Earth are a band that it feels senseless to “pitch” to new fans in any sort of contrived marketing descriptive sense, as their legendary track record and career is nothing short of ritual. One of my favorite quotes ever that I often cite and probably paraphrase (and I don’t know who to accredit it to) is in the sleeve of the underrated post Acid Bath Dax Riggs’ project Agents Of Oblivion. It says, “Making an album is like living or dying.” Let’s just say that sometimes it is both and that Earth manages to encompass that level of simple complexity nearly every album, with a true sense of pioneering and adventurous clairvoyance.
Listening to Earth’s new Southern Lord release, ANGELS OF DARKNESS, DEMONS OF LIGHT 1 is to be invited into the full fledged world of a band with nothing to prove and thus removed from insecurity, leaving the focus solely on their brooding (or often blissfully resigned) compositions. Lifer artist Dylan Carlson along with Adrienne Davies (of course) and friends have created a masterpiece of transformative music that is far from simple escapism, a monument to deeply reflective emotion and release. With heady and great releases from Earth, Subrosa and Dark Castle (on the horizon) 2011 is already shaping up to be a rock solid year for forward thinking “metal”.
Read a discussion with Adrienne Davies about the powerful record here
Morgan Y. Evans: Hi, it’s Morgan Evans with Metal Riot for the interview.
Adrienne Davies: Hi. My phone’s been acting a little funny so if it hangs up it’s not me hanging up on you.
MYE: I’ll try not to be that annoying.
MYE: I’m outside. It’s a little windy but not too noisy. I’m at this small brewery Keegan Ale’s in Upstate, NY. Right before I called you this lady just came up to me and asked if The Allman Brothers were playing here tonight, so things are already off to a surreal start! (laughing)
MYE: I’ve been looking at my notes here and of course listening to the record a lot. It’s really great and makes you contemplative. It gives me the feeling of when I was a kid and would sort of go to a spot in the woods alone or relax in a secret place. I dunno. It made me think of how music is so interpretive. The way Earth wrote this record doesn’t seem to be like every other band. A lot of bands will have a specific message in mind, not that you necessarily have no message. It’s open to interpretation because it is instrumental music, but how do you define the meaning to yourselves? Do you let it kind of shape shift?
AD: I hear what you’re saying. In the past, other albums we’ve done…there was a very specific concept which came first and the music grew out of that.
AD: I have to say on this one it was totally the opposite. The music came very easily. You kind f interpret the music once it becomes its’ own entity. I definitely feel it is evocative and has a loosely defined concept and sort of feel to it, but that definitely came after the music. We were feelng extremely lucky and creative. There was a lot of music. We went into the studio and just banged it out. We’d never had such an easy time in the studio. Our most accessible albums are the ones that almost feel connected to a place and a time. A time different from now. A simpler time and one that’s not so immediate.
MYE: Some of the stuff has a dark feeling and some is warm and thought provoking.
AD: Awesome. I think it is called synesthesia, when people see music like colors.
AD: Yeah! Exactly. I think there’s probably a diagnosis but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. When music is your forte, what you do…It’s like there has to be a meaning behind it, even if you don’t start with one. It has to be evocative and transport you. In your mind you have to feel a cinematic quality or I think you are somehow failing.
MYE: I wish I had synesthesia. Would have saved me a lot of money I spent on mushrooms(laughing). But yeah. I agree.
AD: We’re not total perfectionist. We used to be but this album we let it be a lot looser and more organic. We left a lot more space. We didn’t want it to be so thick with sound. We wanted you to hear the wind whistling between the trees, not just the forest.
MYE: That’s such a great analogy. Yeah, space is another texture. (note: listen to how effective all the stop starts are in any given Helmet song, for example).
AD: If you look back at history, any kind of topical folk song, Irish songs, even in Africa…what transfers through generations are lullabies, generational songs. There’s something simplistic about a lullaby that it sticks in your head. That was one thing when Dylan and I were writing melodies together, I am always trying to simplify. To have a melody that can resolve, you want to be able to hum it back. It’s almost like the melody has always existed but you’re bringing it into a shared consciousness. Not to get all metaphysical.
MYE: I get it. There’s certainly a spiritual side to that. Even in a mainstream rock song, I prefer guitar solos like Slash’s old Guns N’ Roses stuff where the solo tells a bluesy sort of story rather and you can sing the guitar solo from memory rather than a lot of widdly widdly widdly.
AD: (laughing) Yeah. Look at ‘Patience’ or Neil Young’s guitar solos that are literally three notes. It’s all about each note having its’ full expression. I am always about that and it transfers to drumming too. I always wanna do less is more. Same with fills, everything. It’s more about what you don’t play than what you do play.
MYE: That’s still a great frontier in music. Even as a listener hearing stuff like Wire that was very minimalistic. I can appreciate very technical stuff for lots of reasons but not just as a be all end all. That’s too narrow of a goal, I think. Relax a bit. Play a couple notes. I mean, love shredding. Don’t get me wrong.
AD: There’s always gonna be a million Yngwie Malmsteen and Satriani types.Gulliard cranks them out every year. It’s almost become a sport more than an art. With drummers, there’s some amazing drummers that are phenomenal but they don’t know how to step back.
