Published in Sweden Rock Magazine #42 March/April 2007
Swedish Death Metal – 9/10
Jag var inte med när det hände, och de som var det borde nästan vara döda vid det här laget. Det känns faktiskt så. Det var ju så längesedan, och de söp ju så kopiöst. Sons of Satan, en tidig upplaga av Nihilist, drog sina första dödsriff redan 1986.
Återupplivade Grotesque, Nirvana 2002 och Interment låter dock oerhört vitala när de på releasefesten för Daniel ”Dellamorte” Ekeroths betongbibel Swedish Death Metal headbangar sig igenom idel dödshits som inte framförts på tusen år.
- Om alla band lät så här skulle jag gå på gig varje dag, säger en märkbart rörd och rusig Danne och skelar med blicken.
Snubben har all rätt att skela en sån här kväll. Han har skapat en tegelsten. 500 sidor väger en hel del, och jag fick rätt ont i handlederna när jag läste den.
Efter hemkomst från festen sträckläste jag till klockan sex på morgonen och innan hjärnan gav upp var jag bara tvungen att kräma på Shreds of Flesh från Entombeds But Life Goes On-demo på högsta jävla volym. Grannarna fick ta det denna arla lördagsmorgon, jag är ju så löjligt kolugn annars.
För det är så här bra musikjournalistik fungerar. Man blir peppad på att lyssna på plattor. Det behöver inte vara mycket djupare än så. Det är musiken som gäller och det är den som Danne fokuserar på. Han viker knappt en tum.
Den maniske nörden finner givetvis detta lysande. Den förvirrade posören som vigt sitt liv åt image och yta kanske inte blir lika begeistrad. Det här är ingen Lords of Chaos.
Ekeroth skriver engagerat, lättsamt och personligt – som i ett riktigt bra fanzine. Jämfört med andra otaliga exposéartade musikböcker jag plöjt genom åren – böcker som tett sig som döda i ordets rätta bemärkelse – så andas Dannes texter hängivelse. Vilken befrielse!
Den sarkastiska tonen infinner sig när författaren närmar sig black metal – genren som avlivade hans älskade dödsmetall. Det är helt rätt, han måste skriva subjektivt annars blir det aldrig genuint. Jag ler brett när han avslutar texten om Lord Belial med följande rader:
”Though their image is extreme, the music is pretty mellow – which figures if you think about the fact that they have used five flute players in the band.”
Och därpå följer en fulländad medlemspresentation – både gamla och nuvarande medlemmar radas upp – samt en komplett diskografi. Kapitel tio – ett bandindex – landar på 125 sidor och Danne lyckas avhandla nästan tusen konstellationer utan att tappa udden alltför ofta. Innan dess har vi fått 315 sidor svensk death metal-historik att förundras över – en översikt som givetvis börjar med Asocial och dylik råpunk i början av 80-talet. Resterande utrymme vigs åt affischer, flyers, omslag och logos som i all sin enkelhet sammanfattar den unika dödsestetiken. Glömde jag nämna genomgången av en bra bit över hundra death metal-fanzines? Att Dauthus, kanske världens främsta fanzine alla kategorier, inte nämns är dock en smärre gåta.
Ni fattar att man får ont i handlederna av det här. Det är helt enkelt jävligt tungt!
Upplägget i historikdelen är lysande. Sedvanlig genomgång blandas med mängder av insprängda citat från de nyligen gjorda intervjuerna (drygt 30 av scenens mest framträdande personer har utfrågats), vilket håller intresset uppe. Danne väljer att avsluta det maniska grävandet kring år 1992, det år då alla hade hittat ett band att spela i och kunde stå med armarna i kors istället för att röja. Han fortsätter dock i ett lugnare tempo och avslutar i Uppsala 2007 med Katalysator: ett gäng totalt hängivna fans i moppeåldern som ser ut som Nihilist och låter som Grotesque. Lysande!
