Supersonic 2012: Dylan Carlson Interviewed – Faerie Liquid

Jessica Charlotte Crowe catches up with Dylan Carlson to talk big ideas and little people...

Dylan Carlson has traversed a troubled path. Entrenched within the Seattle grunge scene in the early nineties, he developed a unique sludgy, droning sound with his band Earth. Local label Sub Pop released the highly influential album Earth 2: Special Low-Frequency Volume which demonstrated the band’s mainly instrumental, power drone and panoramic form.

Carlson has been the efferent centre throughout Earth’s 17 year development. From the raw, repetitive sludge of live album Sunn Amps And Smashed Guitars on which close friend Kurt Cobain contributed vocals, to the current conduit for Carlson’s musical convictions, long players Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light I & II, which are lyrically and atmospherically informed by Carlson’s battle with a rare form of hepatitis and subsequent explorations of mortality.

A long battle with drugs through the nineties and noughties and then an interview for the controversial documentary maker Nick Broomfield for his bizarre Kurt and Courtney film – an interview which Carlson says he now regrets giving as he was misled about the director’s intentions – led to him turning his back on the music business. During this period he barely touched a guitar. It would be a long time before his own role as an innovator would exceed prurient interest in his role as a bit player in the tragic life and death of Cobain.

But he weathered this self-imposed exile and re emerged in 2005, with Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method, which sounded as sparse and lost as a wilderness. Earth – now with a more consistent line-up including Carlson’s long term partner Adrienne Davies on drums – from this point on, reflected his interest in mythology and folklore. His new Kickstarter funded solo project DrCarlsonAlbion – which is set to culminate in a book/album/DVD project early in 2013 called Coleman Grey Presents ‘Falling With A Thousand Stars And Other Wonders From The House Of Albion – is fired specifically by his interest in the cunning people and faeries of British folklore.

We caught up with Carlson at London’s Cafe Oto, ahead of his show this weekend at Supersonic Festival to support these solo endeavours.

You’ve just got back from Japan with Earth, how did that go? I imagine you’re a rather intriguing prospect over there.

Dylan Carlson: It went really well, I didn’t see very much of it because we did four shows in four days. Then we just did New Zealand and Australia before that, seven shows in about eight days… a lot of travelling!

How were the Japanese audiences?

DC: They were really nice. They were kind of reserved. During the songs they’d be hyped but then between songs they’re just be dead quiet. But they were super nice and very appreciative that we’d come out that far. The clubs there are weird because they’re really tiny but they have huge PAs so we were really loud. The line-up for the tour was more rock band, we had bass guitar and drums. Like a power trio!

I’d always imagine I’d go to Japan and just have a series of neon light induced panic attacks…

DC: Ha ha ha… You do feel like an alien. Luckily we were kind of in a bubble, you know. The promoters drive you everywhere, which meant, I guess, we didn’t really have enough time to just have a look around. We had long drives that made things pretty hectic. But I definitely appreciate the vending machines out there.

Did people stare at you?

DC: Yeah, but I get there everywhere I go! I guess in Japan people don’t have tattoos, at least not where you can see them. Everyone’s very polite. There was no… well, nothing bad happened. There were no social faux pas committed that I’m aware of… yet!

They might all be talking right now, ‘Remember that Dylan Carlson?’

DC: Ha, yeah. We played with Boris the last night and it was really good to see them again.

So you’ve recently been involved with Kickstarter. Do you feel there are similarities between this scheme and the D.I.Y. scene?

DC: It’s really different because there’s a website. I mean then it was more like you did it with your friends, or paid for things yourself, so no one had a lot. This is more like, you don’t really know the backers, I mean it’s sort of a different model. I definitely think it’s the future, self-funding. I don’t think labels are going to be around much longer, same with distributors.

Why’s that?

DC: Because it’s dying – it’s dead. I mean it doesn’t make any sense to pay a load of money to record an album any more. To pay for studio time when you can just do it in your house. It’s all Pro Tools now whether you mix the tape or not. It’s much better to record it yourself with no interference from labels and then directly distribute it. Its not going to last, that old way. All the recognised record stores are closing, and when that happens all that money and all that product is gone. I suppose doing it yourself, it’s the same sort of model from a business sense.

What’s going on tonight [at Cafe Oto] then?

DC: This is the live release party for the double 7" that I just did with Rosie Knight, a spoken word poet from Hackney for Wormhole/Tapeworm. It’s going to be two 7"s – the verbal and instrumental tracks, the digital version and the two remixes that I did.

How did you get involved with Tapeworm?

DC: They approached me to do a tape first. They originally wanted me to do a seven inch but then they decided they wanted to do this new thing (Tapeworm).

And what have you been working on recently?

DC: Getting ready for a solo tour, to support this. So it’ll be me and a small group, with or without Rosie – she has health issues so I don’t know. I have the mixes on my laptop if not.

So Rosie develops the lyrics? Then she hands over to you and you elaborate around them?

DC: She actually came to Seattle and we recorded in the studio. I did guitar and she did lyrics over the top.

And you’re still working on your solo project, DrCarlsonAlbion?

DC: Yeah. I went out and spent over two weeks, in fact nearly a month in the UK. We went to different sites of human/faerie interaction. And then we did atmospheric recordings, but not like field recordings of noise or someone playing, actual atmosphere recordings. Then we shot some footage, which will hopefully be cut in January, which is around the same time I want to be working on the music part of it.

And there’s a book to go with it?

DC: Thats going to be lyrics to the songs, and you know, old folk songs about human supernatural interaction, some historical text and pictures.

How did your interest in British folklore develop?

DC: Probably started with my Grandmother, who was from Fife in Scotland. I remember her telling me folk stories when I was younger. Then my Granddad during the war had an experience with a Grey Lady and he used to talk to me about that. As a teenager I was a big HP Lovecraft fan and through that I discovered [Welsh author and mystic] Arthur Machen. Then I had a couple of weird experiences in London [Carlson says he saw a supernatural being] doing a press trip, and that sort of kick started it. And just a lot of reading, basically.

I hear you’re friends with Edwin Pouncey [aka The Wire’s Savage Pencil, music journalist and collector of esoteric books who is in conversation with Frances Morgan at Supersonic this weekend]. Do you go on supernatural day trips together?

DC: Yeah! He gives me a lot of information and introduces me to people and bookshops in London.

Do you think it’s dark? Is it a dark interest?

DC: [Stunned silence] Erm, I don’t think it’s necessarily dark per se. I mean there are dark elements to it. I don’t think it’s as dark as being interested in serial killers or snuff films or something! I suppose it comes with the territory, a lot of metal and its various sub genres are intrinsically linked to ancient mythology and indigenous religions of Western Europe… I mean there’s the Satanic side, I’m not really into that. I like the historical stuff which is usually faeries, ghosts, angels.

Earth are quite a transient thing in some respects – you’re the only original member and during the early years of the group you went through a lot. Does this make it difficult to play earlier material?

DC: Well, we don’t really play anything off the second one [Special Low Frequency Volume]. I mean obviously the fans like to hear it. It’s always different depending on the line-up. I hear it all the time with people who see bands, you know, “You didn’t play such and such.” Playing old material is not necessarily my favourite thing to do but I feel like I owe it to the fans because if it wasn’t for them I’d be washing dishes, or incarcerated.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

DC: Oh wow, the first thing I wanted to be was a taxidermist! But my parents weren’t pleased about that. Then when I was in high school, I wanted to be a monk and then after that to go to military school and join the army. Then I heard AC/DC and everything changed.

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