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LISTEN: Dylan Carlson's New Solo Album
Christian Eede , April 23rd, 2018 13:41

Earth's Dylan Carlson returns with a new solo album; check the album in full as well as a Q&A with the man himself below

As part of Earth, Dylan Carlson's most recent projects have taken in a 2017 live album recorded at Jack White's Third Man Studios in Nashville, and a collaborative record with The Bug released in 2017. He's also been busy touring solo amongst live duties with Earth.

Now Carlson is gearing up to release his first solo album since 2014 via Sargent House. Entitled Conquistador, the album takes cues from a re-interpreted Western story which Carlson, as he explains below, first came across while studying the history of Texas at school.

The album takes some narrative cues from Earth's Hex, which was themed around the historical fiction of Cormac McCarthy's writing on white settlers' interruption of Native American life. Conquistador, however, examines this idea without the lens of pre-existing written works.

It's set for release this Friday (April 27) and can be streamed in full above ahead of release exclusively via tQ. Keep reading below for a little more from Carlson himself on the album's themes as well as some words on Earth's debut album with 2018 marking its 25th anniversary.

How did you settle on the western-inspired narrative for this album?

Dylan Carlson: Well, I think the 'idea' started germinating after Earth played Levitation in Austin, Texas in 2015. Earth did a run of shows between Levitation and Psycho California in the Southwest, with True Widow. Earth also did three US tours supporting Primitive and Deadly, which included shows in the Southwest. Earth had also recorded Primitive and Deadly in Joshua Tree, and my wife, Holly, and I went out to Joshua Tree when we spent some time in LA, so a long story short, I guess the environment set my mind to thinking of things desert and frontier-like.

The story behind the songs was sort of half-remembered from my youth in Texas (years 6 through 8 in the English system, middle school in the States) as Texas history was part of the curriculum (the largest text book I've ever had). I was also inspired by the film The Fountain, by Darren Aronofsky. The start of the film involves a conquistador searching for 'the fountain of youth'/eternal life and finding it in an Aztec temple. Historically, Ponce de Leon was searching for it in what is now Florida, so there were a few things boiling in my brain pot.

Could you tell us more about the adventures involved in the story which the album explores?

DC: The story as I remembered it was a bit different to the actual historical record. In my remembered narrative it involved the conquistador and Esteban, a moorish squire, setting out on horseback into the northern territories of Mexico, what is now the American Southwest, Western states and Texas. The historical figure was Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, and Esteban, a man at arms. In the actual story they set out by boat to what is now Florida as part of another expedition, got separated and sailed to the mouth of the Mississippi River, and up that river before heading west through what is now Texas and Oklahoma into the Southwest.

The rest of the story converges with my narrative at this point, being lost in the Southwest and being at times enslaved by some tribes. While living with others, they became healers (described as 'faith healers' in some references), and they had some ability as linguists, so they also say they became 'traders' as well. The pair eventually made it back to the Gulf of Mexico in what is now Texas, and there they sailed back to Mexico City. Cabeza de Vaca went on to explore South America, 'discovering' Iguanico Fallls and becoming the governor of what became Argentina and helping to build Buenos Aires. Esteban was killed in an expedition to the Southwest in a battle with the Zuni tribe of Native Americans.

Do you find it easier, or perhaps more fulfilling, to put together an album with an initial concept in mind?

DC: Well, I always feel like songs and albums possess a narrative arc of some sort. It may be explicit, or it may be vague or involve emotional or mystical feelings, but one should feel like one has been changed or arrived somewhere else at the end of a song or an album. Since I do mostly instrumental music, there are no lyrics as signposts or verbal cues telling you where you are or where you're going or that you've arrived. I feel that if I have that idea in mind it informs the music and helps it take shape and provides the music with that sense of narrative that may appear lacking without the verbal component. It also helps with titling the songs and album, as those are more important in instrumental music since they are the only verbal cues present. The dream of course is that just hearing the music will convey the narrative arc regardless of knowing the title, or the artist.

This year is the 25th anniversary of Earth's album, Earth 2. Have you gone back to the album recently or had any desire to specifically revisit it in 2018? Did you have a sense while making it that it would be received so well in the years to come?

DC: I'm not really focused on past records, Earth is still a band that is moving forward and making music, I do not want to be a 'nostalgia' act. It would be one thing if that was the only album I ever did with Earth, and then stopped, and then did it live 25 years later, though money always seems to be the reason that occurs. But for an active band that still puts out new music and tours extensively, I understand putting songs in the set for people to enjoy, but they are done differently as the band is different now and the musicians are different and there may be new members etc.

I did listen to it recently for an article where I had to 'rate' Earth albums by personal preference. I am certainly proud of that record as a personal accomplishment, and I am grateful that people responded to it and rate it so highly. I had an idea of how it would be received initially, which was not extremely popular on a basis of sales, haha, but I certainly did not expect it to become a highly regarded, 'genre-defining' record as it is described by many. I had very strong conceptual ideas when I was making it, and I pursued them to the best of my ability at the time. it is how I continue to make music. I think I place more emphasis now on the musical side of things, and on collaboration, though I still always try to have strong conceptual ideas behind what I do, whether it's Earth, my solo output, or collaboration with other musicians.

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