Brett Savage speaks to Earth’s mainman, Dylan Carlson, about his new album, his influences and his encounters with the ‘fair-folk’.
So, to start with, I read the new Angels of Light album was recorded in the same sessions as vol. 1, but it seems to have a much looser, freer feel to it. 'His Teeth Did Brightly Shine' seems quite improvisational. Are we seeing a new facet to Earth, or as there always been an element of this in your songwriting?
There was some small spaces for improvisation on 'Bees", but before we went into the studio for this one we did a two week west coast of the US tour with Wolves In The Throne Room. Old Black and Father Midnight were the oldest and most finished of the songs and the rest except the title track, were loose riffs we worked out differently each night. The arc of that album is mostly composed to free/fully improvised. The second half is more like that song. We rolled tape and just went for it, and on a couple, I added a guitar part or two (also on the fly) and Adrienne did some percussion. So this was the rest of the improvised tracks from the same sessions.
Do you feel that the current Earth line-up is more pre-disposed to the improvisational side of things?
Yes, definitely. As we approach the 'death' or twilight years of the 'recording artist' due to the increasingly prevalent trend of theft of intellectual 'property' (apparently it is OK to steal music but not any other intellectual property) due to the computer industry's powerful financial lobbies, live music is becoming increasingly important and the only way to make a living at music; that and making albums that are unique and have something special that makes them valuable to people so they do not just want the downloads.
I like playing live the best, and then it is a collective experience between musicians and the audience. I wish there was a way to tour that did not tie musicians so closely to the economics of consumption (fuel, flights, etc.). Perhaps in the future it will be possible to do a week of shows at various small venues in the city or towns visited, to really interact with the community there, instead of one big show every night in a different city; however that would also require promoters to not have to make such quick returns on their bookings. In former times, up until the 1950's or 1960's, musicians could live and make a living somewhere, people went out to dance and listen to live music, then the recording industry inflated the importance of a 'commodity' - the record, and 'musicians' were considered less important than 'recording artists'. Touring became increasingly important, and music became an 'industry'. It is unfortunate that people don't realize that stealing music via pirated downloads does not affect the Beyonce’s and Metallica’s of the world, they have been paid millions up front for records years away. The musicians that will be silenced are bands like ourselves and peers. Eventually only people who don't have to make a living at music will be doing it, rich kids on a lark as it were. People often do not have any idea of the costs of making records and how much touring costs. Even today in an interview a journalist thought the figure for my solo project (Wonders from the House of Albion – Dylan Carson’s Kickstarter project – see below) 'seemed kind of high for a record'. Even with that funding goal, I will be spending much of my own earnings to complete it. I had to point out to him that it wasn't 'just' a record, it is an LP or CD with a DVD film packaged in book, of which some will be using traditional and handcrafted book binding. Sorry to get long winded there. I seem to have drifted far off course. Lori is an amazing improviser (never heard her play the same thing twice) as well as Karl and Adrienne, so it makes it quite easy. I find it exciting to be able to stretch and interpret the songs so that every performance is special, and love 'happy accidents' in the studio. Intentional stuff never works out as well to me.
I'd really like to know what Earth (and perhaps more specifically your) influences are. And by that, I don’t just mean solely musical influences. Looking at your blog, and indeed some of your song titles, there seems to be a very keen folkloric and occult influence on your work.
The musical ones are pretty varied. I love many kinds of music. I seem to become obsessed with certain ones in intervals grouped around when it is time to record new Earth records. I grew up listening to my parent’s collection which was a lot of 60's and 70's stuff. All the 'classic' stuff from folk to 'classic rock', soul and R&B. My dad liked country, my mom hated it. My mom liked The Velvet Underground and The Doors. My twin brother was almost named Donovan (they settled on David finally), but I think you get the picture. The first music I purchased for myself was AC/DC and then a lot of hard rock and heavy metal, then bands like Siouxsie, Echo and the Bunnymen, X, the Gun Club, and Meat Puppets, Black Flag also Dub (Lee Perry, Burning Spear). King Crimson was a humongous influence. Waylon, Willie, George Jones. Zeppelin, Stones, etc., etc. Im also a big fan of the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service, also Hawkwind, Groundhogs, etc. It is through Zeppelin that I became acquainted with Fairport Convention and Pentangle. Also Current 93, Coil, etc.
