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Eaten From Inside: A Conversation With George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (Part I)

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photo credit: Alex Morgan 

In the beginning there was Death or maybe Possessed or maybe even earlier with Celtic Frost. Whether your death metal genesis story allegiance lies in Florida, San Francisco, or Switzerland, the fact remains that no band has embodied the genre’s attitude, aesthetic, and abject rancor as successfully and as long as Cannibal Corpse. Beginning with their 1990 debut Eaten Back to Life to this year’s Skeletal Domain, Cannibal Corpse have been unwavering in sticking to the death metal formula they helped pioneer. Replacing original vocalist Chris Barnes in 1995, George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher was quick to dispel any notion that the band would soften or its image or dull its edge. In a metal world that too often suffers from identity crises, Cannibal Corpse remain unwavering and unapologetic with their obsession with terminal. In this special two-part interview feature, SfB spoke to Fisher about his own personal journey to the band and the humble beginnings that led him to where he is now. 

When you think about your very beginnings as a heavy music fan, where were you when it found you in such a way that you felt that first push to create? Was there a specific band or song?

Oh well, I mean Black Sabbath. My parents, my mother, listened to like a lot of old country and 50s stuff and later stuff like Frankie Vallie and all the older doo-wop bands – that’s what she really listened to. My father listened to that too, but he listened to a lot of rock and roll like the Stones and shit like that. Sabbath was just so much heavier than everybody else. Everybody was listening to Zeppelin and the Stones and KISS. KISS, to me, looked like Black Sabbath sounded. Black Sabbath looked like a bunch of hippies back then. KISS looked like monsters and Black Sabbath sounded like monsters. Black Sabbath to me is the first metal band. Not Led Zeppelin. Not KISS. No offense to them, but that’s more rock and roll music. Black Sabbath was not rock and roll. It was something else. It was heavier than anything.

As far as what made me go “Holy – what is this?!” I was already listening to older music like Elvis and stuff because my mother was listening to it. Of course from there, I was maybe eight or nine or maybe even younger than that, but really started to get into it really heavily probably around ten. It was just dominating everything I wanted to do, and all my friends in school and I kept up with it like when Ozzy drifted away from Sabbath and had his solo album and stuff. I was lucky because my parents – they never gave me hell about anything I wanted to listen to. I had Don’t Break the Oath by Mercyful Fate, and that’s a fucking Satanic album. I had Venom albums and Kreator and all of those. And of course most parents lump everything together thinking “Well, if they’re singing about this then they’re singing about that. It’s all the same to me. Even if I can’t understand the lyrics I know it’s evil.”

King Diamond you could actually understand the lyrics because he was singing, but either way obviously from Sabbath it’s Maiden then Priest and then Saxon and Accept and then so forth with Destruction and Kreator and Slayer and things like Celtic Frost. That’s how it all went. For me, it was just that I wanted to get into heavier and heavier stuff. Anything that was heavier and faster was what I was into. I really loved all the Bay Area thrash, too, Violence and fucking Forbidden. I was listening to everything, and of course at the same time I was listening to the fucking Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front. I listened to everything that was in any way just heavy and extreme and fast. It’s weird because obviously those are two sides of the fence when you’re talking about what Kreator is writing about as opposed to a band like Agnostic Front or Cro-Mags. They’re writing about reality and real life shit. Kreator – I’m sure they had some of that stuff too, but it was more the setting of horror kind of stuff.

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It was more brutal the way they wrote the lyrics. As far as when I started wanting to sing in a band, I used to always sing up in my room. I’ll never forget my sister and her best friend, I’d go in her room and put on Ozzy or fucking Maiden, and I’m sure I sucked balls trying to sing that stuff, but they’d sit up there and watch me, and I was totally cool with it. I wasn’t embarrassed or nothing. I was like the king, and they were watching me. I remember because I had a crush on my sister’s friend, this girl Dana, so of course I was doing my thing. But of course with doing the heavy stuff singing just went out the window. I didn’t even know if I was good or not. I couldn’t have told you one way or another if I was fucking worth a fuck singing “The Number of the Beast” or not, but I know that when I started singing heavier shit, when I started trying to do Slayer and fucking Destruction, and Kreator, and Death – especially Death – that’s when I knew. It just came more natural to me. I could emulate those guys better.

I used to sit in my room and sing everything. I would have stacks of all the albums that I had, and any album that had the inlay with the picture of the band on it or the back of the album had the picture of the band, I would set them up in front of me. It was in the attic where me and my brother slept, and the attic had the apex roof, so I would tack them and all my old albums if you look at them – they have a tack mark in the middle of them. You’ll see the indention of the tack mark and the hole. So I tacked them up in front of me, and I had this piece of wood – this board – and it was under my bed and helped hold the bed up in the middle, and I would just take it out and play that and pretend that it was my guitar. I put the lyrics in front of me after I’d bought the album, and I would just sing it. I just started doing that, and I’d put on an album from spectrum to spectrum like I’d be listening to the Cro-Mags and then the next thing you know I’d be playing fucking Eternal Nightmare from Violence, and then years later I’d go to Slowly We Rot.