Är det något jag saknar så är det ett register i någon form. Vill man veta vilken dödsplatta som Rex Gisslén (ja, den Rex Gisslén, han från Shanghai) producerade får man snällt lita på sitt tålamod och goda minne.
Och givetvis uppstår en mängd felaktigheter. Vissa bandpresentationer kunde ha varit bättre uppdaterade. Bilderna kunde ha varit i färg. Och så vidare. Man kan leta fel och reta sig på mycket, men kan man inte uppskatta boken för vad den är – ett mästerverk – så är man bara bitter och dum i huvudet.
Dannes tidigare böcker, Violent Italy samt Svensk sensationsfilm, imponerade inte nämnvärt; tunna, amatörmässigt sammansatta och något torra. Swedish Death Metal däremot… Jag knäböjer, dyrkar och talar i tungor.
Only death is real!
SRM får mobilledes tag i Daniel precis när han äntrar Close-Up-båten ( i extrema kretsar även kallad ”rensjollen”) där han tänkt sälja sin bok.
Hur lång tid tog det att sammanställa boken?
- Fyra år. De två första åren satt jag och skrev lite då och då när det fanns tid, men de två sista åren var det ett heltidsjobb. Sista året körde jag i princip dygnet runt.
Hur finansierade du det hela?
- Jag sålde filmsamlingen – drygt 2 000 kassetter. Den var kanske värd 600 000 kronor, men jag fick inte så mycket eftersom jag sålde den i klump till en person.
Hur gjorde du för att avgränsa materialet?
- Från början var tanken att ta med allting inom death metal fram till idag, att skriva lika grundligt hela tiden, men det gick helt enkelt inte. Thrashkapitlen var på väg ut ett tag, men jag kände att de var nödvändiga i slutändan.
Hur gick du till väga för att spåra upp alla demos och fanzines?
- En del hade jag sedan tidigare, resten lånade jag. Jag lånade minst tvåtusen demos av en kille exempelvis. Det var ett jävla jobb att bara lyssna igenom allt. Man tappar omdömet efter ett tag, men då slängde jag bara på Nihilist för att få en referenspunkt. Nihilist, Grotesque och Merciless är de tre band som jag tycker är klart bäst inom genren.
Berätta mer om arbetet.
- Boken kom en dag innan releasefesten, så det var ju lite nervöst. Det var problem med allting. Det var inte lika lätt att göra en bok som ett fanzine, om man säger så. Ändrade man ett kommatecken så ändrades ungefär allting på alla sidor. Enbart layoutarbetet tog tre och en halv månad. Men vad fan, man vill ju göra någonting vettigt av sitt liv och det här tycker jag är vettigt.
Hur är det att skriva på engelska?
- Jag är hyfsad på engelska. Jag kollar mycket på Simpsons, så man har ju snott en och anna formulering här och var, haha! Och så har jag pluggat en hel del och därmed skrivit en mängd uppsatser, så då blir det hyfsat.
Vad blir nästa skrivprojekt?
- Ingen aning. Man tror jobbet är klart när boken är ute, men det här är totalt underground så jag gör allting själv. Varenda kväll går åt till att tejpa paket och fixa beställningar. Varenda bok som säljs går via mig. Och så har jag ett band som repar tre gånger i veckan, och ett heltidsjobb på det… Man blir rätt slut.
>Public Enemy were one of the very first — if not the first — groups to release an album on the internet (There’s a Poison Goin’ On was released on May 18 1999, the cd was released on July 20).
Ten years ago!
Since then, band leader Chuck D has been the most vocal supporter of file sharing in the music industry. He even testified before Congress in support of P2P and has been quoted saying “rap is devolving so much into a commercial enterprise, that the relationship between the rapper and the record label is that of slave to a master”.
Speaking of anti-materialism, anti-sexism and politically and socially conscious rap: “A lot of cats are out there doing it, on the web and all over. They’re just not placing their career in the hands of some major corporation.“
Chuck D is also involved in the cd set Let Freedom Sing: The Music of the Civil Rights and the follow-up movie Let Freedom Sing: How Music Inspired the Civil Rights Movement.
