Interview - Dylan Carlson
Earth founder and drone pioneer, Dylan Carlson has always seemed to walk the road less travelled - navigating his own path through a terrain made up of his own creations. His music calls out to the solitary chambers of the soul; echoing forcefully with pain and hard-won wisdom.
Lauded for his groundbreaking work with Earth, Carlson also become known for his difficult personal life which included a long fought battle with drug addiction and the loss of close friend, Kurt Cobain.
However, they say time is a healer and for Carlson there's some truth to the idea of redemption. Now in recovery, Carlson is producing some of the most exciting and innovative work of his career, including an intriguing collaborative partnership with The Bug's, Kevin Martin.
We caught up with Carlson to discuss his latest musical projects, his work with The Bug, the illusion of the American dream and living under the rule of a presidential huckster.
Q. You have been working with The Bug, Kevin Martin - tell us a bit about how this collaboration came about and what you enjoy most in Kevin’s music?
It happened through the artist, Simon Fowler who knew Kevin and had worked with him when he was doing Kind Midas Sound. Kevin was aware of me as he used to be a music journalist so there was that initial connection.
The first collaboration actually happened before we’d even met in person. We had a project and it worked by him sending me tracks and then me working my guitar onto them. We met for the first time at a festival in Krakow and we just sort of gelled. We then did a show in LA and booked a couple of days in the studio and we went from there.
I’m a big fan of Kevin’s music – the dub element that he uses but also his rhythm tracks which would have these weird turnarounds on them that have a strange sort of intricacy. Kevin’s much more of a perfectionist than I am as I’m more into kind of winging it. No one really sounds like Kevin and that’s testament to his experimentation.
Q. You released the album, Concrete Desert earlier this year - what were your ambitions setting out on this project, what ideas were you looking to?
The album was born out of our individual impressions of Los Angeles. Kevin had lived in LA and I’d lived there and it was a case of reacting to the sense of place and the baggage of it’s weird history and its strange influences.
Q. We have two impressions of LA in the UK. The first is the glitz, glamour and perhaps the superficiality and then there’s the skid row, Charles Bukowski idea of the city. What’s your version of LA?
My perspective on Los Angeles is that it’s this weird mix of the pinnacle of the American fantasy and, at the same time, this vast noir permeated with poverty and other profound problems. For example, it’s a city which is basically an ecological disaster zone – like they have to take water from southern states just to supply Los Angeles because their own supply is only enough for a fraction of the population.
Then, if you look at the history of how the city was built and developed it was all wrapped up in subterfuge – cloaked in this happy, shiny persona but beneath the veil lurks this whole world of darkness and predatory ambition.
It’s weird because I kind of love Los Angeles. There’s so many other places like San Francisco which adopt pretensions to be some sort of idealised place to live when the truth is so much the opposite. Los Angeles is a place which just says, ‘take me or leave me’ and I admire that.
Q. As an American living in the days of Trump - what’s your take on that whole phenomenon?
America was built by wealthy tax-dodging white men…con men. So, it’s natural that a person like that is the president as he represents those things to the fullest. Trump is a complete huckster.
The American dream is predicated on the desire or wish or perceived opportunity to become one of those wealth tax-dodging guys even if you have no hope in hell. I don’t think it’s an accident that he’s been elected because there are a lot of ignorant people that live in America.
Q. What are your thoughts on the role of the artist in times like these?
In terms of an artist’s role in times like these, I’m not a great believer in the power of peaceful protest to affect change and I have even less faith in musicians being able to do it. There can be quite a lot of arrogance wrapped up in protest. If you’re a privileged white guy then protesting is not an issue but if you’re (for example) from a poor ethnic minority then being arrested on a felony is a pretty life changing event. Some of that arrogance reminds me of those baby boomers who pat themselves on the back for stopping the war in Vietnam but then went on to set up these major tech companies!
Q. You will be playing Liverpool Psych-fest this weekend - how excited are you to be playing the Liverpool psych-fest?
I love Liverpool. In fact, I really like the north of England in general so I’m really excited to return and play there. When I think of Liverpool I think of the Beatles, Echo and the Bunnymen and the usual stuff but also the largest mass sightings of ferries in modern history in 1966 – unusual I know but that always comes to mind. I feel at home there and really love what they’ve done at the Psych festival and I’m looking forward to taking part and seeing what’s on.
Q. Psychedelia seems to be a catch all term for a multitude of different genres of music and sounds. What does the term mean to you and how would you describe your own music?
I think it’s kind of a weird term to use but hey, it works in the larger sense. To me, psychedelic music – perhaps because I’m older and a bit more traditional – I think of 60s garage bands or bands like The Pretty Things or even the whole drug culture.
But as a dead head I’ve been heavily influenced by all manner of psych bands. For me, I just play slow rock n’ roll and I tend not to worry about sub-genres or categories.
Q. In terms of your own journey, can you give us an insight into your own influences and perhaps (in particular) what artist or genre inspired your love of music?
I was in my mother’s womb when she went to see Grateful Dead in 1968 so I guess I must have absorbed that in utero!
I started out listening to my parent’s records which was mainly a lot of what would now be called ‘classic rock’. Then when I grew up a bit and started making my own choices the band that made me want to play music and rock n’ roll was ACDC. After that, anything heavy and psychedelic was right for me but then I grew into jazz and dub and many other types. Now, I’m just mad for music.
Q. Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2017 and do you have a new project in the pipeline?
I’ve got a few more shows to do with Kevin and then I’ve got a solo album out early next year. After that I’ll get started on the next Earth record and then after that, a bit of a break!
The Bug Vs Dylan Carlson will be performing at Liverpool International Psychedelia Festival 22 September 2017.