I was singing all this different stuff, but it was all just more aggressive singing. Then this friend of mine who I went to school with, Jeff, he bought a guitar and was like “Dude, man. I got this guitar,” and I remember I convinced my mother to buy me a bass. Basically she got it for me, and my friend Jeff – he was taking some lessons, and he was like “Here’s some scales,” and he was taking guitar, but he’d say “Just practice the scales and get better.” I would just get in my room and put on a record like Hell Awaits and I’d set up all the pictures of the bands so they’re all watching me like my audience, and I’d just play whatever on the fucking bass. [Laughs] I really started realizing that I didn’t wanna try to learn an instrument. At the time when I got the bass there was the idea that we were gonna try and do a band if we could meet some other people that were into the music, because we had a bunch of our friends – we probably had twelve when we all hung out – but about four or five of us were into the really heavy shit.

All of our other friends were listening to Bon Jovi or Mötley Crüe and Poison. The first two Mötley Crüe albums we thought were pretty heavy, but then when they did Theater of Pain we didn’t think it was as good. They had the makeup and stuff on so it was kind of disappointing to us. [Laughs] But yeah, only my friend Jeff had a guitar and nobody else had any visions of playing an instrument or attempting to be in a band. But we would go to all of these shows and just one day we met these guys who one of them happened to live right down the street from my girlfriend at the time who’s now my wife, but right down the street – literally like three blocks away. But he played drums, and there was this guy Chris who played guitar and they were like “Man, we see you at every show, and you’re singing all the words. We’re trying to get this band together. What do you think?”

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But we just sort of talked about it and exchanged numbers, and we called ‘em up and they were like “Hey, this guy’s having this party at this hotel room,” which we ended up having to flee because the cops came. Which was weird because Cannibal’s never been about that. We don’t fuck stuff up or get crazy. We’re just not like that, but back then, man, I was eighteen years old or something, and people were just messing up the room and just throwing shit around. I don’t think we really broke too much stuff, but we were just really loud and had the door open to the hotel room, and of course they called the cops, and we had to run out the back door which opened up to this hill, and it’s like this ten foot drop with this tree right next to it. But that’s when we first hung out with those dudes, and we were like “OK, next weekend we’re gonna practice,” and we went back to this other party where a friend of ours was dating this girl, and I’ll never forget it because we were telling everybody: “Hey, we’re gonna be in a band.”

We were just freaking out. It was the biggest fucking thing ever. “We’re gonna be in this band, and we met these guys, and we’re gonna practice next week,” and of course everybody else is like “Oh cool.” [Laughs] To them it didn’t a whole lot. I mean, they were happy for us, but we were thinking “Dude, we’re gonna rule the metal world.” [Laughs] That was our thing, and we were gonna be the best, and that was my first band. It was called Corpsegrinder. It’s an old Death song, and that’s where we got it. When I first started doing it I just did it because I loved singing. I loved doing it. And then my friend Jeff was like “Dude, you know all the lyrics. You gotta be singing.” Then I started thinking about doing it and wanting to be in a band, and then it ended up happening.

Of course two years later after we did Corpsegrinder I ended up meeting Lee Harrison and going down to Fort Lauderdale, and we did Monstrosity, and then five years later Alex calls me up to do this, and the rest is history. I just started listening to music, though, and it had to be heavier. I just started singing in my room, and people ask me if I ever had vocal lessons, and I say “No,” but I really did. I had lessons from all the guys I tried to emulate. I remember one time I went to Godfrey’s Ballroom – I’m from Baltimore originally. I went to Godfrey’s Ballroom, though, and I saw Death. They were supposed to play with this Canadian band called DBC, but they cancelled, and I was really bummed about it but we were there to see Death, too. We had Scream Bloody Gore, and our friend Matt was really into them, and he had all their demos, so we’d already heard them for years, but I’ll tell you, I think some bands when you hear them on the record – and I’d heard Chuck Schuldiner and I thought he was awesome – but man…when I saw them play and Leprosy was just about to come out, they played a lot of songs off that, and they played a lot of older stuff.

They played songs that weren’t even on Scream Bloody Gore, and man, they opened up with “Infernal Death,” and when I heard Chuck do that scream, that “Diiiiieee!!!” I was like “That’s what I wanna do. I don’t care about any other kind of vocals. I wanna do those kind of screams.” Him and Rob Urbinati from Sacrifice were the big influence on me as far as like any of the high stuff. It’s those two guys. I gave up the pursuit of trying to do Rob Halford vocals. Even though he’s awesome! I gave up trying to be Dio because I just fucking fell in love with heavy singing. I just loved and love the aggressiveness.

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There’s such a commonality with those beginnings when it comes to heavy metal. Those early bands, that handful of bands have been the primer for a whole culture of music, really.