Here’s an old interview from the Stay Free Magazine with Chuck D and Hank Shocklee about how copyright law changed rap music and destroyed its creativity, and pretty much turned rap into crap overnight.
Interview by Kembrew McLeod. Original article found here. Swedish translation here.
When Public Enemy released It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, in 1988, it was as if the album had landed from another planet. Nothing sounded like it at the time. It Takes a Nation came frontloaded with sirens, squeals, and squawks that augmented the chaotic, collaged backing tracks over which P.E. frontman Chuck D laid his politically and poetically radical rhymes. He rapped about white supremacy, capitalism, the music industry, black nationalism, and–in the case of “Caught, Can I Get a Witness?”– digital sampling: “CAUGHT, NOW IN COURT ’ CAUSE I STOLE A BEAT / THIS IS A SAMPLING SPORT / MAIL FROM THE COURTS AND JAIL / CLAIMS I STOLE THE BEATS THAT I RAIL … I FOUND THIS MINERAL THAT I CALL A BEAT / I PAID ZERO.”
In the mid- to late 1980s, hip-hop artists had a very small window of oppor-tunity to run wild with the newly emerging sampling technologies before the record labels and lawyers started paying attention. No one took advantage of these technologies more effectively than Public Enemy, who put hundreds of sampled aural fragments into It Takes a Nation and stirred them up to create a new, radical sound that changed the way we hear music. But by 1991, no one paid zero for the records they sampled without getting sued. They had to pay a lot.
Stay Free! talked to the two major architects of P.E.‘s sound, Chuck D and Hank Shocklee, about hip-hop, sampling, and how copyright law altered the way P.E. and other hip-hop artists made their music.
* * *
Stay Free!: What are the origins of sampling in hip-hop?
Chuck D: Sampling basically comes from the fact that rap music is not music. It’s rap over music. So vocals were used over records in the very beginning stages of hip-hop in the 0s to the early ’80s. In the late 1980s, rappers were recording over live bands who were basically emulating the sounds off of the records. Eventually, you had synthesizers and samplers, which would take sounds that would then get arranged or looped, so rappers can still do their thing over it. The arrangement of sounds taken from recordings came around 1984 to 1989.
Stay Free!: Those synthesizers and samplers were expensive back then, especially in 1984. How did hip-hop artists get them if they didn’t have a lot of money?
Chuck D: Not only were they expensive, but they were limited in what they could do–they could only sample two seconds at a time. But people were able to get a hold of equipment by renting time out in studios.
Stay Free!: How did the Bomb Squad [Public Enemy’s production team, led by Shocklee] use samplers and other recording technologies to put together the tracks on It Takes a Nation of Millions.
Hank Shocklee: The first thing we would do is the beat, the skeleton of the track. The beat would actually have bits and pieces of samples already in it, but it would only be rhythm sections. Chuck would start writing and trying different ideas to see what worked. Once he got an idea, we would look at it and see where the track was going. Then we would just start adding on whatever it needed, depending on the lyrics. I kind of architected the whole idea. The sound has a look to me, and Public Enemy was all about having a sound that had its own distinct vision. We didn’t want to use anything we considered traditional R&B stuff–bass lines and melodies and chord structures and things of that nature.
Stay Free!: How did you use samplers as instruments?
Chuck D: We thought sampling was just another way of arranging sounds. Just like a musician would take the sounds off of an instrument and arrange them their own particular way. So we thought we was quite crafty with it.
Shocklee: “Don’t Believe the Hype,” for example–that was basically played with the turntable and transformed and then sampled. Some of the manipulation we was doing was more on the turntable, live end of it.
Stay Free!: When you were sampling from many different sources during the making of It Takes a Nation, were you at all worried about copyright clearance?
