Earth Talk Telecasters, Cars & Sleep Aids

Earth's Dylan Carlson and Adrienne Davies discuss the band's look to where they're going and look back at where they've come. "Now it's all about recordings…even though that's changing now that the CD and everything is kind of going by the wayside. I'm hoping with the whole download thing that live music will start becoming more important again as the whole recording thing becomes less…You know, people aren't buying CDs and stuff anymore, they're downloading and going to see bands live. So I'm hoping that will change the dynamic a little bit."

- Patrick

posted June 17, 2008

Earth Talk Telecasters, Cars & Sleep Aids I’ll talk about the new album first. My first impressions were that it sounded like a combination of Hex and Pentastar, with maybe the emotional feeling of Miles Davis’s Bitch’s Brew at times.

Dylan Carlson: This record definitely was different from the other ones. With Hex there was a concept before there was the music, and this time around there was a creation of the band, especially me, her [Adrienne Davies] and Steve Moore jamming on it. So, yeah, definitely in that it was more of a Bitch’s Brew vibe, because we went for an improvisatory feel. And it was more of a group effort than usual where I bring songs in. The music was written first and then going back and titling the songs, then putting an album together -– the concept came out of that -– rather the music itself. Previous Earth projects have been more conceptual where there’s an idea then music. This time it was music then the idea, so it was different in that way than previous Earth records. Why do you think there has been all of these drone and ambient bands coming out over the last ten years or so, where you have music you have to sit down and listen to? What is it about these times that make people more open to that?

Carlson: I don’t know for sure, but I think there’s a combination of once people have been doing something for a long enough time, people start to catch on to it, and I don’t know if it’s like people can’t imagine someone wasting their lives doing something, so they think “oh there must be something to it.” Also I think it’s sort of a reaction maybe, because it is so antithical to what is going on now with the Internet and this instant access, and like sensory overload, and fast, fast, fast chopped-up-edness that the world and especially human society has right now where everything is all about stuff that is fleeting and transitory and meaningless and tons of it. Especially with digital music how chopped up it is and it’s like all these bits and pieces and there’s no real songs or anything. That would be my guess. What is it about repeating riffs or pieces of music that you like? What’s special about that?

Carlson: I guess it comes from when you’re a kid and you repeat a word over and over again and [it] begins to lose the meaning it has and it changes to something else. I guess it is maybe from that urge as a child. I remember like listening to music when I was younger and there’d be a killer riff or a cool part to the song and all of a sudden they’d change to the next part, and I’d be like, “Oh why didn’t they just stay on that?” That was the sort of the genesis of it, I guess. That simple idea of once you have a great riff, why waste it by making it last a minute instead of making into you know… I used to fall asleep listening to Earth 2. I remember I bought it when I was in 8th grade, and I don’t think I got it at first. I remember thinking, “the drums gotta be coming in soon” [Carlson laughs]. Then I was trying to read a book for school, and I was distracted by my parents making noise so I put the record on so I could concentrate. Then I started really listening to it and getting into it, and I’d hear the different riffs and repeating themes. One funny thing is, when my nephew was born, I gave my sister a copy of the disc and she was using it to get her son to sleep. Have you heard of other ways that people use your records besides listening to it as music?

Carlson: Definitely. I’ve known people who would just have it on all the time like Billy in Olympia and that friend of yours, Kai [to Davies].

Adrienne Davies: A lot of people like to drive to it. “I was driving across here and I was listening…”

Carlson: I guess driving, aural wallpaper, sleep aid, study aid. On the album Pentastar: In the Style of Demons, there are obviously a lot of car references there. And in the Tallahasse video there is a ‘Cuda. Are you into muscle cars or were you at one time?

Carlson: I don’t own one, unfortunately, but I had a friend who had a Challenger and I always liked the Mopar stuff. Someday, hopefully I’ll own one. Back then they were like $7000 cars and now they’re like $75,000 cars, so I don’t know. When I was first looking for a car I test drove a Plymouth Duster that was twelve-hundred bucks, and now they’re like $10,000 or $15,000 dollars.

Carlson: We saw a car the other day in, I think, North Carolina that looked like a 340 was all painted like a 340 Duster, but then we noticed that it only had a single pipe and stuff. [laughs] So it was totally like a regular Duster that somebody duded up. Speaking of Pentastar, you did a cover of the Hendrix song “Peace In Mississippi.” What made you want to cover that song?