Absolutely. Yeah, man. You find and you just hear something, and it makes you go: “That. That’s it.” You hear a band that changes everything for you. Celtic Frost was really probably one of the first heavy, heavy bands that I heard. Or really Hellhammer. There was a lot of stuff coming out, and then there was Possessed, but Celtic Frost really grabbed me. Just the way they looked and the fucking lyrics, I don’t know, that was just one of the first bands where I just started freaking out. That was outside of the box of fucking Accept. Accept was kind of in the middle because Udo’s voice was more scratchy and rough. Everybody else like Halford’s got a great singing voice and Dio and Dickinson, too, and so is Udo, but it’s more like this screech that’s almost in the middle where you think he’s gonna use this thrashy death kind of voice. It’s rough and raw. It sounded like he was gonna fight you.

But obviously when you hear Tom G. Warrior singing, it’s totally different. We did some shows with Triptykon, and we shared a bus with them and of course I was in total awe. I just told him about my love for Celtic Frost and how I played “Dethroned Emperor” with my first band. I could sing it and play it on the drums. So I told Tom G. Warrior this story, and it was just an honor sitting there talking to him, and he was like “Well hey, in London, you should come and sing it with us on stage,” and I was like “Really?! Fuck yeah! I’ll definitely do it.” I go tell those guys, and Paul our drummer, he loves Frost as much as I do, and he’s like “Dude, you gotta do that,” and of course London is like 2,500 people or something. For a little bit during the day I was honestly like “Dude, I don’t know if I can do this.”

And our tour manager at the time just comes up to me and says “Listen, Fisher, you fucking pussy. If you back out of this, you’re never gonna forgive yourself. And you know this song like you know your fucking penis.” And I was just nervous because it’s Celtic Frost, and I remember Enslaved were there because they were on the bill, and I’m just sitting there next to a trash can just dry heaving. I was freaking out. I knew if I got through the first line it would be all fucking good, and I did. I just stood there, and I headbanged, and I sang. Tom G. Warrior came over and hugged me, and it was just like “Fuck yeah.” I told him “Thank you for letting me do that, dude.” That’s probably one of the greatest thrills of my life. 

Thanks to George for his time.

                           SfB is on: Facebook - Twitter - Instagram - iTunes

SfB Podcast 014: THE RUSH-CAST

Special guest Adrien Begrand (Decibel, Terrorizer, Iron Fist, NPR, and more) returns to SfB for an hour’s worth of conversation regarding the single greatest band to ever exist in all of recorded human history: RUSH. 

Guest(s): 

Adrien Begrand (@basementgalaxy) 

Contributors:

Erik Highter (@EZSnappin)

Jonathan K Dick (@Jonathan_K_Dick)

 

Questions? Concerns? Comments? Diatribe draft?

Email SfB at: sfbpodcast@gmail.com 

                                  SfB is on: Facebook - Twitter - Instagram 

What Fresh Hell: A Conversation With Jef Whitehead

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photo credit: Mark Dawursk 

For all that American black metal has offered in the way of various interpretations and permutations of the genre, no artist or band has been as utterly polarizing as Leviathan. Helmed solely by Jef Whitehead (or Wrest), Leviathan’s placement in the history of USBM is as sure as the scrutiny, both justifiable and not, that will come along with its inclusion. Next year will see the release of Leviathan’s eighth full-length, tentatively titled Scar Sighted. Whitehead’s previous two releases as Leviathan: 2011’s mercurial True Traitor, True Whore and 2008’s masterpiece Massive Conspiracy Against All Life, were both striking and wholly unforgiving black metal albums, replete with desolation that didn’t simply pour out of the words, it bled through every note of the music as well. Whitehead’s music, whether with Lurker of Chalice, the flawless Black One from Sunn O))), or any of his various collaborations is incredibly distinctive and recognizable both for the bile-throated retch of his vocals and the misanthropic fester of the music wavering between the mouth of hell and a waking nightmare. The music of Leviathan stands alone not simply for its contributions to the black metal world but for the fact that the world it creates is one devoid of fantastical demonology or mythos. Leviathan’s world is one that’s terrifyingly real and grotesque, offering a glimpse into a mind that’s hauntingly familiar and dangerous. SfB asked Whitehead a few questions about the upcoming record as well as what’s changed for the better in the last few years. 


My first question concerns the new Leviathan album and whether or not you approached this record differently as opposed to previous Leviathan material, Jef. Is there a distinction for you with how you’ve initially come to write each individual album, or is it more of a creative continuum for you that you’re able to draw from? Or perhaps a combination of both?

I feel like I was much more prepared for this record: working out arrangements, harmonies, lyrics beforehand. As with a lot of LVTHN material, I’m trying to play above my musical abilities. There’s a lot of death metal played around the house, and I think maybe it shows on this record.


A great deal has changed for you on a personal level since 2011’s True Traitor, True Whore. Looking at where you were both creatively and personally at that time to where you are now three years later as a new father, in a stable relationship, and with the impending release of new Leviathan material, have you seen your relationship to the music you create and your perspective on it evolve or change due to those significant changes in your personal life?

