By Sebastian Mackay
The Seattle drawl of Dylan Carlson's voice is proof that if owners resemble their pets then musicians resemble their music. It's lathered with a healthy of dose of wry irony as he says that there are too many bands that are shit these days and then confesses that there were: "No allusions from the get go, Earth were never going to have a successful song or be big like pop music." He's laughing all the while and in between the thoughtful, lengthy, silences that riddle our conversation and the gentle nudge at the death of having a "deeper appreciation for music" (as he says) it's easy to get lost in the sniggering. Perhaps sniggering isn't the right word, it's closer to the throaty laugh of a smoker without the cough-your-lungs-out approach (I don't know if he smokes or not).
The stark reality is that Earth is a passion project. Carlson's voice is rough (like a screamer who never learnt to scream, but alas, Earth are instrumental) when he says that, "it barely pays the bills but I've done it for such a long time...At this point in my life I'm not sure there's anything else I can do."
It's a surprisingly serious admission from a man whose voice has suddenly slipped from jovial to back to slow and pensive. But it is the reality and after 10 studio albums it's a reality that Earth continues to contend with. That said, he's by no means woe, is me. We're not on an expedition to the land of self pity and the ever present wah, wah, the industry sucks argument, it just is what it is.
"[Money] becomes a consideration when you're asked to play somewhere different and you think, ‘is my rent going to be paid when I get back or am I going to be fucked?'." If Kayne West had a rock counterpart then Carlson's modesty, humbleness and slightly self deprecating sense of humour is the furthest thing from it.
We're not sure which category, paid or not, they'll be in after their NZ tour (which winds up in Auckland this Saturday) but after peeling back the crust (I couldn't resist, there had to be at least one bad pun) to get to the core (okay, I'm done) Carlson reckons that money's money and frankly the amount doesn't really matter because he's not about to apply for a job on The Voice or release a dubstep album.
"Well, I mean, I would have to say two things," he murmurs heading into what's going to be a short lived list, "A) [music] that comes through me isn't going to sound that different anyway. I play guitar a certain way and I think about music a certain way. I don't think it'll get too different because what I transmit comes through me."
He describes it as being part of the ether, "I'm a conduit, a vessel, the music comes through me, out of the ether." And by that logic, he says anything that comes out of Earth isn't going to be too far flung from their sound. Given that album number 10 was hailed as the completion of a cycle it begs the question: Can you really do the same thing over and over?
His response, after some humming and har-ing, "I mean, I think, to me, music is a continuum and man's being doing it since God knows when so I don't think that anyone invented it...But I think it pays to have a deeper appreciation of music and not just influences from one or two weeks ago." The throaty sniggering is back, it's all said in good humour, and it's a point he follows through (yes, we have come full circle).
"It's like [new] bands pick their micro-genre before they start the band," he continues, "and then go and listen to bands from a couple of years back. That probably sounds awfully ageist..."
He gets lost in his words for a moment and back tracks a little but the point is this: bands now don't listen to Black Sabbath, they listen to Electric Wizard (Carlson notes he has nothing against Electric Wizard) or to bands "from a couple of years back." Once, again, not disparaging bands from a couple of years back, he genuinely thinks the lack of appreciation is missing: "To me real music is when you listen to something like Hendrix and it's edgy and dangerous rock music and it connects you to something outside this world, to a sense of a better world. But music at the moment doesn't seem to have that. There's too much technology these days and there are too many bands that suck." He sniggers.
Carlson's future, whether Earth begin to suck or not, he says is in the hands of his fans: "...I learnt early on in music that the band has little or no say over what their best song or show is. That's up to the audience."
Earth's finances, the state of today's music and life beyond Earth are all unknown but, what we do know is they are touring, tickets are on sale, and while Carlson is a world away from his old job as a Lab tech in a cancer research facility, he's not about to end his orbit.
Earth NZ tour
Dunedin - Thursday June 12th,Chicks, Port Chalmers Dunedin
Wellington - Friday June 13th, Bodega Wellington
Auckland -Saturday June 14th, Kings Arms Auckland
Tickets on sale from www.undertheradar.co.nz / Cosmic Dunedin / RPM & Slowboat / Real Groovy Records / All Shows R18