INTERVIEW: Earth | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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While it’s obviously a mistake to see Earth’s music as lacking progress, last year’s Primitive & Deadly nonetheless represented a relative paradigm shift in their sound. A small increase in tempo, more concise songs and – most remarkable of all – guest vocalists. I asked guitarist and sole permanent member Dylan Carlson how the new approach came about.

“The Angels Of Darkness set had been really improvised, and I try to do something different and new while retaining the ‘Earth’ thing for each album. The songs I had started writing were more concise and a bit more rock, I guess, a bit heavier. Maybe because we were playing as a power trio on those tours, we were able to be a bit more aggressive, whereas playing with a cello there’s only a certain amount of volume we can have – because it’s a big wooden box sitting on a stage – before it would have a lot of problems with feedback. Earth has worked with other instrumentation and I wanted to do a more guitar orientated record; the songs I was writing specifically as Earth songs were me revisiting the music of my formative years: hard rock, heavy metal stuff – UFO, ACDC, The Scorpions.

“Rooks Across The Gate was the reason we ended up with vocals on this record. I had originally written it for my solo album as an exercise in writing a folk song/murder ballad but Adrienne [Davies, long-time Earth drummer] really liked it and wanted to use it for Earth. Because I’d written lyrics for it, we wondered who we should get to sing it, and we both thought of Mark Lanegan. I’d known Mark for a long time, we were housemates a couple times, and we had talked about doing stuff together which had never happened. He did that song, and really liked the other stuff so he asked if he could do another song. He picked There Is A Serpent Coming. And then because I had a male vocalist I thought it would be cool to have a female vocalist. We’d seen Rose Windows a couple time and I loved Rabia [Shaheen Qazi]’s voice, and she agreed to do it. It’s funny, that song – From The Zodiacal Light – was the one song I wasn’t sure we were going to use but she picked that one to write lyrics for and it turned out really well.” Logistics mean that neither Lanegan or Qazi can join Earth on tour, but Carlson initially wrote the songs as instrumentals and is confident they’ll stand up the power trio format they’re touring.

Carlson’s other release last year was his first film soundtrack Gold. I suggested that soundtrack work seemed inevitable. “We’d had a few of our songs used in some movies but I’d always wanted to do a soundtrack. The album Hex was written as soundtrack, I was inspired by that Jack Bruce song, Theme For An Imaginary Western, and I wanted to do a soundtrack for if there was a movie of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, although there isn’t and probably never will be… Hollywood will never make that movie, there’s nobody in the US who could make it, who could portray that stuff.”

prmitive and deadly

“I try to do something different and new while retaining the ‘Earth’ thing for each album”

Once the Primitive & Deadly tours are finished, Carlson’s next goal is to finally release his long-gestating, Kickstarter-funded solo project, Falling With A Thousand Stars And Other Wonders From The House of Albion. A multimedia project involving a book, CD and DVD, it documents his increasing absorption in British folklore and folk rock, neither of which would seem obvious preoccupations. “I guess my affinity for the United Kingdom is probably from my maternal grandmother, who was from Scotland. And we lived in Germany in the seventies so we visited England and Scotland quite a bit, to see family and whatnot. I’ve always felt a close tie to it, and the majority of my family tree is Scots and English – and then some Swedes and Finns – but I’ve always really liked England. I got into Fairport Convention the way most rockers do, through Led Zeppelin, and then Bert Jansch. My uncle gave me a Fairport record in my formative years. I was familiar with Fairport and Pentangle, and then the year before Angels Of Darkness, I had been reading a lot of folklore from the British Isles and started exploring the more obscure realms of folk. When I was a kid my grandmother would tell me about spooky Scottish stuff, and her husband during the war had an encounter with one of the white ladies. He was a medic and these three friends of his snuck out to a cockfight and he didn’t want to go, then he saw the white lady, heard her scream… It turned out those three guys got killed in a car wreck coming back from the cock fight…he told me that story when I was a wee lad.”

I’d also heard a rumour that Carlson was a Newcastle United fan, which seemed even more unlikely but proved to be entirely true, and relates to his affinity with the city. “I really like the north of England, particularly Newcastle. I love the landscape and I think architecturally, Newcastle is an amazing city; I just really like it there. The last time we played there, the people were so nice; they reminded me a lot of when I was growing up. Where you’re friendly but you take the piss out of each other. And that’s how I’ve always been, so I felt at home. Funnily enough, Adrienne is a big soccer fan, unfortunately she likes Spurs. So it felt natural to me to pick Newcastle as my team.”

Primitive & Deadly is available on Southern Lord now. Earth play Newcastle’s Cluny on Monday 23rd February.

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