Shocklee: No. Nobody did. At the time, it wasn’t even an issue. The only time copyright was an issue was if you actually took the entire rhythm of a song, as in looping, which a lot of people are doing today. You’re going to take a track, loop the entire thing, and then that becomes the basic track for the song. They just paperclip a backbeat to it. But we were taking a horn hit here, a guitar riff there, we might take a little speech, a kicking snare from somewhere else. It was all bits and pieces.
Stay Free!: Did you have to license the samples in It Takes a Nation of Millions before it was released?
Shocklee: No, it was cleared afterwards. A lot of stuff was cleared afterwards. Back in the day, things was different. The copyright laws didn’t really extend into sampling until the hip-hop artists started getting sued. As a matter of fact, copyright didn’t start catching up with us until Fear of a Black Planet. That’s when the copyrights and everything started becoming stricter because you had a lot of groups doing it and people were taking whole songs. It got so widespread that the record companies started policing the releases before they got out.
Stay Free!: With its hundreds of samples, is it possible to make a record like It Takes a Nation of Millions today? Would it be possible to clear every sample?
Shocklee: It wouldn’t be impossible. It would just be very, very costly. The first thing that was starting to happen by the late 1980s was that the people were doing buyouts. You could have a buyout–meaning you could purchase the rights to sample a sound–for around $1,500. Then it started creeping up to $3,000, $3,500, $5,000, $7,500. Then they threw in this thing called rollover rates. If your rollover rate is every 100,000 units, then for every 100,000 units you sell, you have to pay an additional $7,500. A record that sells two million copies would kick that cost up twenty times. Now you’re looking at one song costing you more than half of what you would make on your album.
Chuck D: Corporations found that hip-hop music was viable. It sold albums, which was the bread and butter of corporations. Since the corporations owned all the sounds, their lawyers began to search out people who illegally infringed upon their records. All the rap artists were on the big six record companies, so you might have some lawyers from Sony looking at some lawyers from BMG and some lawyers from BMG saying, “Your artist is doing this,” so it was a tit for tat that usually made money for the lawyers, garnering money for the company. Very little went to the original artist or the publishing company.
Shocklee: By 1990, all the publishers and their lawyers started making moves. One big one was Bridgeport, the publishing house that owns all the George Clinton stuff. Once all the little guys started realizing you can get paid from rappers if they use your sample, it prompted the record companies to start investigating because now the people that they publish are getting paid.
Stay Free!: There’s a noticeable difference in Public Enemy’s sound between 1988 and 1991. Did this have to do with the lawsuits and enforcement of copyright laws at the turn of the decade?
Chuck D: Public Enemy’s music was affected more than anybody’s because we were taking thousands of sounds. If you separated the sounds, they wouldn’t have been anything–they were unrecognizable. The sounds were all collaged together to make a sonic wall. Public Enemy was affected because it is too expensive to defend against a claim. So we had to change our whole style, the style of It Takes a Nation and Fear of a Black Planet, by 1991.
Shocklee: We were forced to start using different organic instruments, but you can’t really get the right kind of compression that way. A guitar sampled off a record is going to hit differently than a guitar sampled in the studio. The guitar that’s sampled off a record is going to have all the compression that they put on the recording, the equalization. It’s going to hit the tape harder. It’s going to slap at you. Something that’s organic is almost going to have a powder effect. It hits more like a pillow than a piece of wood. So those things change your mood, the feeling you can get off of a record. If you notice that by the early 1990s, the sound has gotten a lot softer.
Chuck D: Copyright laws pretty much led people like Dr. Dre to replay the sounds that were on records, then sample musicians imitating those records. That way you could get by the master clearance, but you still had to pay a publishing note.
Shocklee: See, there’s two different copyrights: publishing and master recording. The publishing copyright is of the written music, the song structure. And the master recording is the song as it is played on a particular recording. Sampling violates both of these copyrights. Whereas if I record my own version of someone else’s song, I only have to pay the publishing copyright. When you violate the master recording, the money just goes to the record company.