Although the circumstances and headspace while making True Traitor, True Whore were brutally fucked, my personal life was not the only inspiration for that record. Things were very tenuous, and I wasted a lot of time being as drunk as possible during that period. Inspiration and energy-wise I feel like I’ve returned to a personal space where I can attempt to form what I hear in my head. That’s what it’s always been about: striving (clumsily at times) to execute what I hear all day, everyday to make music that I would want to hear. My girlfriend, Stevie, is a never-ending inspiration for me. We make art and listen to our favorite music everyday. Shit, I’ve got an amazing woman in my life that gets really excited about Krisiun. [Laughs]  We’ve also been working on our project, Devout, quite a bit. The birth of our daughter, Grail, has of course been quite a life changing experience. Makes one realize there is innocence in this world.

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Do you find that stability in your personal life intersects with creative productivity, or are those things removed and entirely separate from each other for you?

I never imagined I’d be where I am now, but the past two amazing years don’t erase the previous 44. It’s just easier to create music when I’m not destroying myself at every turn. 


You’ve indicated before that lyrics are important to you, and it’s something I find fascinating from the standpoint that so often the misconception exists that metal lyrics are, by and large, irrelevant, especially when considering “harsh” vocals. Much of your lyrical subject matter with Leviathan has focused on themes of suicide, abuse, and a very palpable and unsettling sense of misanthropy. Do you see the relationship between the lyrics you write and the atmosphere created by the music itself as a crucial kind of duality that mirrors your own creative introspection of who you are? That is, does the art mimic reality?

"Where words fail, music speaks." All is meant as a catharsis – a purge of things inexpressible. The lyrics and music on Scar Sighted definitely reflect/initiate each other. What’s a misconception is that all my lyrical content over the years has been dismissed as suicidal/abuse related. Much is/has been about truths and secrets not revealed in this life and/or time and the slow road to understanding what’s possible while still here.

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What headspace do you find yourself in while writing and is that creative place one that’s always been readily available, or do you find that creative process to be incredibly tedious?

The ideas and “writing” are always there. I have been slowly acquiring recording gear, so that I can make these expressions exist whenever I want to in the moment. The new record and the last one have been in the studio with Billy Anderson and Sanford Parker, which has been an amazing experience. A lot of what I do is “off the cuff” I guess, worked out while recording, and that way of making music isn’t exactly perfect for the pro studio setting. It’s necessary for me to be able to drop everything and record the minute that something hits me.


Your work as a tattoo artist is incredibly well renowned in its own right, Jef. From the standpoint of the visual medium versus the auditory, do you see those two worlds as parallel for you just from an artistic perspective?

I did all of the visual expressions for Scar Sighted,but I’ve always tried to keep my profession out of the music I make. The art I do for a living could never convey what I attempt musically. The visual expressions related to Scar Sighted are very different emotionally and physically from the art I create for others.

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Based on the incredible amount of texture and density alone in your work with Leviathan, do you find yourself constructing certain mental images or landscapes while writing music? If so, is that done consciously or do you see it more as instinctive?

Any visuals experienced on my end are after the formation of the music, when listening back to it. I definitely spent more time with this material trying to create/purge a balance between vastness and bleakness.


What brought you to music initially? Was there a specific song or artist that resonated with you in the very beginning that worked as that first sort of creative inspiration for you?

I have played drums since I can remember and have always had such a powerful response to music. I’m unable to tune any music out, unfortunately. I am still obsessed with finding new, at least to me, music everyday. To cite one specific artist or song would be impossible.

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As distinctive as your vocal style is, I’m curious to know what artists or sounds you see as directly influential to how you developed your vocalizations?

Great question. For this record that would be N. Imperial, Sir N., Swartadaupaz, Craig Pillard, MkM, and Lenny Smith. Neill is in my top three vokillers!


You’ve mentioned previously that you have a considerable amount of unreleased Lurker of Chalice material. Is that something you plan on eventually releasing in the future?

I plan to release demos of all my various attempts at music with our budding label, Devout Records. Obviously, there will be some Lurkings.

What lies ahead for you in 2014 with regards to the new Leviathan album and do you see any possibility for live performances in the future?

If I play live music, I’m a drummer so to have another do vocals would create a cover band in my mind. With LVTHN I’ve never had the having to perform the songs live thing in my head, which is very freeing. In my opinion, the live performance isn’t the vehicle for a lot of expressions. It should be selfishly experienced alone.  Stevie and I are fine-tuning our project, Devout, and we’re hoping to get that out soon, and I’ve already got a lot of ideas for the next LVTHN record. Working with Mr. Bruni has always been stellar, and I hope to work with Billy again soon too.

Thanks to Jef for his time. 

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In the Style of Demons: A Conversation With Dylan Carlson

photo credit: Andrew Beardsworth

Dylan Carlson laughs a lot. What would be a sophistic observation for anyone else is a striking point of reference when it comes to the mind behind one of heavy music’s most integral bands over the last quarter century, Earth. Carlson’s sense of humor and lightheartedness have come at a great and sometimes terrible price in a story all too fitting for the tired narrative of rock and roll’s relationship with addiction and self-destruction. A death knell for the creativity of so many young and promising musicians and artists - some of which Carlson once counted as friends and colleagues - addiction is too often given the platform of fascination for all it does in those stories that not only end but end tragically for those friends, bandmates, and families involved.