MYE: Very true. (laughing) God, I just went through ten drummers in auditions for a project.
AD: You did? It’s kinda rough ‘cuz the drumming world is a huge pot of …you get someone who is technically amazing but has no taste or who’s aesthetic isn’t there. I’ve always heard drummers are tough (laughing).
MYE: Well, it’s cool you have your head on right. I was wondering about what were some highlights of the session for this album. I don’t want to use the term “gnosis” ‘cuz it is pretentious, but I will. Any moments when you got the take you wanted or it was just magical?
AD: Sure. We’ve done all of our last few studio albums with Randall Dunn. This was the first time recently we stepped away, just bringing something else out. We went with Stuart Hallerman (Soundgarden, Earth2, Built To Spill) and everyone always says, “It was such a great experience” but it really was. The level of freedom…if there was one thing I didn’t like that I would’ve changed about some of our other albums is I felt too structured. Because there was such dense layering and so many overdubs of trombone, slide guitar, whatever it was…the drums always had to leave room for all those things. On this album the drums got to be free and come to the forefront and not be held back the entire time. I felt like I could be a lot more musical and it felt more natural. I felt like more of a lead instrument rather than keeping time. I loved that. We had a great time and really I’ve never been that prolific in the studio. Our band’s known for being very perfectionist in the studio and taking a long time, but not this time. There were a lot of first takes.
MYE: There’s a comforting vibe to some of the songs and an organic feeling, even from the start of “Old Black.” Country darkness. I like the duality of the album name. “Demon” was a positive thing in some cultures. A thing of strength.
AD: Exactly, and Angels get relegated to a porcelain doll that watches over you. A huge Christian misconstruing of over-encompassing myths that…it’s kind of amazing that things can be so watered down from their true essence. The idea of what you think represents good and the true sinister nature of evil, I love the idea. The title kind of caught me. It’s straight forward but you’re like, “what’s going on there?” There’s so much music. We recorded 2 whole albums worth of music. The first had a darker quality and the second has this mystic, kind of angelic feel to it. It fit in with the music as well.
MYE: oh, great. I can’t wait to hear the second part. Did you split them along those lines intentionally or afterwards?
AD: First we wanted to do a great long album but that doesn’t work so much in the day of the download. They almost ended up going in order of construction. “Old Black” was our most finished, complete song that has been around the longest. And “Father Midnight”, “Hell’s Winter” etc…all the way to the title track. “Angels Of Darkness…” was completely improvised. I wasn’t even in the room! I was down the hall getting a drink and I heard this awesome guitar tone and I was like “what’s going on! They’re recording without me? Cool…Oh, I gotta play on this!” I ran in and it was about five minutes. I was so moved by it that I almost forgot to play drums! I tried to pull into it very much sitting back and out of the way but giving it a jazz aesthetic. There was no communication prior to it. It just happened. And it was unedited.
MYE: Wow! There’s something pretty sacred about that in this day and age. Immediacy but also it coming out so powerful that it isn’t indulgent. It’s so cool.
AD: Dylan’s always saying if he dies tomorrow he’d be so happy he recorded THAT song particularly. It’s his favorite thing he’s ever recorded on an album. We’ve always worked in analogue reel to reel and that really makes you self edit. Time and money is not endless and you really focus. Once you start setting the record on and see what happens, it really worked for us! I’m kind of a Luddite. I don’t have a computer. Every time I try to foray into technology my brain just doesn’t want to handle it. I love vinyl and analogue. The vintage market for it is so obscene, it kind of forces you to consider digital options but there’s something beautiful about the warmth of analogue. I don’t think they’ve reached the level with digital. Different kinds of music can pull it off but our music is so stark and naked and open if you tried to do it in a digital format it would lose something. There’s something we keep coming back for with tape.
MYE: There’s a narrative between a lot of you records. From the last couple, BEES and HEX…do you feel like you’re following a sort of road? Was there anything from one record to the next where you liked something about the experience that made you want to explore similar veins or do something different next time around?
AD: We like being able to pull from old albums and live scenarios to reinterpret things. BEES had a lot of jazzy influence and HEX was so stark and austere. The new album, if you could combine the jazzy thread of BEES and stripped it to its’ barest essence and …warm, though. This one though, it feels like it is (laughing) giving you a hug instead of trying to piss you off. HEX was very dry. This one feels foreboding and has a kind of sinister quality in places, but it’s never just one emotion.
MYE: A sinister hug (laughing).
AD: (laughing) Yeah, it’s a sinister hug. It’s a lot closer to our live experience. The album and how we are live is very tied together.
MYE: Live, do you pay attention to a city being great or a great room or is it more about the moments you create onstage regardless of where they are? Magic between people.
AD: I used to be afraid when we’d play to really, really big crowds. Over a certain amount of people it’s all the same because your eyes can’t see that far anyway! You can’t have the most amazing, mind blowing night every night, but you can have a consistency where even your bad night is still good. You lose time and think you were onstage for 8 minutes and it was an hour and 10. You’re aware and somehow your consciousness was there but you check out and lose yourself in the moment and …hat’s my goal. Get my head out of my way and lose any sort of hyper awareness..turn it off and let the music come out.
photos by Sarah Barrick