Chuck D: Putting a hundred small fragments into a song meant that you had a hundred different people to answer to. Whereas someone like EPMD might have taken an entire loop and stuck with it, which meant that they only had to pay one artist.
Stay Free!: So is that one reason why a lot of popular hip-hop songs today just use one hook, one primary sample, instead of a collage of different sounds?
Chuck D: Exactly. There’s only one person to answer to. Dr. Dre changed things when he did The Chronic and took something like Leon Haywood’s “I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You” and revamped it in his own way but basically kept the rhythm and instrumental hook intact. It’s easier to sample a groove than it is to create a whole new collage. That entire collage element is out the window.
Shocklee: We’re not really privy to all the laws and everything that the record company creates within the company. From our standpoint, it was looking like the record company was spying on us, so to speak.
Chuck D: The lawyers didn’t seem to differentiate between the craftiness of it and what was blatantly taken.
Stay Free!: Switching from the past to the present, on the new Public Enemy album, Revolverlution, you had fans remix a few old Public Enemy tracks. How did you get this idea?
Chuck D: We have a powerful online community through Rapstation.com, PublicEnemy.com, Slamjams.com, and Bringthenoise.com. My thing was just looking at the community and being able to say, “Can we actually make them involved in the creative process?” Why not see if we can connect all these bedroom and basement studios, and the ocean of producers, and expand the Bomb Squad to a worldwide concept?
Stay Free!: As you probably know, some music fans are now sampling and mashing together two or more songs and trading the results online. There’s one track by Evolution Control Committee that uses a Herb Alpert instrumental as the backing track for your “By the Time I Get to Arizona.” It sounds like you’re rapping over a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass song. How do you feel about other people remixing your tracks without permission?
Chuck D: I think my feelings are obvious. I think it’s great.
Peter Sotos — controversial writer, thinker and musician, probably most famous for being arrested for obscenity because of his fanzine Pure (1984), as well as being a member of the power electronics group Whitehouse — is a man I’ve taken great interest in, pretty much because of what he says in interviews and what you can read between the lines in his explicit works.
Total Abuse is a collection of nearly all of Sotos’ texts between 1984–1995 (including Pure, Tool. and Parasite), and what I find most interesting with this book is the interview and introduction made by Jim Goad. I wrote about this in the paper issue of Ny Moral #1.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview where he talks about humanism and humanity.
Jim Goad: I’d like you to comment on this [line] from PARASITE #5: “Like most humanism, it conveniently doesn’t include humans.” Where has humanism gone astray? What are they not understanding about humanity?
Peter Sotos: Well, I think we’ve been talking about it, really. These people have these dreams and fantasies, it’s like people who decide when they’re two, or when they’re going to their first prom, they decide, “You know, mom, I wanna have a really high-paying job, and I want to have two kids, and someone who loves me, and go out on Friday nights to balls and dances”, whatever they think, I don’t know. And just their whole life shows you that that’s not gonna happen… And they still cling to these things, not as sort of dreams or fantasies, by the end they’re just these sorts of religious beliefs… And humanists, people who are just so concerned with the human element, with others and everyone’s care and concern, so boggled by the actual information that exists. But once again, you say this sort of stuff, and you sound as if you’re — as if I’m — upset. When, you know, the opposite is true. I’ve come to this from — it just seems obvious to me… People aren’t going to have these rosy little lives.
It seems like it’s wishful thinking that gets misunderstood as some kind of ontological verity.
Yeah, right. They’re dedicated to, you know, “Well, this was promised to me.” And they drive themselves crazy. But the thing is, I do like what life has to offer. I don’t want to sound like, “Nah, this is terrible. Why don’t these people wake up?” I mean, it really isn’t like that. I just think it’s a much more realistic viewpoint.
I hear some Amon Düül 2 in your works. Have they been a major influence? Other musical influences?