Carlson: I liked the fact that it is just like one riff. It’s from this bootleg of jam sessions, so it’s basically one riff with a bunch of soloing over the top of it. We figured we’d just take the riff. On that album we had the other guitar player Sean [McElligot] who was a really good solo player, so we were able to have the solos on it. Although when we first played it live it was just the riff without any solos. It was a song I always liked. It was the only Hendrix song I could think of that would work, or that not everyone knew or had. Now it’s on that one CD, but back then you could only get it on bootlegs and stuff. What are you listening to these days?

Carlson: These days I’d say I listen to a lot of Miles [Davis], Grateful Dead, a lot of Thin Lizzy, and I’ve been listening to a lot of late ‘70s early ‘80s Judas Priest and Van Halen and a lot of Randy Rhoads stuff. I guess I’m in my midlife crisis and going back to the music of my childhood. [laughs] So that’s what I’ve been listening to lately on this tour. Have you ever seen Ozzy?

Carlson: I saw him on the Diary of a Madman Tour and the No More Tears Tour. I noticed you’ve been playing Telecasters for a while now. Why did you switch to the Telecaster or what made you want to use one?

Carlson: Well, I actually used one on “Phase III” on the first song “Harvey” and on “Tibetan Quaaludes.” And when I was, you know, gone for a while during my hiatus, I was listening to a lot of Tele players like Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan, and Roy Nichols (Merle Haggard’s guitar player), a lot of Cornell Dupree, that R&B player. So it was the guitar I was listening to a lot and I remember how much I liked it back in the day. So I wanted to try something new, and I like the Telecaster how basic it is. It’s kind of like a guitar you have to work at or work with. It’s not super-easy to play like a Les Paul. It has its own thing that you kind of have to kind of know…I don’t know. Early Led Zeppelin was actually done on Teles, and it was the first solid body and the simplest one, and so that had a lot to do with it. I don’t want you to get offended at this question, but I’m always curious to know what my favorite artists and musicians do for a regular job when they’re not recording music. What kind of jobs have you had?

Carlson: My most recent one was doing picture framing. You know, paintings and posters and stuff. Although, just recently I was able to leave that job and now I’m pretty much doing just music. Finally, I’m back to doing just that. We’ll see maybe I’ll have to get another job again depending how we do on tour. We just did a European tour, and we do well over there so… And there are so many ways now to make money as a band with the Internet, like selling downloads and selling merchandise online. The days of the label doing everything for you are now definitely long gone, so you have to be to a certain extent self-sufficient You know and learn to make merchandise like t-shirts on your own. When you’re touring the guarantees pretty much cover the cost…it’s the merchandise where you’re going to make your money. So if you don’t have that lined up, you’re not going to be able to keep doing it. You’re going to lose money. Do you enjoy touring and being on the road?

Carlson: Playing live is probably my favorite part of the whole thing. It’s kind of one thing I wish, like back in the old days where live music was more important than recorded music. You know, bands like the Texas Playboys or Hank Thompson, you know, you could have two or three big bands touring at the same time, own a ballroom, and play in your hometown and make a living. Now it’s all about recordings…even though that’s changing now that the CD and everything is kind of going by the wayside. I’m hoping with the whole download thing that live music will start becoming more important again as the whole recording thing becomes less…You know, people aren’t buying CDs and stuff anymore, they’re downloading and going to see bands live. So I’m hoping that will change the dynamic a little bit. We’re lucky that our band and the bands on Southern Lord and stuff, that most of our fans are sort of collectors and want vinyl and stuff like that. What we offer is something interesting and unique that a major label can’t offer. So we can still sell that stuff, whereas the major label’s download and record is the same thing. So there’s no difference. It seems like the reissue of Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars revitalized your playing and got you out again. How did that come about?

Carlson: I had been trying to get the tapes of the sessions back from Joe Preston for a while. And I’m not sure if it was him -- I think it was him -- he bootlegged a CD of it, so we were able to get a hold of that and were able to master it from that. Mike Quinn from No Quarter said he was interested. I had just started playing music again at that point, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to do Earth again for sure or not. The time was right and you saw people were still interested…

Carlson: Yeah, it was serendipity I guess. I remember when I saw you at the Khyber a few years ago it was just you two.

Carlson: Yeah, it was just the two of us. Things are much different now.

Carlson: Yeah, things are much better now, I’d say.

Davies: I remember I was very nervous at that show.

Carlson: Southern Lord is a good label and people are really interested in what we’re doing, so it’s a good time to be doing it I guess. Thanks for participating in the interview.

Carlson: No problem, I really appreciate you doing it.