But Carlson’s story did not end where so many likely and understandably saw yet another too soon familiar twilight of an otherwise brilliant career. In fact, Carlson’s story continues today with Earth, collaborations with various other artists, and an outstanding solo debut released earlier this year. Though based in speculation, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Carlson’s laughter and self-contentment is born from those dark corners of reality that undoubtedly inform the overwhelming depth and breadth of his music.

Earth’s most recent full-length, Primitive and Deadly, is a testament not only to the labor and care that Carlson places into every facet of his compositions. The album is empirical proof that as formidable an enemy as addiction may be, it doesn’t have to fate an artist to failure. For every sustained note and wave of reverb that circulates through his music, there is that sense of accomplishment and gratitude for Carlson. It’s the reason he continues to create. It’s the reason he laughs. It’s the reason he’s alive and the world is far better for it. Carlson recently spoke to SfB about the journey to Primitive and Deadly and what’s most healing about rock and roll.  


Coming into this LP, Primitive and Deadly, and looking at Earth’s career as a band as well as your career and the music you’ve been creating since 1989 – was there a different approach coming into this record as opposed to Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light?

With Angles of Darkness, Demons of Light I had some really bad health problems  right before we did it and we did a two week tour with Wolves in the Throne Room on the West Coast before we hit the studio. There were some riffs, obviously, but in general that was a very improvisatory record and it was recorded a lot like a jazz record. The band was all in the same room and we all played together and there was a minimum of overdubbing. What we played was what we had. The most improvisatory song was the title track where we just rolled tape and went for it and that’s what came out. We did obviously a lot of material in two weeks that we had to record. Part of that was the chemistry of the band and then part of that, at the time, was me thinking this might be my last record.

I guess I have a lot get out. Obviously, my health improved. I survived. With this record, in addition to the improvisational thing, was my obsession with English folk-rock and English folklore. It was a big influence on this record. At that point, I’d decided to leave Earth free to do what Earth does. I had gotten to the point of doing the same album over and over so I started doing those solo projects to sort of allow that obsession to continue while leaving Earth free to do what the next Earth thing was gonna be. This record is a lot more composed, the songs are a lot more structured; it’s a little tighter album in that way. The one song “Even Hell Has Its Heroes” has kind of jam in the middle, I always try to leave a little room for winging it, but in general this album was much more composed.

I started working on it at the end of 2012. Like “Even Hell Has Its Heroes” was written in Perth during a sound check. There’s one song, “Rooks Across the Gates,” which originally was going to be part of my solo thing because it’s a folky murder ballad, but Adrienne decided she really liked it and wanted it as an Earth song. I’ve changed it a bit. The other songs, you might say, my mid-life crisis record, I found myself increasingly listening to the music that influenced my earliest years, like hard rock, metal, AC/DC, UFO, Scorpions, stuff like that and then I also wanted this record to be more of a guitar record, we’ve brought in different elements before recently like the trombone, keyboards, cello, and I wanted this one to be more of a guitar record.

We had toured as a power trio in the 2012 tour of the East, Far East and I liked that format and it gave me some more space, I guess. If I’m playing with a larger ensemble, I’m more of a key player, kind of holding stuff down, so the trio allows me to step out a bit. We had an opportunity to work with some people that I’ve worked with before or known a while, and also some new collaborators. Brett Nelson I’ve known a long time, since like the second Earth show in Seattle. Jodie had played with me on my Latitude Session, so it was nice to bring them in to add some extra guitar. Bill Herzog, I’ve known for a while, we’ve toured with Jesse Sykes and he obviously played with Sunn on Altar and Ensemble Pearl.

He played a couple of shows with Earth in Seattle, so it was nice to get him back in a way. Mark Lanegan is an amazing singer, and I’ve known him since ’87. We’d always talked about doing something together, but it’s never worked out due to schedules and life getting in the way so this was an opportunity finally to do something with him. He was kind enough to sing my lyrics on the one song “Rooks Across the Gates” and then write the lyrics for “There is a Serpent Coming.” Then Rose Windows is a Seattle band originally from San Antonio that moved up here and are on Subpop now, and I quite like them. Randall Dunn, who worked on the record, has worked with them and put us in touch with her, so she was kind enough to contribute lyrics and vocals to the other songs – the three that have vocals.


 

You mentioned this album being more guitar-centric, and you wanting to go back to those early rock roots for you. Where was that for you in the beginning when you first discovered this power of sound and this music? Was there a specific moment for you where you knew this was the path you’d take?