Amon Düül 2 is a huge influence on us, as is Amon Düül 1. We are also influenced by many classic psychedelic bands, classic doom bands, krautrock, and even some pop music. My personal influences are Slapp Happy, Glenn Danzig, Kate Bush, T2, Blue Cheer, Can, and Catherine Ribeiro. This band shares more influences collectively than any other band I know.
How important is symbolism to Jex Thoth?
Symbolism weaves its way in and out of our lyrics, but overall, we like to keep things fairly direct.
What’s your agenda? Why are you here doing what you do?
I do what i do because it’s what I do. I’d be doing this whether or not anybody cared. It’s nice that people do, though. I plan to recuit all of those I can recruit, and shake the souls of those I can’t.
Do you have a theme or message that is present in everything you do as a band?
Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality, but there is, unseen by most, an underworld — a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit — a dark side.
Can you name some non-music influences, like authors, directors, poets and so on?
There are a number of things that influenced me during the writing and recording of this record. One of them being the harsh weather conditions we endured during recording. I was also watching a lot of Jan Svankmajer films at the time, I love his films on so many levels. His worlds mix live action with sculpture, stop motion animation, puppetry, animals and so much more. Not only is he an amazing filmmaker but an outstanding visual artist as well. All of his works are super imaginative, dark, and surreal, with a clear message.
How come you ended up on I Hate Records?
Ola from I Hate reached out to us via our Myspace, and we were all very excited at the chance to work with him — we are all fans of the label.
Why the name change, from Totem to Jex Thoth?
There were already several other Totems, and in between the two recordings, we had a major lineup change, with Ezekial Blackouts moving overseas and Silas and Johnny Dee joining the lineup. At this time, it became obvious to me that we use my name, because I wanted a name that reflected my leadership of the band. All of the members have contributed tremendous ideas that can be heard on the record, but ultimately, it is my vision we execute.
When performing live, do you do anything special on stage or is it like watching an ordinary band?
There is nothing ordinary about this band, but we don’t enter on horseback or travel with a guillotine if that’s what you’re asking.
What are your interests besides music?
I like to garden, I like to build things, and I enjoy puzzles.
What about the song Son of Yule? What can you tell me about that particular track?
Silas wrote this one, it deals with closed mindedness and an unwillingness to change. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album, it’s a lot of fun to sing and I was able to take a lot of risks — vocally — with this one.
And what about the Equinox Suite? Any comments to that song?
This came about organically, as several of the pieces grew into one. My hope is that everyone listens to the album as I intended, from start to finish, but this is most important in Equinox Suite. This album wasn’t meant to be listened to on ‘shuffle.’ However, I do feel that each phase of the suite stands on its own, and that is why they are indexed individually.
What about the cover art for the album? What’s your relationship to Albert/Reverend Bizarre?
Albert Witchfinder liked our band and offered to draw the cover. Of course we were flattered and psyched. I love how it turned out. We also love Reverend Bizarre.
Finally, how would Jex Thoth have sounded if you’d skipped the drugs and alcohol?
Just as brutal but maybe more punctual — ha ha ha!
Now listen to The Banishment and then go buy the album.
I was fortunate enough to get a hold of Dylan Carlson, Earth mainman, when the band was visiting Roma, Italy, for their fifteenth gig on the European tour 2008. I did an interview for Sweden Rock Magazine which is featured (in Swedish) in issue #50 (alongside my review of the Treblinka/Obscurity/Uncanny gig, as well as an article about the true Poison, some reviews and more…). Do check it out, as it features a Pest interview, Mars Volta, Hellhammer and the usual dinosaur bands (the fake Poison is on the cover!).
However, the featured interview is only half a page, and I talked to Dylan for 45 minutes, so I thought I’d publish most of what he had to say right here. Enjoy!
I’m too tired to write a decent intro to the article, so if you don’t know anything about Earth shame on you.
Short history lesson:
1990 — Earth – pioneers of the drone genre – is formed by Dylan Carlson.
1996/1997 – 2003 (sort of) – Dylan combats drugs, quits playing guitar and becomes known for being the man who bought the gun with which Kurt Cobain allegedly committed suicide.
