music that's slower. Not exclusively but it's always appealed to me more. I just like music with a lot of space. I've always liked music with subtle dynamics. In the 90s there was that whole soft-loud thing and I found that really annoying because there's a whole bunch of other ways to do dynamics. That's what I always really liked about The Grateful Dead. There's peaks and valleys and they're don't go, "Here's quiet part, here's the loud part." You can just feel when the band links up and is really hitting it or if they go off.
In jazz or in R&B or country, there are those pregnant pauses and the space between the notes is just as important. I find that sometimes by restricting the amount of material you have allows you to focus and work that material more rather than trying to do as many notes as possible, as fast as possible.
When I was starting Earth, it was the time, and right before that, it was that period where everyone was trying to be as fast as possible. When that happens then it sort of reduces music to an athletic event rather than, you know, music. Then obviously the opposite has happened and now there's bands that are, "Oh, we're the slowest band of all of time. We're slower than them. We're so slow." Whoopty doo. Whatever. Is it listenable? Is it good? You know what I mean? It's funny when these non-musical criteria become the be all and end all of the project and that just doesn't really make sense.