Yeah, definitely. I mean, my earliest memory of music was – I mean, my parents were both younger. I was born in ’68. They were both nineteen, so they were obviously into music and stuff like that. I often joke that the reason why I’m a Deadhead is my mother was eight months pregnant with me and went to see Grateful Dead, so my first Dead show was a womb experience. [Laughs] She had some really good taste in music. She turned me on to the Velvet Underground, and the Doors, and stuff like that. My dad, he liked country and some other stuff, and I grew up hearing Dylan, the Allman Brothers, and that stuff. The first thing I remember hearing musically, I remember being in the car riding with my dad and this song would pop into my head, and I didn’t know the name of the song, but I’d hear the solos in my head when we were driving.

I later came to realize that song was “Free Bird.” I think the moment where it really gelled for me was when I was eleven, and I first heard AC/DC. I made a little money mowing lawns and whatnot, and my dad took me to the store, and I bought Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and then it was like that moment it was “Alright, this is all I wanna do. I wanna be in a rock and roll band.” It took me a few more years to get a guitar and sort of realize that it was something I could do because I didn’t come from a musical family. I had an aunt that played cello and then another aunt that played piano, but no one played guitar.

I think I was sixteen when I got my first guitar and sort of never looked back and never wanted to do anything else from that moment on except play music, and I have the grade point average to prove it. [Laughs] It’s funny. I was listening to AC/DC and then going to my first rock concert the same year which was Molly Hatchet and Saxon at the San Antonio Civic. Then I got to see Black Sabbath on the Mob Rules tour with the Outlaws opening, and I think only in that part of the world would there still be bills like that in the early 80s. It’d always be a sort of heavy metal band and then a Southern rock band. [Laughs]


 

You’ve always had a deep appreciation for and fascination with folklore, especially English folklore, Dylan. How did that come about and how have you seen that gradually become a very important part of your personal and also creative perspective?

If I’m gonna pick where it started, it would probably be my mother’s parents. My grandfather at the time was in the Navy in World War II, and he was stationed in England and that’s where he met my grandmother who was Scottish. They eventually married, and she came over in 1947. I’m gonna have to try and look back up the name of the town he was in, but he was in one of the towns where they had what they called a “White Lady” or a “Grey Lady” which is kind of a death omen. One of the nights that he was on the ward, three of his buddies wanted him to sneak out with them to go to a cockfight, and he didn’t go. That night he saw the Grey Lady walking and heard her scream, and those three guys were killed in a car wreck coming back from the fight.

Obviously grandparents like to tell stories, and I think that one is a little darker than some, but there was that and my grandmother used to tell me some of the Scottish stuff like the Brahan Seer and some stuff like that, and I think that kind of percolated in my tiny brain and then of course growing up on heavy metal there’s plenty of swords and sorcery. [Laughs] When I was twelve, weirdly enough in my middle school library, considering it was Texas which the people who run the school system there are generally of the religious bent, there happened to be a book on Ritual Magick that talked about John Dee and summonings and Dr. Faust and all that kind of stuff. So then obviously at that age, too, I read H.P. Lovecraft and then Michael Moorcock and what they call fantasy literature.

Through H.P. Lovecraft I discovered Arthur Machen, and I think that sort of percolated down inside and then of course growing up in the Northwest – I mean, I moved a lot, but eventually I moved back to the Northwest – but I lived in Germany for five years as a child and of course there’s the Black Forest and castles and that kind of stuff. We used to visit England in the 70s and go to Scotland to visit the family, and then also just being interested in Native American stuff as child. After we did Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I was on a press trip and had a couple of, I don’t know what you’d call them, but supernatural or ultranatural experiences that really kind of brought it all home and together in a very visceral way. That sort of kicked it into overdrive. I also come from a family of history buffs. My grandfather was a history buff. My father had a degree in Latin American history. My brother became a Latin American history professor and is now an archivist in San Antonio. I’ve just always had this sort of historical bent.


Do you see that historical bent informing your work more so now than when you first began creating music?

I think it’s been there from the get-go. There was always this darker element that crept in. Darker to most people, I guess. I don’t really view it that way. But yeah, definitely I think the early records had gnostic themes and sort of occult or magickal themes. Titles like “Thrones and Dominions” and of course obviously there’ve been a lot of angels and demons in the metal cycle over the years. [Laughs] I remember when that Black Sabbath album Born Again came out I was really excited about it because I loved Ian Gillan, and it was the first Black Sabbath album that came out new that I could buy, and I bought it and then the very next week they banned that cover in Texas because it was just too Satanic. Then there was a kid at our school who wore a Rush t-shirt to school with the guy standing in front of the star, and they made him turn it inside out while he was at school. [Laughs] 


 

Given the fact that so much of what you’ve created has helped influence a number of artists and musicians, I’m curious as to how you’ve seen yourself evolve both personally musically in the time period since you first began creating music of your own, Dylan.