2005 – Earth… The return!
2008 – The latest and sixth/seventh album, The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull, is released and it’s fucking awesome!
So where are you right now?
We’re at this venue in Roma, Italy, where we’re doing our fifteenth gig on this tour. We’ll keep on touring until March 9th, I think.
Have you seen the No Country For Old Men movie yet?
But you know the movie?
Yeah, it’s the one based on Cormac McCarthy’s book. He’s one of my favourite authors, actually. He was a big influence on Hex; or Printing In The Infernal Method (2005, Southern Lord), his Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West book.
Hehe, even the titles are similar.
When I watched the movie… You know, it has no soundtrack.
Ah, ok. Hmm… Hehe…
Your new album would fit right in there.
Oh, thanks! Some day, maybe… I would love to do soundtracks, but there hasn’t unfortunately been an opportunity yet.
By the way, what was the reason for recording the Hibernaculum album?
We had been playing some of the older songs on the last tour, and we decided kind of as a thank you to the fans to re-record some old stuff. And we also had the Plague of Angels song which was only available on the tour 12 inch, and we wanted to make that available as well, and then we had the Seldon Hunt documentary, Within The Drone, and we wanted people to see that, so we included that. Also, there’d be a longer period than a year between the albums so we wanted to keep the name out there, keep the momentum going.
So what are the specific differences between old and new Earth?
I think new Earth is more of a band, I’ve been playing with Adrienne (drums) for six years and with Steve (piano, keyboard, trombone) for four-five years, whereas in the past it was always me and some hired musicians. Now there’s a solid line-up, more of a band community. The only member who’s not full time yet is Milky who plays slideguitar, and we haven’t worked him into the permament line-up yet, but hopefully in the future he’ll be with us full time…
The previous albums were much more conceptual, there were sort of a concept and then the music grew out of the concept, as opposed to now where the songs really evolved out of playing together and then the concept for the record came second hand when we’d already done the music. When I sat back and looked at it arranging the songs for the album I could see this pattern here, this forming there and the big idea was formed right there out of the music, afterwards. This time we were kind of jamming and improvising in the studio.
What’s it like with song titles when playing instrumental music?
Normally I have more song titles than songs, but this time I had to sit down and listen to the songs and come up with titles.
But it still sounds conceptual, I think.
Yeah, maybe because we’ve been such a conceptual band in the past, but I definitely saw a concept there after the music was done. I guess either method you arrive at the same spot. It’s always Earth in the end. That’s the goal anyway.
As for song titles, I put a lot of importance in them. I think with instrumental music you’re not telling people what the songs are about so much, you’re hoping that the audience will participate and attach a meaning to them… I try to pick titles that… there’s not a specific thing they’re about, but they sort of sound… there’s another aspect of the music. It sets the mood. I’ve always liked titles that are kind of open ended in meaning. There’s what I think the song is about, the landscapes that I think that the song is creating, and then there’s the audience’s view.
So is there any story behind the album title, The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull?
It’s related to the Samson and Delilah story. There is a lion terrorizing the land, and Samson kills it, you know.
I guess you’re into minimalism?
I listened to that stuff a lot in the early days, like Steve Reich and La Monte Young… I still like that and consider it an influence, but I always find new stuff to listen to. Not necessarily new bands, but stuff that’s new to me anyway. I’ve always played and listened to minimalistic music, as far as I can remember… I’ve always liked stuff that hits a good riff and a good groove and sticks with it, as opposed to music that’s changing all the time. I’ve always liked that more than stuff that’s real busy. I like it when there’s something underneath holding it all together. The repetition… most of the stuff I like is of a repetitious nature, I guess. Groove oriented, riff oriented… Generally when I listen to music I just listen to music, not doing other things. It’s music time and I put on the headphones. I pay attention.
