A cursory investigation may well elucidate Earth’s oeuvre: They’ve got a three-song album that’s more than 73 minutes long. In 1968, a nascent Black Sabbath went by the name Earth. Song titles include “Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon” and the 11-and-a-half-minute “From the Zodiacal Light.” There are no vocals. Descriptives often associated with the band include “drone” and “ambient.”
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But the lineup, brainchild of one Dylan Carlson, is much more than the sum of its parts, and a look behind the curtain is as illuminating as the band is dark. Being seminal and groundbreaking may help a band become a legend, but doesn’t always pay the bills. Carlson, on the phone during a drive to Austin, acknowledges his group’s selective appeal. “I don’t live in a complete fantasy world. I know what we do is weird,” laughs the guitarist. “There’s only gonna be a certain level that we’re gonna get to. I’ve been super fortunate a) to put stuff out, because there are so many talented musicians who don’t get that chance; b) to vanish and come back and still have people care. That doesn’t happen to a lot of people. Since 2008, I’ve been able to do only music for a living.”
Carlson’s last day job, as a picture framer, was post-“vanish,” following as it did several years from 2000 onward that included drugs not conducive to active creativity, and the fallout from the guitarist’s unintentional involvement with good pal Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Fortunately, Earth’s strong aesthetic and small but fervent following, which began with the band’s inception in 1989, allowed for Earth Mach 2, on Southern Lord Records. In the beginning, Carlson remembers, “Even though we were on Sub Pop, we were always sorta the odd band out. We never felt like we were part of any kind of movement or grunge thing. But everyone knew everyone in Seattle, and the people I was best friends with were bands from smaller places, like the Screaming Trees, from Ellensburg, [and] of course, the big one, Nirvana, from Aberdeen, as were the Melvins.”
In fact, Trees singer and longtime friend/former roommate Mark Lanegan guests on the song “Rooks Across the Gate,” from Earth’s latest, 2014’s five-song Primitive and Deadly, while “From the Zodiacal Light” features Rabia Shaheen Qazi of Seattle’s Rose Windows on a song that’s a sort of slo-mo amalgam of Mother Love Bone and Jane’s Addiction. Other than that, vocals rarely grace Earth songs, and this tour is as a trio in every way possible — the rhythm section (longtime drummer Adrienne Davies and bassist Don McGreevy) driving the van, with Carlson tour-managing.
That said, stripped-down don’t come easy. “People expect a certain level of quality, sonically, so it requires an investment,” explains Carlson of the band’s involvement with Southern Lord. “We’re not a band that could record a record on GarageBand. Sometimes I feel a bit like a dinosaur in that way — I guess we could do that, but I think it would really alienate people and people would feel mad about if we were like, ‘Yeah, it’s all digital.’ “
Primitive and Deadly and Earth’s nine previous releases, Carlson explains, “capture this moment in time, but the live thing is a joint venture: the band and the audience. We’re creating a moment in time that will never be the same again,” he says. “That’s what exciting about it.”
Earth perform at St. Vitus Bar Wed. and Thurs., Sept. 24 – 25.