I like to think that I’ve improved as a guitar player over those years. Commensurate with that I like to think that I’ve improved as a human being. Obviously the Sub Pop years while musically creative, I was caught up in drugs and stuff, and there’s that whole thing where you can’t serve two masters. I kind of let the music slip eventually, which accounts for the missing years, dealing with the fallouts – legal fallouts and personal fallouts of bad choices, and then when I came back to music I originally was just gonna play guitar again because I wanted to play guitar. I didn’t really have a plan where I was like “Oh, I’m gonna play Earth again.” I just sort of started doing it because I wanted to play guitar again. I hadn’t played guitar in a few years. I just started playing, and then just by sheer happenstance Randall Dunn and John Schuler tracked me down where I worked and just showed up one day and asked if I wanted to play a show. [Laughs]

They also wanted to know would it be an Earth show, and I was like “Yeah, okay.” All of what we were doing at that time, I kind of view that era like living in the gleam of the unsheathed sword. I call it my “therapy rock” era because it was sort of getting all this stuff out. [Laughs] Just cleaning the slate to really move forward. At first I was torn like “Should I just do Earth again, or should this be a different project?” Because I didn’t just wanna do Earth again to seem like “Oh, he’s just doing that because the name’s already out there or whatever.” But I figured within the things that I think of as Earth, I think there’s a lot of wiggle room and way to do things. I think a different way each time while also maintaining continuity.

Obviously the rest is history, and it seems like each album we did people were saying “Oh, it’s this micro-genre,” and I’ve always just been like “Earth is just a slow rock band, and that’s what we do.” Mostly instrumental, and I just try to do music and let the marketers and critics decide where they wanna put it. I think in a lot of ways that’s been the strength of Earth. From a marketing or business standpoint it’s not the best because it seems like nowadays people want something they can easily be like “Oh, it’s that or it’s that or that” and stuff.


 

photo credit: Mehdi Benkler

You mentioning that kind of purging or cleansing that Earth’s music provides you with makes complete sense, especially in the context that these songs are slow and deliberately labored. They’re a living sort of process that in many ways mirrors catharsis where you embody the sound and vice versa.

When I make music, and I don’t wanna make this sound pretentious either, but it represents a moment in time and a moment in existence that I hope when we do it right that it’s music that transcends its era, its moment. I’ve used the analogy before where I feel like music is this continuum that as a musician you tap into, and you’re sort of a conduit for it and obviously the conduit is shaped by your likes and dislikes and influences, how you feel that day, and how you’ve felt that year, and the music flows through and takes a shape based on that vessel. It’s like you’re trying to connect with this continuum of music that goes all the way back to ancient times.

That’s why I appreciate when people say I’ve been an influence or I’ve been a seminal artist and all that. It’s gratifying, but I also think my ego got in the way back in the end when I had to leave music, and so I try and step back and be like “I appreciate that, and I’m glad people enjoy it and count me as an influence,” but I don’t think anyone’s invented anything. I think people take their influences and transform them and do something. Obviously there’s people that set out to be like “We’re gonna be this kind of band” which I don’t quite understand. [Laughs] I hope I’m doing justice to my influences and am doing something that’s unique and represents my take on this thing.


Looking at those SubPop years you mentioned and where you did in fact step away from the music, that wasn’t something entirely foreign to what was happening in that Seattle scene in the early 90s. Now, nearly a quarter century later you’re as creatively focused and driven and even more so than you were then. Not only that, you’ve managed to retain that forward thinking creativity that was so endemic to that scene in particular during that time, and you’ve carried it through when so many others were essentially casualties of the same addictions that nearly took your life.

I think the thing about Earth was we were – I mean, there were a lot of creative, good bands from Seattle in that era. I don’t think anyone set out to be like “We’re doing this.” It was just people doing bands, and then obviously it got noticed and major labels came in and figured they could market it, and so then this kind of sheen was sort of put over everything. It’s funny. Seattle was so small, and it was like you saw everyone from every band at every party and at every show. Everyone was present and accounted for, I guess you could say. And then it was funny, when the next generation of that happened, and the majors started trying to sell bands like Candlebox or whatever, and they were like “Candlebox is from Seattle!” I was like “No, they’re not because I’ve never seen those guys anywhere in town.”

You’d see everyone, even someone like Geoff Tate from Queensrÿche you’d see walking down the street, so it was like you knew who was from Seattle or Washington, because there’s other towns like Olympia and Aberdeen. The thing about Earth is that we were always kind of different from what else was going on. It’s funny. Being on SubPop was good, and I appreciate the opportunity that SubPop gave me, and I don’t think we’d be as well known if we hadn’t been on SubPop, but also at the same time everything has its upside and its downside. I think there were a lot of people who bought anything on SubPop and were like “Why are these guys here?” Some people who would’ve liked us but who didn’t like SubPop were like “Ugh, I’m not gonna buy from that label.” [Laughs] It’s funny too because we’re not a band that went to a major.

We weren’t super high profile and didn’t sell a lot of records and stuff, but somehow we were like this little germ that just kept eating away at people’s ideas. It’s really gratifying to be one of the few bands left standing after all of that, especially since we weren’t hugely successful. I think Earth 2, the first year it came out, sold like 2,000 copies which considering how people view that album now, it’s like it wasn’t that way then. [Laughs] There was a very small group of people that got it from the start and it’s much appreciated. I appreciate everyone from the hardcore original folks to the people just discovering us because if it wasn’t for them I’d be who knows what – somewhere else.