When you were away from the music scene for all those years, did you know about the upcoming drone scene that was going on… it kind of reinvented itself…
I pretty much quit everything and had to work my way back. I met Greg Anderson when he was still in Goatsnake, and I saw them play, but I wasn’t really aware of music at that time, I didn’t pay any attention. I realized why I was doing it, and the guitar playing was the stuff I really liked, the other stuff didn’t really matter. And if people like what we’re doing, that’s nice, but you can’t really count on that when doing music. My favourite part is just playing and practicing, learning guitar, the rest is just gravy.
Anyway, when I moved back to Seattle and started playing the guitar again I didn’t have any big plan to come back and play Earth again, I just picked up the guitar, and then some opportunities started coming up so I started doing it again to see how it worked out… And then Greg and Southern Lord said they were interested in releasing some new stuff, and that’s when Greg told me the whole Sunn 0))) thing, how they started out, and all those other bands…
Sunn0))) started as a tribute to Earth, right?
Yeah, they’ve been very open about their influences, very generous in their praise and what not… They’ve definitely taken it and moved in their own direction with it. It’s more of a technique than a genre, really. It can be used in all kinds of music, I don’t view it as a genre.
What’s the basics in that technique?
Playing against a pedal tone or an open note, like in indian music, blues, celtic music, african music… it’s all over the world, and now it’s being used in rock music. It was used in rock music in the 60’s by a lot of the psychedelic bands, and old jazz musicians…
Speaking of jazz and such, how did you get in touch with Bill Frisell?
When I started playing guitar again back in 2000 I had read this article by him and I was really into what he was saying, and then he had some music exercises that I was really into as well, and then fortunately enough Steve Moore, our keyboard and trombone player, had played with Bill a number of times and knew him, so he gave him a copy of Hex and invited us to a couple of our shows and he came down and checked us out, so when we asked him he was into it. It worked out.
How did it feel when he added his stuff to the Earth material?
He’s an amazing musician and an amazing person, and he really added to the music. He’s very collaborative… Sometimes those kind of things don’t work out and it turns into a duel or show off or something stupid like that, but he’s not that kind of musician. He just came in and worked with us for a couple of hours and left us with some tracks to use, basically said “here you go” and let us do with it what we wanted. He played stuff that really added to the songs, he’s not a show-offy guitar player…
So what’s it like when you play live, do you improvise a lot?
Yeah, there’s certain structures that we play together, and then usually I decide when it’s time to move on, and there are parts where there’s open areas for the piano to step out, or the drums to step out, or the guitar or all of us to step out, so… That’s the direction I’m hoping to keep moving in, since improvisation is my favourite form of playing. Most of the musicians I admire are improvisatory.
It’s really cool that you play really slow when improvised music always seem to be very busy.
Yeah, that’s something that’s always been strange to me. I don’t know why people always feel it has to be…
Hehe… well. If you play slow and fuck up it’s definitely more obvious, haha! When we jam at our practice space and start improvising, it’ll start out a bit busy and then eventually it will work into this… I like it after we’ve been playing for a while and stuff calms down, it’s almost like you have to get that frantic stuff out and then you can start playing the stuff that matters and start choosing stuff more musically and expressive. It’s that first burst of freedom where you’ve got to schreech and schronk and what not, and then eventually it gets into where it’s calm and musical. Maybe a lot of improvisers would get into that if they played longer songs…
One last question, I heard you played at Greg Anderson’s wedding. Is that correct?
Yep, we played The Wedding March, Here Comes The Bride and the traditional wedding songs. And then we did a little set afterwards for the reception where we played our stuff. We played our style, so it was a very long wedding march, but it was outside and they had a long way to go, so… the band played on, haha!
And this is when Dylan’s phone slowly dies and all I hear is a faint “Hello?” and then we’re offline. I wanted to ask him about this gospel and Americana stuff that people are writing about regarding the new album, and his comments to that, but I think I know what they mean. It’s that majestic vision, that big sound which slowly builds and spreads over the desert. It’s that redness in the west. Psychedelic, but still with both feet on the ground.