For some reason, me and my brother were very interested in history and through that the Greek myths and then other mythologies. We spent most of our childhood re-enacting famous battles or mythological stories (especially when the two combined). We were not raised in any church. My father's mother was a Baptist (although she was a super accepting, nice person) his brother became Catholic. My mom's mother was from Fife in Scotland, and raised Presbyterian, hated religion and thought it was a scam. My mother was similarly agnostic. For some reason, religion always fascinated me, maybe because of the whole middle ages part of history. I was very in to writers like H.P Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, what they consider fantasy and horror. Also Arthur Machen, Robert Chambers, Fritz Lieber etc. When I was 11-12 my father had a good friend who played war games, and the then very new D&D (81-82). I used to join him and his friends occasionally (they were all 'adults'). I guess you can surmise my favourite characters in those books and games - the wizards. I also was interested in the real thing in historical reading as well - magick, witchcraft trials, Kabbalah, alchemy, etc. In my last year of high school, a friend of my brothers introduced me to a sort of Crowley-ite group, and I participated in what I considered a 'botched' ritual. They seemed to use it as a cover for getting laid, but I had a strange experience with some kind of entity (a red sphere surrounded by flames) and collapsed, they all scattered and took off. I guess that is why I have always been leery of 'occult' groups and Crowley-ites since then. After that it was mostly reading about such things, rather than any particular 'practice'. It is definitely the reason behind the continuing presence of so many angels and demons in Earth song titles (ha ha!). The first album I was particularly enamoured of Gnostic dualism and the Process Church of the Final Judgement, hence Sabbath Assembly being with us on our last tour. It wasn't until I began to revisit English folk music, before recording the new albums that my interest really began to re-assert itself. Then the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell really kicked it into overdrive. Also, perhaps my near-fatal liver failure before/during the recording opened up some kind of 'sensitivity' or affinity for it again, especially the English variety. Then after my encounter in December of 2010, I hit the books again and began researching the fairy-faith, cunning-folk, and Kelley and Dr. Dee. My second encounter in November of 2011 has confirmed that I am on some kind of path that feels right, or as my friends often joke, "I am unleashing my full strength crazy" on the world. (For more information on Dylan’s encounters, read his blog at http://drcarlsonalbion.wordpress.com/ )
Which leads nicely onto your new proposed project - 'Wonders from the House of Albion'. Could you tell me what your overall plan for it is?
It is a solo project being financed through Kickstarter. It will consist of an LP/CD of my interpretations of English folk songs/border ballads involving human encounters with fairies/farisees/seelie wychtis/ffayre-folke, layered with field recordings of environmental sounds/atmosphere from sites of such encounters. There will also be a DVD film of the field recording trip. There will also be a discussion and possible practice of English cunning folk tradition concerning such interaction, as well as my own personal experiences with such beings. It will be packaged in a book using traditional binding and printing techniques and materials (200 copies LP/DVD/book). There will also be limited editions of 500 LP and 500 CD in a book that will use more modern printing techniques, but still assembled by Simon Fowler (who will also be doing the cover and endpapers for the 200 copy edition and the limited edition). An open edition will be available as well using conventional CD and LP packaging. The artwork on the inside of the book will be by Finnish artist Kiyo Lappalainen, and will illustrate song lyrics and encounter narratives. We just made the pledge level set for the Kickstarter so it seems to be a go. The trip will be to the Northern part of England and Southern Scotland mostly, as well as some time spent in and around London and some day trips to closer southern sites (depending on time and transport). Since London was the location for two of my personal encounters.
Do you think you'll ever use the Kickstarter route/method again?
It is extremely nerve-wracking, and makes one realize the relative luxury of having a label. It is a useful tool for projects outside the norm, however, and absent any arts-funding in America other than private grants, is a solution. My only worry is the privileging of wealthy backers over the more economically deprived supporters of an artist’s endeavours. But overall, it seems beneficial.
Do you detect something of an occult revival in modern culture?
I don't know if it is really a revival, or that it never went away. The term for hermeticism, the 'perennial philosophy', springs to mind. It seems to me that the shallowness of the reductionist/materialist paradigm and the foundering of science on the shoals of reality (hidden by the rubric 'quantum mechanics') has left people wanting, emptied of anything but a drive for endless consumption of material goods, hence the widespread use of drugs, obesity, hoarding behaviours etc. Also the lack of any form of beneficial religious feeling other than fundamentalist insanity and murder, or lack-lustre liberalism in religious ideas is showing organized religion to be another empty vessel. The vapid pick and choose nature of the 'new-age' movement and the constant quest for visionaries in other cultures back-yards (the latest being the overemphasis on shamans from the rain forest traditions) is also not really any good to anybody, but eco-tourists and psychedelic experience tourists. I don't view this in a racialist way or anything, but it seems that traditions originating in one’s own historical/genetic milieu should be explored and understood before one goes off to encounter other traditions (shades of Guenonian traditionalism, I guess). Also, to me there is something unique to the United Kingdom (all the areas and islands and political permutations included). I have also 'felt' it in Finland. I would like to visit Iceland to see if it is the same. Despite the modernisation and everything, there is a numinous quality to the landscape, a subtle sparkle to the atmosphere, a sense of magic (for lack of a better term) that they both have.
Posted: Fri 17 February 2012