 

Thinking about experimentation in music and what’s progressed for not only bands but for listeners in terms of how and to what extent we’re able to experience and absorb art and music, but as far as experimental music is concerned now the movements within heavy music are so often centered around slowing that experience down and pushing the boundaries not with more but with less. It’s something you guys in Earth were doing long before it was “acceptable,” and now that we’re seeing more and more bands and artists adopt that kind of sonic minimalism, is that something you see as more relevant than ever in our present day culture of immediacy?

Hm. It’s interesting. I think it’s funny because I’ll have a lot of people come up to me at shows and rattle off all these noise artists and avant-garde composers and stuff like that, and some of them I’m aware of, but it’s not really what I listen to. Like I said, I view us as sort of a weird rock band. I don’t think rock and roll is a dirty word or if it’s a dirty word then it’s a good dirty word. I think bands in our – I don’t know if it’s a genre or just a group of fellow travelers or however you wanna word it – I think people want to see bands that can get up on stage and play because there’s so much stuff now that’s like all the major pop acts which are like these huge shows with banners and video screens if they even play live. Electronic dance music – obviously it’s more about dancing and what kind of chemicals you’ve ingested.

Not that I’m making a judgment, but it’s usually a guy with a laptop and a couple of things to play around with. I think there’s still something to be said for a band that gets up on stage every night and lays it down and plays instruments, as archaic as that may sound in the 21st century. But it seems to me that people are looking for that, you know? I think that’s one of the best things about it. I think our core audience is definitely on the metal end of the spectrum, and I know metal now is a weighted term because it means so many things to different people, but to me it’s like hard rock, heavy metal from Sabbath on. It’s a certain way of approaching things, but I think that a) those people are really into music, and b) they don’t follow trends, and they wanna see people play live, and once they like you, they like you to the end of the road unless you do something egregious.

I’ve also noticed over the years we’ve managed to keep that core audience well. We’ve been really lucky to keep this core audience and attract new audiences that are everything from kids to older dudes that like improve music and younger dudes that like improv music. I keep noticing more different kind of folks at the shows, and that’s just really exciting to me. To me, and maybe it’s because I’m a Deadhead, but I’ve always liked how the Dead viewed the audience as just as important to the show as the band. It’s the strength about live music that we’re all there creating this moment in time that’s not gonna happen again. There’ll be other shows, but it won’t be that show, and it won’t be that moment in time. Everyone there is part of that, and I think that’s what’s cool about live music is just that energy that the audience gives a band and the band gives the audience. I’m probably sounding really hippie right now. [Laughs]


Nah. I’m a Deadhead too, so you’re in good company.

I think it’s so funny because there’s not a lot of people into the Dead in Europe, but it’s interesting to me because they have a totally different view of the Dead than the average American seems to. They just see them as a band, and they either like the music or they don’t. So many people in America seem to me to just – they’ve decided they didn’t like the audience and don’t even know what the band sounds like. [Laughs]


 

That relationship you have with the audience as well as the one you have with your own music makes me think about the solo record that was released earlier this year. It’s something you’d wanted to do for a long time, especially given the fact that this was a soundtrack. How do you see that relationship between the auditory and the visual, and are those conceptualizations of art somewhat inseparable for you? Do you find yourself creating visual images or accessing memory consciously in order to create sound?

Well, with Gold it was definitely that way because basically they were filming it as I was in the studio, so I was getting rough cuts to write to. Like basically I’d roll the film and play. It was interesting because they gave me pretty free reign, and then at one point towards the end, the director came down with the finished or mostly finished cut. That’s the thing about movies – they get altered quite a few times before they get shown. So we sat down, and we went over what I’d done, and he said “Oh, I like this part here, but you could try something different here? Could we move this part to that part? I’d rather have silence on this part and then move that to this part,” so doing a soundtrack in that way is a lot different than doing a record, where with a record the record is the only focus and the most important part.

With the soundtrack you’re kind of sublimating where the film is the important part and the director’s decision is the important part, so you have to be able to stand back and not be too attached to anything. Luckily they really liked what I did, and it was a very minimal thing of like “Let’s take this part out, and I’d rather have this part here.” There was like one part I think we went back and did a completely different track. Ultimately it’s like I gave it to them to do with what they wanted. It’s the movie and that vision is the primary vision. It’s not quite the same as doing an album. In a lot of ways that’s very freeing.

I learned early on not to be a super control freak with music because ultimately when you do music you’re not gonna pick your best moment, your best song, or your best show. There may be ones that you personally like the best or you thought were really good, but ultimately someone else is deciding “No, that song was the song, and that show was the show,” and that was something I learned early on was to divorce those things. I have my critical faculties on when I’m creating it, but at a certain point I have to just let it go into the world and do what it’s gonna do and not be too caught up in it. 


Thanks to Dylan for his time.


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